I Wuz Just Thinking: A Memorial Day Hero from Long Ago

Jeff King, an army scout for Kit Carson, is believed to be the only child of the Holy People buried in the famed Arlington National Cemetery. 

I wuz jus thinking about a news article I read recently while going through an old cigar box.  The box had previously been filled with cigars from the name brand of “Travis Club”, but now contain letters, cards, and pictures from the Pickle and Baker families from about 1931 to 1967 or so.

I came across a newspaper clipping written about a Navajo Indian, Jeff King. The article stated King’s age of 117, had been an army scout and also a medicine man.  (King’s official obituary lists his age at death as 99, but his descendants say he was 112 or 113 according to family records. And, they add, his legacy lives on in the Crown Point area).

The article stated he was bored with life being in the hospital in Alburquerque, New Mexico and had asked to be sent to his home in Western New Mexico.

King, whose Navajo name was Haska-zilth-e-yah, served the U.S. Army as a scout and was buried inArlington National Cemetery when he died in 1964.  He is believed to be the only Dine’ buried in the famed Arlington National Cemetery.  Some of the nation’s most famous leaders as well as fellow soldiers are buried in this cemetery.

Dine’ in Navajo means “Children of the Holy People or “The People”. They do not like to be referred to as Navajo “Indians”.

Betty Mahurin Baker

Even though Jeff King could not read or write English, he is remembered as a book author of preserving some of the oldest Navajo ceremonies.

Maude Oakes met Jeff King in 1941. She was an artist who spent two years on the Navajo reservation.  King began to trust her and allowed her to publish the book of the ceremony, “Where the Two Came to Their Fathers”, first published in 1943 by the Princeton University Press.

One of the ceremonies, “Where the Two Came to Their Father”, dates back several hundred years.  It is performed by medicine men to prepare ones going to war.  It was later adapted to cure sickness.

King also performed the Hozhooji (Blessing Way) and ‘Anaa’ji(Enemy Way) ceremonies.

A granddaughter, Ms. Boyd, said King also authored another book called, “The Enemyway,” with a different writer.

Enemyway (‘Anaaʼjí). is sung in order to protect Navajos from harmful ghosts of slain warriors.  This ceremonial can be used for returning military personnel to rid them of the harmful effects of evil spirits, or chindi, of the slain, as well as the associated harmful effects of modernity both on and off the reservation.

When King was about the age of 10, he saw drawings in a cave showing a nine-day, nine-night ceremony.  During the 1800’s it was an important Navajo ceremony.

“A later report said, “It is conducted to protect warriors from danger – as during confrontations with Colonel Kit Carson’s troops during the Fort Sumner years of 1863-68, and later during the Vietnam war – and others from hunger, accident, and sickness of either the body or mind.”

By World War II, he was able to perform the ceremony for many of the Navajos who were heading off to war.

Census records for the Navajo Tribe show King enlisted as an Indian scout on July 23, 1891, at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.

King re-enlisted in 1901, 1904, and 1908 and then received an honorable discharge on Nov. 10, 1911 listed as a sergeant.

King, serving with the U.S. Calvary as a scout with purpose of mostly tracking down some Apache groups that remained at large.

The newspaper, The Times, mentioned that when the Fort Wingate Army Depot celebrated it’s centennial in 1960, King served as grand marshal of the celebration and later was part of a delegation that went to Washington, D.C., and met with high-ranking Army leaders.

King being an army scout for thirty years remembered Col. Kit Carson quite well.

KIT CARSON was an American frontiersman, trapper, soldier, and federal Indian agent in 1850s and later served the Union Army in the Civil War who made important contributions to the westward expansion of the United States.

Carson never learned to read – a fact he later tried to hide and was ashamed. Carson learned to speak Spanish and French fluently. Often immersed in Native American lands and cultures, he also learned to communicate in several of their languages and even married two Native American women.

Carson later became a popular hero in many Western novels.

I love going through boxes filled with treasures of history, as I wuz just thinking.

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