Pilgrim Cafe

Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit

Cultutes Collide

Harvey Leakey, writer for the Canyon Country Zephyr, a great grandson of John and Louisa Wetherill, white traders and friends to the Navajo residents of the Four Corners area, wrote the attached thought provoking article

Slim Woman of Kayenta…by Harvey Leake | Canyon Country Zephyr

Anthropologist Harvey Leake researches his family myths.


I recently completed a Pilgrimage to Monument Valley in Southern Utah. This region of the Colorado Plateau, characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, is between 5,000 & 6,000 feet above sea level. The desertine valley shares the boundary between Arizona and Utah on the northern edge of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Continuing my interest in the lives of Women Adventurers, I recently read the story of Louisa and John Wetherill of Kayenta, the first white traders to settle the area and I wanted to visit their original trading post at Oljato, if it could be found. After a few initial

You will have to leave,” the Navajo leader, Hoskininni Begay (Hashké Neiniihí Biye’: Son of Giving Out Anger), ordered John Wetherill on March 17, 1906 when he rode up to the water hole known to the local people as Oljato (Ooljéé’tó: Moonlight Water).

wrong turns, we eventually found the right road. Drove ten miles west of the Golding Lodge only to have the pavement end. From there a gravel wash board beckoned us. We continued but when the gravel turned to red powder and our wheels began sinking, we concluded the location of the post would forever remain a mystery.We turned around to start home unfulfilled and yet trying to convince ourselves all had not been in vane when, gleeming before us, on a distant hillside announced white letters spelling Oljato. Just to the left of the sign, actually naming a small service community for park workers, stood quietly in Cottonwoods, the remains of the Wetherill Trading Post covered by red clay silt from a small cross roads. This was the ancient Spring of Moonlight Water. No signs or depictions that this was the fruition of John Wetherill’s pilgrimage seeking the mythic location, or simply the first site established by a white trader to the area. It was a quiet intimate moment. Pilgrimage complete.



Fall trip to Four Corners area through which I was attempting to connect with my recent reading about the lives of the Wetherill family and their relationship with the Navajo people near Kayenta, AZ.

We spent two nights at Canyonlands Ranch north of Blanding. Walking the night trails under infinite galaxies sprawled overhead, we came upon this amazing tipi. What an incredible scene.

WEST | The Jennings Papers

It is 1849 and the California Gold Rush is underway. Johnathan Jennings, a merchant from Pittsburgh decides to take his family to San Francisco to relocate his business. That will be the first of many decisions he makes that will doom many in his family, and it worsens when he leaves his daughter Sarah behind to die. The entire story is told through “found” journals and letters.

The reader is enchanted by the plain brown cover emulating a personal journal. One wonders how a journal might hold the attention given the often meandering style of such personal writing. A quick glance inside, however, captures one in the family circle and causes the reader to imediately in the family dream of new life in the west.

The Mystic’s Daughter

A fresh account of the life of Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, musician, children’s author, British WWII spy and daughter of Hazrat Inayat Kahn, Sufi Mystic and musician is to be released in fall 2019. Below is an excerpt from Chapter Five written by Arthur Magida.

An earlier account by Shrabani Basu is currently available.

From Chapter Five

The Khan’s had planned to take a train from Paris to the coast [in June 1940] and, from there, cross the Channel on any ship they could find. But after hearing news of the tumult in almost every train station in France, they decided to drive from Paris and board a train in a station that was reasonably calm. The only way to get to that possibly mythical destination was in her brother, Vilayat’s, MG — a great car for a picnic in the countryside, but not for a flight to safety during a war. With Vilayat and his mother up front and Noor and her sister, Claire, in the jump seat, they began driving the 148 miles to Tours, where they hoped a train would take them to the coast. They quickly learned that everything they had heard on the radio was true: the roads were filled with broken-down cars and broken-down people; and with French infantrymen, humiliated by their rout; and dead horses lying in ditches and thousands of people on bicycles, weaving in and out of the rabble… Everywhere you looked, mattresses were lashed to the tops of Renaults and Citroens and Mercedes. On the top of one car the body of a grandmother who had died en route was tied to a mattress because her son could not bear to leave her alongside the road.

All Noor could do was look directly from her perch in the MG into the eyes of the young and the old, the fit and the lame: all walking onward, feet swollen, shoulders slumped: a multitude of the weary. After years of spiritual pursuits at Fazal Manzil, Noor was not prepared for such sorrow.

Vilayat left the MG with one of his father’s Sufi disciples in Tours. Finding their way to the train station, the Khan’s found seats on a westbound train. Their coach was noisy and crowded, filled, as Noor observed, with “frantic young mothers with tear-stained eyes carrying their sleeping youngsters. They knew not where, just running toward freedom if freedom was to be found. Where were their men? It was useless to even wonder.Noor and Clair had taken a Red Cross course so they could nurse wounded French troops. In their scramble to leave, they had forgotten their Red Cross certificates. Leaving their mother and brother in Le Verdon, Noor and Claire boarded a bus, hoping to find a Red Cross office in a close-by town that could issue certificates to them. The landscape they passed through was a combat zone. Some towns had been bombed. Others strafed. The worst was Saint-Nazaire. The day before, a German bomber had sunk a British ship. Too deep to enter Saint-Nazaire’s harbor, the Lancastria waited offshore as 9,000 passengers were ferried to it… Around 4 p.m. on June 17, a Nazi pilot scored four direct hits on the Lancastria. Men who could not swim clung to the hull until the ship sank 20 minutes later. Enemy planes strafed thousands of survivors who were floating in the water; others drowned or choked on the thick, glutinous waves of oil spilling from the ship’s tanks… The Lancastria suffered over 6,000 fatalities – the worst loss of life in British maritime history and more than the combined losses of the Lusitania and the Titanic.

In Saint-Nazaire, Noor wrote, “Noises ceased. Movement stopped. The town was stunned stiff… Throats were choked… A silent rage stirred the crowd.” A seasoned fisherman was crying. A few Englishmen tried to console themselves by repeating that old bromide that had somehow comforted millions of their countrymen — “There’ll always be an England.” Maybe so. That was consolation for another day. For now, the Nazis were in Paris and that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – France’s sacred memorial to its dead from the last war with Germany – was, as Noor wrote, being “guarded by the enemy. God! It was worse than death!

Noor and Claire headed back to Le Verdon. That took almost 24 hours. Bombs had made many roads unpassable and German strafing had wrecked many of the buses that were still operating. At night, all was black; the blackness gave Noor and Claire cover from German planes and snipers. Upon their return, Vilayat was furious they had been gone for so long. With great effort, he had found space for everyone on a Belgian cargo ship. If Noor and Clair had returned any later, they would have been stuck: France would be handed over to the Germans in a few hours.

The Khan’s boarded the Kasongo on June 19 — a battered freighter infested with beetles. The day was clear and blue, with calm, dazzling water and a few other ships visible in the distance: a liner that had been pressed into service; a yellow ship with a yellow cross; a destroyer whose presence cheered everyone. At night, the Kasongo’s deck was covered with bodies wrapped in coats and blankets. In the moonlight, they looked like corpses, moving only occasionally to pour tea from thermos flasks. The Khans didn’t care about the discomfort or about the beetles. They were out of France.Three days later, the Khans reached Falmouth, a picture-perfect English town. Lovely as it was, there was no time for repose or reflection. The docks were almost as crammed as those in France and fear of a German attack was palpable and not unreasonable. A bus drove the Kasongo’s passengers to a large building where officials processed the newcomers’ papers with British order and tidiness. The refugees were then ushered into a garden where ladies in green/gray Harris tweed uniforms offered lemonade and sandwiches. Without a single extra thread of clothing, the Khans boarded a train to Oxford. Vilayat was familiar with the town after attending the university there. A bed and breakfast took them in – four tired, hungry refugees who had no idea what to do next.

Noor Inayat Khan – Wikipedia

The story of Noor Inayat Khan is that of a heroine who claimed an enigmatic role to serve The Allies and her faith family during WWII. Her’s was a dramatic self sacrigicial life. She was a children’s author who gave herself for the ideas she espoused.

Where Beauty and Bravery Meet

I have been challenged most of my life with a reading impediment. My left eye tacks erratically from left to right causing every movement to require refocus. To understand the chaos this creates in public, one can consciously count the number of movements their eyes make while reading a simple brief selection. Most of these are automatic in the experience of a normal reader, but not for the challenged reader. Reading is work and fraught with problems with every turn of the page.

Reading in public regularly sent tremors up my spine, as a young man, causing me to emotionally shrink in poetry, theatre and literature classes and later cower prior to reading scripture in congregational worship during my eventual career as a United Methodist Minister. Playing instruments like organ, piano, violin and guitar, developing my chosen career as a Choral Clinician eventually came face to face with sight limitations. It was no small accomplishment to complete graduate school surviving classes demanding enormous loads of reading, debate and essay. Later, congregational leadership required much impromtu reading and instant comprehension of plans, budgets, and much more. Somehow, I completed a forty-five year ministry not achieving the reading ability I so cherished.

Recently, I picked up a copy of When Women were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams. Herein, Terry describes her confrontation with an early lisp which gave her petrifying problems in childhood. At seventy-five years of age I found great solace and encouragement in chapter nine.

Chapter IX

A speech impediment is an excellent way to lose your voice, especially in fourth grade. When most children were out playing at recess, I was sitting with Mrs. Parkinson in speech therapy. “Tongue-swallowing lessons,” she said. “It has been recommended by your teacher to help you get over your lisp.”

My teacher had told her I had a lisp. My face turned red, and I was flushed with embarrassment. I wasn’t aware that I spoke with a lisp until I was told. We usually don’t have an ear toward our own voice. Friends would make fun of me, the way kids do. Sometimes I laughed with them. Sometimes I did not. But the sure remedy to criticism and ridicule was a simple one: keep quiet.

My great fear in school was that I would be asked to read out loud. And if I was, I prayed I would be given paragraphs without the letter s. The old tongue twister “Sally sat by the seashore…” was my agony. I would try to steer the conversation toward “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” I knew that diversion by heart.

Three times a week Mrs. Parkinson and I would meet in her special classroom full of plants and posters with illustrations of various consonant and vowel sounds. She would help me redirect my tongue when I spoke and swallowed. The point was to stop the practice of tongue thrusting.

The exercises went something like this: She would give me a saltine cracker to chew, with the instructions that I was to form a little ball in the center of my tongue. Once that feat was accomplished, I would open my mouth to show her.

Then, after much encouragement, she would place a tiny elastic band around the tip of my tongue (at least this is how I remember it) and show me with her own tongue where to place it on “the spot” (behind the ridge on the roof of my mouth).

I would position my tongue perfectly, just as she demonstrated, and then she would say, “Now swallow.”

I swallowed.

She watched.

“Very good.”

I would go through a column of crackers each session, or so it seemed. That was the swallowing lesson. The lesson to get rid of my lisp was something different.

If I placed the tip of my tongue where I normally did when I spoke—behind my front tooth and “its neighbor” to the right—and said “Sally,” I created a leaky sound like “Thally.” But if I placed the tip of my tongue on the opposite side of my mouth, behind and between my left front tooth and the one next to it, I created a crisp, clean sound that was correct. “Sally.” No lisp.

What was required of me was practice. Mrs. Parkinson and I read poetry together, my voice overlaying hers. She taught me how to hear the sounds of words and find delight in the rhythm and musicality of certain combinations, like the Emily Dickinson poem that begins:

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;

I keep it staying at home,

With a bobolink for a chorister,

And an orchard for a dome.

There were plenty of s words in the poem, but I didn’t mind, because I so loved what the poem was saying. I forgot myself and concentrated on what was being said instead of how I said it.

One of my favorite poems we shared was called “Questioning Faces” by Robert Frost:

The winter owl banked just in time to pass

And save herself from breaking window glass.

And her wings straining suddenly aspread

Caught color from the last of evening red

In a display of underdown and quill

To glassed-in children at the window sill.

She knew I loved birds; had I told her I loved owls? It only solidified how much I admired my speech therapist, looked forward to our time together.

For homework I read these poems aloud with my mother. “E-nun-ci-ate,” I remember her saying slowly. The practice of speaking words clearly. Elocution. Suddenly I began to enjoy the art of speaking because it followed the art of listening. These poems were puzzles and secrets, each with its own hidden meaning. It mattered how they were spoken. My task was to honor the power of each word by delivering it as beautifully as I could.

In fourth grade I was not aware of alliteration or iambic pentameter or the symbolism of the owl as wisdom and the innocence of children in danger of colliding with fate. Nor could I have known how these themes of nature and culture would grow inside me and possess me later as a writer. I only knew the pleasure the poems were bringing to my mouth and ears. I could never explain to my friends how much I enjoyed my speech class, even if it meant missing recess. Poetry became play, a verbal athleticism more fun and challenging than playing four square or jumping hurdles on the soccer field.

Mrs. Parkinson believed in the beauty of the human voice and called my voice “an instrument.” She taught me to speak with the confidence and joy I had not known before. She helped me correct the source of my embarrassment by being conscious of sounds. She insisted on listening. I no longer feared being called on to read in class, because Mrs. Parkinson introduced me to the potential of my own voice supported by skill and substance over insecurity and doubt. I emerged as a lover of words.

I did not find my voice—my voice found me through the compassion of a teacher who understood how poetry transforms us through the elegance and lyricism of language. By sharing her own love of poetry, Mrs. Parkinson inspired me to speak beyond my fearful self.

I don’t believe our fears ever leave us completely. I still tremble each time I stand up to speak. I feel faint, nerves ricocheting between the confines of my own skin as memories of a childhood lisp awaken in every muscle of my body. And in those first few minutes before a group of people, my instincts shout, Bolt Now, there is still time to escape. But then I pause, look around the room, find whose eyes are present, and orient myself like a compass, remembering that words are much stronger than I am. I take a deep breath and sidestep my fear and begin speaking from the place where beauty and bravery meet—within the chambers of a quivering heart.

Looking for Jimmy

I am standing in front of the original Wetherill Trading Post at Oljato 10 miles east of current Goldings Resort in Monument Valley. John Wetherill and his brother-in-law John Wade encountered a group of navajos on horseback carrying rifles and were told to leave. The two men were in search of a location to establish a new trading post which would be the farthest location west for their trading business with the Navajo people. The following web address is the story of the result of their encouter.

John’s wife Louisa is a major interest in the story. She became so fluent in the difficult Navajo language that she was adopted by Chief Hoskininni who believed that she was actually Navajo at birth. The Wetherills were Quaker and delt so peaceably with the Deneh that they developed a major impact on the Navajo people and came to discover the many ancient residences of the ancient ones (Anastazi) in the Four Corners area. After five years at Oljato they moved their post to Kayenta, Arizona all the time growing in impact.

A Journal of Gary Fillmore’s wanderings on the Colorado Plateau -and beyond.

Gary’s article on The Slim Woman opens the life of Louisa Wetherill. Louise expressed her Quaker Faith through her love of the Navajo people with who she and her husband, John, lived and served. They developed trading posts in Four Corners area in the late 1800s eventually permanently settling in Kayenta, AZ.

John Wetherill is credited with having dicovered Mesa Verde and many of the Anasazi dwellings in area. Louisa, on the other hand, became fluent in the difficult Navajo language, and recorded many of their stories and legends. She was so genuinely interested in and loved the people that she was accepted as a family member of the Dine.

Insight into the lives of these incredible adventurers can be discovered in Traders to the Navajos, by Frances Gillmore and Louisa Wetherill.

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