Friends said he craved it all his life, especially during his earlier years at the Santa Fe Indian School where mutton stew was nowhere to be found. Once in a while, during Tahoma’s high school days, the superintendent ordered the slaughter of sheep for a Navajo-style feast. When eating mutton and hearing the familiar language around a campfire, it almost felt like home.
Home — so long ago and so far away from Santa Fe, he might have mused. As a small boy in the early 20th century, Tahoma had known the nomadic life of the Navajo as they followed their sheep from lower to higher ground according to the season. The Saganitso family that adopted Tahoma didn’t have to travel quite as far as other Navajo because they claimed a vast spread of land near Arizona’s Greasewood Lake, providing ample grazing for their cattle and sheep. The family relished the open space and living in the quiet land.
During those long days of tending sheep, Tahoma observed the colors of sky, clouds, and rocks. He memorized the shape of yellow-flowered rabbit bush and the spiky yucca plants, and these images came to life in his paintings of the Navajo herding their sheep.
In a beautiful 1949 painting of a young Navajo woman watching her flock, Tahoma created an endless parade of sheep. The detail of sheep in the distance is incredible, as is shown in this closeup of the painting’s left side.
A century ago, Navajo owners carefully tended their sheep, which were valued for their wool, their hides and meat. And even today, the tradition continues. This elderly Navajo woman shown below watching over her sheep by day, may well have had mutton stew for dinner in the evening. Yummm!
Here’s an article about traditional Apache and Navajo foods.
Here’s a recipe (unfortunately no longer available on the Internet), that is rather challenging if you don’t read Navajo. It includes easy to read instructions if you are a sheepherder far from canned goods, too!
However, logically it calls for
- 2 lb. lean lamb or mutton
- 6 potatoes
- 1 bunch of carrots
- 1 cup celery sliced
- 1 onion chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
You can learn about more of Tahoma’s personal likes and dislikes when you get your copy of Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Books are going like Frybread at an Indian Fair, so get your pre- order in now. Just send us a message.
Everyone has a food that reminds them of home. What is your favorite childhood traditional food?