Harrison Begay, or Haskay Yahne Yah (Warrior Who Walked Up to His Enemy), was born in White Cone, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation in 1917 or sometime around then. He was never sure about the date. His parents were Black Rock and Zonnie Tachinie Begay. His mother died when he was seven and soon after he was sent off to government boarding school at Fort Wingate where he heard English spoken for the first time. After a year he ran away from school to return home where he studied by himself and herded sheep. At seventeen he entered the recently founded Santa Fe Indian School and studied art under Dorothy Dunn. Until the school was founded, Navajo artists had no tribal tradition of painting, so what Harrison learned was later considered "studio style". Students were taught to place smoothly brushed forms flat on the picture plane. In 1936 Begay painted ‘Navajo Horse Race’ at the school and sold the piece for twelve dollars. It is now in the Southwest Museum collection in Los Angeles. After he graduated from Santa Fe Indian School as salutatorian in 1939, Harrison went on to study architecture. He also created murals for the WPA during the Depression before spending three years in the Army during World War II. When he was released from the Army, Harrison spent a brief time in Colorado studying with Gerald Curtis Delano. He received a purchase award at the first Indian Annual Painting Competition at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Upon returning home to Arizona in 1947 he resumed his painting career in earnest and created Tewa Enterprises in Santa Fe to make and sell reproductions of his and others artwork. Since he spent so much time off the reservation growing up, he learned much later about traditional Navajo ceremonies from a book by artist Don Perceval. This deepened understanding of his own heritage greatly influenced Begay's work from that time on.