The following comes from a history written by Fr. Cormac Antram and an edition of The Padre’s Trail written by Fr. Martin Radmaker, O.F.M.
To most people, not acquainted with Houck, AZ, one has to add “Fort Courage” to completely identify it. But arriving at this point, and looking to the south, one will see a beautiful, old stone building with a golden dome. This is Tekakwitha Mission. Let us delve a bit into its past history.
Houck, 35 miles west of Gallup on I-40 was named after James D. Houck, a once horse-riding mail carrier before he started a trading post in the vicinity in 1874. Years before that, however, the Navajos had given this place the name of Ma’ii or Coyote Springs. And who knows what the Anasazi, who lived here centuries before, called it?
Mr. Houck was here only 11 years and then moved on to the Mogollon Mountains and eventually into the legislature of the Arizona Territory. After he departed from here, the place was called Houck’s Tanks because it was here that the railroad steam locomotives would take on water. Finally, when the diesel locomotives took over, the place was simply called Houck.
Houck’s Trading Post was situated along a cross-country road which, at that time, was the only southern route to California. It was the predecessor of Highway 66, and, from Navajo on the west to about 5 miles to the east, the road stayed on the south side of Rio Puerco.
Gladwell Richardson, in his book Navajo Trader, gives us a good picture of trading days at Houck from 1918 till 1921. He says that trading in those days was almost entirely barter but they did use so called “tin money” as did other trading posts as well. Each coin, of various sizes and value, was stamped with the trader’s name.
He says that the Houck T.P. did quite a business in blankets, skins, pelts and pawn. The post here also had separate rooms for tourists, and even a restaurant of sorts. However the tourist trade was still very meager, with most of the trade coming from the local Navajos and from the Mexicans who lived in the “section houses” strung along the railroad. Gladwell adds the remark that most of the Mexican trade came after sundown because, if they were caught by the railroad bosses buying merchandise other than from the railroad supply stores, they would be summarily ﬁred.
Gladwell also describes the long line of Hopis who ﬁled by once a year, walking behind a string of burros, altogether a mile or more long. They came from the Hopi mesas and were on their way to the Zuni Salt Lake. About three weeks later they would ﬁle by again, the burros loaded with salt and all their goods having been sold to Zunis, Navajos and Whites.
There is the story Gladwell tells of Big Woman, Asdzaan Tso, which is too good to pass up. One day she came into the store and informed him that she was heading for the White Mountains to hunt for deer and needed two cartridges for her 30-30 Winchester carbine.
“Going deer hunting with only two shells?” the trader asked.
“Two deers are all I can pack on one mule,” she replied. A few days later, sure enough, she returned carrying the butchered carcasses of two deer tied on the pack mule. She did this every fifth week or so, always stopping by the trading post and always purchasing only two cartridges!
These early days of Houck were not without its share of excitement, even blood-curdling ones. In 1887, after James Houck had moved on, two White men and a Navajo were killed in a shooting incident nearby. Then, there was the time when Charles Duchet showed up at the trading post. Gladwell describes him as “perhaps the West’s toughest frontier ﬁghter” but this appearance appears to have been friendly. He and his companion were seeking a reputed lost gold mine, possibly in the Pine Springs area.
Also, in 1915, the bodies of two traders were found in Cronemyers Trading Post at Allentown, a short distance away. Finally, there was the incident at Billy Burke’s Trading Post, ﬁve miles west of Houck. There, some local Navajos had heard about many barrels of whiskey which the trader had hidden under some hides in his picket-post warehouse. They surrounded the trader’s home and gave Burke (Binaa’ Tso – Big Eyes) and his wife an ultimatum to leave because they were going to burn down the post. But Burke stood his ground and, when the sun came up, he began shooting the Navajos in the legs until finally they departed.
Finally, according to Gladwell, Pine Springs had long been a haven for both Indian and White outlaws. Gladwell himself, while minding the store there, possibly escaped with his life by getting the jump on a wanted bank robber.
The above only serves as a backdrop for my main subject, the history of Tekakwitha Mission. *
* Fr. Emanuel Trock, OFM, the founder of the Houck mission, and who was assigned there far longer than anyone else, always spelled the name of the mission “Tegakwitha.” I once questioned him about it and his reply was that it made it easier to pronounce.
The Children of Tekakwitha Mission
The Early Years
In 1877 James D. Houck, the mail carrier from Prescott, Arizona to Fort Wingate, New Mexico established a sheep ranch and trading post about 8 miles west of the Arizona-New Mexico state line where Black Creek joins the Rio Puerco. He dug a stock pond or tank which was the only water around. With the building of the Atlantic and Paciﬁc Railway in 1881 Houck became the third station west of the state line. When the post office was established there in 1884 it was first given the name of “Houck’s Tank” and later shortened to “Houck.” In 1907 Houck was a Wells Fargo Station.
Although this area was not made part of the Navajo Reservation until about 1934, the Navajos have lived there since the 17th century. After the treaty of 1868, the Navajos who had lived here before Ft. Sumner returned. But since they were living outside the official limits of their reservation, they had no legal title to the lands they occupied.
White men began to move in, homesteading on the public domain lands and leasing lands from the railroad company which had received government grants of all the odd-numbered sections in this territory when it built its lines through here on the way to the Pacific coast.
Father Anselm Weber undertook to help these Navajos, knowing they would be forced onto the reservation by white settlers unless they gained legal title to the lands they were occupying and using. He had to advise them of the provisions of the land laws, survey their holdings and prepare the required documents for the U.S. Land Ofﬁce. Even local officials did not realize that the Allotment Act applied to Indians. When Fr. Anselm went on horseback to the county courthouse at St. Johns with two Navajos on June 6, 1901, he had to show the judge how to execute the required documents.
When Fr. Anselm would have Mass and give religious instructions in their homes, the Indians repeatedly asked him to build a mission among them. Nakai Chee (Red Mexican), whose whole family had benefited from Fr. Anselm’s labors, wanted the mission to be built on his land. He offered the Fathers ﬁve acres of his allotment in the early 1920’s. But it was not until 1927 that a small chapel was built on this site under the direction of Fr. Jerome Hesse. The Marquette League of New York City donated the funds for this stone chapel and it was dedicated to St. John the Evangelist on November 20, 1927.
Once a month, a padre from St. Michaels came down to say Mass in the Houck chapel. It soon became apparent that this was an ideal location for a mission with a resident priest and a day school. A goodly number of Navajos had long been living in the Houck area on either side of the railroad. There was both the Rio Puerco Valley and the low lands that could be irrigated with the waters of the Rio Puerco and Black Creek. Here the Indians had built their homes and started little farms on which they raised alfalfa, corn, melons and beans. They herded their small ﬂocks of sheep in the surrounding hills.
When Father Arnold Heinzmann was appointed superior of the Navajo missions in 1931 he began to finalize the plans for a school, dispensary, rectory and convent at Houck. It was decided to build one large two-story building to serve all the needs.
The rectory would be on the first floor of one wing, the convent and dispensary in the other and the second floor would provide classrooms for up to 100 pupils. Work began in October of 1926, but the “big snow” which came in November halted further construction until the next spring. (From my own investigation, I found that most of the rock probably came from the hill south of the tracks at Allentown and was hauled by wagon. Another possible source was northwest of the Houck Community Cemetery – Fr. Cormac).
As work progressed on the large two-story building which was joined to the original small chapel in the form of a “T”, Fr. Arnold said that it looked like a mouse up against an elephant. The decision was then made to tear down the original chapel and build a larger one more in proportion to the new building. The dedication of Tekakwitha school and mission was held on November 3, 1932. Father Arnold conducted the ceremonies.
It was a great celebration. It began with a concert by the St. Michaels School Band. The blessing and Solemn High Mass were attended by over 500 people – some 20 Franciscans, several priests of the diocese, a number of Sisters, railroad and government officials and several hundred Navajos. During the afternoon civic program there were speeches by Superintendent Hunter and prominent Navajos such as J. A. Lincoln, Judge Hosteen Altsosigi, Jim Shirley, Little Silversmith and Sam Jones. These were followed by races and other contests ending with the “Nahohai” or “Chicken Pull” in which more than 25 Navajos participated on horseback.
Father Emanuel Trockur was the first resident priest at Tekakwitha Mission. He had been assigned to take care of Ft. Wingate with his residence in Gallup by the 1932 summer meeting of the Provincial Board. With the Houck mission nearing completion, he was asked to supervise the completion of the buildings and get the school started. He remained for 20 years. On October 10, 1932 Fr. Emanuel’s brother Michael moved into the still incomplete apartment building at Houck. He and his wife Clara stayed to help Fr. Emanuel for two years.
There was still much work to be done before the school would be ready to open. They had begun to dig the well on September 19th. They ﬁnished the 360 foot hole on October 24th, but still had to install the casing and pump. The log of the well concludes with these simple lines: “Pump was started for the first time Nov. 25, 1932, Friday, at about 4:15 p.m. and water came after almost seven minutes of pumping. Tanks were than placed in position and we had cold running water in the house the following afternoon. Hot water was connected on Tuesday, Nov. 29, ‘32.”
Finally all the preparations were completed for the ﬁrst school day of Tekakwitha Indian School on Dec. 5, 1932. Sisters Emanuel and Dolorosa, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Tucson, were the ﬁrst teachers. Only ﬁve pupils were on hand. A real beginning was made in January, 1933 with 21 pupils. By the fall of 1933 the enrollment was up to 50 students. In 1934 Mother Katharine Drexel sent her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to staff the school. They remained until it closed in 1964. During its 32 years of operation its eight grades consisted for the most part of Indian children, although there were some Mexican and white children. The enrollment was 80-some children during most of these years.
In 1934 Fr. Emanuel’s brother returned to Illinois and his sister Anna came with her husband Joe Nagel. They helped at the mission for 14 years. In 1950 Fr. Burcard Fisher was assigned to Houck to help Fr. Emanuel and build the chapel at Pine Springs. In 1952 he succeeded him as pastor.
During his 20 years at Tekakwitha Mission, Fr. Emanuel was counselor to and defender of the Indians in many matters, especially those dealing with the railroad officials and land allotments.
With the extension of the reservation in 1934 his knowledge of Fr. Anselm’s work enabled him to protect the rights of the Indians with allotments. Fr. Emanuel was always proud of the help he gave Pat Murphy to become the ﬁrst Navajo to obtain Railroad Retirement. He was also well known to the railroad officials as the defender of the Navajo laborers when an unscrupulous foreman tried to take advantage of them.
The first burial in the cemetery at the Houck Mission was that of a year and a half old infant, Ke Giyah, at the Northwest corner on April 27, 1934. During the twenty-five years it was used, 147 burials are recorded in the Parish records. The last was on Jan. 16, 1959. Since that time burials have been at the Houck Community Cemetery across the highway a little to the West.
In 1953 a brother was assigned to help Fr. Burcard at Houck. Since that time a brother has been assigned there except for two years up to 1976. For 11 of those years Bro. Francis X. Evans has been there. Bro. Arthur Puthoff was also there for four years. In 1954 Fr. Burcard was appointed to a three-year term as superior of St. Michaels and Fr. Mark Sandford took charge of the mission at Houck. Fr. Burcard returned to Houck in 1957 and remained as pastor for another six years. He was succeeded as pastor in 1963 by Fr. John Lanzrath.
In 1964 Tekakwitha Indian School was closed. The following year a formation program for promising Indian boys of high school age was sponsored by the Franciscans. It was called “St. Anselm Apostolic School” in honor of Fr. Anselm Weber. Fr. Paul Scales was appointed director of this program. The former classrooms provided boarding room for the boys as they received special training at the mission and attended classes at Cathedral High School in Gallup. But after a year the program was found to be unfeasible and was discontinued.
(The above from Fr. Martan Rademaker ’s account as taken from “The Padre’s Trail, ” Oct-Nov, 1977).
A Visit to the Desert
The following is taken from a 1960s mission magazine of the Franciscans
The Padre at Houck, Arizona has invited us to come over and see him sometime. There is no time like the present. So let’s all pile in the Padre’s Ford and slip through the “alley” to Houck. This western “alley” is twenty miles long, and one of the most scenic drives on the reservation. Instead of being walled in by tenement houses, we can enjoy the wide open spaces broken along the way by Hunter’s Point, the towering pines of Oak Springs, the stone teapot formation, and an occasional hogan, or Indian home.
Towering Hunter’s Point is the abrupt end of a long pine covered ridge that seems to have been broken off like a piece of a huge marble cake to leave a flare of red, white, and rose rock under the green icing of pine. Well can we imagine moccasined Navahos with bow and arrow stalking along this ridge until they were forced to end their hunt at the point that was once a happy meeting place for these Indian hunters, but today is only a reminder of happier hunting days.
As we leave Hunter’s Point we enter the corridor of pines that leads us over the mountain and down again into the plains where the immense stone teapot stands upon one of the gigantic rocks as plain and inviting as if it were boiling on the kitchen stove.
A few miles from the teapot runs the Will Rogers highway 66 that will take us to Houck and the White
Mound trading post where we turn off to our Navaho mission. We might easily pass through the settlement of Houck on the highway, for its chamber of commerce has so far neglected to advertise even to the extent of a single sign there. On the other side of the Mission, however, is the Santa Fe railroad station bearing the name of Houck in screaming colors of yellow.
Most probably the tender-foot, James D. Houck, who came from Wisconsin around 1870 to drive a stagecoach from Manuelito to Navaho and later to trade with the Indians, never dreamed that his name would adorn a railroad station. But today he is gone while his name lives on. To the Indians, however, Houck is still known as “Mai To So” or “Coyote Springs.”
Our Navaho Mission at Houck is known as the Tegakwitha Mission, after Catherine Tegakwitha, the first North American Indian to embrace the catholic faith in 1655. She practiced this faith at the cost of much sacriifice and ridicule and to a degree of sanctity. The process of her canonization is now in progress.
The Mission, comprised of chapel, school, Fathers’ and Sisters’ residences, and a combination garage and employees’ quarters, stands on a prominence midway between the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad and the Will Rogers highway 66. The mission site was donated to the Franciscan Fathers by Nakai-l-chee (Red Mexican), one of the first and staunchest Navaho friends of the Fathers.
The large and beautiful stone chapel, dedicated on November 20, 1927, was built with funds contributed by the Marquette League of New York. At first services were held in this chapel only once a month by one of the Fathers from St. Michaels thirty miles away. But it soon became evident that Houck was an ideal location for a Navaho mission with a resident priest and a school. Plans for a residence and school were not long in forthcoming, and by November 3, 1932, these plans materialized into a modern tusstone residence with apartments for the missionary and the Sisters who were to teach in the school, which was completed along with the residence. Today Tegakwitha Mission boasts of having one of the two catholic schools and the only catholic day school on the Navaho reservation.
But a few yards from the modern buildings and signs of progress on the mission grounds we find mute reminders of past life at Houck. The crumbling walls of immense buildings that have been partially excavated and broken bits of pottery strewn about tell us that Houck was once a thriving community. The sand of centuries has hidden most of its history, but archaeologists tell us that it goes back no less than 1200 years. Who the inhabitants of this community were will probably never be definitely established, but it is quite safe to say that they must have been the ancestors of our present day Pueblo Indians.
Let us leave Houck now to its dead past and its promising future and take a ride to the petrified forest and painted desert but a few miles to the west of Houck. The painted desert is actually two hundred and twenty miles long, but its crowning beauty spot lies directly off the highway. Here the vivid red, pink, purple, brown, blue, gray, and white of the sandstone, shale, and clay which form the desert seem to muster their forces in an array of color that seems to flow upon wave after wave of sand into the distance. It is indeed a picture that only the hand of the Great Artist could paint. And as the setting sun casts its tinge of gold over this vast sea of color, we cannot help but think of the infinite beauty that the Divine Artist has prepared for us when the sun of our life has set.
A few miles to the south of the highway and in a less colorful section of the painted desert is the petrified forest. Throughout forty square miles lie gigantic logs some over a hundred feet long and five feet in diameter, that had fallen in past ages and that the elements and march of centuries have turned into the hardest stone and colored as only the hand of nature can. One of these logs forms a natural bridge a hundred and ten feet long over an arroyo which has been eroded from beneath it. The western part of the forest is literally covered with chips of onyx, agate, and jasper to add another Aladdin spot to this great western land of enchantment.
Missions of Houck
Over the years the Franciscans at Houck have been in charge of two other missions: St. Catherine of Siena Mission at Manuelito, New Mexico, which is seventeen miles East; and St. Rose of Lima Mission, Pine Springs, Arizona, which is fifteen miles to the North.
At Manuelito a small but imposing stone church was built and dedicated on Oct. 24, 1928. Because of irreparable weakening of the structure it was torn down in 1963 and replaced seven years later by a hogan style church which was dedicated on April 19, 1970.
When a new school was opened at Pine Springs in 1935, religious instruction of the children began immediately. Mass and instruction took place in a classroom until a cinder block church was built in 1952. There, amidst winter rains, Mass was said for the first time on Dec. 23, but because of the weather the dedication was but off until the following spring.
Fr. Cormac Antram, OFM took over the mission in 1967 and continued until 1975. During this time, a hogan church was built at Manuelito, N.M. and dedicated on April 19,1970. Also during this time, credit is due to Tom and Nellie Shirley who helped in the production of “The Padre’s Hour,” a half-hour radio program in the Navajo language. Further credit during this time is also due to Redbird and Genevieve Cooley who were moderators of our youth program.
Fr. Timon Cook, OFM succeeded him in 1975. He did extensive remodeling of the living quarters and sacristy area. During his tenure, the Golden Jubilee of the mission was celebrated and a chronobell carillon system was donated by the Armand Ortega family. Also at this time, Fr. Timon had, at different times, the assistance of Sr. Celestine Ayecock, MHC, and Sr. Marie Rose Messingschlagger, CDP. For two years, summer schools were conducted in the Pine Springs area.
In 1983, Fr. Timon was succeeded by Fr. Martin Rademaker, OFM. It was during his time that the St. Anselm Hermitage came into existence. It lasted for only four years and the “St. Anselm Exit” signs on Highway I-40 still bear witness to it! This project was headed up by Fr. Berard Doerger, OFM and consisted, at one time or another, of the following friars: Fr. Berard Doerger, Fr. Paul Juniet, Fr. Paul Esser, Fr. Pio O’Connor, Fr. Joel Bymes, Bro. Paul O’Brien and Fr. Don Reeves. In 1990, it was disbanded.
Then it was that Fr. Valentine Young, OFM, came on as pastor. During his eight year term, he made a strong effort in the catechetical ﬁeld. The many names in the Baptism and First Communion Registers bear ample witness to this. Fr. Valentine and staff would pick up the children at Sanders School, bring them to the mission and then take them home afterwards.
Fr. Valentine also resumed regular Mass at St. Rose Chapel in Pine Springs (and later to be abandoned again). Besides his duties at Houck, Father Valentine taught a daily Latin class at Gallup Catholic School. He also offered the Navajo Mass weekly at Casa San Martine and monthly at Villa Guadalupe – both in Gallup.
In 1998, Fr. Cormac returned to Houck a second time as pastor.
Today, Houck is a mission of the Gallup parishes, but its parishioners are dedicated. A strong Kateri Circle has been formed in recent years, and the legacy of the many dedicated priest, sisters, and people of St. John the Evangelist will hopefully carry the parish through many more years to come.
Pastors – 1926 to Present
August, 1926: Fr. Emanuel Trocker, OF M
September, 1952: Fr. Burcard Fisher, OFM
November 15, 1954: Fr. Mark Sandford, OFM
April, 1958: Fr. Burcard Fisher, OFM
August, 1963: Fr. John Lanzrath, OF M
July 18, 1965: Fr. Paul Scales, OFM
August. 1967: Fr. Cormac Antram, OFM
August. 1975: Fr. Timon Cook, OFM
December, 1983: Fr. Martin Rademaker, OF M
September, 1985: Fr. Paul Juniet, OFM
July, 1986: Fr. Berard Doerger, OFM
October, 1990: Fr. Valentine Young, OFM
July, 1998: Fr. Cormac Antram, OFM
The following served as Assistant Pastors during the long history of Tekakwitha Mission:
Fr. Burcard Fisher, OFM from Sept. 1950 until Sept. of 1952
Fr. Thomas Blomstrom, OFM, sometime between 1952 and 1953;
Fr. Greg Petri, OFM, 1965-1966;
Fr. John Middlestadt, OFM, 1966-1967 and
Fr. Paul Juniet, OFM, 1983-1985.
The Sisters who served from the beginning of the school (1932) until 1934 were Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Tucson, AZ. They were Sr. Emanuel and Sr. Dolorosa.