The Families Behind Witherspoons' Nizhoni Herefords


Gary Jay (1943-) and Nellie Nabahe Witherspoon (1936-)

  Coming from very different cultural backgrounds and very distant places and circumstances, Gary Witherspoon and Nellie Nabahe met at a funeral in Shiprock, New Mexico in 1964.  Gary was on the Navajo reservation at the time as a missionary for the Mormon Church.


Gary (right) and Paul Rosier (left) with Demsey Family of Pinon, 1962

    Nellie had joined the Mormon Church in the mid-1950s while attending the Intermountain Indian Boarding School at Brigham City, Utah.  Nellie had served a mission for the church in Hawaii, being the first American Indian to serve a mission to the Polynesian people.


Nellie Nabahe on her mission in Hawaii, 1959

    Before they met, Gary knew of Nellie through her brother Kenneth who had been Gary's missionary companion during part of 1963.  Gary and Nellie later taught a temple preparation class together in the Navajo language at Shiprock, NM, and their attraction to each other and their common interests led to their marriage on December 14, 1964, four months after Gary was released as a missionary.


Gary Witherspoon and Nellie Nabahe at Shiprock, NM, March, 1964

    Appropriate to their different cultural backgrounds, Gary and Nellie were married twice.  They were first married in a ceremony in the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple, after which they had a wedding reception at Provo, Utah.

Gary & Nellie at their Wedding Reception, Provo, Utah, December, 1964

    A few days after the Utah wedding, Gary and Nellie traveled to Nellie's home for a Navajo wedding and reception.  In a Navajo wedding, the couple eat cornmeal and corn pollen out of the ceremonial wedding basket which is a microcosm of the cosmos.  They also drink water out of the same vessel.  Then they sit back to back and have their hair commingled.  This signifies their marital bond that follows the pattern of the fertile union of the Sun Father and the Earth Mother.

Gary & Nellie's Navajo Wedding at the Nabahe Home, Naschitti, NM

      After the wedding ceremony, experienced married men and women take turns counseling the newly weds concerning how to have a long,  happy and harmonious marriage.  Then the family and friends who have gathered feast and give gifts to the newly married couple.

    After graduating from Brigham Young University, Gary first worked on the Navajo reservation as a headstart teacher from 1965-66.  From 1966-68, Gary worked as a school administrator at the Rough Rock Demonstration School on the Navajo reservation.  From 1968-1970 Gary was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, earning an MA and Ph.D. in cultural anthropology.  During the years 1965-1970, Nellie was busy raising a family.  She gave birth to Dwight in 1965, David in 1967, DeAnna in 1968 and Gary, Jr. in 1970.


Nellie and Gary, Daughter DeAnna and Sons Dwight & David, 1971

    In 1971 Gary returned to BYU as an assistant professor of anthropology.  While at BYU, Gary and Nellie joined partners Bahe and Florence Billy in purchasing a 1300 acre commercial cattle ranch in Mills, Utah - population less than 25.


Gary on Star at Mills, Utah Ranch in the Spring of 1973

In the Fall of 1971 Gary took a professorship at Yale University, but he found that Yale and the Ivy League environment did not suit him, and he returned to the ranch in Utah in 1972.  After the partnership with the Billys dissolved, Gary and Nellie went to Ignacio, Colorado in 1975 to begin a registered seedstock cattle operation called Witherspoons' Nizhoni Herefords.


Witherspoons Nizhoni Herefords began here at Ignacio, Colorado in 1975

During the first seven years of this operation, Gary was a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan.  During Gary's absence, most of the ranch work was done by the children under the supervision of Nellie.  Johnny was born in 1973.  From 1975-82, Nellie had five kids to raise and a 75 head cattle ranch to manage while Gary was teaching anthropology at the University of Michigan.


Hard Working Witherspoon Children at Ignacio, Colorado

The family needed the income from Gary's job to help support the ranch and pay the debts.  The separation of job from home was required to maintain a ranch where the family wanted to live and raise their children.  The hard work the children did made them feel important to the family, and established good habits for the future.  With all the school vacations and extended weekend visits, Gary was able to be home at Igancio about 50% of the time during those seven years.

Dwight Trying his Skills at Youth Rodeo

    By 1982 the separation of job and home became untenable, and Gary resigned as a Full Professor at the University of Michigan and returned to Ignacio full time.  Gary took a job with the Navajo Academy in Farmington, NM, just 50 miles from Ignacio.   Gary was Director of the Navajo Language Institute, and Head football and basketball coach at the Navajo Academy from 1982-87.  Gary coached his sons Dwight and David in football at the Navajo Academy.  At one game, Gary was coaching his sons Dwight and David in football while they were playing against Ignacio High School.

    Dwight played guard, linebacker and some quarterback on his father's football team.  He was also a New Mexico HS State Champion wrestler in 1983 as a senior.


Dwight Graduating from ASU in 1992

Dwight attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and wrestled for the college team there.  After a year at Fort Lewis, he served an LDS mission, and then returned to school at Arizona State University where he graduated.


David at Navajo Academy
David was Valedictorian of his Senior Class, two time NM State Champion Wrestler
and named to the Navajo Times All-Area Football Team

    Daughter DeAnna was a cheerleader for Ignacio HS when Ignacio played her father's football team at the Navajo Academy.  DeAnna graduated near the top of her class and got a scholarship from the Navajo Nation to attend the University of Colorado where she roomed with her cousin April Nabahe.  After serving an LDS Mission, DeAnna graduated from BYU as an anthropology major.  In the years between 1982 and 1987, Dwight, David and DeAnna all graduated from high school and entered college.  By 1993, all three, along with Gary Jr, were college graduates, married and starting families of their own.


DeAnna at her Graduation from Ignacio HS

    In 1987 Gary needed to return to university teaching for financial reasons.  He took the best job he could get.  That job was at the University of Washington in Seattle as Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies.  In 1988 Gary and Nellie moved Witherspoons Nizhoni Herefords to the State of Washington, locating it at Eatonville, some 65 miles southeast of Seattle.

Gary, Jr. and Johnny both graduated from high school in the state of Washington.


Gary Jr
Upper left shows Gary Jr wrestling for Farmington HS as a freshman.  Upper right shows Gary as a member of Team USA at the PA Classic where he easily won his weight class and also sang the National Anthem at this event that was on TV.

Gary, Jr. became a four time State Champion in wrestling, winning two state titles in Washington, one in Colorado and one in New Mexico.  His accomplishments were written up in USA Today and in Sports Illustrated.


Johnny at the State Championship Game in the Kingdome, Seattle, 1990

 Johnny was a wide receiver and returned punts for the Eatonville HS football team that won the state championship in 1990.  Johnny also served a mission for the LDS Church.

Witherspoons' Nizhoni Herefords has remained at Eatonville since 1988, but the family still has thoughts of moving back to the Southwest or at least to an environment that is more suitable for raising cattle than is coastal Washington.


The Families of WNH at Eatonville on July 4th, 1999