The men looked after their herds of horses and took very good care of the few cattle that drifted into the reservation; the women attended to their domestic duties and, with the aid of the children, took care of the sheep and goats, which, according to long-established custom, belonged exclusively to them. Agriculture was practically unknown. But with the removal of the duty on wool a new era opened for the Navaho. The price of wool fell to about one-half of the former figure, and a flock of sheep no longer furnished the means for procuring the articles which had grown to be necessities. The people were gradually but surely forced to horticulture to procure the means of subsistence. It is this tendency which is especially destructive of the old house-building ideas, and which will eventually cause a complete change in the houses of the people. Recently the tendency has been emphasized by the construction, under governmental supervision, of a number of small irrigating ditches in the mountain districts. The result of these works must be eventually to collect the Navaho into small communities, and practically to destroy the present pastoral life and replace it with new and, perhaps, improved conditions.
But many of the arts of the Navaho, and especially their house building, grew out of and conformed to the old methods of life. It is hardly to be supposed that they will continue under the new conditions, and, in fact, pronounced variations are already apparent. Up to ten years ago there was so little change that it might be said that there was none; since then the difference can be seen by everyone. Should the price of wool rise in the near future the change that has been suggested might be checked, but it has received such an impetus that the Navaho will always henceforth pay much more attention to horticulture than they have in the past, and this means necessarily a modification in the present methods of house building. The average Navaho farm, and almost every adult male now has a small garden patch, comprises less than half an acre, while two acres is considered a large area to be worked by one family at one time.
One result of this industrial development of the people is an increased permanency of dwellings. As the flocks of sheep and goats diminish and their care becomes less important, greater attention is paid to the selection of sites for homes, and they are often located now with reference to a permanent occupancy and with regard to the convenience of the fields, which in some cases furnish the main source of subsistence of the family. As a collateral result of these conditions and tendencies an effort is now sometimes made to build houses on the American plan; that is, to imitate the houses of the whites. Such houses are a wide departure from the original ideas of house structures of the Navaho. They are rectangular in plan, sometimes with a board roof, and occasionally comprise several rooms. When the local conditions