The Unfinished Story

The Navajo people have many stories about events that have happened in our land. I am going to tell you a story that happened a long time ago to my great-grandmother. Her father and mother named her Asdzáán Ts’ah, meaning “Sage Woman,” after the sagebrush that grows on the land of my people. The story begins when Sage was eight years old, but it was a story that she told until she was a very old woman. This story has often been shared around our campfire.

-Harold Noble

Sage lived with her family in a hogan, a home built of logs and a mud roof. The door opened to the east to welcome the warmth of the morning sun as it rose over the vast land within the four sacred mountains, the land we now know as Navajo Nation.

Sage’s father, Tótsohnii Hastiin, was a respected leader and widely known by the name Ganado Mucho, meaning “many cattle.” He and his wife were able to provide food for their clan by caring for the cattle and sheep that grazed among the sagebrush around their home. For the Navajo, it was a sacred duty to help provide for the clan—all extended family including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Life was not easy for the Navajo in those days. Rain was essential for survival and also gave the sagebrush a pleasant smell, reminding them of the blessings of the Creator.

Although Sage was still young, she too was learning to contribute to her clan. Sage loved to watch her mother weave rugs with beautiful designs that would keep them warm during the long winter season. Someday she would be weaving her own rugs!

Sage rose early each morning to gather the wood for cooking food and heating their hogan. But today, Sage was especially excited to wake up.

All year long, Sage looked forward to harvest time, when all the members of her clan would travel many miles to gather together for a celebration.

The women would arrive first to begin cooking. The younger children would play together. The men would join them later in the day.

Sage and her mother rose early in the morning for the journey. Sage felt safe riding on the horse with her arms wrapped around her mother’s waist.

The sun was high in the sky when they finally arrived at the campsite. The women built their fires and began to cook. Sage helped alongside the women. Her mother had already taught her how to bake blue bread from corn and cook mutton stew over the fire.

The corn was simmering, and the meat was roasting. Sage smelled the delicious meal and could hardly wait. Soon everyone would arrive, and they would be feasting on mutton stew, blue bread, corn, and squash!

But the gathering would be different this year. Something was about to happen that would change their lives!

Sage heard someone cry out, “The Utes are coming!” The Ute Tribe lived many miles to the north, but sometimes their hunting trips brought them into the land of the Navajo.

The women saw the warriors turn their horses toward the camp and knew they must hurry to get away! Sage felt her mother’s arm around her as they ran to their horse.

Once in the saddle, her mother lifted Sage up behind her, and the horse took off with a gallop.

Sage held her mother tightly. Their horse could run fast, but the Ute’s horses ran even faster. They were quickly surrounded!

One of the Ute warriors was named Chief White Hair. They were now his captives. “You are coming with me,” the chief said. “We will go to my village.”

Sage and her mother, along with the other Navajo women, were forced to make the long journey to the land of the Ute Tribe.

As they traveled through the mountains, the warriors carefully watched the captives, so that no one could escape.

At the end of each day, the children were tied up separately from the adults. Sage missed having her mother close by her side.

One night, Sage’s mother and one of the other women realized that their ropes had become loose. Quietly, they broke free and hid nearby in the forest!

The Utes soon discovered that some of their captives had escaped. They searched the forest, but they could not find the two missing women.

Sage’s mother wanted so much to rescue her daughter, but she knew that if she returned to the camp, she would only be captured again. The women stayed hidden in the trees until the Utes gave up searching and continued their journey.

When it was safe to move about, the women began their long walk back to the land of the Navajo.

Sage’s mother finally arrived home. She ran to her husband, who had been searching for her. She told the story of the kidnapping and how Sage was still a captive!

Sage’s father had a plan. Together, their clan could make a generous gift to offer in exchange for Sage.

The women agreed that their beautiful Navajo rugs would be of great value to the Utes. It would take three months of hard work to weave enough rugs.

The men of the clan were also determined to help bring Sage home. Many of them were skilled in making bridles and beautiful jewelry out of silver and turquoise stones.

The entire clan worked together to produce their best rugs and jewelry. Their gift needed to have great value in order to purchase Sage back from the Utes.

On the chosen day, everyone brought together the items that they had made. The best pony was chosen to be presented to Chief White Hair. The men tightly secured the packs on their horses.

They would ride together to carry the gifts into Ute territory. Ganado Mucho and his men solemnly began their long journey to find his daughter, redeem her, and bring her home.

By now, Sage had spent many months living with the Ute Tribe. She worked hard, but she felt lonely. She thought often of her father back at home and wondered what had happened to her mother.

The Ute children teased her. Sage tried to ignore them and distract herself with her chores, but her heart was sad.

One day, the Ute children said, “Your father is here. He has come for you.” Sage thought they were just teasing again, so she didn’t believe their words.

Moments later, Chief White Hair rode up to her. He held the reins of a saddled pony. He said to her, “Sage, get on this horse, and come with me.”

Chief White Hair led Sage through the Ute camp. Everyone came out to watch what was happening.

In the distance, Sage could now see several riders and horses on a hill outside the Ute camp.

As they rode closer, Sage finally recognized one of the men waiting on the hill. It was her father!

He had come to buy her back—to redeem her. Her father told Chief White Hair that he would give him all of the rugs, the silverwork, the saddles, the blankets, and the pony in exchange for Sage’s freedom. The Ute chief agreed.

Sage was finally free! She could now go home with her family!

Sage hugged her father for a long time as she looked at all the beautiful gifts that her relatives had made to purchase her freedom. She no longer felt lonely.

Then Sage remembered that she still did not know what had happened to her mother after she escaped in the mountains. What if her mother was still missing?

But her mother had already thought about this. She had sent along another gift, meant to be a special message for Sage.

Her father held in his hands a loaf of blue bread. Sage had many wonderful memories of baking blue bread with her mother for special occasions.

But this particular loaf had a handprint pressed into it. Sage’s mother wanted her to see proof that she was alive and waiting for her at home.

Sage was overwhelmed with joy as she looked at her mother’s handprint. Sage felt safe. Finally, she was going home!

Asdzáán Ts’ah (Sage) was asked to tell this story many times as she grew up and became a woman. She would tell how her father came into Ute territory to buy her back. As the years passed, she could never tell the story without tears.

She would always get to the part where her father redeemed her and would not be able to finish the story. That is why our family calls it “The Unfinished Story.”

Sage became a respected member of our tribe. She married and was blessed with a daughter she named, “The One Who Believes.”

Sage’s story of redemption reminds me of the wonderful redemption story written by our Creator. Redemption is what God did for us. He sent His Son to be an exchange—to buy us back from the captivity of our sin. This is the wonderful God that all people should know. He knew that we could never earn such a redemption, and that is why we must come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. I am His because He bought me. God can redeem you too. This gift from our Creator is free to all, and that is why I share this story with you.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
John 3:16-17

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Colossians 1:13-14

Copyright 2021
Today’s Native

Watch Harold Noble tell this story to his grandsons in this video!

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