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14.  Long Ago Told: Legends of the Papago Indians 


Long Ago Told, by Harold Bell Wright, dust jacket Long Ago Told, by Harold Bell Wright

First Edition

Appleton, 1929, (1) on last page, tan dj with red and black illustrations.  8.25" high.

Total sales: 4,257

List of editions

Value Guide


Background

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.

Collecting

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 constructions."[1]

            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.


[1] Harold Bell Wright, Long Ago Told (Huh-Kew ah-Kah):  Legends of the Papago Indians (New York:  Appleton, 1929), p. viii.  

Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright 2000-October, 2012 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 10/06/12