Shades of Diné Bikéyah

Ghosts thicker than rez dogs and feral horses

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, Oct. 31, 2013

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(Illustration by Jack Ahasteen - Navajo Times)

If you're a journalist, ghost stories are kind of like clothes hangers.

You end up collecting them, although you're not sure why or how.

Here on the Navajo Nation, ghost-hunting is almost too easy. If your friends, neighbors and the occasional hitchhiker are to be believed, the ghosts around here are thicker than the stray dogs and feral horses.

Since the Navajo Times comes out on Halloween this year, we thought it would be a good time to trot some of the specters out of the shadows.

It should be noted that, unlike most of what appears in this newspaper, these stories are not fact-checked and are entirely unsubstantiated. You are free to believe them or not.

However, it should also be noted that some of the tellers are very credible people who hold responsible positions in industry and government. (Others ... not so much.)

Here at the headwaters of the Long Walk, we have our share of restless spirits. Actually some of them are resting just fine until people decide to disturb them.

Teenagers brave or foolhardy enough to sneak into Canyon de Chelly National Monument at night and make the precarious climb down to Massacre Cave for a spooky sleepover have been awakened by a chilly sensation, and found themselves staring up into the concerned faces of old-timey Navajos wrapped in skins and rugs.

There are more modern spooks as well. In recent years, the night crew at Burger King has heard footsteps and seen empty chairs swivel. Some even claim to have seen the shade of a little girl sprinting across the floor.

Criss-crossing the Navajo Nation for my series on its chapters, I've come across plenty of ghost stories. There is a haunted cave in Nazlini, a haunted battlefield in Coppermine, and several buried treasures guarded by ghosts. But my favorite (so far, anyway) has to be a stretch of road in Gadii'Ahi/Tokoi still used by a spectral cavalry regiment which hasn't gotten word that the Indian wars are over.

Late on a moonless night, say the folks who live along Old Soldier Road, you can here the clip-clop of horses' hooves and the ponderous metal wheels of the big guns grinding the gravel, along with hushed voices.

Once, says Chapter President Carol Roger-Etcitty, one of the soldiers paid her son an uninvited visit.

He and a friend were home alone playing cards into the wee hours, the door open for the breeze, when in burst a dust-covered bilagáana in Union Army garb.

Perhaps wondering what to make of all the modern contraptions, the incorporeal corporal looked around with a confused expression and backed out, still brandishing his sword and musket.

Old Soldier Road is in line to be paved, which the residents are hoping will dispel the pesky apparitions whence they came, wherever that is.

Another extremely haunted locale that will no longer spook the locals is the old Crownpoint Boarding School.

Before it was torn down, said Leonard Perry, local historian and publisher of the newspaper, Crownpoint Bahané, heard multiple tales of a herd of invisible children who raced through the halls at night laughing and playing.

One security guard was so spooked by the phantom pupils, he quit his job.

If you ask Perry, and you really should if you ever meet him, his hometown is the most haunted spot on the rez.

"We were not the first ones here," he said in a telephone interview, pointing out the twin Anasazi ruins of Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House) and Muddy Water.

"The road between the two ruins goes right through Crownpoint," he said, and there are plenty of abandoned Navajo structures as well ... not to mention a full-fledged ghost town of former BIA structures.

If you are a ghost, you will not lack for haunts here. And according to Perry, every Crownpoint resident has a story, from phantom drumbeats at the ruins to people in old-fashioned clothes who pop up in the shadows and then disappear.

"For us, every day is Halloween," he quipped ... and that's not even counting The Howler, the wailing creature that wakes people up in the middle of the night with its unearthly sounds.

Crownpoint's scariest spook, and possibly the one seen by the most people, is "The Lady in Red," a mysterious woman who appears in the passenger seats of cars driving in the canyon south of Crownpoint late at night.

"People say she's looking for the person who did her in," said Perry.

Perry, who holds three associate degrees, two bachelor's, a master's and is presently working on a doctorate in educational thought and socio-cultural studies at the University of New Mexico, is probably one of the best-educated people on the Navajo Nation. Does he ... you know ... believe?

Oh, yes.

"I'm a student of philosophy," said Perry, "which means I believe in logic. If you start talking to people, almost everyone has observed or had an experience with something they couldn't explain.

"Logically," he continued, "it doesn't make sense to dismiss the experience of whole communities of people."

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