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Indians, Anglos Join In Hands Across America

May 26, 1986

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) _ Indians and Anglos came from across the continent hoping to make an unbroken chain for Hands Across America through the red cliffs and green juniper high mesas of western New Mexico.

They wound up short of hands, short of money and, at the end, completely out of temper.

The New Mexico organizers of Native Hands Across America blamed the Arizona organizers of Hands Across America, the parent group, for the financial problems.

They had planned a powwow - an Indian festival of drumming and dancing contests - with $80,000 in prize money, hoping to lure 200,000 Indians to fill the high lonesome between Holbrook, Ariz., and Grants, N.M.

When the powwow opened Saturday night, they announced that they had only $11,000 for prizes.

″They nearly hung me,″ said Jerry Brown of Albuquerque, a Montana Flathead Indian who was general manager of the powwow, smiles most of the time and calls himself an optimist.

But the powwow dances went ahead Saturday night, and the Hands effort went off. Long gaps in the human line were linked by red and white nylon ropes. Only in one mile-long stretch, across from Red Rock State Park east of here, were there enough people to clasp hands in an unbroken line.

No more than 1,000 contestants had registered for the powwow and there were nearly as many concessionaires in Red Rock State Park as there were spectators.

Hands Across America organizers estimated that 238,000 people turned out in New Mexico, roughly 17 percent of the state’s population of about 1.4 million, and by far the best turnout in percentage terms for any state.

Dennis Walto, operations director for New Mexico, said the largest gap was between Tucumcari and Newkirk in eastern New Mexico, where there are few people and no access roads to Interstate 40.

The turnout in Albuquerque was good with a solid line through New Mexico’s largest city, the longest unbroken chain in the state, Walto said. A number of people in the line apparently came from Texas, Colorado and other states.

From the Arizona line east to Gallup, small groups were linked by half a mile or more of rope.

Deborah Lynch, 24, and Christine Hatch, 23, drove from Boston after hearing that New Mexico was having trouble fillings its line.

″We had never been west, but the old green Nova even with 80,000 miles on it, got us here without a hitch,″ she said. ″We camped in the park, we went to the powwow - we didn’t even know what that was until we got here. It was worth every minute and every cent.″

Ms. Lynch held hands with Imogene Arquero, a South Dakota Sioux, now a beadwork artist and designer in Santa Fe. Swaying in her beaded buckskin dress as she sang ″America The Beautiful,″ Ms. Arquero dropped her head and wept. After a long moment, she looked up and smiled widely, freeing one hand to wipe her eyes.

Then she and her new friend from Boston looked at each other, threw back their heads and laughed - and kept on singing.

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