Native Village Youth and Education News

April 1, 2009 Issue 196 Volume 4

Navajo man passed on his craft as IAIA instructor

Arizona: Carl Tsosie was born on the Navajo reservation in either 1917 or 1919 -- no one is sure because birth certificates weren't available there.  But one thing is certain: he was born in September. "My mother told me that when I was born, the corn had grown very tall," he says.

As a young boy, Tsosie helped his family of sheepherders. His father, Hosteen Nez Tsosie, wanted a better life for his son and sent him to an Indian Boarding school. Carl ran away a few days later. "I missed my family, so I ran away from the school," Tsosie says.

But Tsosie's father took him back to school and insisted he get an education. "My father was real mad at me for running away, and said, 'Do you want to end up as a sheepherder like me?' That's when I knew that I had to stay in school," Tsosie recalls.

In 1938. Tsosie graduated from Santa Fe Indian School. He belonged to several school organizations and excelled in athletics.

In the 1960s, Carl returned to the Indian School campus as a woodworking instructor for the Institute of American Indian Arts.  His reputation as a woodworker had caught the attention of the IAIA administration. "I was so proud that they asked me to teach and that I was able to teach other Native Americans my craft," he says.

Carl supported his family by making furniture and building pedestals for Alan Houser's sculptures. He also made frames for Fritz Scholder and many other artists. His nephew was well-known artist R.C. Gorman, whose father, Carl Gorman, was featured in the book The Navajo Code Talkers for his World War II efforts.

Tsosie also served in the Army during World War II and participated in the invasion at Normandy. "I was a staff sergeant," Tsosie says, "and all officers and noncommissioned officers were ordered to meet with the top brass one Sunday afternoon. Generals Eisenhower, Patton and Montgomery and many other leaders spoke with us for the whole day about what was expected from our troops. I was responsible for the Light Weapons Platoon 359 Infantry Regiment. On June 6, 1944, the invasion began with some of our men getting wounded right away. On July 4th in Saint-Lô, France, I was wounded and sent to a hospital in England."

Tsosie received a Purple Heart for his effort at Normandy. For many years, he served as chaplain for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He was also a life member and past commander of the 372 General Hurly Chapter of World War II veterans in New Mexico.

Carl's wife, Lydia, is a a member of Picuris Pueblo. They met while she was working as a housekeeper at a lodge at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

"I had gone up there to help my future brother-in-law, Hubert Yazza, retrieve his car, which had slipped into a ravine," Tsosie remembers. "After we got the car out, we went up to the lodge and that's where I met Lydia. She didn't understand Navajo and I couldn't speak Tiwa, so we fell in love in English."

Today, Carl and Lydia have been married for 62 years. They have seven children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Most still live in the Santa Fe area near family.


Volume 3
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