Editing the Yaqui Novel

The Yaqui Novel

(Version November 3, 2014)


Working titles:

Stealing for Porfirio Díaz


The Loading of the Porfirio Díaz


Te conozco, mosco, por tu zumbidito.

I know who you are, fly, by the way you buzz. (Mexican saying)


Yori ~ Yaqui word for Mexican non-Yaquis, those who do not give respect; conqueror, whip, killer of the people; stealer of water

Yoreme ~ Yaqui word for themselves; those who win and give respect; those who respect tradition; humanity; those who give life.

torocoyori ~ Yaqui word for those who do not respect their own tradition; those who emulate or go over to the yoris.

~ Foreword ~

On July 20, 1918, a package arrived for me at the Guaymas central post office from a Doña Lirio-Isabel Rulfo de Ibarra, with an Arizona return address. I did not recognize the name, perhaps because I was new to the city. I had become something of partisan—at least spiritually—in the on-going struggle of the Yaqui people against the governments of Sonora and Mexico; but it was some time before I dared to print the manuscript—written by one Miguel Ángel Ibarra, even though the dictator Porfirio Díaz had long since lost his grip on my country. A short respectful note accompanied the package saying no more than that the text represented the thoughts of a National Rural Policeman around 1900 and might or might not be useful in formulating law during the country’s reconstruction following the Revolution, and in those respects that concern the Yaqui People. The note concluded by saying that any words of a personal, even intimate, nature should remain in the text to show the humanity of the man who wrote it.

Antonio Martinez Benavides, Publisher

Editorial Guaymas,

Guaymas, April 1925

1 ~ Tears

Five years after Bácum, Yaquis found my father—a former irregular in the Republic’s guerrilla war against the French—and personal acquaintance of Benito Juarez—floating face down in his favorite stream, where we used to fish together. The two  Yaquis who brought him to me had tears in their eyes when they laid him out on our kitchen table. He had been investigating something at the American-owned silver mine La Cándida twenty-five kilometers east of Guaymas—he never told us what and left no notes. He had spent the night in a small hotel there and then come back alone the next day. He had stopped off to fish a while and give his horse a rest. A large-bore rifle bullet struck him in the back, just to the right of his spine, between the scapula. It appears he fell into the stream but then managed to get back to the bank. When I went to the spot to investigate, I saw claw marks that got weaker and weaker as they approached the water and knew that someone had followed up on the attack by forcing him back down into the stream with a hand or boot on his head. My mother died a year later, having no desire, she said, to go on without him. Federal detectives made inquiries but withheld any results. Yaquis told us that shortly after my father’s murder a man with the mine’s security force had gone north and had not returned. That was twenty-five years ago. As far as I’m concerned, the investigation is still open.

2 ~ Rope

Recently, we rode to a 100-hectar section of rich dark soil twenty kilometers south of Tórim. We told the Yaqui farmers there they had one week to pay their taxes or they had to forfeit the land. We gave them a writ. They did not look at it and had no questions. We went back in a week. Nothing had changed. Their leader was a young man who wore modern clothes—a shirt in deep blue with white dots. He spoke good Spanish and, looking me straight in the eye, said I should be able to see through what was happening. None of the honey-colored people paid taxes, he said, and no one was taking away their land. He used the word justice. That was when I knew we had trouble. Back in Tórim, I went to the military compound and sent a telegram to the Governor’s office in Hermosillo, asking for legal advice. Four days later, a column of forty state militia troops under the command of a Major Rodríguez, regular army, arrived on horseback in Tórim, and we accompanied them to the land in question. They began with the young man. With his arms straight down and held in back of him, they wound rope back and forth between his upper arms, which made him stand as if he had a jacket half off. You cannot reach up or out when you are tied this way. Then they hanged him from a Mesquite tree, hauling him up with the rope looped over a branch and tied off on a horse’s saddle horn. Because of the friction of the rope against the branch, a militiaman had to help lift him, grasping the young farmer around the waist. A soldier led the horse a few steps forward, taking up the slack, until the victim hung a foot off the ground and began struggling. Then they hanged the five remaining men the same way, who had shouted “Murderers!” during the execution of the first one.

That night, I posted guards, as did Major Rodríguez. We lay down on our blankets to sleep somewhat apart. In the morning, six of the soldiers could not wake up and lay in black pools of their own blood—their throats cut. Bluebottle flies quickly found them and began exploring their wounds. The militiamen, at the command of Major Rodríguez, wrote down their names of the dead, took their rifles and boots and rode back north—leaving the corpses of their six young soldiers.

Lowering the Yaquis was like lowering bashed piñatas. We smelled their shit and uncontrolled pissing, and the smell of pepper. All this made me sick, but I tried not to show it. The men looked to me for assurance—except for Roberto and Cuauhtémoc. They didn’t let their Yaqui down slowly. They dropped him, and Cuahtémoc stamped on his manhood. My trooper Fabián, a slim handsome man, walked over to them and stopped them.

I told the men to drag dead trees together, from the sides of the fields, for a pyre. It took a while. I thought it helped them. I decided we would burn all twelve of the dead. Some of the soldiers had darker skin and might have been Indian, probably from tribes farther away, but not necessarily. We put the bodies on the logs. We kept the soldiers separated from the Yaquis. We piled wood around them. It took a while to get the fire going. It was noon when the flames were hot. They were hard to see  in the brightness of the sun. The smoke rose straight up. The bodies sizzled and burst, the wood popped, stones exploded. Every once in a while, along the tree line, I thought I saw a face watching us. The big limb that had had held all six Yaquis was now empty. I addressed the young Rural that had coiled the hanging ropes. His name was Mateo. I told him to thrown the ropes into the fire. The men looked at me. Ropes are expensive. But this was a way of cleansing them, absolving them of their use. Mateo stood watching the ropes twist and burn. The rest of us stood upwind. Beyond the smell of cooking men.

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