The Broken Circle: A True Story of Murder and Magic in Navajo Country

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The Broken Circle is a true story of murder and magic in Indian country, by Rodney Barker, author of the widely acclaimed The Hiroshima Maidens. A fitting companion to such major works as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, his book is also a first-rate true crime story. In riveting, story-telling fashion it presents a dramatic account of the torture-murder of three Navajo Indians by a thrill-seeking group of white teenagers that looses ethnic furies in a town bordering the Navajo ...
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Overview

The Broken Circle is a true story of murder and magic in Indian country, by Rodney Barker, author of the widely acclaimed The Hiroshima Maidens. A fitting companion to such major works as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, his book is also a first-rate true crime story. In riveting, story-telling fashion it presents a dramatic account of the torture-murder of three Navajo Indians by a thrill-seeking group of white teenagers that looses ethnic furies in a town bordering the Navajo Reservation in the American Southwest. But what starts out as a story of white crimes and their social repercussions soon becomes a tale of red justice, as Navajo militants attempt to put the town itself on trial, and traditional tribal members seek revenge through the secret practice of Navajo witchcraft.... Writing with candor and sensitivity to conflicting cultural perspectives, Barker shows, in harsh and fascinating detail, the realities of contemporary Indian life through the eyes of those who are victims of white racism, as well as the militants who are willing to give up their lives to reverse a long history of injustice and oppression. He also introduces us to the mysterious world of Navajo sorcery, where mystical powers are invoked to settle and balance earthly grievances. Even as he follows the effect of a disturbing crime and its fragmenting aftermath on the citizens and officials of a deeply conservative community, Barker takes us into the minds of juvenile mass murderers, tracing out the unpredictable and astonishing consequences of their sadistic actions. The Broken Circle is an illuminating work of contemporary history that, in its own way, brilliantly succeeds in revealing both sides of a dramatic conflict, a turning point in the struggle of Native Americans to reassert their rights, their lives and their ancient traditions.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1974 mutilated bodies of three Navajo men were found near Farmington, N.M., an Anglo community on the edge of the Navajo reservation where rolling Indian drunks had become a teenage rite of passage. Soon three Farmington high school boys admitted guilt and received light sentences as juveniles. Upon hearing in 1988 that the three young murderers had become victims of Navajo witchcraft (one died in an unlikely auto accident and the other two have become psychologically unstable), Barker ( The Hiroshima Maidens ) began research into the so-called Chokecherry Massacre. Projecting into the minds of the perpetrators, he delivers a chilling and remarkable tale. Reading much like a Tony Hillerman novel, the book also exposes the roots of racial intolerance between Native Americans and whites and suggests that Indian medicine men indeed have supernatural powers. (Apr.)
Library Journal
The author of Hiroshima Maidens ( LJ 7/85) has produced another account of the meeting of two cultures and of the racism of one toward the other. In the spring of 1975, three Navajo men were brutally murdered near Farmington, New Mexico. Three local high school students committed the murders but only served two years in a juvenile reformatory. Barker, who that same year had encountered a group of Navajos in Farmington protesting the killings, returned in 1988 to chronicle the saga and its aftermath. Largely through interviews and historical background, Barker presents an intricate story of racism and brutality, criminal psychosis, Indian activism, and supernatural revenge. He offers multiple points of view, but that of the Navajo is always central, allowing the reader an unusual glimpse into their interpretation of events. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-- Christina Carter, California State Univ. Lib., Fresno
Kirkus Reviews
Masterful account of the torture/murder of three Navajos by white teenagers. Farmington, New Mexico, the only major Anglo community for hundreds of miles, lies beside the reservation of the largest Indian tribe in the US—the Navajos. The discovery in 1974 of the battered bodies of three Navajo men and the subsequent arrest of three teenagers for their murder brought Navajos into Farmington's streets in several marches for equal justice, which were ended by an apparent police riot. During questioning, the teenagers claimed to have only "rolled" the victims but, here, Barker (The Hiroshima Maidens, 1985) draws on his own interviews to reveal the appalling secret behind the murders. The "rolling" of Indians, it seems, was a common sport of high- school boys and was winked at by authorities. Picking up drunk Indians—whom they called "subs" (subhumans)—teenagers drove them into the desert, where they were kicked, beaten, and pushed over cliffs, with their belts and boots stolen for trophies. When the three accused teenagers were sent to reform school for two years instead of being tried for murder, there was an outpouring of disgust among the Navajos, and it was rumored that medicine men had placed a curse on the killers. Barker, who nurtured a strong friendship with the widow of one of the slain Indians, evokes her viewpoint and life story in an extraordinarily vivid picture of how Indians live today, and he goes on to explore in rare depth the lives of the killers. One was mentally ill, he tells us, but the other two mirrored community attitudes: In 1974, Farmington was considered the Indian-rights equivalent to Selma in the black struggle. Finally, Barker attempts todiscover whether a curse had been placed on the slayers. He reports that one died in an accident, one suffered a kind of emotional death, and the third has been dogged by personal calamity. A thoughtful and important social document full of deep human insight; essential reading to understand the present-day lives of Native Americans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671741464
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 3/1/1992
  • Pages: 368

Table of Contents

Introduction 13
1 The Chokecherry Massacre
1 Death in the Desert 23
2 Disquieting Details 49
3 Full Confessions 81
4 Navajo Warriors 100
5 Days of Rage 124
2 Thunder in Navajoland
6 The Custer of Farmington 147
7 Identifying the Malice 169
8 The Cavalry Ghosts of Centuries Past 212
3 Red Powers of Darkness
9 White Man's Justice 245
10 Whispers of Witchcraft 271
11 The Navajo Way 313
Afterword: The Broken Circle 349
Acknowledgments 353
Index 355
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