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“Keneshde Tells His Story ”

by Keneshde

Today, as in the past, Navajos, Pueblos, and Anglos trade turquoise beads, Navajo blankets, sheep, and dollars along old trading routes. Here Keneshde, a Zuni elder, tells how in the 1930s he learned the art of turquoise jewelry, an art for which his people are well known today.

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Keneshde, Zuni Silversmith“Keneshde, Zuni Silversmith,” Unidentified (Photographer)

When I was a boy about fifteen years old, I used to help Kwaisedemon, who was my grandfather, make silver. He was my father's father, and at that time he was an old man. It was hard work for him to pound out silver, so I used to do that for him. In return for my helping him, he showed me how to work the metal into the form of buttons and earrings.

Fifty years ago (c. 1890) when I was about twenty-five years old, I made a trip over to Santo Domingo to trade. We wanted to get indigo more than anything else. A good-sized lump, or a box of that dye, cost six dollars. While we were at Santo Domingo, we asked the men where they got the turquoise that they wore. In those days the Santo Domingo didn't sell polished turquoise beads at Zuni the way they do today.…We wanted to know where they got this fine blue stone, because fifty years ago turquoise was rare, and you couldn't just go into a trading post or a store in one of the towns and buy it. They told us that we would have to go to see the governor in Santa Fe if we wanted to get turquoise from the mine where they got theirs, which was just east of Santo Domingo.

We went on to Santa Fe and saw the governor. He told us we would have to get permission from the owner of the mine. We saw that man, who was called Mankey, and he told us that for five dollars he would let us go down into the mine and get some of the stone. I was the only one who went down because all the others were afraid. I took a chisel with me and I knocked off a great big piece. I was the first Zuni to get turquoise out of that mine.

Zuni Bracelet“Zuni Bracelet,” Edith (Tsabetsaye) Martza (Author) Zuni Ring“Zuni Ring,” Unidentified Zuni (Artist) Zuni Silver Ring“Zuni Silver Ring,” Unidentified Zuni (Artist)

I bought this turquoise back to Zuni. It was at that time (c. 1890) that I thought that turquoise would look nice on the silver. So I took four pieces of the stone, which I had polished, and I put them on the silver, and soldered a rim around each one. I knew how to make solder, as my grandfather had taught me how to solder the two sides of a bead together. I had never seen turquoise set on silver before, as none of the Zuni or Navajo that I knew had their jewelry fixed that way. I sold this bracelet for ten dollars cash to a Navajo that lived near Lupton. His wives and his daughters wanted bracelets just like that one, so I made some for them too.

“It wasn't long before all the smiths in Zuni were setting turquoise in their silver.”

One day Balawade came into my house. He said, “I have heard that you have been fastening turquoise to silver bracelets. Will you show me how to do it?” So I showed him how to make the rim around the stone. Then those other old smiths, Yachilthle, Kwianade, and Lawiacelo learned from him. It wasn't long before all the smiths in Zuni were setting turquoise in their silver.