We first meet our main character Tsi'tnaginnie during a blizzard.
Wait, let me clarify...we meet him ON a forced marched DURING one of the worst blizzards in New Mexcian history.
He and his wife's clan are part of the 1000's of Navajo taken captive in 1863-68.
When his wife is murdered, he is adrift in grief and anger. Mourning is impossible when the daily survival of his daughter and his parents is his only goal.
Back in 1865, when we (me, him, and our translator Eamon) could snatch a few moments during Tsi'tnaginnie's work day, he and I sat down to a nice pot of coffee made from the brackish water of the Pecos, and talked about life, death and what it means to be a prisoner in the worst place on earth.
Me: "So, tell me, what is Camp Bosque Redondo like for a young family? Are the children having fun?"
Tsi'tnaginnie: "Are you nuts? This isn't a camp! Just yesterday, another child drowned when he fell into the river. That is what it's like here."
I've clearly misjudged how angry this man is.
Me: "Uhh, sorry. . . so, is the food okay? Do they make sure you're all given what you're used to?"
Tsi'tnaginnie: "They don't care if we starve. But, yes, of course they give us food. Just this morning my mother got another five pound bag of green coffee beans. Ever tried to cook those? They go great with rancid bacon."
Me: "Oh my. Well, uhh, I see a nice garden out beyond the tipis. What are you growing? Soybeans? Those are high in protein."
Tsi'tnaginnie: "What is a soybean? And those aren't tipis, those are pathetic excuses for hogans. Who did your research? "
Me: "I did. Don't get so rude. You're starting to offend me."
Tsi'tnaginnie: "I don't care. "
He starts to sneer, and his arms have been crossed for almost the whole conversation so far. He hasn't made eye contact at all, and seems to stare out the window more than he needs to.
Me: "What are you looking at? Why do you keep looking out the window?"
Tsi'tnaginnie: "I'm keeping watch in case the Commander comes. He wants to shoot me."
Me: "Oh my! Why would he want to shoot you?"
Tsi'tnaginnie: "It might have something to do with me looking at his daughter once too much."
Me: "But...how's that bad?"
And not just angry, a whole lot disgusted.
Tsi'tnaginnie: "Are you serious? Look at us. There's a slight difference! I could get shot for speaking to her! And by the way, you might want to talk to Eamon about what's really going on here. He sees everything and he hears what the soldiers say. And do me a favour?"
Annnnd all of a sudden he's charming?
He leans in even more, a sad smile lightens the clouds on his face. "Make sure the world knows about this place, and about what's happening to my people. Please? I don't know if any of us will get out of here alive."
The man's bravery evaporates when the door opens and a pretty blonde walks in. She smiles at me and my translator, then takes a long look at Tsi'tnaginnie.
Something strange is going on. Because she turns around and walks out, and he exhales far too hard. Tsi'tnaginnie mutters something as he rises from his chair and walks out the back door. Eamon the translator nods in agreement.
Me: "What did he say?"
Eamon: "He said, one of these days, that girl will be the death of me."
Me: "That's bad."
Eamon: "Very bad. Because I've heard what her father does to prisoners who speak to white women."
Me: "And, what is that?"
Eamon: "Ever heard tell of a firing squad? Then again, a hanging rope is cheaper than bullets.""