“The Man to Send Rain Clouds” is a short story about the death of an old man on a Pueblo Indian reservation and the issues that arise from conflicting spiritual traditions and Christian traditions. As the story opens, the dead body of an old man has been found under a cottonwood tree on an Indian reservation. The sheep that had been under the old man’s care are grazing in scattered locations up and down an arroyo (ravine). Two men, Leon and his brother-in-law Ken, have discovered the body, which has apparently been lying under the tree for at least a day.Order now
Leon and Ken herd the sheep back to the camp and return by truck to the body. Ken has brought a red blanket in which to wrap the body, but, before this is done, Leon ties a small grey feather in the old man’s white hair. Ken gives Leon some paint and for the old man’s face. Leon paints a streak of white across the man’s forehead, blue across the cheekbones, yellow under the nose, and green across the chin. When he is finished painting, Leon steps back and smiles at the face of this dead man, who is his grandfather. Leon asks the old man to send some rain clouds.
Leon and Ken wrap the body in the red blanket and place it in the pickup truck before heading back to the Pueblo village. As the truck approaches the village, Leon recognizes the approaching car of Father Paul, the local parish priest. The priest motions for Leon to stop and asks Leon if old Teofilo has been found. Leon replies that he and Ken have just come from the old sheep camp, and everything is fine now. The priest warns that at Teofilo’s age, the old man should not be allowed to wander by himself in the remote area anymore.
Leon affirms that this will not happen again. The priest asks Leon and Ken if they will be attending mass on Sunday, encouraging them to bring Teofilo as he drives away. At Leon’s house, Louise, Leon’s wife, is waiting with a friend, Teresa. The women have prepared lunch, and they listen to Leon’s story of finding Teofilo. Apparently, Teofilo had sat down under the cottonwood tree to rest, though he died soon after. Leon realizes that Louise has laid out a new flannel shirt and pair of Levis in which Teofilo’s body will be dressed.
Leon and Ken carry the red blanket-wrapped body into the house, and Teofilo is prepared for burial in the new clothes. Leon, Ken, Louise and Teresa eat their lunch of beans, hot bread and coffee. Ken prepares to leave to make arrangements with the gravediggers, who should be able to have the burial site prepared since only the top layer of soil is frozen even though it is very cold. Neighbors begin to arrive bearing food and sympathy as news of Teofilo’s death begins to spread in the village.
Later that day, after the funeral, Louise mentions to Leon that perhaps they should ask Father Paul to sprinkle holy water on Teofilo so that he won’t be thirsty. Leon stares at his grandfather’s body and thinks about this for a few minutes. He then leaves to see if the priest is available. Ken drops Leon off at the priest’s house and continues on to the cemetery where others are waiting for the burial. Father Paul is happy to see Leon and offers him a chair, but Leon declines the seat, saying that he has come only to ask for holy water to be brought to the cemetery.
The priest understands now that Teofilo is dead and asks why he had not been notified so that he could have performed the Last Rites. Leon protests that the ritual is not necessary, but the priest contends that for a Christian burial the Last Rites are indeed necessary. Leon tells Father Paul that everything is fine; the family just wants Teofilo to have ample water. The priest cannot provide the holy water without the Last Rites and a funeral mass. Leon has no response and begins to leave. Father Paul leaves the room and returns with his overcoat prepared to accompany Leon to Teofilo’s grave.
As Leon and Father Paul descend the hill to the cemetery, the sun is almost set over the mesa, and the priest wonders how the gravediggers were able to break the frozen ground. Father Paul surveys the small group of people gathered at the gravesite standing among the tumbleweeds. Father Paul focuses on the red blanket and thinks the size is too small to be Teofilo’s body and wonders for a moment if the people are playing some sort of Indian prank on him. The priest cannot help but wonder if this is just a ritual to ensure a good harvest and that Teofilo is at the sheep camp herding the flock in for the night.
Reality shakes the priest back to the situation at hand and he glances at the parishioners gathered in the waning light. The cold makes Father Paul’s hands stiffen and removing the lid from the jar of holy water is difficult. Soon, though, the priest has access to the water and sprinkles the grave where the moisture disappears immediately into the sandy soil. Father Paul shakes the jar over the grave until the water is gone and the sight reminds the priest of something, although it is not quite clear what it is.
The same wind that blows the priest’s robe now blows the pollen and corn meal which had also been spread over the grave. Teofilo’s body is lowered into the ground as the sun disappears. Father Paul notes the lights of the cars on the highway and walks back up the hill toward his house. Leon watches the priest leave and then turns to study the snow-covered mountains in the distance. Leon is pleased that the service is over and that the priest sprinkled the holy water which will allow the old man to send big rain clouds.