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NAVAJO FRY BREAD HISTORY
by Cynthia Detterick-Pineda of Andrews, Texas
 
     Indian fry bread is tradition to the Navajo, and comes with a story of great pain and suffering. Though the tradition of fry bread is common among many Southwestern Tribes, it is the Navajo who developed this recipe.

     I do not feel that I can share the recipe without sharing it’s origins and what it means to some today.

     The Navajo planters lived from the Earth as their ancestors had for hundreds of years before. They also raised livestock to feed their family. The Navajo dinetah (or homeland) was bordered by the four sacred mountains, from northeastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and north into Utah and Colorado. They planted crops in the fertile valley lands, such as Canyon de Chelly known for Ansazi ruins.

     The Navajo traded with the Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche, and even the early American pioneers. Around 1846, large numbers of pioneers moved into the area and the Calvary came with them. This is when troubles began. The troubles escalated with the murder or Narbona (1766-1849), a well-respected Navajo leader on August 31, 1849.

     On this day, Narbona along with several hundred of his warriors, had come to meet and discuss peace with U.S. Colonel John M. Washington and others of the military stationed in the area. There had been trouble with the “New Men”, the New Mexican settlers who had driven Mexican settlers out of the area.

     After several hours, it was believed a settlement had been agreed upon. However, a young warrior by the name of Sadoval, had plans of his own. Mounting his horse he began to ride in front of the Navajo party, attempting to have them break the treaty. A U.S. Calvary soldier began to say that one of the horses ridden by a Navajo was his, and what peace there was in the meeting that was disintegrating into battle.

     Colonel Washington commanded the Navajo to stand down and return the horse to the soldier or he would fire into them. The rider and horse were now gone, and the Navajo party did not comply. A canon was fired, and Narbona was mortally wounded. It is told that he was scalped by a U.S. soldier as he lay dying.

     This disastrous attempt at peace led to the “Long Walks”. In September 1863, Kit Carson (1809-1868) was dispatched into Navajo land to retrieve a surrender. When no Navajo came to meet with him, he ordered the burning of the land. Attempts were made to starve out the Navajo, and many were captured and taken to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. Hundreds starved on the 300 mile walk, and more would die later in the crowded and disparaging conditions. Navajo were placed with the Mescalero Apache were home peace was often not the case. The camps were meant for 4,000 to 5,000 people, yet there were now over 9,000 people, and supplies were meager.

      The government supplies of lard, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder or yeast, and powdered milk were often rancid. Fry bread came from these few foods provided during the 4 years of captivity. Since that time, it has become common food at most all PowWows of numerous tribes

     To some, Indian Fry Bread is a sacred tradition. It is to be consumed by the people until the earth has again become purified.

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