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Cover of Autobiography of a Yaqui Poet edited by Kathleen Mullen Sands
March 1980
University of Arizona Press

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Autobiography of a Yaqui Poet

Refugio Savala
Edited by: 
Kathleen Mullen Sands

This is the major literary achievement of a sensitive, gifted man. The author is a Yaqui Indian, a railroad gandy dancer who sees beauty in iron spikes and rail clamps as well as in twilight-purple mountains and glossy-leafed cottonwood trees. In the 70 years following his flight from the Yaqui-Mexican wars in Sonora, Savala became a talented poet and loving recorder of his people's cultural heritage. A large sampling of his original works appears in the interpretations section of this book. Together with the beautifully written autobiography, they offer a unique view of Arizona Yaqui culture and history, railroading in the American West, and the personal and artistic growth of a Native American man of letters.


Editor Kathleen "Kay" Mullen Sands was professor of English at ASU from 1977–2003. Sands passed away in 2018.

Praise for this book

"What is emphasized is Refugio Savala as a man of words, a man of letters, a poet, a Native American literary figure, a cross-cultural interpreter. And rightly so. I find the narrative sections dealing with physical work to be especially strong. A shovel is his 'wing'; 'The Steel Stew' and other poems about railroad work evoke the technology, expertise, and power of railroading."

Jane Kelley, University of Calgary
American Anthropologist