Annie and the Anasazi

Klagetoh is home to the famous, the traditional, and (almost) enough water

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

KLAGETOH, Ariz., June 27, 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 41st in the series.)

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(Times photo — Cindy Yurth)

TOP: Map

SECOND FROM TOP: Brothers Bert Bia, left, and Roy Gaddy race up the hill to Kin Na Zhinni (Standing House), the most picturesque ruin in Klagetoh. The area is also the site where, according to oral history, Geronimo's troops helped the Navajos ambush a U.S. Cavalry regiment. The Natives robbed the unfortunate soldiers and, according to local legend, buried the treasure and were never able to find it again.

THIRD FROM TOP: Franklin Begay, center, and his sons Roy, left and Bert, stand the Lee Ye Toh, the underground spring that gave Klagetoh its name. The cistern is still full of water, but the pump broke years ago and has never been replaced.

T he well that gives Klagetoh Chapter its name is almost full. But no one is using it, other than a fat black salamander that swims to the surface to hover languidly and peer at us through the unaccustomed sunlight.

Here at Lee Ye Toh (Water under the Ground), the concrete casing is broken and the pump has long since disappeared.

"If the chapter officials really wanted to do something," says Franklin Begay, "they would fix all these little springs and wells. We could have an abundance of water if we put in the infrastructure."

Abundance may be too strong a word, at least in these days of drought.

Begay has just come from the other well, Sand Springs, which had run dry when he tried to fill his water tank from it.

"People come from outside the area with their big jugs and tanks, and pump it dry," Begay complains. "You have to wait for it to fill up again."

In these thirsty times, having any water is relative abundance, and people in the neighboring, drier chapters come here to fill their tanks. Begay himself has grown impatient with the wait and is headed to Sanders, Ariz., where he will presumably be an outsider encroaching on that community's water supply.

But he has some time to show the Navajo Times around this interesting chapter, as rich in history as it is in water.

Through the eyes of the 55-year-old medicine man, the Klagetoh of 50 years ago takes shape. The low-lying meadow on the east side of Highway 191 once again becomes a patchwork of cornfields, irrigated from a dam that Begay's grandfather built.

"They called him Hastiin Bee'a'kid (Mr. Dam) because of that," he says.

Back then, Begay says, neighbors helped each other.

"When it was harvest time," he says, "You'd see a whole parade of wagons coming to help you bring in your crops."

Home of Annie Wauneka

That was when the legendary Annie Wauneka, activist and Council delegate, walked the earth. She was Begay's aunt, and he remembers her mostly has a strict old lady.

"One day it was a weekday and I ran into her at the store," he recalls. "She said, 'Why are you not in school?' I said, 'I don't have no clothes.'

"She looked me up and down and said, 'You're not standing there naked.' I went back to school."

At the chapter house, you can see Wauneka's picture alongside the photos of all the Navajo Nation chairmen and presidents, including Klagetoh native Albert Hale, now an Arizona State representative.

"He's still pretty active in the community," says Chapter secretary Dorinda Roan. "He shows up at community events, like the Christmas dinner. (Former state Rep.) Albert Tom visits us once in a while too."

The chapter has also been home to many great medicine men over the years, including Begay's father, Harry Begay, who taught Franklin the Beauty Way.

It's generally accepted (well, at least if you ask the Klagetohans) that the song-and-dance movement started here, with musicians like Ned Tsosie Clark and Boniface Bonney, who pioneered the recording of traditional Diné music.

The people who pioneered Klagetoh itself are not remembered, at least not by name. The Anasazi had a thriving settlement here once, perhaps with almost as many residents as the 6,000-person chapter boasts today.

"Everywhere you see a mound, there's probably a ruin under it," Begay confides. "We're always finding grinding stones and arrowheads."

The most spectacular ruin is the red sandstone structure that seems to grow organically out of a rock outcropping overlooking the vast meadow that was once Begay's grandfather's reservoir. It's known as Kin Na Zhinni, Standing House.

It is better known as the location of one of the Navajos' few victories in the Indian wars.

According to oral history, none other than the great Geronimo (known as Bitsii Neezii, or "Long Hair" to the Diné) offered to help the Navajos ambush a U.S. Army supply train that was coming through here.

"It's the only time I can think of that the Navajos and the Apaches worked together," notes Begay.

The ambush was successful, and the Natives found themselves with more loot than they could carry back to their camps on horseback.

"They buried it," says Begay. "According to legend, they made four markers: four rocks standing up like tombstones. You would sight along the four markers to find the treasure."

Begay believes he found one of the markers while out herding sheep as a youngster, but he was never able to find another.

That Army payroll may or may not exist, but Klagetoh has one sure buried treasure: its water.

Begay's son Bert Bia looks down into the clear depths of the Lee Ye Toh.

"We should bottle it and sell it," he says. He already has an advertising slogan: "Be well with well water."

His brother Roy Gaddy looks down too, as the granddaddy salamander eyes him suspiciously and swims away.

"We'd have to filter it first," he says.

Klagetoh at a Glance

Name - An Anglicization of Lee Ye Toh, "Water under the Ground," for the many shallow wells including one in particular that went by that name

Population - about 6,000

Land area - about 12 square miles

Famous sons and daughters - Health and education promoter Annie Wauneka, former Navajo Nation President and current Arizona State Rep. Albert Hale, former Arizona State Rep. Albert Tom

Major clans - Tódich'iinii, Ashiihii, Tsi'najinii, Tsénjikiinii, Tabaaha, Bitahnnii, Totsonii. Many Klagetoh residents have both Tsin'najinii and Tsenjikiinii in their lineage. "The way I heard it," said local medicine man Franklin Begay, "the Tsi'najiniis were heavy on girls and the Tsénjikiiniis were heavy on boys. One of the Tsenjikiiniis married over here, and his brothers said, 'Hmm, he found something good over there,' and followed him. They all ended up marrying Tsin'najinii girls."

Current project - Two upcoming power projects will connect 38 families to the grid in the Grey Cactus and Sand Springs areas. Water line extensions are on tap for Grey Cactus and Boggy Lake. Land has been set aside for a senior citizens center.

Problems - gang activity and graffiti, feral horses, unemployment

Sites of interest - Kin Na Zhinni ruin, St. Anne's Mission, old Klagetoh Boarding School (now closed and used for housing)

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