The Role of Churro Sheep and Angora Goats in Navajo Life

Sheep by Navajo Harold Davidson

Sheep and goats have been an important part of Navajo life since the 1500s.  Read about the importance they have played in Navajo life by clicking on the titles below:

A Short History on Navajo-Churro Sheep

The Oldest Domesticated Livestock in the United States: Navajo-Churro

Angora Goal by Navajo Harold Davidson

Churro Sheep

Navajo Churro Sheep

Native Americans were first introduced to Churra sheep brought to North America by colonizing Spaniards in the 1500s. The Navajo and Zuni proved to be very good herders and weavers and Churro sheep became a main source of their negotiable wealth.  Churros come in a variety of colors, including reds, browns, black, white, and mixes, and color may change with age.

Sheep by Navajo Harold Davidson

The color is made up of fleece color and the separate color of the head and legs. The fleece comes in a wide variety of natural colors and may have spots and patches of contrasting color. In many cases this eliminates the need for dying although some natural dyes are used to produce deeper colors. The Navajo people have used Churro fleece in rugs and other weavings for many years.

Churro ewe and lamb

Navajo Angora Goats

Records related to Angora Goats state that the mohair has been used as far back as the time of Moses. Goats are said to be the second animal to be domesticated (dogs were first).  The Navajo Angora, also known as the ‘Spanish’, ‘Traditional’, or ‘Heritage’ Angora, are not of Spanish origin but are descendants of animals first imported from Turkey to the United States in 1849 by Dr. James P. Davis of South Carolina.

Angora Goat

Navajo, already raising Churro sheep and other goats, added Angora goats to their flocks in the early 1900s. Both Churro Sheep and Angora Goats tolerate the southwest’s arid climate and harsh browsing conditions.

Angora Goat

 


The Navajo Angora has ample fiber coverage over its entire body, but lacks fiber coverage on its face past the forehead, ears, and legs below the hock/knee (a small amount of downy fiber on the sides of the legs is sometimes seen).  This is an advantage as it prevents build up of burrs and other plant materials in the areas most likely to contact plants. Animals can be of any color or pattern. The average Navajo Angora produces 3-4 pounds of mohair per shearing and are shorn twice a year. 

Angora Goat by Navajo Harold Davidson

Sheep images in Native American art represent charity, patience, gentleness and riches. Sheep, goats and weaving are familiar scenes on storyteller items.

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Paula

Hand Woven Navajo Rugs

I admit, a few days ago, I knew nothing about Navajo Rugs but we recently purchased a large estate collection of Navajo items from the 1970s. 99% of the collection is jewelry but the rugs………well………I had to do some studying just to get a general idea of how to describe these. The family who inherited the collection graciously provided me with some information from their mother’s notes and there are tags on a few of the rugs. Also, luckily, we have some friends who have collected Navajo Rugs for 40 years and they pointed me in the right direction.

Hand Woven Navajo New Lands Rug

These rugs are from the 1970s to 1990s. Unlike most Navajo rugs which are the same on both sides, this style of the rug above has a front and back. The front has more vibrant raised outlines while the back is more subdued.

The New Lands design, also called Blue Canyon, was first seen at the trading post in Sanders, Arizona. Trader Bruce Burnham recruited dye experts to develop the colors and gave kits to local weavers to try out. The name is derived from the area around Sanders which is referred to as New Lands as many residents were relocated there from traditional homelands.

The design is a derivative of a Teec Nos Pos design but having more complexity. The pattern is enhanced with a raised outline. These are often large, expensive rugs.

New Lands patterns incorporate a combination of pastel colors similar to those in traditional Burntwater rugs. These are warm earth colors, sometimes as many as 20 colors including brown, sienna, mustard, and rust with accents of rose, green, blue, white and lilac.

Hand Woven Navajo Eye Dazzler Rug by Ella Warito

As the name indicates, an Eye Dazzler rug keeps the eyes moving over the busy, bright geometric patterns. This pattern is also called Optical Illusion and it is one of the earliest styles of Navajo weavings. Rather than being used as rugs or blankets, they were most often wall hangings, chair covers, room dividers or table runners.

Hand Woven Navajo Klagetoh Rug

Klagetoh means “Hidden Springs” and is the name of a small settlement south of Ganado, New Mexico. A Klagetoh rug is similar to the classic Ganado red rug but it has a predominately grey background. Usually a Klagetoh is an elongated diamond shaped design.

A General Pattern Hand Woven Navajo Rug by Eva Marie Brown

Hand woven in grey, red, black, gold, and white on the order of Teec Nos Pos which means ‘Circle of Cottonwoods’. There are several Teec Nos Pos designs, often using stylized arrows, feathers, lightning, squash patterns and a general pattern of zigzags.

So this time, I’m asking for feedback from any of you who are Navajo Rug experts !! Please let me know what you know !

 

 

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