Gazers Often Called Upon When People Go Missing

Article from the Arizona Republic, Friday, January 9, 1998, Page A8

When a child is missing on the Navajo Reservation, or when death prowls the vast, windswept land, Navajo police are used to getting assistance from medicine men.

"We don't hire them ourselves," Navajo Police Chief Leonard Butler said. "But sometimes the family members will get together and hire someone to help us track down their relative or find out what really happened."

In most cases, family members seek the assistance of a crystal gazer, a person in the Navajo medicine man society who is believed to be able - with crystal rocks gathered at sacred places - to see what happened to a missing person, the circumstances surrounding a death or other things.

Even law-enforcement agencies outside the reservation have gotten help from crystal gazers.

Franklin Morris, undersheriff of McKinley County, N.M., said his agency has used information from crystal gazers and hand tremblers to find a number of people reported missing.

Hand tremblers are another discipline within the Navajo medicine men's society and are used mostly as diagnosticians. By waving their trembling hand over a sick person's body, they can determine what type of treatment - herbal, ceremonial or both - is needed to treat the illness.

But some tremblers have also claimed to be able to find missing objects or people as well.

"Sometimes information from these sources has helped; sometimes it has not," Morris said.

Morris, who is Navajo, said that the cost for a family to hire a crystal gazer or hand trembler is generally less than $100.

Butler said there is no firm tribal policy on the use of crystal gazers. Instead, the department relies "on the common sense of police officers" to determine whether the information should be used or not.

The problem law enforcement officials face is that sometimes more than one crystal gazer is approached; when that happens, the family sometimes receives conflicting information.

Butler recalled a case in which crystal gazers told a family that a relative missing for months in the Tuba City area was alive in Phoenix, either in jail or a hospital.

Navajo police contacted authorities in Phoenix but couldn't find any indiciations that the mand was there or hand been there since he was reported missing.

"Then the last crystal gazer hired by the family said that the man was dead and that he hadn't left Tuba City," Butler said.

A few weeks later, someone found the man's body in his pickup, which had evidently run off the road and gotten stuck in an isolated crevice.

Navajo officers also said sometimes from crystal gazers has led police in the wrong direction.

For example, when a child was missing in the Montezuma area of the reservation, crystal gazers told the family to ignore tracks leading from the child's home to the nearby San Juan River. Instead, they said the child was alive and trapped in a hole - causing police and volunteers to search around the home several times.

Three months later, police discovered the child's body several miles downstream, caught in branches.

"If (the information) is fairly detailed and graphic," Butler said, "the chances are that we will check it out."

But often the information is so vague - the person is still alive and he had gone west, for instance, or he's dead near some water - that police have to wait for more.

Morris said the key to using this information is to form a relationship with just one crystal gazer or hand trembler who has proven to be effective in the past.

"If you use too many, the information you get tends to be confusing," he said.