Harold Bell Wright's home in Tucson afforded him opportunity to get
acquainted with Papago Indians, the southern branch of the Piman people. Wright learned their stories and some of their language. One
thing he learned was that the Papago were very concerned that their
stories be told correctly. So Wright wrote the stories, read them
to Papago friends, and finally had them read at the Papago gatherings
where they could be corrected if needed. None of the stories in
the book are by Wright, but it is no coincidence that he wrote about the Papago rather than some other culture. Their peaceful ways and
work ethic exactly matched Wright's personal values, so he used their
stories to express his message.
Partly because the great American depression now made
money very scarce, this was the first of Harold Bell Wright's books to
sell very poorly, making it the earliest of his rare books today. After watching the
market on Wright books for about 12 years I believe this is his second
rarest book, after To My Sons, though by no means as rare as that
title. All first editions are by Appleton and look exactly like the
photos at the top of this page. In the 1990s Yestermorrow
produced reprints for
Barbara Berry's Bookshop. Yestermorrow reprints show up
frequently on eBay.
Total sales: 4,257
Click here to see an
unusual edition of Long Ago Told, with blue covers.
Review of Book by Dr.
Joyce Kinkead Copyright 1979 by Joyce
Kinkead. Used by Permission
Wright's tribute to the Papago Indians is his Long Ago Told (Huh-Kew
ah-Kah) (1929), in which he "arranged" tribal legends.
With Katherine F. Kitt, the illustrator of the stories, he
visited the Papagos, listened to the oral legends, and recorded them in
order to preserve the tales. In
the foreword, Wright explains that his part in the work "has been
to select, piece together, eliminate tiresome repetition, harmonize
confusing elements, and make clear, broken sentences and obscure
The foreword presents a brief history of the peaceful agrarian
tribe, and the legends reflect these characteristics.
The subjects in the legends include the creation, the origin of
the tribe, fire, the four seasons, the whirlwind, the tribal spirits and
gods, the sunset, the cactus and other vegetation, the terrain, desert
animals, and gold. The last
legend in the book centers on the discovery of gold by a member of the
tribe who becomes obsessed with it, forsaking his family and the land
for what he believes the ore will mean to him.
Almost a horror story, the legend details how the man sold his
daughter for gold and how, at his death, one of his hands fell off and
turned to gold. That hand
keeps haunting the widow by pounding the ore-filled rocks.
With the advice of the gods, the woman carries the golden hand
and the gold into the mountains and hides them, for she sees the evil in
gold. As the story
concludes, the author contends that "Gold has always brought
trouble for the Indians. . . . This was the beginning of all their
trouble" (Long Ago, p. 290).
As has been noted in The Mine with the Iron Door, the gold
legend is reflected in Natachee's hatred of gold.