A man contacted me soon after my website went live. He was interested in my cause and recently completed his masters in Public Health. He submitted a paper to his dean about an incident that occurred in Nevada among the Anasazi. I hope you have the chance to read his paper below. His paper reminds us of how far we have come with mental health resources and knowledge. However, I think there are shocking similarities between stigma then and now. We owe it to the millions affected by mental illness to educate the public.
Petroglyph Symbols Tell a Story of Public Health
"In Nevada there are many sites where petroglyphs have been carved into stone. Petroglyophs are pictures or symbols that have been etched into stone, often to tell a story. They were created by ancient Native Americans between 300 BC and 1150 AD. Clans of Native Americans known as the Basketmakers and the Anasazi lived in the area during those years, at different times, and are responsible for recording this story of a Public Health tragedy.
The Clan occupied the area of the Virgin and Muddy River Valleys in southeast Nevada. They had at least two base villages, neither of which supplied all their basic requirements and they made yearly migrations between the sites and into the mountains for hunting and seed gathering, as well as for comfort. The higher elevations of the mountains provided cooler temperatures during the summer and the valleys below were warmer during the winter.
Year after year they followed the same routes after establishing where life sustaining water could be found. At a halfway point was an outcropping of rock with depressions worn into places by water and weather in the past. These depressions held water after the rains fell, and in the spring clan members would watch for storms that would fill the depressions as a signal that it was time to begin their migration up the mountain.
They heavily depended on the water in the natural cisterns to quench their thirst and to refill their handmade water containers. A sad tale is recorded in the petroglyphs nearby.
One man who had an antisocial mental condition which he probably could not control polluted the depressions of water with his own waste. Some of the members of the clan became very sick, and some later died. A leader of the group chastised the man, who they labeled the Evil Man, but he was unwilling or unable to listen.
A mediator was brought in but his attempts to assist the two men in communication were a total failure. The clan members attempted to dispose of the contaminated water so that others could avoid drinking it, but the Evil Man continued to offend them by dousing them with his wastes from higher on the cliff.
Great turmoil resulted. Those who were sick were isolated from the rest, and their discomfort from intestinal disease was recorded. A number of individuals died.
At least two council meetings took place where the problem was assessed and it was determined there was no easy solution. They did not know how to treat the mental condition or how to correct his behavior. They determined that the evil offenses had to be brought to an end, and the only way to do that and save their clan was to “chop off” his life. The Evil Man was bound, hands and feet, and he was placed in a controlled environment. He continued to use verbal threats against the clan members. They took him to a nearby high cliff, and despite the Evil Man’s continued protests, without guilt (as a result of their joint reasoning) threw him over the edge of the cliff.
The council members talked about how their Spirit God was angered toward the Evil Man, and were sure that their God rendered punishment, in addition to his death.
The clan had to continue their journey without water, and because of this, began one morning early before daybreak. Their trip was slowed by the individuals who were ill, and trail became known as the Ill Trail.
Some of the members of the band of Indians survived, we know, because years later the story was recorded. Then sometime later, the story was re-recorded, with better organization and detail.
This story certainly is a tale of public health. The environmental crisis potentiated by this one man had the capacity to wipe out the entire clan of Native Americans. The leaders recognized this and realized that the man had a mental condition that could not be controlled. They reasoned together and came to the only solution that would give their group a chance of survival.
The petroglyphs that tell this story are fascinating, and can be seen in The Offense of the Evil Man. The information used for this paper comes from The Offense of the Evil Man (and its consequences) by Verl Frehner, published by Rocky Mountain Printing in 2003."