Cultural Reference


A storage space usually found toward the rear of a vehicle, especially if the vehicle has a back seat.

Frequently in detective stories, trunks function as spaces to hide incriminating evidence, including dead bodies, weapons, drugs, or explosives. Tony Hillerman's work is no exception.


In Navajo social interactions, as well as in those of many other Native American cultures, "uncle" is a title of respect used to address an older male, regardless of actual familial connection. The familial term connotes the intimacy of a social group in which all members are believed to be connected, as well as the respect that is given to older generations.

Navajo country

An Anglicized reference to the what the Navajo would call Diné Bikéyah, the traditional Navajo homeland, which is roughly demarcated by the four sacred mountains of the San Francisco Peaks or Dook’o’oslííd to the west, Mount Hesperus or Dibé Nitsaa to the north, Blanca Peak or Sisnaajiní to the east, and Mount Taylor or Tsoodzil to the south. More a concept and a state of mind than a specific territorial reference, "Navajo country" is a romanticized evocation of the high desert and red mesa landscapes that fill the Four Corners regions of the Southwestern U.S.

Tony Hillerman's use of the term Navajo country throughout his Navajo detective series also shares a resonance with the 19th-century use of the term "Indian Country," a somewhat pejorative reference to the always-receding lands west of the expanding U.S. frontier. Indian Country was wild, unsettled, and ripe for the taking, once the indigenous populations had been subdued and removed. Although Hillerman was an advocate for rather than an enemy of the peoples whose cultures he sketched into his novels, it's telling that one of his most used resources was an American Automobile Association map entitled "Indian Country," a detailed map of the roads and routes on the Navajo Reservation.


A type of shoe or boot traditionally worn by Native American peoples. Moccasins were hand-made, using leather made of deer, moose, elk, or bison skin, and could have either soft or hard soles. Designs varied from group to group and depended on climate, terrain, and the moccasins' purpose and usage. Decorations such as embroidery, beads, fringes, or buttons added to the distinctive style of the moccasins.

In contemporary U.S. culture, moccasins can also refer to a style of shoe adapted from the original indigenous boots. Modern moccasins are a type of slip-on shoe that are casual and comfortable.

seventh grade

After World War Two, the seventh grade was the first of two grades in what for many public school students in the United States was known as "junior high." Later, as the population growth rate slowed, the children of baby boomers found themselves entering a seventh grade that was the middle grade of what became known as "middle school." Regardless of the generation or the school designation, seventh graders are roughly between the ages of twelve and fourteen, an age that spans the gap between childish innocence and nascent pubescence. Often associated with burgeoning self-awareness and a resultant social and cultural awkwardness, seventh graders can at times be wise beyond their years, yet are effectively children.

swivel chair

A chair whose seat rotates to face in any direction, usually used in office environments. Swivel chairs often also have wheels, to enable easy movement along wide desks and their close surroundings. For many years, Tony Hillerman sat in a swivel chair as he wrote as his rolltop desk.

Arizona State Police

Arizona State Police is a colloquial reference to the enforcement personnel of the Arizona Department of Public Safety (APDS). APDS began as the Arizona Rangers in 1901 while the state was still a territory and one of the final outposts for true lawlessness with its proximity to Mexico and the harsh and rugged terrain that made eluding law enforcement a viable possibility. The Rangers were replaced by the Arizona Highway Patrol in 1931, with one patrolman per each of the state's 14 districts assigned to cover the rise in the number of vehicles traveling across the state. In 1967, APDS was established as the comprehensive law enforcement agency, responsible for enforcing traffic, narcotics, gang, liquor, and other regulatory areas.

New Mexico State Police

A division within New Mexico's Department of Public Safety, the New Mexico State Police Force maintains 12 district stations in the state. The department began as a motor patrol in 1933 to address the need for law enforcement with statewide jurisdiction. The State Police recruits and trains cadets at the law enforcement academy in Santa Fe, emphasizing core values of respect, excellence, service, pride, ethics, courtesy and teamwork.

As a state-wide agency, the New Mexico State Police have jurisdiction over both interstate and state highways, demanding close collaboration with other agencies around the state, whose jurisdictions overlap these travel systems. Such agencies include tribal and sovereign police forces, as well as municipal agencies associated with towns and cities.

Turkey Clan

In Native American social structures, a clan is an interrelated social group whose connections derive from parentage as well as kinship. Clan configurations develop and are expressed uniquely in different indigenous groups, and each tribe is comprised of numerous various clans. Clan names often originate in the natural environment of the tribe’s homeland, and refer to place names, fauna and flora, or significant natural phenomena.

The Turkey Clan is probably named after the bird that is commonly found across Southwestern parts of the U.S. The Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other pueblo peoples all have a clan by that name as part of their greater system of familial and kinship structures.


A ruff is a conspicuous ring of feathers or fur found around the neck of various animal species. A manmade ruff is used in the human world to adorn revered figures such as kings and queens, or in the case of Native American cultures, shamans and healers. It is meant in all cases to draw attention and to signify power, prestige, importance, and virility.

In the Pueblo cultures of the U.S. Southwest, many kachinas (spirit beings) are depicted with thick ruffs around their necks.


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