Trail to Health

F. C. Clark, Jr. (Tad Nichols, cameraman)
Production Date: 
U.S. Department of Interior
Unnamed male narrator
Run Time: 
U.S. Indian Service

Cameramen: Tad Nichols; F. C. Clark, Jr.
Noteworthy elements: Fictionalized film sponsored by the Department of Interior concerning tuberculosis on the Navajo reservation

Historical Sigificance: Nichols and Clark were photographers, employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, when they filmed Trail to Health. They documented a variety of subjects relating to western reservations and in Alaska, including education, health care, agriculture, forestry, homes, and life and work on reservations.
       F.C. Clark Jr., (also known as Camp Clark and Fred Clark) is a significant twentieth century photographer, as he was the primary War Relocation Authority photographer to document daily life at the Poston, Arizona Japanese Internment Camp in 1942. Along with Clark, the WRA commissioned prominent photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Clem Albers, Francis Stewart, Charles Mace, Tom Parker, Joe McClelland and Iwasaki Hikaru to document the internment experience from pre- evacuation to resettlement. The US government, during WW II, suppressed many of their photographs because they showed the Japanese Americans in a humane light and did not attempt to demonize them. Trail to Health appears to be Clark's only film in existence.
       Filmed at the Albuquerque Indian Sanitarium, one of seven Native American sanitariums in the southwest, Trail to Health is an educational film that uses Native actors to explain daily life at a sanitarium and to promote staying at the sanitarium until patients are fully recovered. Trail to Health clearly documents the interior of the Albuquerque Indian Sanitarium and a mobile x-ray unit used to screen for tuberculosis. --Janna Jones, Professor of Communication, Northern Arizona University, 2012

Establishing shot: Camera focuses on a map of the United States, which has different reservations shown on the map.
Named locations: Albuquerque Indian Sanatorium [sign]
Major themes covered: Tuberculosis and how to recognize its signs and cure it
Native activities shown: Navajo individuals in a village; Man exiting his hogan; Woman on horseback; Woman gathering yucca; Farming; Herding sheep; Wrestling a young steer; Navajo farmer (Bill) spitting up blood while working in field; Bill visits the doctor; Doctor tells Bill that he has tuberculosis; Dancing; Rodeo; Narrator discusses the effects of tuberculosis on the body using a comparison of tuberculosis to fire; Navajo men recovering from tuberculosis, sitting in chairs talking; Navajo man in bed at hospital; Women talking outside of hospital; Navajo man getting an x-ray at the hospital to check for tuberculosis; Mobile health clinic with Navajo patrons outside in line; Bart, Navajo man, working with a horse; Navajo man, Bart, going to the mobile health unit; Nurse visits Bart at his home and tells him that his x-ray shows he has tuberculosis; Discussion about what can be done for Bart's family if he must leave the home to be treated for tuberculosis; Bart decides to go to the sanatorium; Bart gets another x-ray; Doctor examines Bart; Doctor explains tuberculosis to Bart using pictures and a demonstration with a sponge; Navajo man cutting wood; Navajo man resting at the sanatorium; Patients resting; Patients eating food to help their recovery; Doctor visiting Bart and checking on his progress; Bart reading a Batman comic book; Mac meets Bart; Mac defying the doctor's orders goes home even though he has tuberculosis; Children playing outside; Doctor examining Bart once more; Bart exercising at the hospital; Bart visits the hospital library; Bart playing chess at the sanatorium; Family visiting patients while Bart wears a mask; Bart embroidering; Craft shop selling things that are made by sick patients; Bart is released and goes home.
Named Individuals: Cast list: Bartolo Jaramillo [Bart]; Delores Chewiwi [Bart's wife]; Telesfor Trujillo [Mac]; Robert Saylor, M.D. [Hospital Dr.]; A. W. Dahlstrom, M.D. [Mobile Health Unit Dr.]
Native language spoken: No native language spoken
Audible: Good quality English narration
--Michelle Boyer, 2011

Other notes: Clyde Kluckhohn, in The Navaho, quotes an anonymous Navajo man’s reaction to White medicine:

“You go to a hospital and maybe once a day the doctor comes around and he stays three, maybe five minutes. He talks a little bit but he asks you questions. Once in a while they give you a little medicine, just a little of it. About the only thing they do is put something in your mouth and see how hot you are. The rest of the time you just lie there. But the medicine men help you all the time—they give you lots of medicine and they sing all night. They do lots of things all over your body. Every bit of your body is treated” (99-100).

See: Kluckhohn, Clyde and  Leighton, Dorothea.  The Navaho. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946. 

Not all attempts to address the public health crisis of tuberculosis in Navajo country were dismissive of Navajo culture. In 1959, the Public Health Service division of the Indian Health services suggested that for greater success in treating tuberculosis that traditional Navajo medicine should be combined with Western medicine. The following excerpt was taken from the National Library of Medicine website:

 “The physicians, nurses, and other staff members who understand the Navajo's way of looking at the world and his psychological dependence on the "sings" are likely to have good relationships with the Navajo patients. Those who do not understand their ways, and attempt to force our beliefs and the scientific basis of our medicine on them, are likely to have poor relationships. Doctors at the Fort Defiance Sanatorium report that when, in recent years, they have suggested that patients have "sings" before and after sanatorium treatment, there has been less absence-without-medical-advice" (18).

See: Orientation to Health on the Navajo Indian Reservation: A Guide for Hospital and Public Health Workers. Washington D.C.: Public Health Service Division of Indian Health, 1959. Retrieved from:

--Mikel Stone, 2012