Ruth Warner Giddings and Yaqui Myths and Legends

Here is a link to a remarkable book of Yaqui legends from Sonora, Mexico, by my late Mother Ruth Warner Giddings, which has lately fallen into the public domain.

Ruth Elizabeth Warner was born in 1919 in Yonkers, New York, and was immediately whisked away to Tucson, Arizona, where she spent her youth. Her father, Earl Warner, was the physics department chair at University of Arizona and a dedicated pacifist. Ruth, known as "Betty-Ruth" and later "Bets" was a kind of cowgirl-intellectual as a young person; she rode her horse in the desert, made friends with eccentrics and Native Americans, rolled her own cigarettes, and even experimented with marijuana. She spent a year in southern California, and most Summers at a family summer-house in Buffalo Creek, Colorado.

At Tucson's Roskruge Elementary School, she once confided in me, she made friend most easily with the children of Mexican-American families, who assumed she was one of them because of her dark hair. They told her that Protestants couldn't be trusted because they had "black tongues" (that's why they never show their tongues). Betty-Ruth's family was emphatically protestant and Methodist. And of course, coming from a pacifist family in the runup to WWII made for a delicate balancing act in other public situations. I suspect that having to keep peace between these various worlds she lived in made her the quiet, sensitive, diplomatic, spiritual and observant adult she became.

She attended the University of Arizona and went on to get her Master's degree in Anthropology under the tutelage of Professor Edward Spicer. Part of the Masters' Program involved living in the Yaqui town of Potam, Sonora, Mexico, doing participant-observation and collecting stories from the Yaqui elders, including Juan Valenzuela. Her Master's thesis later evolved into the book "Yaqui Myths and Legends".

She married my father James Louis Giddings, who left to serve in the Navy in the Pacific Front in WWII (his life is yet another story that could fill volumes), and returned to take Bets on a "honeymoon", sailing down the MacKenzie River in Canada's Northwest Territories, collecting tree-ring samples. They settled down in College, Alaska, where my sister and I were born. A few years later, they moved to Pennsylvania, where Bets made friends with Amish grandmothers and self-described "hillbilly" neighbors. My father's professor's salary was not enough to support a growing family, and while he moonlighted as an armed guard at the local army base, Bets sold the Volume Library door-to-door. We got by with a huge organic garden and a flock of chickens in an isolated Amish farmhouse. Bets gave up her academic career, as so many women did in the cold-war years. While my father remained a lifelong Republican who liked Ike, Bets later told me she was secretly voting Socialist.

As my father's career as an archaeologist progressed, he started making a more-than-adequate salary and we moved to Rhode Island, where he founded the Anthropology Department at Brown University and served as Director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology until his death in 1964. At his death, Bets took over as head of the family and acting director of the Haffenreffer. She returned to school, getting a PhD. from the experimental Union Graduate School. Shortly after she got her degree, she started showing signs of Alzheimer's Disease, to which her father had succumbed a few years earlier. Alzheimer's slowly took away her intellectual abilities, her physical capabilities, and her ability to remember things, but somehow she kept her compassion, her deep spiritual nature until her death.

I am so thankful to have known her.

-Jim Giddings,
proprieter, Half Red House Books