American Indians and Biography

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Tall Woman: The Life Story of Rose Mitchell, a Navajo Woman c. 1874-1977

Rose Mitchell
Edited by Charlotte J. Frisbie

Translated from her own words, this story of a Navajo woman who lived for more than 102 years is a vivid account of traditional lifeways in a harsh and challenging environment. Tall Woman was raised in a family of foragers and herders: "we never lived in one spot for any length of time; we just roamed about from place to place, and from time to time." Forbidden to go to school, she learned traditional skills and knowledge from her elders, growing up to be a well-known weaver and an expert on the uses of traditional plants as food and medicine. She was also in demand as a midwife. Despite her reputation and that of her husband, Frank Mitchell, a well-known political leader, judge, and Blessingway singer, Tall Woman lived the unassuming life of a traditional Navajo woman, focusing on the hogan, her twelve children, the sheep and goats, and the farm.

Edited and annotated by a distinguished anthropologist who has worked with the Mitchell family since 1963, this book was written to fulfill Tall Woman's desire to share her story not just with her descendants but with others. In addition to her own life history, Tall Woman tells ancestral stories and offers wise advice to future generations. Both Navajo and non-Navajo readers will be fascinated by the courage and ingenuity evoked in her account of the People's survival during a period of immeasurable change.


Charlotte J. Frisbie is professor emerita of anthropology at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.


"This exemplary life story manifests painstaking, extended (1963-98) ethnographic research with excellent kin involvement. . . . This superbly presented story of a woman's worthwhile life has the added bonus of educating the reader about the living, vibrant culture of the Navajo (Diné)."



"An unforgettable story of a strong but gentle woman who in her 102 years lived through a period of profound change for her people. . . . Tall Woman can be read and enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation for history and character."


Arizona Daily Star

"This is a significant book, the first full-length recording of a Navajo woman's entire life, and one that can be directly compared to that of her husband; it presents a unique opportunity for students to contrast gender perspectives. . . . I recomend this book enthusiastically to everyone; it is both a scholarly achievement and a good read."


Western Historical Quarterly

7 x 10 in. 606 pages 6 drawings, 39 halftones, 4 maps, 4 charts