They're Number 1

Straddling the Pueblo Colorado, Greasewood Springs is awash in possibilities

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

GREASEWOOD SPRINGS, Ariz., April 18, 2013

(Editor's note: In an effort to chronicle the beauty and diversity of the Navajo Nation, as well as its issues, the Navajo Times has committed to visiting all 110 chapters in alphabetical order. This is the 31st in the series.)

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T If you look at a map of Greasewood Springs Chapter, it's shaped just like a numeral one.

It's an obscure source of pride for the residents. As for the chapter officials, they're working hard to make Greasewood look like Number One from the ground.

Perched on a shallow aquifer, Greasewood may just be Number One in terms of water. This blessed chapter has enough to spare and to share. Pipes from its wells and springs carry the bounty to Dilkon, Indian Wells, Teesto and Seba Dalkai, Ariz.

Religious freedom is also in abundance, according to the chapter's enthusiastic services coordinator, Barbara Cummings.

Greasewood's 1,600 residents can choose from LDS, Catholic, Faith Mission, Pentecostal and even Mennonite denominations, as well as some excellent medicine men and NAC practitioners.

The chapter is making strides toward improving its infrastructure. It's in the process of getting approval for a gravel pit to solidify its sandy roads, and is working with the Navajo Department of Transportation to create a low-water crossing over the Pueblo Colorado Wash, which bisects the chapter.

It's in the seventh phase of an eight-phase power line project that will bring electricity to all but the most rural residents. (It's looking into wind power for them.)

Spanning parts of both Apache and Navajo County, and perched between the southwestern chapters and Fort Defiance Agency, Greasewood Springs has an abundance of potential partners for projects.

"We work pretty well with everybody," Cummings said.

Government jobs abound, with a BIE grant school and several tribal offices.

What is lacking here is private industry.

The lone trading post, now part of the Red Mesa chain, is the only sign of commerce.

Now certified and working on its master plan with the Navajo Housing Authority, Greasewood Springs is ready to kick things up a notch.

It has pulled 100 acres along Navajo Route 15 for commercial space, hoping to lure in first a grocery store, then a Laundromat, and eventually a motel and restaurant.

"We're right on a tourism corridor," Cummings said, pointing out Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert to the south and Hubbell Trading Post and Canyon de Chelly to the north. "We just can't get anybody to stop. We watch the RVs roll on by."

When people do stop, they're pleasantly surprised. Cummings recalled the Swedish motorcycle club who stopped at the trading post for gas and ended up staying for a couple of hours, strolling around and photographing the historic buildings.

In addition to the old stone Catholic Church still in use, Greasewood's original chapter house and trading post are still standing, along with some gorgeous old wood and stone hogans.

It was enough to inspire John Farnsworth, who was the trader there in the 1960s, to become a painter and photographer. He currently has a gallery in Taos, and if you look at his website you can see a beautiful rendition of the trading post in its heyday.

Perhaps this community hidden in the cottonwoods along the Pueblo Colorado just needs to toot its horn a little louder.

For example, most people think the world's largest Navajo rug sits in Chilchinbeto's chapter house, but in fact, that is only the world's LONGEST Navajo rug. A rug 14 square feet larger, measuring 26 by 36 feet, was woven in Greasewood by Julia Bah Joe and Lily Hill in the early 1930s, decades before Chilchinbeto even thought of creating its claim to fame.

Betty Abe, Joe's granddaughter and Hill's niece, said the family kept quiet about it for years, not wanting to steal Chilchinbeto's thunder. But when the Greasewood rug surfaced in Winslow last summer after having been stashed by a private collector in Phoenix for decades, she decided to share the story with the media.

Abe was born eight years after the rug was completed in 1937, but she was raised by her grandmother, who loved to tell the story.

According to Abe, J.L. Hubbell's son, Lorenzo Hubbell, owned a trading post in Oraibi, Ariz., at that time. Somehow he got it into his head that he wanted to own the world's largest Navajo rug.

"He came around, all the way from Hopi, visiting weavers and asking them if they would make a huge rug," Abe said. "My grandmother was the only one who said, 'Yes, I can do that.'"

It took two years just to prepare for the undertaking, which required wool from more than 200 sheep, many of them Joe's own, according to Abe.

"Of course she had lots of helpers," Abe said, "carding the wool, spinning the wool, dyeing the wool ..."

A 30-by-40-foot wooden building with a 10-foot-high ceiling had to be built to house the loom, which was 27 feet wide. Abe said it took 10 men to stretch the string to start the rug.

The weaving itself took five years. Joe herself created the design, which had odd, spiked figures in the middle and four large shields "to protect her family" in the corners, Abe explained. The geometric-patterned border was designed by Abe's father, Jerome Tshischilly.

Joe ended up regretting the arrow-shaped designs.

"She told me, 'Granddaughter, never weave arrowheads into your rug,'" Abe recalled. "'They're giving me pains in the chest.'"

In spite of her complaints, Joe lived to the ripe age of 91. She died in 1975, two years before the weavers of Chilchinbeto started their grand feat. Hubbell realized he could never pay Joe enough for her labor, so he gave her "I think a couple hundred dollars" and allowed her to shop for free at his trading post for the rest of her life.

"She was welcome to pick whatever she wanted when she goes to the store," Abe recalled with obvious pride.

Abe doesn't want to diminish Chilchinbeto's accomplishment.

"Theirs was made by a bunch of weavers, which is really something," she said.

But she's glad Joe is finally getting the credit she deserves.

Last summer, the grand red, black, white and grey weaving was purchased by the Winslow Arts Trust. It's currently in storage at La Posada hotel.

"It's so big, we have nowhere to display it," explained La Posada Manager Kristi Bumgarner.

She said the hotel and the trust are working together to renovate the old Winslow train depot by the hotel into a museum where the rug can be displayed properly. Construction is to start this summer, and it's hoped the titanic textile can be available for public viewing by late fall or early winter.

The trust unrolled Joe's masterpiece briefly last summer, and Abe, 71, got a glimpse of it for the first time in 50 years. It made her cry.

"What a grandmother we had!" she said. "It's something so precious."

Joe taught Abe to weave, and she sometimes uses the huddle Joe passed on to her, the one she used on what she always called "my great largest rug."

Is there magic in that old tool?

"Oh yes," Abe said. "Of course."

Greasewood Springs at a Glance

Name - A literal translation of the Navajo name, Diwoozhibiito. For years, the area was known as "Lower Greasewood" to distinguish from an area near Lukachukai also known as Greasewood. Recently, the chapter voted to revert to its original name of Greasewood Springs.

History - According to former Council delegate and chapter official David Sangster Sr., the community was founded some time before the Long Walk by a man called Atsii' Adinii ("No Hair"). Atsii' Adinii was passing through when he noticed a wet spot underneath a greasewood bush. He dug about two feet down with his bare hands and beautiful, clear water welled up from the ground - the original Greasewood Spring. In spite of its extreme isolation before N15 was paved, the town early on had a trading post and a day school. In Sangster's youth, folks had beautiful cornfields along the Pueblo Colorado Wash. Today, the chapter is trying to revive its agricultural legacy.

Population - about 1,600

Land area - 5.34 square miles

Famous sons and daughters - The late Keith Boyd was one of the founders of the American Indian Rodeo Cowboy Association, and ever since then this has been the home of some great Indian cowboys. Boyd's descendants are now in their fourth generation of cowboying up, and Albert Yazzie's family has produced some wonderful rough stock folks. The Yazzies can also boast some well known medicine men, including Yazzie himself.

Claim to fame - the world's largest Navajo rug was woven here by Julia Bah Joe and Lily Hill in the early 1930s.

Upcoming events - Check out Greasewood Springs Chapter's popular public education days. The next one is tomorrow, April 19 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is all about water - the spirituality of it, capturing it, conserving it, etc. An interfaith prayer service will follow at 7, with an NAC service at 8.

Problems - lack of industry, feral horses, quicksand (not as bad as it used to be after years of drought), a wash that bisects the chapter and can be hard to cross when it's running

Invitation - The chapter is currently in a master planning process and wants all its young people involved. If you're a 20- or 30-something or even a teen who has a vision for Greasewood's future, contact Community Services Coordinator Barbara Cummings

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