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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Year I Lived On The Navajo Indian Reservation


Post by Kristy McCaffrey

It’s a pleasure to be a part of Prairie Rose Publications. I’ll be blogging the second Tuesday of each month. For my first post, I’d like to share an experience that has had a lasting impact on me. 

When I was nine years old, my parents moved my sister and myself to the Navajo Indian Reservation. Needless to say, I very much did not want to go. My dad, who has long had a deep and abiding respect for Native Americans, saw this as a chance to give back with his life. He took a job as an accountant with an arts and crafts store in Window Rock, Arizona. We obtained a house just across the border in New Mexico, in a small town aptly called “Navajo.”

I should preface my experience by saying that I’ve never been great at making friends. I’ve always been a little too quiet and withdrawn. Add to that my displeasure over being wrenched from my life in Phoenix, and I was none too happy. My sister, nearly four years younger and in kindergarten, embraced the journey with much more enthusiasm. She quickly came home speaking Navajo. I, however, was in fourth-grade and only one of two white girls in the classroom. I was teased constantly, for no other reason than being different, and it left me less than congenial toward most of the other kids.

It was 1975 and we lived in a neighborhood that consisted of generic, government housing. We weren’t rich by any means, but when we moved in, it became quickly known that we had a working telephone and my mother was generous in sharing kitchen items. After a time, she had to start saying no. The charity was simply getting out-of-hand. Unfortunately, many of the Navajo were complacent and drank too much. Even as a child, it struck me as a rather depressing place to live.
The view from our house in Navajo, New Mexico.
One night, a Navajo man came to our front door with a shotgun. He said he was going to shoot our dog, believing that he’d killed his daughter’s mutt. There was a pack of rather mean canines that roamed the neighborhood; there was no doubt in our mind that they had done the killing. My dad had erected a barbed-wire fence for our two dogs, so we were certain that neither was guilty. (The fence was to protect them, really.) My dad spent several hours, and several beers, trying to convince the man not to shoot, and thankfully it worked. 

I developed a panic-filled fear of AIM walkers, fueled by stories heard from classmates. I now know that this acronym stands for the American Indian Movement, a group dedicated to addressing the issues of present-day Native Americans, but in my scared mind they were ghost-like shape shifters that prowled the wash behind our house. There were many nights I literally shook in terror while trying to sleep, fearing they would snatch me from my bed.

But, lest I paint a completely dark picture of the year I spent in Navajo land, there were intriguing aspects to it. A hex was placed on the craft store chain where my dad worked. Since it involved all of the employees, he was allowed, despite being a white man, to participate in the ceremonies conducted by a medicine man. Some of his experiences I incorporated into my new novel with Prairie Rose Publications, Into The Land Of Shadows, when the main characters find themselves under the shadow of a curse. During one of the ceremonies at which my dad was present, the medicine man burned a piece of human skull. Two female employees reported instant relief from a terrible headache that had suddenly besieged them. Back at home, at the same time, my mother said I’d been distraught and crying for hours from pains in my head, which immediately stopped when the bone was destroyed. We were all tied to this land in ways none of us quite understood.

And the land was stark, amazing, and absolutely breathtaking. Our house sat at the base of a sheer red rock cliff. One day, we climbed it. At the midway point, a precipitous rock face had to be traversed. One of our dogs made it, but the other, an overweight black Labrador, couldn’t navigate the steep path. She paced at the bottom, barking and whining, while we scrambled onward. The expansive view at the top, coupled with the solitude and palpable energy in the land, left me with bittersweet memories. The region drenched the soul with possibilities, but I know now that I was too young to appreciate it, to channel it in a useful way. In some regards, the Navajo themselves, at that place and that time, had lost their center as well.

At the end of that year, my father brought us back to Phoenix, for which I was greatly relieved. But my time there left an indelible mark, always calling me back. I returned, many years ago, to show my husband. Not much had changed. With my new book, I felt compelled to write about the Navajo and what they were long ago—people who struggled, who lived, and who loved. Just like the rest of us. 

Leave a comment and be eligible to win an autographed print set of my historical western romance saga, the Wings of the West Series (includes The Wren, The Dove, and The Sparrow).


Into The Land Of Shadows is now available in print and digital!

Rancher Ethan Barstow is weary of the years-long estrangement from his brother, Charley. Deciding to track him down is easy; not so easy is riding in the company of Kate Kinsella, Charley’s fiancée. In the land of the Navajo, spirits and desire draw them close, leading them deeper into the shadows and to each other.



Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. A fascination with science led her to earn two engineering degrees—she did her undergraduate work at Arizona State University and her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh—but storytelling was always her favorite hobby. Born and raised in Arizona, she writes Old West romances to capture the landscapes that were such a big part of her childhood. Her first novel, The Wren, was a CAPA winner for Best New Author Traditional, a Texas Gold finalist, and a HOLT Medallion finalist for Best First Book. The Sparrow was the 2012 Winter Rose Winner in the Published Historical Division. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, where they frequently remove (rescue) rattlesnakes from their property. Her four teenaged children are in varying stages of flying the nest, so her two chocolate labs—Ranger and Lily—are the recipients of her maternal instincts these days. 


Sign up for Kristy’s newsletter this month and be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card.








16 comments:

  1. Kristy, I picked up a copy of INTO THE LAND OF SHADOWS the minute it came out. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I so enjoyed "the bird books" that I'm sure I'll love this one, too.

    We're all products of our environment. Writers, at least, can make good use of even the scary memories. :-)

    HUGS!!!!

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    1. We're all products of our environment, but also to the way we interpret it. My one regret is that I wasn't more open to the experience at the time. But, it no doubt affects my writing. Thanks for stopping by! And I know your TBR pile is high, high, high...so many books, so little time. :-)

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  2. Kristy, this is so interesting!! Even though it was really depressing at times I'm sure you gained some valuable insight and probably life lessons that is still serving you today. I have a friend where I used to live who stayed a year on a reservation in a tent. No running water, no electricity. I don't think I could do that. Lord help! I need my modern conveniences like a flushable toilet and microwave.

    I haven't read any of your books but INTO THE LAND OF SHADOWS sounds like my kind of story. Wishing you much success!

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    1. Thank you, Linda.

      A year in a tent on a reservation? Yep, I'm with you. I like modern conveniences.

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  3. What an absolutely fascinating experience, Kristy. I know how much these details inspire and will inspire your writing. Wow. Wishing you tons of success.

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    1. Thanks Tanya! I appreciate you stopping by.

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  4. WOW Kristy! You have had some experiences! I believe there are things we just don't understand in many cultures, and I personally know people who have had healing treatments through Indian medicine men that have worked. Truthfully, I've been to the point where I've thought of taking my son to one for his back troubles. You've had some really interesting times, but I know you were glad to move away -- it's hard on kids that are shy and have trouble making friends in the first place, to be moved somewhere that they're made a target of. I loved Into the Land of Shadows, and look forward to your next book!
    Cheryl

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    1. Authentic medicine men can do amazing things. Oddly enough, my dad never followed through with the final ceremony with the medicine man regarding the hex (because we moved away). Everytime my parents return to the reservation, something bad happens (cars break down, money is stolen, mostly small things, thank goodness) but my dad thinks he's still under the spell of that hex. One of these days he needs to get to a medicine man and get himself cleared!!

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  5. I can't imagine how difficult it has been for Native americans to adjust to a life forced upon them by Europeans. Dang. I would be depressed and might take to drink, too. I found your post so interesting. I can imagine how difficult it was for you to be uprooted from the place you called home, your friends and your routine. At least you were able to return to your familiar surroundings.
    The Land of Shadows sounds fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing your inspiration for it with us, Kristy.

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    1. Sarah,
      I agree with your assessment about the Native Americans. And I certainly didn't mean to imply that all of them drank. My parents had a couple who were good friends, and they were good, decent people as well. I was a rather depressed nine-year-old, so my viewpoint was colored by that. I can certainly appreciate now the experience my parents were trying to give my sister and I.

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  6. Fascinating post, Kristy. I enjoyed it very much, and it is always interesting to read the perspective of a child in such a different environment from what she had known. Thanks. ;)

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  7. Thank you for such an interesting post. Looking back as an adult I wonder if you see things differently than as they unfolded when you were a child.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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    1. Most definitely Mary. Age and distance always offer a bit of wisdom. Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Kristy, as a shy child who moved several times, I can tell you I identify with your feeling of being on the outside. The newcomer always is. My husband and I are very interested in the Navajo and love that area of the country. In addition to your "bird" books, I love the Tony Hillerman books. Continued good wishes in your career.

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    1. Thank you Caroline. I'm grateful for your support!

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