Part 20: A Drumstick’s Story

By Joe Liles
News From Indian Country 2-09


With special thanks to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Stanley Crank, Lee Cly, Adam Teller, Diné College, Harry Walters, Albert Smith, John Woodmansee, Emerson E-rock Begay, and the people of Tuba City and Moenkopi.

When I communicated with you last time, I told of how Mr. Cly took R.D., Grandpa, and me to see Rain God Mesa in Monument Valley. We had met Mr. Cly as he was walking down the red dirt road to his home near Cly Butte. We gave him a ride, and he left us with a gift: a meal at his house and a view of Monument Valley not seen by many.

All this confirmed in me what I have been noticing through all my travels.  Powerful lessons come to us in life when we least expect them if we are open to following the path given to us by the Creator. All this looking back in my life has been encouraged by my typical riding place with R.D. As a drumstick, he often keeps me stuck through his back belt loop. But this time I rode on his side because we were riding horses. I was still able to look back at Rain God Mesa. A thunderstorm had descended right on the spot where Mr. Cly had taken us.

Mr. Cly spoke up, “A lot of times the rain we get here in the valley happens in small areas. This is why my Diné people have adapted to a life of mobility. I will be taking my sheep over to Rain God Mesa in a couple of days because the storm behind us is blessing that area with the life blood of our Mother. The grass is going to be good there!”

Looking back at the Mesa, I saw something I think the others missed, a rainbow. I remembered the rainbow at Spider Rock. I remembered what Adam had told R.D. and me then. He said the rainbow symbolized that, someday, the Hero Twins would return along this holy pathway to bring harmony to the earth. I hope to live to see that day.

We returned to the corral behind Mr. Cly’s house and unsaddled our horses.  He turned them loose on the prairie.  “They won’t go far,” he said. “They come to me when I whistle.”

R.D. and Grandpa paid their respects briefly to Mrs. Cly inside the house and thanked her for her hospitality. Then they shook hands with Mr. Cly. “How-go-a-nay brothers!” he said. “Come see me again.”

We got into R.D.’s car, and I took my place on the dashboard. Now I could see what was coming ahead. Out of the windshield, I mean. This balance of looking back and looking forward was serving me well!

We followed the red road out of the valley and climbed the hill to the Visitor’s Center, but instead of stopping, we took the paved road in the direction we had come from.

We turned south at the Welcome Center on the border between Utah and Arizona and headed back to Kayenta.  We drove straight through town and turned south at a sign that said Tuba City, 76 miles. I was a little sad because I knew we were giving Grandpa a ride to Tuba City. I did not want to lose this man from my life.


It was dark by the time we got to Tuba City, but we explored the town anyway.  Grandpa pointed out a few things.  “There is the Tuba City Trading Post,” he said. “It was established in 1870. The town just grew up around it. Mormon missionaries came here soon after. They wanted to bring their brand of religion to the Indians of this area.”

I had not heard of Mormons before, but I knew about tubas. There was one in the pawn shop in Albuquerque. I figured Mormons must have been really good at playing that big horn. But Grandpa cut into my thoughts and corrected me.

“Tuba City is an unusual place,” he said. It is the largest town on the Navajo Reservation, but it is named after a Hopi man. Tuvi was his name. One way of pronouncing his name is by using a “B” sound in place of the “V.”

I guess the Mormons had an easier time with the “B,” and the name Tuba City stuck. Some people have a hard time admitting this, but before the Navajo settled here, this was all Hopi territory.

The Hopi had a place a little bit to the east of us called Moenkopi, which means “running water” in their language. It was a place of many springs and was a very good place to plant corn.

Back then, the closest Hopi settlement was almost fifty miles to the east at Oraibi. Young Hopi men were raised as runners. They would run all the way to Moenkopi to plant, tend, and harvest the corn. They were running back and forth all the time.

No one permanently lived in this area until Tuvi moved here from Oraibi. Before he came here, Tuvi had another name. There was some kind of dispute over in Oraibi that made Tuvi move here. Tuvi means ‘outcast.’

“So today, we have two Indian towns side by side, one mostly Navajo and one Hopi. This is the reason I have come here.

“After many years of tension between the Navajo and the Hopi over territory, water rights, grazing rights, livestock, and ceremonial issues, a strange series of events has led to the beginnings of peace and true understanding between our two people. I think Tuvi would be happy if he knew Indian people were finally coming together here as brothers and sisters.”

We pulled into a parking lot with many cars and people wandering around.  There was a big golden sign shaped like an “M.” This sign was glowing in the dark. Below this place was a town with lights that twinkled in the night. I thought all this was beautiful!

Underneath the sign was more lettering: Welcome to Hopi Lands, Moenkopi, AZ. Now I had it all figured out. This must be a Welcome Center like we saw up at Monument Valley. The giant glowing “M” must stand for Moenkopi.

R.D. parked the car, and we went inside. This was a great Welcome Center! They served a food here called hamburgers. R.D. and Grandpa chowed down.

When they finished eating, we got back in the car and drove into the town of twinkling lights. Grandpa said, “I’ll take you to the home of the people I am going to be meeting with. We will be welcome there tonight.

“Hey, before I forget, I want to tell you about a sign I saw coming into Tuba City. It said the Tuba City Fair starts tomorrow.  This is something you should check out before you continue on your trip.”

That night we stayed with the Hopi family Grandpa was coming to see. They were glad to see us and made us feel welcome. R.D. told me when no one was around that he had been given the place of honor for sleeping. It was called the couch.

After breakfast the next morning, R.D. and Grandpa spent a little time talking together. I could not figure out if they were saying goodbye because they never really said goodbye. Grandpa thanked R.D. for the ride and joked, “I’ll bet you’ll think twice before you pick up a Navajo Indian again!”

R.D. and Grandpa hugged each other.  Grandpa asked if he could hold me. I could feel stability coming from this old man’s hands.
He had truly found balance and wisdom in his life. His life as a warrior and a Code Talker represented the Haskai. His efforts in working to establish understanding between the Diné and the Hopi represented the Hosho. When he handed me back to R.D., he said, “Take care of our little brother here. I sense your time together is coming to an end.”

. . . to be continued.

Comments and assistance:     

Joe Liles

Faculty Emeritus

NC School of Science and Mathematics

1219 Broad Street
Durham, NC 27705
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