Saturday, June 13, 2009

Native Americans in Arizona

Arizona has a very large Native American population. We wanted to learn more about some of the Native Americans who lived in this desert state before the Europeans arrived so we visited Pueblo Grande just outside the city of Phoenix. Pueblo Grande is the ruins of a Hohokam Indian village that is more than one thousand years old. All that is left of a village that was home to hundreds of people are the crumbled walls of some of the buildings. The museum director, Mr. Lidman said, "Archeologists dug up the site so they could learn about the Hohokam. When they had learned all they could they buried most of the village to prevent more damage to the buildings from the wind and rain."

We could see the outlines of some of the buildings, the platform mound that was the center of the village, and the ball court. The Hohokam were expert farmers even though they lived in the barren desert because they built hundreds of miles of irrigation canals. They were able to grow corn, beans, squash, and cotton. We climbed the ruins the platform mound, which archeologist think was used for ceremonies. It was very hot and there was one else around so we tried to imagine what the village was like with children playing and people working in the fields. The archeologists built full-scale reproductions of prehistoric Hohokam homes so we tired to picture the women grinding grain or weaving and little girls learning by watching the women work.

The Hohokam abandoned their villages more than 600 years ago. Scientists are not sure why. What do you think would make people leave their village? Maybe there was not enough rain for the crops or maybe they didn’t feel safe any more. When Spanish explorers arrived in the sixteenth century, they found the Hohokam villages in ruins.

About 100 miles north of Phoenix, we visited the remains of another Native American group, the Sinagua, which means "without water." One of the places they lived is call Montezuma’s Castle but it is not a castle and Montezuma, the Aztec leader, was never there. Early settlers were so impressed with the Sinagua cliff dwellings that they thought it had to be part of the great Aztec Empire of Mexico, but it was not. It is thought that in the Sinagua may have been Hohokam people who moved north and then developed their own culture.

Montezuma’s Castle is a five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling that was like a "high-rise apartment building." It is well preserved because of its protected place in the cliff. Other Sinagua dwellings are not so well preserved. Ranger Larson told us that there were many Sinagua dwellings in the area. He said, "They are all about three miles apart located on high hills or in the side of a cliff. They were all in sight of one another. If there was a problem they could send a signal from one village to another using mica mirrors." We thought that was very cool.

We think it would be very difficult to live so high on the cliff because they would have to lug everything up to their homes. They used wooden ladders to get to their houses. If they didn’t want people to get into their village they would just pull up the ladders. They must have felt very safe. The "castle" is locate above a small river so building on the cliff left the fertile land along the river free for farming. It was cooler in the "cave" houses and they had a beautiful view. The Sinagua lived in there villages for about 250 years and then something happened because they abandoned the village just like the Hohokam did. It is thought that the Hohokam and the Sinagua may have moved in with other Native American groups but they don’t know why the villages were abandoned. Maybe they no longer felt safe, or they died of disease, or maybe their crops failed.

Today Arizona has 250,000 Native Americans who belong to 21 recognized tribes. So much of the Native American history has been forgotten that today people are trying to preserve what they do know about the first people to live in Arizona by talking to the old people and sharing what they learn with others.