Long before the first white people arrived, this tribe farmed the fertile Havasu Canyon floor during the summer, then moved to the plateau after the harvest to gather abundant wild foods and firewood during winter. Spanish missionary Francisco Garces visited the Havasupai in 1776, finding them a happy and industrious people. Though a peaceful group, they suffered the usual fate of American tribes—confinement to a tiny reservation while white people grabbed their lands. The Havasupai protested, but it wasn't until 1975 that the tribe's winter homelands were returned. Their reservation now spans 188,077 acres; most of the 500-600 tribal members on the reservation live in Supai village.
Supai lies 35 air miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village in Havasu Canyon, a major Grand Canyon tributary. The waterfalls, travertine pools, and greenery of the remote canyon have earned it fame as a Shangri-La.
The "Pine-tree People" once occupied a large area of northwestern Arizona. In language and culture, they're closely tied to the Havasupai and Yavapai tribes. Early Anglo visitors enjoyed friendly relations with the Hualapai, but land seizures and murders by the newcomers led to warfare. Army troops defeated the Hualapai and herded them south onto the Colorado River Reservation, where many died. Survivors fled back to their traditional lands, part of which later became the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Today about half of the 1,500 tribal members live on the 993,000-acre reservation, which includes much of the lower Grand Canyon's South Rim. Highlights for visitors include the spectacular viewpoints from the rim of the lowermost Grand Canyon, a drive into the Grand Canyon along Diamond Creek, and rafting trips on the Colorado River.
Peach Springs, a small town 54 miles northeast of Kingman on AZ 66, is the only one on the reservation. The road that descends to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon begins here.
A small band of Paiute lives on the Kaibab-Paiute Reservation, west of Fredonia in far northern Arizona. In earlier times they used this area as a winter home and spent summers in the forests of the Kaibab Plateau to the east. About 250 Paiute, who speak a Uto-Aztecan language, live on the reservation. The tribe arrived sometime after A.D. 1300, though members believe themselves related to the ancestral Puebloans who had once lived on this land. The adjacent Pipe Spring National Monument preserves pioneer and tribal ways of life.
The semi-nomadic Navajo, relatives of the Athabaskans of western Canada, wandered into the area east of the Grand Canyon between A.D. 1300 and 1600. This adaptable tribe learned agriculture, weaving, pottery, and other skills from its Pueblo neighbors and became skilled horsemen and sheepherders with livestock obtained from the Spanish. Their name comes from the Spanish term "Apaches de Nabajó" (Apaches of the cultivated fields).
The Navajo habit of raiding neighboring tribes—this time, white people—almost caused the tribe's downfall. In 1863-64, the U.S. Army rounded up all the Navajo it could find and forced the survivors to make "The Long Walk" from Fort Defiance in eastern Arizona to a bleak camp at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. This attempt at forced domestication failed dismally, and the Navajo were released four years later to return to their homeland. The colorful velveteen blouses and long, flowing skirts worn today by some Navajo women date back in style to this period; they were what U.S. Army wives were then wearing!
Legends and long-abandoned pueblos indicate that the tribe has lived here for more than a thousand years. Old Oraibi, a Hopi village dating from at least A.D. 1150, is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States, and some Hopi identify even older village sites as the homes of their ancestors, whom they call Hisatsinom.
Spanish explorers entered the region in the 1500s, looking for gold and treasure, but they had to leave empty-handed. Desiring to save Hopi souls, Spanish friars arrived about 1630 and had some success until traditional Hopi leaders, fearing the loss of their own culture, joined with the New Mexico Pueblo tribes in a revolt against the Spanish in 1680. Hopi killed any foreigner unable to escape, massacred many of their own people who were Christians, and tore down the mission buildings. During the 1800s, American frontiersmen arrived seeking mineral wealth and fertile lands, but they met with disappointment. So the Hopi continued to farm in relative peace, raising crops of corn, squash, and beans.
Curious tourists overwhelm the tribe at times, but the Hopi welcome visitors who respect local culture and regulations. Highlights of a visit on the reservation include a trip to Walpi, a traditional stone village that seems to grow out of its spectacular ridge-top setting on First Mesa; the museum at the Cultural Center on Second Mesa; and the kachina and other dances performed on many weekends. (Only some dances are open to the public.)
Six tribes now live along the lower Colorado River between the Grand Canyon and the Gulf of California. The three Yuman-speaking tribes—Mohave, Quechan, and Cocopah—have occupied this land since prehistoric times. Uto-Aztecan-speaking Chemehuevi, followed by some Hopi and Navajo of northeastern Arizona, later joined them.
Northernmost of the Yuman tribes, the Mohave formerly lived in loosely organized bands, uniting only for warfare or defense. They farmed the bottomlands, hunted, and gathered wild foods. Crafts included finely made baskets, pottery, and beadwork. Ceremonial dances and long funeral wakes played important roles in Mohave social life. Even today, the Mohave and Quechan cremate their dead—a rare practice among Native Americans.
Mohave live on the Fort Mohave Reservation near Needles, California, and in a larger group on the Colorado River Reservation near Parker, Arizona. You can learn more about the tribe and view their crafts at the tribal museum just south of Parker.
This group of Paiute once roamed the eastern Mohave Desert as hunting and gathering nomads. They settled in the Chemehuevi Valley of the Colorado River in the early 1800s, taking up the agricultural practices of their Mohave neighbors. The U.S. government granted the Chemehuevi a reservation in 1907, but Lake Havasu inundated much of their farmland in 1938. The tribe now lives on the Chemehuevi Reservation opposite Lake Havasu City and on the Colorado River Reservation.
Formerly known as the Yuma, the tribe now prefers the name Quechan. In the 19th century, Quechan territory included much of the lower Colorado and about 25 miles of the Gila River Valley. The federal government trimmed their land considerably during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today the tribe lives in California on the Quechan Indian Reservation opposite Yuma, Arizona. You can visit their museum in a historic building of former Camp Yuma.
Before the arrival of white people, the Cocopah lived downstream from the Quechan in the Colorado River delta, once one of the most fertile areas of the Southwest. Like other Colorado River tribes, though, the people suffered greatly from European-introduced diseases. Today the Cocopah live on three tiny reservations south of Yuma and in Mexican villages in Sonora and Baja California.
Pima and Maricopa
The Pima followed the prehistoric Hohokam, probably relatives with whom they had much in common. Living along the valleys of the Gila and Salt Rivers, the Pima used the farming methods of their predecessors but had many difficulties when white people built dams upstream early in the 20th century. Today the Pima farm, raise cattle, work in small industries, and create traditional handicrafts.
Maricopa tribespeople, who originally lived along the Colorado River, migrated up the Gila River to escape their aggressive Mohave and Yuma neighbors. Pima and Maricopa now share the Salt River Indian Reservation (east of Scottsdale) and Gila River Indian Reservation (southeast of Phoenix). You'll find tribal museums on each of the reservations.
The tribe shares cultural traits with the Hualapai and Havasupai to the north. Yavapai, along with Tonto Apache, received the Rio Verde Reservation in 1873, but the federal government took it away two years later, ordering the displaced Native Americans to proceed to the San Carlos Reservation, 150 miles away. In the cold February of 1875, they started the two-week journey on foot; of the 1,451 who began the trek, at least 90 died from exposure, were killed by infighting, or escaped.
Early in the 20th century, some Yavapai and Apache received permission to return to their Verde River homelands. What were once thousands of Native Americans occupying millions of acres now number less than 1,000 people on a few remnants of their former lands on the Camp Verde, Prescott, and Fort McDowell Reservations.
While most Apache in Arizona live in the eastern part of the state (see below), some make their homes on several small reservations in north-central Arizona and with the Mohave on Fort McDowell Reservation northeast of Phoenix.
Groups are thought to have migrated from western Canada to the Southwest via the Great Plains, reaching Arizona in about the 16th century. Close relatives of the Navajo, the Apache have a similar language and customs. The early Apache lived a nomadic life—the men hunted game while the women gathered wild plant foods. They had few material possessions and probably lived in small conical huts covered with animal skins. Cultivation of corn, beans, and squash, learned from either the Pueblo or Navajo tribes, later supplemented hunting and gathering.
Horses obtained from the Spanish gave the Apache great mobility, and by the mid-18th century their raiding routes stretched from the Hopi mesas in the north to central Sonora in Mexico. Their predatory habits did not endear them to their neighbors—in fact, the name Apache may have come from a Zuni word for "enemy."
The Apache vigorously defended their lands from encroaching settlers, and soon earned a reputation as the fiercest tribe in the Southwest. Though nothing could stop men hungry for gold and land, the Apache certainly tried. Apache resistance slowed the development of Arizona towns and industries until late in the 19th century.
Two large reservations provide homes for most tribal members. The White Mountain Apache Reservation spreads across a very scenic region of forests and lakes northeast of Phoenix. To the south, across the Salt and Black Rivers, the San Carlos Apache Reservation has both forest and desert country, including the large San Carlos Lake. Each tribe has a good cultural center/museum and offers visitors extensive outdoor recreation activities.
The first white people couldn't believe that humans lived in such wild and parched desert, yet the Tohono O'odham (tah-HO-no AH-tomb) have thrived here for centuries. Close relatives of the Pima, the Tohono O'odham once occupied a vast section of the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Neighboring tribes called these desert dwellers Papago ("Bean People"), but the tribe prefers the more dignified term Tohono O'odham, meaning "Desert People Who Have Emerged from the Earth." The Tohono O'odham believe that their tribe, like the plants and animals, belongs to the earth.
Originally, the Tohono O'odham maintained both winter and summer villages, staying near reliable springs in the winter, then moving to fields watered by summer thunderstorms. They gathered mesquite beans, agave, cactus fruit, acorns, and other plant foods and hunted rodents, rabbits, deer, and pronghorn. Their farms yielded native tepary beans, corn, and squash.
After the 1854 Gadsden Treaty split their land between Mexico and the United States, the Mexican Tohono O'odham population gradually withered away, absorbed into Mexican culture. Some families migrated into Arizona. Today only about 200 Tohono O'odham remain south of the border. In 1874, the U.S. government began setting aside land for the tribe in the 71,095-acre San Xavier Reservation. Tohono O'odham land now totals about 2.8 million acres—roughly the size of Connecticut. The second-largest reservation in the country, it stretches across much of southern Arizona and is home to more than 8,000 people.
The old ways have largely disappeared because of contact with modern technology. Today most Tohono O'odham, like everyone else in Arizona, live in standard houses and farm, ranch, or work for wages. Skilled basketmakers continue their ancient tradition, however. You'll see the attractive Tohono O'odham crafts in gift shops and in the visitor center at Kitt Peak.
Early Spanish missionaries gained many converts—the Roman Catholic Church has the largest following on the reservation, though Protestant churches have believers as well. Almost all villages have a small chapel.
Most Tohono O'odham are friendly, but the tribe has shown little interest in tourism. The vast reservation has hardly any visitor facilities and not a single motel, tourist office, or tribal museum. Two attractions, in addition to the desert scenery, make a visit worthwhile: the world-famous Kitt Peak Observatory and the Tohono O'odham All-Indian Rodeo and Fair, usually held on the first weekend of February.
On to Arizona Travel Practicalities