For most of Sue Tsosie’s life, sheep were her family.
The Navajo woman from Page, Arizona, herded hundreds of sheep each day. She gathered their wool to weave into blankets or trade away for other goods.
“Sheep were her life,” said Tsosie’s daughter Lori Manning. “It was all she knew.”
But in recent years, it’s been more difficult for 96-year-old Tsosie to spend time with them. She sold most of her sheep when her husband died in 1974, and she has made the transition to assisted living.
Last week at Canyons of the Ancients Guest Ranch, west of Cortez, Tsosie’s wish was granted. She was invited to the ranch to spend time with its 120 sheep there, along with daughters Manning, Ida Smith and Brenda Glazier.
Smith and her daughter learned about Wish of a Lifetime, a nonprofit foundation that works to fulfill the dreams of seniors, and nominated Tsosie.
“I couldn’t believe it when she was picked for her wish,” Smith said.
On Wednesday, Tsosie wore traditional Navajo clothing as she sat on a log to feed a lamb at the ranch. A picturesque, rustic scene served as a backdrop behind her: Sheep grazed in a pasture surrounded by a wooden fence, and the rocky walls of McElmo Canyon towered above in the distance.
It had been eight years since she had been close to sheep, Tsosie said.
“It’s been beautiful here,” Tsosie said as Manning translated her words from the Navajo language. “There is the presence of the sheep and the growth of living things here.”
Most of the sheep at the ranch are Churro sheep, a breed originating from Spain that the Navajo obtained during the Spanish conquest.
After learning that Tsosie had been selected to have a wish fulfilled, Manning, Smith and Glazier had to decide what that wish would be. But they quickly decided it would involve sheep, Manning said, and her mother agreed.
“She’s always been dependent on sheep,” Manning said of Tsosie. “She used sheep as her livelihood. We knew she would want to be with sheep.”
Tsosie was emotional and grateful for the opportunity, Manning said. She was glad to be at the ranch with her daughters, Manning said.
A marriage was arranged for Tsosie when she was just 12 or 13 years old, Manning said. When Tsosie could see people setting up for a special event in her village, she knew something was happening, but wasn’t sure what it was.
When Tsosie’s grandmother told her a marriage had been set up for her, Tsosie was upset. She cried and ran away. Marriage was difficult for Tsosie, because sheep were her family, Manning said.
Tsosie’s grandfather set out on horseback and eventually found her. He persuaded her to return and go through with the wedding ceremony. The first time Tsosie laid eyes on her husband was coming through the hogan during the wedding.
Tsosie went on to have 17 children, nine of whom are living today. Tsosie’s oldest child is 80, and her youngest is 52, Manning said.
Tsosie knows much about childbirth and has helped many women through the process, her daughter said. Tsosie can sense things during pregnancy that doctors and nurses can’t, Manning said.
Tsosie also can predict the phases of the moon and movements of the stars with uncanny accuracy, Manning said.
This was the first visit to McElmo Canyon for Tsosie and her daughters. Tsosie said she had always wanted to see where Colorado was and what the area looked like. She said she recognized some of the plants she saw around the area.
Tsosie was grateful for the hospitality of the people she met at Canyons of the Ancients Guest Ranch.
“I am happy to be among you and build relationships with you,” she said.