Press: Phoenix Home and Garden (June)

The Churro breed of sheep were introduced by the Spaniards in the mid 1500’s upon their discovery and colonization of the “New World”. Having originated in the mountainous regions of southern Spain, they were well adapted to the arid and poor forage conditions of this new environment. Twice on the brink of extinction, this hardy breed of sheep endures. In 1863, the Kit Carson/U.S. Military campaign to incarcerate the Navajo people and destroy their economy {the sheep} was successful in rounding up about half of the population, taking them to Bosque Redondo and killing a large percentage of their sheep. The escaping Navajo went into hiding with the remnants of their flocks. Upon returning from “The Long Walk”, they were issued new breeds of sheep, which for the most part replaced the Churro wool in their weaving. Some weaver’s preference for their “old wool” persisted, and many managed to rebuild their Churro flocks. Later, in the 1930’s, Congress enacted the Taylor Grazing Act; tens of thousands of sheep were killed. This federally enforced stock reduction program was the result of overgrazing and the severe drought conditions of the dust bowl era. Still a few bands of Churro survived, secreted away in the remote canyons of Navajo land.

Navajo weavers first used Churro wool during the classic period of Navajo weaving (1700-1863). The superior quality of these weavings is very evident in the blankets that have survived through time. The lustrous fibers of the wool were long and straight, ideal for the limited hand methods of Navajo weaving. Also, the low lanolin content reduced the necessity for extensive cleaning in a land of little water.

In recent years, the efforts of a few dedicated breeders have revived the Churro genetics and fleece quality. However, the circle was not complete, as the wool wasn’t getting into the hands of Navajo weavers. The most successful effort to reintroduce Churro wool to the Navajo loom was accomplished by native Arizonan, Steve Getzwiller. He set out to revive some of the older design elements as well as some rare and natural dyes. The reintroduction of Churro wool brought those lustrous qualities back to the finished weavings, completing the circle and reconnecting some of the weavers with their past. “The Navajo Churro Collection” was born.