Rose Garden PhotographsMary “Louisa” (Wade) Wetherill, the daughter of John James and Julia Francis (Rush) Wade, was born on September 2, 1877, in Ward City, Elko County, Nevada. She grew up in the Colorado River Valley. She married John Wetherill (1866-1944), an explorer, guide and Indian trader, on March 17, 1896, in Montezuma, Colorado. She went with him to his 1,000-acre ranch in the Mesa Verde Valley. John and Louisa had two children: Benjamin Wade and Georgia Ida (Wetherill) Kilcrease.

In December 1910, the family moved to Kayenta, Arizona, a place the couple had visited on their honeymoon. There in Coconino County, they established a trading post and the Wetherill and Colville Guest Ranch. Interested in the Navajo Indians from the day she arrived among them, Louisa mastered their language and made a study of their customs, traditions, religion and home life. The Navajos came to love and respect her and named her AsthonSosi, which means “The Slim Woman.”

John and Louisa’s home was always open to Indians and travelers alike. Many famous people, such as Teddy Roosevelt, came to Kayenta to meet Louisa. Zane Grey credits her as the source of much of the information he shared with his readers. The couple adopted two Navajo girls after their children were grown. They became known as Francis “Fanny” Virginia “Skeeter” (Wetherill) Mahan (1919 – 2007) and Betty Zane (Wetherill) Rogers (1916- 2010). The Wetherills raised and educated them as their own. They adopted another daughter in 1940, Gretchen.

The Navajos considered Louisa their true friend and traveled great distances to seek her aid and advice. A Navajo chief, Hoskinini, insisted that she was a Navajo girl who had been stolen by a group of white people crossing the reservation on their trek to California. He contended Mrs. Wetherill could not understand and speak their language so fluently or be so sympathetic with their customs and so helpful to them in all their difficulties, if she were not a Navajo by blood. Hoskinini adopted her into his clan, the Tachini, and before his death requested that all his personal possessions be taken to the trading post so that Louisa could distribute them among his family.

Louisa’s interest in Navajo culture extended to their use of herbs for food, healing, and ceremonies.  She began collecting herbs around 1906, and eventually her collection included more than 300 specimens.  She also collected a considerable number of sand paintings.  In addition, Louisa learned and translated the legends and folk tales of the Navajos.  Among her original translations was “Prayer to the Big Black Bear.” She told Navajo folktales to her children and found that they preferred them to Mother Goose rhymes.

Through her relationships with Navajos and her collections, Louisa made many significant contributions to the history of Arizona and Anglos’ understanding of the Navajos. Louisa died on September 18, 1945, in Prescott, Arizona, and was buried in Wetherill Cemetery at Kayenta, Coconino County, Arizona, beside her husband.

In 1985, Louisa was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.

Donor: Juanita Duncan, granddaughter
Photo Located: PB-40, F-3, I-2
Updated: 7/20/2014, Gretchen Hough Eastman