The Navajo Witch

Elmer Clifton
Production Date: 
A Wild Life Picture
“Big Bill” Lucas
Run Time: 

Disclaimer: The narrator claims that the Navajo came from the Gobi Desert and look like Mongols. Fictionalized names and melodic references engage stereotypes of the day. The narration for this film is very racist: generally condescending in tone and full of misinformation about Navajo culture. All of this is told in in light and joking manner; even the narrator is presented as a humorous caricature of a “Wild West” settler rather than a real person.

Cinematography:  William and George Allen; Original Music Score: Helene Morgan
Named locations: The Painted Desert; Gobi Desert in China;
Major themes covered: The beliefs of a Navajo family involving an owl.

Native activities shown: Family life in a hogan. Woman putting a child in a cradleboard;  Woman (mother) combing the hair of her young daughter with a cornstalk comb; Young boy (Nishá) tending goats. Narrator discusses the Great Horned Owl as boy attempts to capture one and later returns it to the wild.

Individuals Named: [all names are likely fictionalized]; Ma and Pa Whiskers ; Chee (baby); Nishá (12 year old boy overlooking his land and flock); Joe Shavehead (likely fictionalized name, father of Nishá); Old Chief Charlie High-Hat (likely fictionalized name); Kit Carson (mentioned, gave hat to Charlie High-Hat); Old Mother Wrinkles (grandmother, likely fictionalized name);
Native language spoken: No native languages spoken
Audible: Good quality English narration
Noteworthy elements: Images of Navajo daily life, set against racist narration and representation. A young boy locating and attempting to tame a Great Horned Owl.

Other notes:  “These pictures, the work of William and George Allen, are taken with an understanding and love of the wild life of our great outdoors –Elmer Clifton” from inter-title following film's title card.

--Mikel Stone, 2012