From her earliest childhood, Julie Nist was aware of her Navajo heritage and that she was special. As a young child she talked to animals and always had a deep, instinctual love of nature that would remain until the end of her life.
While her father, John Scully, a north Philadelphia beat cop, worked nights, her mother, Julia, would tell her children stories about their tribal roots and heritage. Each night Julia would recite the same Navajo folklore she had learned from her mother growing up on the Four Corners Reservation in New Mexico; magical stories that had been passed down through the generations.
One special favorite of Julie and her little brother was the legend of the good witch Spider Woman. When the ancient Navajo stepped out of the third World into our present fourth one, Spider Woman, who possessed strange, supernatural powers, used her magic to help them fight evil monsters.
Julie and John loved to hear how Spider Woman gave special powers to Monster-Slayer and his sister Child-Born-of-Water, to help them in their quest to find their long-lost father, Sun-God. Then when the family was triumphantly reunited, Sun-God showed his children how to destroy all the evil monsters forever, so the Navajo could live in peace and harmony.
Unfortunately Julia and her daughter would never be able to quell their own demons and find peace.
Julia Scully was born in Twin Lakes on February 12, 1943, the youngest child of Miriam and Sam Bowman. She grew up with her three brothers and two sisters in the spectacular red-rock, deep-canyoned New Mexico side of the twenty-four-thousand-square-mile reservation, bordering the states of Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
The two-hundred-thousand-strong Navajo people is the largest Indian nation in the United States and had suffered greatly since the Spanish first colonized their lands in the 15th century. It was a tortured history drenched in blood, leaving an indelible mark on each member of the tribe to this day.
The white invaders introduced sheep and horses to the Navajo, who soon used the animals for their nomadic way of life. They became excellent horsemen and began raiding the Spanish settlements in revenge.
But once the United States defeated Spain and assumed control of the vast tribal lands, the army used extreme brutality to tame the Navajo. It was a dark time for the Navajo nation as they were systematically robbed of their lands by the legendary Kit Carson, who burned their villages, slaughtering hundreds of men, women and children.
By 1864 most of the Navajo nation had been defeatedand the United States government decided to forcibly move the tribe from the Four Sacred Mountains to Fort Sumner, three hundred miles east. During what has become known as the "Long Walk," more than two hundred Navajos perished from starvation and the inhuman conditions they encountered during their compulsory exodus through the burning desert.
The survivors were imprisoned in Fort Sumner, where they were herded into the barren land, which was unable to support their cattle and crops. Any Navajo who tried to escape back to their homeland were hunted down and ruthlessly killed by the army.
After four torturous years, which saw hundreds of Navajo die from starvation, the Federal Government signed a new treaty in 1868. This allowed the tribe to return to their beloved Four Sacred Mountains, where they remain to this day. For the last one hundred and thirty years the proud tribe has eked out a living, raising sheep and selling its unique crafts, including rugs, jewelry and silverwork.
Julia's father Sam Bowman was born in 1895 on the reservation near Shiprock, New Mexico. He had married and had four children before his wife died as a young woman.
In the early 1930s during a visit to Twin Lakes, New Mexico, Sam met a beautiful young woman named Miriam, who was fifteen years younger than him. They soon fell in love and after marrying in a traditional ceremony, Sam remained in Twin Lakes to live near Miriam's family.
Sam began raising goats and sheep to support his new wife, who used the wool to weave intricate rugs in the traditional Navajo style for sale to tourists. During the summer they grew fruit and vegetables, and were self-sufficient.Sam Bowman's entire family, consisting of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in the same village in traditional Navajo houses, called hogans, within a few yards of each other.
Over the years, Sam and Miriam had six children and it was often a struggle to survive, but the children never went hungry and were always well-clothed. Times were hard as the twentieth-century Navajos slowly assimilated into the American system, still retaining their ancient traditions and way of life.
There were few jobs on the reservation and Sam Bowman's cattle business was highly precarious, given frequent droughts and extremes in temperatures. The long summers were brutally hot, bringing dust storms, and in the winter the temperatures plunged to freezing and often brought snow.
To protect his family and his cattle, Sam and his brother used their own hands to dig a simple shelter in a nearby hill to protect them from the cold. One of Julia's earliest memories is of lying in the dug-out with the cattle to keep warm on the long winter nights, listening to her mother's stories of the ancient Navajo folklore.
"But in the summertime, no matter how hot it was, it was always cool in there," remembers Julia.
Life was tough on the reservation in the 1950s with no electricity or running water. Alcoholism was a major problem as more and more Navajo turned to drink in order to escape the growing pressures of modern life. The environment Julia grew up in, and her father's strict discipline, would have a lasting effect on the young girl after she made her own way in the world.
When she was twelve, Julia, who spoke fluent Navajo, was sent away to an Indian boarding school inBrigham City, Utah, to learn to read and write in English.
"I hadn't realized that there was a world outside," says Julia. "It was the first time I had ever left the reservation."
Always headstrong and independent, the pretty, dark-haired Julia hated the rules and restrictions that were imposed on her. And after a couple of years at the boarding school, she told her parents she wasn't going back.
Sam and Miriam were sympathetic and arranged for her to go to another boarding school for American Indian children near Carson City, Nevada. But the adventurous girl longed to see more of the world outside the reservation.
So when she was sixteen, she took a three-month summer job in Sacramento, California, caring for two little boys as a mother's helper. When her new employers flew to New York to celebrate their wedding anniversary, Julia took the boys to stay with their grandparents in San Francisco.
It was the first time Julia had ever been in a big city, with its modern skyscrapers and frenetic way of life. She found it a revelation and, with a mixture of excitement and fear, timidly explored her new surroundings, resolving to leave the reservation at the earliest possible opportunity.
"They lived on the seventeenth floor," she recalls, "and they had a patio but I was so scared I wouldn't even go out."
Every day, when the boys were napping, Julia timidly ventured out of the building to walk to the street corner. There she would stand entranced for hours, watching the non-stop stream of traffic and pedestrians, dreaming ofliving in such a wondrous place where anything seemed possible.
The following year she took another summer job caring for a rich couple's children in the desert oasis of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. It was another life-changing experience for the teenager, who loved the excitement of the gambling mecca, even though she never set foot inside a casino.
When Julia graduated from school, she told her parents she would not be returning to the reservation. Her mother was very concerned for her youngest daughter, knowing the prejudice that she would encounter in the outside world. Besides, no one else in their family had ever wanted to leave the reservation before.
"I guess I was the only one who wanted to go and see other things," said Julia. "There was nothing really to keep me on the reservation. But my mother said it would be all right as long as I was happy."
In 1961, at the age of eighteen, Julia Bowman moved to Reno, Nevada, with stars in her eyes. She soon found a job as a hospital aide and began finding her feet. At first she made frequent trips home to visit her parents but she never stayed long, itching to return to her exciting new life in the glamourous casino town.
Two years later Sam Bowman was diagnosed with diabetes and Julia dutifully went back to Twin Lakes to help care for him. But the following spring she left again, this time heading east to Colorado Springs, where she found a job as a dietary assistant in a private hospital for the mentally ill.
Every Tuesday some of the patients would receive electroconvulsive therapy. As part of her job, Julia prepared their special diet trays for when they came out ofthe treatment. It was a terrible ordeal for the sensitive young girl to witness the misery of the patients first-hand, as she fed them.
It was here that Julia was first introduced to amphetamines by a female friend at the hospital. One day at a friend's apartment she was given a glass of iced tea which had been laced with speed. Before long Julia was addicted to amphetamines.
"The thing with the pills was that I could stay up for forty-eight hours," she said. "But although I would become really irritable, I always wanted to do them."
Her friend had a prescription for the diet pills with no restrictions for refills, so Julia went to the drug store to buy supplies. She found speed helped her get through her tough job as well as to stay up late.
There was an active social scene among the hospital staff she met in the canteen. A couple of times a week she would join her new friends for a night out in the lively bars in Colorado Springs, where they drank heavily. And the friendly, attractive Indian girl proved very popular and was often asked out on dates.
On July 4, 1964, she was celebrating Independence Day in a bar when she was introduced to a tall, handsome military policeman named John Scully, who was stationed at nearby Fort Carson on a two-year round of service.
Born in Philadelphia, Scully was twenty-five years old and his background was worlds apart from Julia's. A soft-spoken conservative young man enjoying his stint out West in the military, he didn't appear to have much in common with the full-blooded Navajo girl, but John was captivated by her dark exotic beauty and there was an immediate physical attraction between them.
They got off to a bad start when Scully told her theyhad met a few weeks earlier when he was dating one of her friends, and Julia couldn't remember. But after breaking the ice, he asked her out the following Saturday, she agreed. Within a week they were courting.
However, the relationship had to be put on hold when John had to go back to Philadelphia for a couple of months. Upon his return he immediately telephoned Julia and on one of their first dates surprised her by proposing marriage. She agreed.
"I was just a kid," said Julia. "We were at a party when he suddenly announced he always knew we would be married. It had never even occurred to me."
A couple of weeks later Julia returned to the reservation with the news of her engagement. Her parents were concerned that it was too soon for her to marry but reluctantly gave their blessing, saying they were happy if this was what she wanted.
John and Julia were married in a simple Catholic ceremony in Colorado Springs on July 2, 1965. They moved into a small apartment but were too poor to go on a proper honeymoon.
Soon after they were married John completed his military service and found a construction job. But just after Labor Day he told his new wife that they were moving east, across the country to Philadelphia. He explained that the seasonal construction work in Colorado Springs had come to an end, and there were far more job opportunities to pursue in Philadelphia.
Julia feared such a big move and being two thousand miles away from her family, but John assured her that if she was not happy they would move back again.
"I didn't have any choice," says Julia. "He knew exactly what he wanted so I finally said OK."
Julia insisted that John first come back to Twin Lakesto meet her family and spend a few days on the reservation. It would be five years before Julia went home again, and the last time she would ever see her father alive.
John and Julia Scully arrived in Philadelphia in the midst of one of the coldest winters on record. They moved into a small row house in the staunchly working-class north Philadelphia suburb of Kensington, also known as Fishtown. Once the textile capital of the United States, Kensington was now a drab, gray place littered with mills and factories, spewing thick black smoke high into the air. It was a long way away from the scenic wide-open spaces Julia had grown up in. She found it very hard to adapt and missed her family terribly.
"I didn't know anyone except my husband," she remembers. "It was very hard and I was homesick."
In the close-knit neighborhood where everyone knew one another, the pretty Navajo girl stood out and was often mistaken for Filipino or Korean. Although the neighbors were friendly enough to her face, Julia always felt she was being looked down upon.
They settled down on the same street as John Scully's parents, just two blocks away from John's twin brother Joseph. Julia did her best to make a good impression when she was first introduced to his family, but it would take many months before she was accepted.
Soon after they arrived John applied to join the Philadelphia Police Department. While he was waiting for the results his brother Joseph found him a job in a refrigeration plant. Julia also found a job in a shoe factory, doing menial piece work to supplement their income.
John was delighted when he heard that he had passed the application test. On February 6, 1966, he officiallyjoined the Philadelphia Police Department as a beat cop in the tough Seventh Precinct on Bustleton and Bower Street in north Philadelphia. Although the job paid well, his shifts alternated between days and nights. It was tough on Julia, who found herself alone at home most nights, and she became even more homesick.
But everything changed in the spring of 1967 when she found out she was pregnant. Julia was delighted at the prospect of a baby, believing it would give her a new purpose in life. Now she would have company to occupy her time. She began preparing for motherhood by buying baby clothes, while John set up a nursery in an upstairs room.
Finally Julia was beginning to settle down in Philadelphia and seemed to be happy and content. But it was a rare period of peace in the Scullys' marriage, which would soon burst apart at the seams with terrible consequences.
Copyright © 2000 by John Glatt.