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Fred and Bertha Stevens

Some information about Bertha Brown Stevens

During her childhood, most of her family lived in Canyon DeChelly. This is where the largest concentration of Navajos lived in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

A staple of their diet was the corn grown in the canyon. They roasted the corn and then ground it on a metate.

During her childhood, they didn't have oranges, apples, etc. There were problems with distribution on the reservation, which was almost entirely rural at the time, lacking the developed system of roads now present. While not extremely cosmopolitan even today, the transportation infrastructure of roads and the fast, simple means of trucking make almost any commodity readily available today.

Her mother and father died within a year of each other, her mother in 1943 and her father in 1944. Her family was considered pretty well off at the time, owning a considerable amount of livestock, including a large number of horses.

She recounted how they used to cook bread in the ashes of their fire. This is a traditional way of cooking that is still used and taught by the Boy Scouts etc. Almost any food can be cooked by wrapping it and then placing it in hot ashes from a campfire.

Bertha started school in Chinle. She tells how like the military it was, marching to a cadence, "left right, left right." The rules and regulations at the school were very strict. All the children were forced to dress alike and the girls had to wear their hair short like men.

In old days, they planted and harvested their crops, but at the time of this interview (1972) this practice had ceased. While some of the people in the more rural areas still plant and harvest, it's much more convenient to drive into town and buy necessities at the local store.

Prickly pear cactus and melons were first dried then used in winter. Mutton was the primary meat in their diet. Deer was also common.

Bertha's clan was Tó'tsoni (Big Water). Bertha's mother was excellent weaver and taught her how. I once heard an observation about Bertha's weaving that praised her work for, "being so tightly woven that the weave couldn't be pulled apart, and her rug weighed half again more than others because of this, which meant that it was much more durable."

During the tours that she and Fred went on for the State Department, she met many prominent figures including Stuart Udahl and John Glenn.

Bertha Stevens
Bertha Brown Stevens

Fred and Bertha Stevens spent years touring and demonstrating the arts of sandpainting and rug weaving. In 1967 and again in 1970, Bertha and Fred Stevens toured Europe and demonstrated at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr. and Mrs. Stevens often acted as goodwill ambassadors for the US State Department, travelling to different countries around the world. The Stevens traveled to England, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Mexico, Japan, South America and Canada.

Fred and Bertha Stevens
Fred and Bertha Stevens on Tour

Bertha Stevens home was a hogan near the rim of Canyon DeChelly. This small log and clay house was situated with one of the most glorious views conceivable. The country is magnificent with red rocks, sheer rock walls, and sweet juniper.

Bertha Stevens' Hogan
Bertha Stevens' Hogan

This photo was taken near Bertha's hogan, at the rim of Canyon DeChelly. Just behind Fred you can see the canyon wall. In the bottom of the canyon runs a small river.

Fred Stevens at the rim
Fred Stevens at the rim of Canyon DeChelly