For at least a century before the voyage of Columbus, the Navajo
people occupied the south western part of what is now the United
States. After acquiring the horse from the Spanish, they became a
powerful nation of marauding hunters and gatherers, often in dispute
with the Spaniards, Mexicans, Anglos, and with other indian tribes.
In 1864, therefore, the U.S. government sent an expedition led by
Kit Carson to subdue them and the Army drove them to Fort Sumner in
New Mexico, a distance of 300 miles. The government attempted to
convert the survivors of the 'Long Walk' into sedentary farmers,
with little success, and in 1868 they were allowed to return to
their homeland. Today the reservation in north east Arizona covers
an area twice the size of Belgium and is the home of 200,000 Navajo.
After the return to their lands, the traditional woven blankets of the tribe were supplanted by bought-in products, and the Navajo began to weave rugs using new yarns, chemical dyes, and more garish designs for sale off the reservation. Starting in the 1920s however, a revival of the earlier styles occured. This revival began at the trading post at Chinle, operated at that time by Cozy McSparron. Encouraged by an art dealer in Boston, Cozy insisted that the local weavers adopted traditional designs using only vegetable dyes. He extended credit more generously to those that would cooperate. The old methods had by this time been almost forgotten, but using photographs of ancient blankets in museums, by the early 1930s, a distinctive Chinle regional style had been established. The designs were borderless, with simple stripes or serrated bands, mostly using vegetal dyes with some chemicals, and made with a good quality weave. The rugs came to be highly prized and today an example can fetch several thousand dollars. Such a rug of course takes many months to complete.
Leon Hugh (Cozy) McSparron was born at Gallup, New Mexico in 1892 although his parents came from Scotland. He went to school in Denver where he became a proficient boxer, then took a job as clerk in the trading post at Chinle. It is said that the owner of the post only employed Cozy because he wanted to learn to box. During World War I, Cozy served in the 97th Infantry Division and in 1918 returned to Chinle where he bought the trading post. He renamed it Thunderbird Ranch and built a number of guest cabins. The trading post provided the indians with coffee, flour, tobacco and general goods, but it also acted as bank, meeting place and even medical centre. The Navajo traded sheep, wool, rugs and jewellery for goods or for cash. Cozy was highly respected by the Navajo and spoke their language. The indians valued his advice, often coming to him to settle disputes, and he was always welcome at their homes. Cozy died in the 1950s but his name is still well known in the area. Part of the trading post still stands and has been incorporated into a motel.
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