Back to Canyon de Chelly and I hope you all can indulge my fascination with rock art for a few more posts...
This is probably my favorite of all the rock art sites I visited and was one of the main reasons for going in the first place.. I had previously heard about this one and wanted to see it for myself. This branch of the canyon is named "Canyon del Muerto"(Canyon of Death) for an incident related to the story depicted on this rock. The art is Navajo in origin and nowhere near as old as the last one I wrote about, dating back only to the 1800's. In fact it depicts an expedition by Spanish soldiers into the canyon in January 1805, led by Lt. Antonio Narbona, in which they cornered a group of Navajos at their hiding place in the rocks and massacred everyone, including women, children and elderly. That spot is now a ruin known as "Massacre Cave" and is quite a bit further up the canyon from this spot where the artwork is found.
As Spanish, Mexican and eventually American settlers began to invade the traditional Native American territories, they (the Navajo and others) understandably felt justified in raiding and pillaging the intruders, but that in turn prompted retribution from the armies of the various governments involved, which of course were destined to prevail due to their size and resources. After many years of back and forth raids, in 1863, a force led by Kit Carson, under orders to subdue Indian unrest in the area, entered the canyon from the upper end and drove all the remaining residents from this last refuge, destroying their homes and crops and forced them into "The Long Walk".. the infamous 300 mile forced march eastward to the Fort Sumner internment camp in New Mexico. Hundreds died on the 18 day trek. Once there, they were forced to live together with other tribes with which they had historical disputes, (kind of like the racial divides in modern day prisons), creating lots of new problems, but eventually in 1868 they were allowed to return to their traditional homeland.
I love the way the artists used the natural formation in the rock wall to create a ground for the riding characters, as well as the way the intricate textures and colors highlight the scene. Notice the robe and cross depicting a Spanish priest riding along with the soldiers and the detail of the horses.
The photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically – that is, learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacities of his tools and processes, so that he can instantaneously translate the elements and values in a scene before him into the photograph he wants to make.
- Edward Weston, The Art of Photography