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The Yellow Hand


Years ago, but not nearly so many years ago as in most of our stories, said an old Papago Indian, a man who lived in this village owned much land and worked very hard. He was always getting fields from someone who did not work so hard.

Sometimes his wife scolded him. "Both of us do nothing but work," she would say to him. "We already have more than we need and more than our daughter needs." Their daughter was their only child.

Her husband kept on working and trading until he had the very best land in all this valley. He had the best horses. He had the greatest number of cattle.

Then he began to collect yellow stones.

And his wife began to scold more and more. "It is time to choose a husband for our daughter," she told him, "but you do not know anyone. You are always too busy to go with other men on hunts or to feasts. The people of the village do not like you and are afraid of you." But her scolding had no effect.

One day a Stranger appeared from the south, riding a burro. He went to the place where the man I am telling you about was working. There Stranger emptied a sack of rocks. Then the two men pounded some of these rocks, pounded them, and burned them. After doing this a long time, the man brought Stranger to his home for food. His wife and daughter served them. The mother was very cross and scolded a great deal. Stranger watched the girl closely.


When Stranger left, the wife asked her husband, "What did you trade this time?"

Her husband only laughed and showed her a pile of stones.

When the woman had decided upon a husband for her daughter, the father would not listen to her. He paid no attention to anything that she said. She was very sad and quiet and worried.

But one morning, everything seemed to change. When the woman looked far south, she saw several burros with baskets on their sides. The burros came to the house. Driving them was the Stranger who had been there before. He asked the woman for her husband, who soon came from his fields. He helped Stranger unload the baskets. When they finished, the girl's father came to the house and said to his wife, "I have found a husband for our daughter. Tell her to get her things together, so that she can go with Stranger."

The mother wept and begged her husband not to give up her daughter to a stranger from a strange land. But her husband paid no attention to her. He was pounding the rocks that Stranger had brought. He paid no attention to his wife or to his daughter.

Next day the girl started south with her husband. Her father pounded the rocks that Stranger had brought to him. Her mother grumbled while she did her work, feeling very heavy and queer inside.

Time passed. The man no longer worked in his fields. He spent all of his time pounding his rocks and washing them and burning them. Again Stranger came with his burros loaded with baskets of rocks. After the baskets had been emptied, he went away.

Now all the people in the village knew that the man had traded his daughter for a pile of rocks. They laughed at him and ignored him. The woman was alone too much and became very sad. She complained that her husband was changing to rock.

When he had almost finished with one pile of rocks, Stranger would appear from the south with more rocks. This would make the man work harder than ever. His wife did not know what he did with the small yellow stones that he got out of the rocks. She thought that he put them in a hole in the ground.

Often she had to carry his meals out to him, where he was working. All day long he pounded, pounded, and pounded the rocks. The pile that he had crushed became larger than three houses. And the man's hands, his wife noticed, were always covered with yellow dust.

After a few years, she became old and very tired all the time. She refused to work in the fields; the man did nothing but pound rocks. So other people plowed and planted his fields and gave the man and his wife a certain portion of the crops.

When the summer rains fell, the man refused to leave the rocks. He worked all day and worked at night by the light of a big fire. Many times he became wet from the rains. Soon he began to cough-- very hard. His wife begged him to stop and rest. "If you do not rest, the deer will come," she reminded him.

A certain sickness, the Desert People used to believe, was brought by a deer. When people got sick in that way, there was no hope that they would ever get well. The deer that brings that sickness has a black tail. So when the Desert People eat meat from a deer with a black tail, they are still very careful. If they cough while eating the meat from that kind of deer, some of them believe they will cough until they die.

But the man who pounded rocks all day was not kept from his work by fear that the deer would come. Day after day he sat in the rain and pounded the rocks for which he had traded his only daughter. And his wife noticed that the rain did not wash the yellow from one of his hands.

One morning when the woman looked out, her husband was not pounding rocks. She went to him and found that he was dead.

She called the people living nearest her, and they began to prepare for the burial ceremony. She brought out all the blankets and the other things needed. While the dead man was being wrapped in the blankets, his right hand fell off. Picking it up, his wife found that it was very yellow and heavy and hard--just like a rock.

When everything was ready, the body was taken to the burial hill. The hand was placed beside the body and, according to custom, everything was covered with brush and stones.

That night, some kind women stayed with the widow in her home because she was now all alone. After they had been sleeping for a few hours, they heard a sound of pounding near the house! The dead man's wife was very tired and very sleepy. Hardly half- awake, she said to her friends, "It is only my husband at his rocks." And then she went to sleep again.

But the other women were frightened and could not sleep. The pounding continued until morning. Then the widow realized that her husband could not be working at his rocks. So she went out to find who had made the sound of pounding but came back puzzled, still wondering.


The next night the sounds were heard again. The third night the pounding seemed to be growing louder. The people of the village began to whisper, and they began to keep away from the widow and her home.

Then the woman became so angry that she determined to find out who was making the noise. When night came and she heard the pounding, she went out to the rocks that her husband had been breaking up when he died. As she drew near the pile of rocks, the sound became fainter.

Then she decided to visit her husband's grave. The night was dark. As she drew nearer the burial mound, the sound of the pounding became louder and louder. But everything was so dark that she decided to go home and wait until morning. Then she and some other women went to the place where Man-Who-Pounded-Rocks was buried.

They heard no noise, but they knew that a very restless spirit was there. The widow could not understand. She walked all around the mound of brush and rocks, looking at it keenly and wondering.

Suddenly she saw something bright. She stooped and looked carefully. It was the yellow hand of her husband that had broken off!

Her friends who were with her said that Coyote had tried to take the hand. But the widow felt sure she had a better idea. When they took the yellow hand to the house, one woman kept watching it. When she picked it up, several little pieces of yellow rock fell out. She quickly picked them up and slipped them out of sight. She thought that no one saw her, but the widow of the dead man had noticed her and the tiny bits of yellow rock.

After a long talk about what they should do with the yellow hand, the widow decided to put it in the ground. She and her friends wrapped it, dug a hole near the house, put the hand in it, and covered it with dirt. Then her neighbours went to their homes.

That night the widow was so very tired that she went to sleep early. But she was soon wakened by a tap, tap, tap. When she opened the door, she found no one there. She went back to bed thinking that she had been mistaken. A few minutes later she heard again the tap, tap, tap.

This time she felt sure that the sound came from the yellow hand, and so she started toward the place where they had buried it. In a few minutes she stumbled over something. Feeling around in the dark, she soon found it--the yellow hand!

She sat down to think. She did not know what to do or whom to ask for help. Soon some Little People, who work night and day in the summer, passed by her. She called to them. Quickly the message was passed to all the Little People that a human being needed their help.

The woman remained sitting on the ground, in the dark, waiting for the message that she knew would come from the Little People. They will not always help, but when they are willing, the advice they give is always good. After a time, still in the darkness, the woman heard, or felt, or understood, what she was to do.

She knew now that her dead husband's yellow hand had come back for the little pieces of yellow rock that a woman had taken. Her husband had loved them very much. The sound of pounding in the night had come from the yellow hand working at the rocks as the man was working when he died.

"If the yellow hand is left where others can find it," the woman was made to realize, "those who find it will feel that same intense love for the little pieces of yellow rock that the dead man felt for years. You must hide the yellow hand far away, where no one can ever find it. And you must find all the pieces of yellow rock that the yellow hand wanted, so that it will never come back again."

This was the advice that the woman received, in some way, from the Little People.

When morning came, she went to the home of the friend who, she knew, had kept those pieces of yellow rock. At first, the woman said that she had not taken them, but later she gave them up.

At the place where he had broken many, many rocks, she searched and searched until she had picked up all the little yellow pieces. Late in the day, she put them and those that her friend had picked up--put them all, with the yellow hand, in a blanket. Then she started up the steep side of the mountain, alone. It was a rough, hard climb for an old woman.

She became so tired that she sat down to rest in the twilight. As she sat there, she considered just throwing the yellow hand and the pieces of rock far from her and then going back to her house and her supper. Just as she was feeling sorry for herself, Taw- tawn-ye, Ant, ran over her hand. And Taw-tawn-ye stopped. "Does Taw-tawn-ye have a message for me?" the old woman thought to herself. She sat very still and listened hard, with her inside ears.

"Remember the advice the Little People gave you," Ant reminded her. "And remember what troubles would happen if you left the yellow hand where people could find it."

The woman thought of her lonely years. She thought of her daughter who had been traded for rocks. And she knew that she would never let anyone else live in this way. So she wrapped her blanket around her and slept until the morning light made everything clear.

Then she picked up the yellow hand and all the pieces of yellow rock and hid them in different places on the mountain.

When she had finished, she returned to her home and lived in peace and happiness ever after, with all her people. Not once did she ever hear the sound of the yellow hand pounding rocks.

The mountain where the woman hid the yellow hand and the pieces of yellow rock is called Schook Toahk, which means "Black Mountain." Many people have searched for the place where this gold is hidden, but they have never found it. If the Desert People should learn where gold is, they would not tell anyone. Gold has always brought trouble to Indians, the Desert People of today believe. The gold hand held the beginning of all their troubles.


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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.