David Yellowhorse’s story is unlike your typical maker’s. Raised on a Navajo reservation on the Arizona/New Mexico border, David got his start with traditional Native American jewelry before moving onto knives. He was profiled by Staff Correspondent Stephen Garger in the October 2019 issue of Knife Magazine.
In late July, 2018 after a short drive to the Buck Factory in Post Falls, Idaho I joined members of the Buck Collectors Club for a series of events celebrating their 30th Anniversary (1988-2018). One of the scheduled sessions featured David Yellowhorse, celebrated knife embellishment artist. The room was filled for his presentation and during one of David’s stories the word “equanimity” occurred to me. I was taken with his calmness, composure and even temperament [“equanimity”]. Those admirable traits were apparent in David’s affect and reinforced by a story about the flight of a drone around his Arizona home. I was curious to learn more about this man. That evening, while disembarking following the Club’s Lake Coeur D’Alene dinner cruise, I introduced myself and promised to be in touch. Some time later we spoke on the phone. David’s interest in silversmithing, sand casting, and entrepreneurial spirit derive from a family tradition going back to Frank Yellowhorse, his 86 year old father and the tradition lives on through David’s son Brian. During the 1950s Frank sold Navajo rugs and petrified wood at a stand along Route 66. Over the next decade the Navajo family’s stand expanded into a trading post, located today on the Navajo Reservation just off Interstate 40 at the border of Arizona and New Mexico. It was here that young David began meeting and interacting with tourists making their way through Arizona. Growing up, he would see his father and Uncle Shush doing silver work but “didn’t stop and really look since I wasn’t interested in what grown-ups were doing.” Eventually David asked questions and started helping out, especially curious about the silversmithing and sand casting. “I kept learning and did a few things, nothing too magical or anything,” he related. “But it did strike my interest and I did like it quite a bit.” Helping enabled the youngster to begin figuring some aspects of the craft out for himself, and to “learn more about things.” At that time his parents were separated and his mother and brothers lived in Albuquerque. David moved there for school, was faring well and one day his dad paid a visit and asked: “What do you want to do in life?” David thought for a while before responding how much he enjoyed silversmithing and the time with his father and uncle. The following year his dad returned and this time left two black cases of jewelry, saying: “This is your start. I want you to see Indian jewelry.” David inventoried the contents of the bags. “There were Navajo, Zuni and Hopi pieces in there, priced on the back for retail,” he recalled. “By the time I got it all calculated there was $20,000 worth of jewelry and I wondered “Where am I going to sell this stuff?” The narrative continued: “I went to Old Town in Albuquerque on weekends (I was in high school) and set up there. Somebody told me the real good place to be is Santa Fe, NM, so I went the next weekend and parked where lots of natives were set up in the square. I got my jewelry and my blanket and started making myself a little spread. People were grumpy because I was intruding on their area. These were Pueblos, Santa Domingos, Santa Claras, I wasn’t familiar with… any of them.”