Eva Tulene Watt was born in 1913 on the Fort Apache Reservation, just north of the Salt River in southeastern Arizona. She’s traveled far during her long life, living and working in Spokane, Wash., Stillwell, Okla., and San Francisco, Calif., among other places. But her home has always been in and around the small reservation settlement of Chediskai, where she spent most of her childhood and young-adult years.
recorded by University of New Mexico anthropologist Keith Basso in
Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You, recall
the mundane, delightful, and painful details of life on and off the
reservation. Her extensive memories and family stories include
childhood games, square dances in the street in Show Low, Ariz.,
outbreaks of flu and trachoma, ceremonies by local medicine men,
run-ins with wildlife, and cattle drives with her stepfather ("I
helped him keep the horses together. I think I was the only woman
who did that," she says).
Watt, who now lives on the
reservation with her son’s family, lost two siblings and her
father to illness and accident during her childhood, and she and
her surviving siblings were repeatedly separated by stints at
government boarding schools. Though her tone is never bitter, her
stories often show the overt discrimination of earlier times: For
instance, U.S. government officials referred to male heads of
Western Apache families by codes — such as A-1 and F-1
— rather than proper names.
Basso, who recorded
these tales over five years and more than 200 hours of interviews,
is a quiet mediator, providing only small clarifications in the
text and helpful historical endnotes. At Watt’s request, he
refrained from ethnographic analysis, letting her stories stand
largely alone. "Too much of that stuff can throw a blanket over
your thinking," Watt said of his interpretive urges. When Basso
agreed, she teased him: "Good, that way you won’t get a
Don’t Let the Sun Step
Over You: A White Mountain Apache Family Life,
Eva Tulene Watt, with assistance from Keith H.
Basso. 340 pages, softcover $24.95
University of Arizona