It was long ago at a place not too far from Winona Trading Post along the Turquoise Trail where you came across a muddy wash that each Spring roared to life with the rain and it washed over the land so fast it raced down to a place where it cut through the rocks and flowed and they called this place Grand Falls. It’s sort of out in the sticks and it’s a hard life there. But there is sweet water from a spring and so an old couple came to live there. Their place was not so big. Just a hogan, a sheep corral and an outbuilding with a couple of cedars. It was just short of a day’s ride from Kinlani, the place of many old houses, located in the pines.
The old couple had no children, but on stopping at Winona Trading post they heard that a child was found along side the road and that no one claimed the little girl. It was believed that she had been left there, or was lost and so she was taken to the Indian mission in Kinlani.
By chance, the old couple would go by there to water their horses and to sleep in one of the cabins provided by the missionary who lived there and while there they saw this little girl. Some said she was from the Keesahni people and others said she was from Selba Delkai; others said she was Apache…no one really knew.
She had bright eyes and dark hair and looked at the old couple from the other room, peeking in at them…she was maybe two or three winters old. When the old couple went to sleep on the floor they covered themselves with a heavy quilt and when they woke in the morning the little girl was lying between them. She didn’t speak much. She just liked to watch everything and everybody. They were in town for three days and each day the child would follow them around and the missionary said she did not know what to do with her. The child was an orphan, it seemed. The little girl did not talk much and when she walked she would walked with a stilted gait as if her balance was not that good. But her eyes were large, bright and dark.
The old couple got their supplies and filled their wagon and left Kinlani and headed back to Grand Falls. It was early spring; the year was 1908. The roads were rough and so they made their way back slowly past the lava fields and old hills of volcanic ash that dotted the land. They stopped at a ranch along the way known as Stretton’s place and watered their horses and camped over night. Old man Stretton came over and said to them in their own language: “Where did you find that little girl? She is pretty, that one.”
They said she is our granddaughter and we are headed back to our place. The little girl with big eyes just peeked out from the wagon at the old white man and didn’t say anything. The old couple and the little girl left the next morning.
When they got back to their place, the old couple tended to the sheep and lived their lives like they had always done and noticed the little girl did not talk at all but just followed them around and played with the cat. They told her the cat was named Mosi—the word for cat in Navajo—and that there was not another name for it.
She settled in with them and they wondered if she would ever talk. She continued to watch everything and she ran around the best she could. But when strangers came she would find a place to hide and not come out until they were gone.
Mosi seemed to know everywhere there was a place to hide and she would always lead the old couple to where the little girl was. They came to call her Nizoni—Pretty One—but she never talked to anyone. She just watched everything with her large dark eyes behind her bushy hair.
Then one day they noticed that she did not sleep near them and when they woke up she was gone, so they went to look for her. In the Chao-wood shade house outside they found her lying on the ground all wrapped up and they wondered if she had the fever. She woke up and looked up at them with her wide eyes and she smiled the biggest smile she ever made and they were surprised to see her so full of good spirit. They wondered why she was so happy. Then they heard a faint noise and listened carefully and Nizoni just laughed….
They had never heard her laugh before. It was like a young bird singing in the early morning and they looked at each other with wonder as to why she was laughing….and then they saw them….Mosi’s kittens. Three of them were lying next to Nizoni. All tiny and small….just little ones.
Nizoni looked at them and said ”Mosi, Mosi” and they laughed to hear her for the first time speak to them. Nizoni cuddled those little kittens in her arms and she said “they are my kittens.”
The elders were happy to finally hear her talk. They made a place for Mosi’s kittens so they would be nice and warm, and the little girl took care of them. From then on she told everyone about “her” kittens. So it went long ago at that place called Grand Falls, just a little ways from Kinlani.
Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother’s side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.