Account of Navajo runner's 2018 memorial ultramarathon connects physical sacrifices of today to hardships of the past - Albuquerque Journal

Account of Navajo runner’s 2018 memorial ultramarathon connects physical sacrifices of today to hardships of the past

BOOK OF THE WEEK

You might think there’s a single author of the stimulating nonfiction book, “Send a Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk.”

Jim Kristofic held the traditional role of authorship for the book; he wrote the words, most of them with pencil on a steno pad. Kristofic insisted there’s another dimension to the authorship and it involved a second person, Edison Eskeets.

Eskeets, the unnamed runner in the title, co-authored the book “with his body, his physical act of running,” Kristofic said in a phone interview. “Edison provoked the stories, the ideas of the book. Had he not done that, I would not have been able to write the way I did.”

The core story, as Kristofic documented it and Eskeets ran it, is Eskeets’ remarkable, arduous, foot-sore ultra run in 2018. He covered 330 miles in 15 days. Each day is a chapter of the book.

Eskeets’ route started at Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Nation, continued east to Albuquerque then north to Santa Fe. Some of his run was on old U.S. 66, paralleling Interstate 40.

The point of his run is stated in the subtitle: “A Navajo Honors the Long Walk.”

Eskeets, age 59 at the time, is that Navajo. The Long Walk is the generally used term for the United States military’s forced relocation in 1864 of thousands of Navajos from their lands in northern Arizona to the Bosque Redondo in south-central New Mexico.

Eskeets chose to run in 2018 because the year marked the 150th anniversary of the return of the surviving Navajos to their homeland. The book explains that because Eskeets is paying tribute to those survivors, he is a ceremonial runner. In Navajo, the phrase translates to jau’di’, according to a footnote.

Edison Eskeets and Jim Kristofic

Kristofic said Eskeets had made ceremonial runs before, though none were documented. “I thought it would be good to document this one. Part of the documentation was to show how Eskeets’ family, and Navajo families in general, were supportive of his run to Santa Fe,” he said.

Even unknown highway drivers enthusiastically waved or honked when they saw Eskeets running on the road, though some didn’t know why he was running.

The book gives historical context for long-distance Native runners in other roles:

 

⋄ To carry messages. “Local army officers preferred Hopi runners to horses,” the book states.

⋄ To act as weapons of war. “The best Hopi runners were sent out into Navajo country to search the enemy’s hoghans (hogans) for hair combings, saliva and food. They would take them back to Hopi mesas and bury them as ‘bait.’ They build a fire on top of them to weaken the Navajo before an incoming fight or war,” Kristofic writes.

⋄ To raise money. According to Kristofic, Eskeets used his love of running to raise funds for financial aid for students who attended the now-closed Native American Preparatory School in Rowe. Eskeets had been its headmaster for a period.

⋄ To integrate fundraising runs with honoring Navajo sacred sites. In one, a 208-mile run from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Gallup, Eskeets also hiked to the top of San Francisco Peaks, the Navajo sacred mountains of the West.

⋄ To help organize an uprising. Pueblo runners were instrumental in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. As Kristofic writes, “Someone sends a runner. Plans swirl out from Taos. The runners carry cords tied with three knots. The revolt happens almost simultaneously in every village.”

The book is filled with textual snapshots of the internecine warfare between tribes (Navajo, Apache, Hopi, Ute, Zuni), Mexicans, New Mexicans, Americans and genízaros. Other snapshots add to the geography in which Navajos live. For example, chapter eight opens with Eskeets starting his morning run outside of Thoreau. That shifts to Kristofic spilling out bits of information: There’s a Navajo chapter house in Thoreau. … The town, pop. 1,400, is the home of a former Navajo Nation president. … The town is – or was – known for a number of suicides. Fifteen teenagers and young adults killed themselves between late 2009 and 2010, Kristofic writes.

A curiosity is that the town’s name is correctly pronounced “Thah-roo.” It’s named for an army postmaster named Theroux.

In the same chapter, Kristofic returns to chatting with Eskeets about the elements of preparing for long-distance running – your soul, your heart, your cognitive thinking (mapping the terrain) and your psyche’s well-being.

Kristofic also takes time outs so he can step away from the road, as with side trips to Mount Taylor, which Navajos hold sacred, to Acoma Pueblo, and to a sidebar conversation with a couple about a 1979 nuclear disaster in which uranium mine tailings contaminated the ground and the Rio Puerco. It was known as the Church Rock incident. The seepage came from a major breach in the berm of a mine-tailings pond, the book states.

Eskeets and Kristofic first met in 2010 when Eskeets was – and still is – the trader at the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site near Ganado, Arizona. Kristofic was a park ranger in the area. Eskeets invited Kristofic to be part of the team for his planned run to honor the Long Walk survivors.

“When Edison asked me to be involved, I wanted to do a good job. I respect and care about him as my friend,” Kristofic said in the interview. “Once I started writing it, I was feeling the run and I revisited the stories of the Navajo wars and how they had to create their destiny against the Spanish empire, then the American empire. And as a human watching another human do something of great meaning and physical sacrifice that can be very motivating …”

Kristofic lives in Taos where he teaches high school English. Among his other books are “Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life” and “Medicine Women: The Story of the First Native American Nursing School.”

Eskeets lives in Pecos. “Send a Runner” was his final ultra run. “My heart is in running, but I don’t run as much as I once did. Now I do one mile, two miles. … I walk, I hike,” he said.


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