Historical notes on Monument Valley Mission Hospital
1910 – 1997
by Carrol S. Small, MD
Dr. Small penned the following article just prior to his death in August 1997. It was the last article he wrote for the Alumni JOURNAL.
In autumn 1946 I took my wife, Lucile Joy, and our two children, David, age 10, and Mary, age 7, in my trusty ’41 Plymouth, to visit Pastor Marvin Walter, his wife, Gwen, and their three children: Daniel (now president of the Seventh-day Adventist Mission in Cambodia), Mary (now deceased) and Forrest, at Holbrook, Arizona.
There the Walters had led out in starting a boarding school for Navajo Indian children. The children came from Navajo homes on the reservation on the Arizona. Utah borderland.
The Walters were wise enough not to push religion onto the Navajo. At first they lived in a hogan at a place called Bitta-ho-chee (a hogan is a hemispherical house, maybe 20 feet in diameter, built of logs plastered with mud, with a four foot hole in the top for exit of smoke, and a fire pit in the floor. A hogan, I am told, is cool in the summer and surprisingly warm in the winter. No utilities bills! Why? No utilities.) At Bitta-ho-chee the Walters made themselves helpful to the local Navajo, Nrunning errands, helping them when sickness or accident or bereavement hurt them. They gained their confidence and gently nudged them to understanding of Christian ideas and principles. Thus when they moved to Holbrook (off the reservation) and started a boarding school, the people were willing to entrust them with their children, and the school was a success.
The Walters’ long-term aim was to get a foothold in Monument Valley, just over the border into Utah. So they made friends with Harry Goulding, who ran a trading post in the valley, and arranged the purchase of land for a house, and later a hospital unit, a school, and a church.
Marvin Walter learned the difficult Navajo language and in 1950 to 1951 built a house on a sandstone ledge, two hundred yards from Goulding’s trading post. They secured a water right and built a five-mile water pipeline to a permanent spring, higher up the canyon. They started a clinic in a small house trailer near the house, and treated whoever came for help. They built a couple of hogans for overnight patients. They made “hogancalls” all over the nearby reservation and thus learned to know the land and the people. They treated the Navajo (including their religion and customs) with respect. They provided jeep-ambulance service to the nearest Indian Service hospital at Tuba City, one hundred miles away over wash-board gravel and rock road, and thus saved the people much grief and disaster, and won their confidence.
One incident in 1950 is instructive. On a certain day, Mr. Hi-chee came to the Walters’ house and said, “My wife is sick. I wish you would come to see her.” Questioning revealed that “sick” meant “pregnant, at term, indeed in labor.” So Marvin and Gwen drove over the rocks and gullies to the Hichee Hogan, where Mrs. Hi-chee had been in pain for twenty-four hours. Marvin urged Hi-chee to let them take his wife “pronto” to the Tuba City hospital, but his response was, “I’ll think about it.”
Next day, Mr. Hi-chee again turned up at the Walters’ house. He announced, “She is really sick now Come see her.” So out the Walters drove. This time they persuaded Hi-chee to send his “Mrs.” to the hospital, and off they drove, over bumps and rocks and rough washboard road, 125 miles (and the jeep was not a smooth-riding luxury van). Mrs. Hichee’s pains got worse, but “top-speed” was “slow.” When they were yet twenty-five miles from the hospital, the crisis grew and the results of the violent massage were obvious. The baby was delivered in the jeep, and I have a color picture of him at age ten months, laced up in his cocoon-like papoose board. The procession continued to the hospital where mother rested nicely.
What did they name the baby? What else but “Hi-jeep”!
In later years, the Monument Valley Mission built a “for-sure” hospital and the service to the Navajo expanded. A schoolhouse and a church were added and a few of the slow-to-change Navajo were baptized as Seventh-day Adventists.
The Monument Valley Hospital grew and recruited mission-minded physicians, nurses, etc., as staff. But, alas, the pressures of managed-care medicine also grew.
The Navajo graduated from horse-drawn wagons to pick-up trucks and thus could travel quickly to other clinical facilities. Competing clinics arose and the
Monument Valley Hospital died on the vine. It closed in 1996.
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