(background of 13th Century polychrome pottery patterns from Four Mile dig in east-central Arizona, drawn by Mac Schweitzer.)
Arizona Indians Survived
the Loss of Their World
Arizona’s indigenous peoples left no written archive for historians. Most of what we know about the Native American experience has been documented by Anglos, making tribal history an exercise in western European thinking. Therefore, it is insightful to relate American Indian history from a postcolonial, multicultural perspective. In any case, the profound conflict between Native and European values made Indian life really difficult over the years. When Europeans arrived in the southwest, the people already living there would have been happy to share some tobacco over a campfire. Instead, they were surprised and dismayed to learn that these strangers shared nothing.
This encounter happened at the height of the Renaissance and Reformation in Europe. It was not an age of tolerance. And Spain in particular was still acting out the horrors of the Inquisition. European civilization was structured along class lines, with an aristocracy and monarchy that demanded complete fealty. Science and the Reformation challenged the Catholic Church. Merchants and new technologies offered an alternative to the accumulation of wealth via Feudalism. It was an age of conflict. And it had become accepted in the eastern hemisphere that the strong should dominate the weak.
Europeans enforced real property ownership on Indians who saw no property lines on the ground and had difficulty understanding the concept of possession of dirt by absentee owners. Conquistadors demanded obeisance by conquered tribes to a king Indians would never meet. Padres tolerated no unorthodox rituals or beliefs, destroyed idols and required families to perform forced labor that benefited the aristocracy and the religious order. Conscientious objectors were subjected to torture, hanging, garroting, beheading, dismemberment or amputation. It must have been obvious early on that Europeans considered Indians an inferior conquered population. And yet Indians were shy but proud, placing great importance on personal respect. The clashing of conflicting beliefs initiated several centuries of Indian rebellions and European punitive expeditions.
The Apache practice of killing whole families or taking women and children captive spread fear and inflamed Anglo resentment. With great difficulty, the US military disarmed and confined each renegade band, culminating in the surrender of Geronimo’s Chiricahuas in 1886. Just before the official surrender, Tombstone photographer C. S. Fly set up a series of poses like this one of Geronimo and his still armed families. Six months earlier in New Mexico, 11-year-old Santiago “Jimmy” McKinn rode off with the Indians as they killed his older brother. The two boys were away from home caring for horses and the Apaches needed more horses. After the surrender, Santiago, who already spoke English and Spanish, was returned to his father fluent in Apache. Geronimo and his men, women and children were sent east for 27 years of confinement. Santiago grew up to become a blacksmith in Silver City, New Mexico. Later he moved with his wife and children to Phoenix where he died in the 1950s. The boy with bow and arrow has been identified as Garditha, a 10-year-old orphan who became the uncle of the influential Fort Sill leader Robert Gooday. There is an accompanying photo showing Garditha and the other boys brandishing rifles along side the men. It is believed he died during confinement in Florida or Alabama. The man in white shirt, sitting at right may be the 20-year-old Zhonne, brother-in-law of the leader Natchez (Naiche). In several of the photos he is holding his baby. Zhonne was sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania for rehabilitation where he is later pictured with short hair in a stylish suit. As Calvin Zhonne, he was eventually reunited with his wife and children and they went in 1913, the year imprisonment of the Chiricahuas ended, to live on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico.
The practice of pagan rituals was proof to the white man of the need for change in Indian behavior. Fervent and persistent missionary efforts were introduced on every reservation to persuade natives to turn away from the devil. It was an exercise in liberal idealism, a belief in repentance and rehabilitation. As late as the 1950s, when Mike Roberts issued this postcard, many were still calling this ceremony the “Apache devil dance.” The White Mountain Apaches call the men Gann dancers or crown dancers. Representing the life within the living mountains, the Gann appear at many ceremonies. They are seen here as part of the Sunrise Ceremony, a puberty rite for girls. While many Apaches have become devoted Christians and church members, traditional practices continue.
Adventurers from the United States eventually took possession of the southwest by military force and imposed their own liberal democratic ideals. The land, its animals, minerals, plants and people, was an economic resource that must be used to further the progress of civilization. Native peoples became wards of the state, confined to government reserves for their salvation and education. A debate ensued, between those who advocated extirpation and those who argued for assimilation. Democracy demanded that any resolution of that debate remain tentative. Those who rejected liberal ideals supported violent solutions like the infamous Bascom Affair and the Camp Grant Massacre.
San Carlos Indian Agent John P. Clum summed up the military war against the Apaches from 1862 to 1871 as more than $38 million spent to kill less than 100 Indians, including old men, women and children, at the cost of the lives of more than 1,000 Anglo soldiers and civilians. (p. 67, Baldwin, The Apache Indians, 1978) Then in 1871, about 125 Aravaipa Apaches, mostly women and children, were massacred by Tucson vigilantes while living under the supervision of the military at Camp Grant. It has been estimated that several hundred Yavapai Indians, mistaken for Apaches, were killed between 1864 and 1876, including at least 75 slaughtered at Skeleton Cave in 1872. Unfortunately, the expense and killing would continue until at least 1886. And the economy of Arizona Territory suffered. Finally, with the appointment of General Crook to deal with the Apache problem, the great Arizona copper magnate James Douglas noted that resolution was finally at hand. “The true remedy lies in supplying the Indian with the means of supporting himself and training him to live side by side in healthy rivalry with the white man, not in fostering race distinction by isolating the Indian on his reservation and excluding the white man from mines that the Indian cannot work and pastures that he cannot occupy.” (pp. 78-79, H. H. Langton, James Douglas A Memoir, 1940)
In a harsh environment, hunter-gatherer tribes had to be constantly on the move, often taking from others what they needed to survive. For many years after they were confined on reservations, learning to farm for a living, they were dependent upon food bank handouts from the federal government. This detail from a stereoscopic card by Rothrock of Phoenix shows “count” and “ration day” on the San Carlos Apache Reservation about 1878. The people would be counted to ensure none had left the reservation and then issued European foodstuffs. In recent years there has been a drive to reintroduce traditional foods in the Native American diet in order to treat obesity and diabetes.
At the end of the Indian wars, the prevailing idea, irrespective of the facts, was that Native Americans were a dying race, with their only hope that of integration into American society. Government Indian boarding schools were instituted toward this end, and Phoenix had one of the biggest. This is a view of a Phoenix dormitory in the 1890s. Some old postcards call this the “Boys Hall,” while others label the same view “Girls Dormitory.” Phoenix Indian School was established in 1891 and closed in 1990. Historical archaeologist Owen Lindauer has commented, “Many students were forcibly separated from their parents, and the rapid personal transformation demanded of pupils was facilitated through a draconian and abrupt detachment from tribal cultural patterns.” (“Archaeology of the Phoenix Indian School,” March 27, 1998, Archaeological Institute of America)
Phoenix Indian School was big on band, sports and military classes. This is a group of officers with their Anglo commander about 1912. Many Native Americans seemed to welcome military life and became heroic soldiers and marines. A group of Geronimo’s warriors were recruited for Company I, 12th Infantry, US Army. Previously, Apache and Yavapai army scouts were General Crook’s secret weapon against Geronimo. Actually, rather than secret they became storied, remaining a part of the Army Signal Corps into the 1920s. And then the use of code talkers during World War II has recently become equally legendary.
This is a classroom in a Hualapai school near Kingman around 1900. They look glum, but even Anglo children knew it would be rude to smile for the camera in those days. And their rather rude classroom was probably no worse than many Arizona rural school buildings at the time. Those are maps of the continents decorating the walls above the hat pegs. (click on photo to see full size) In 1900, many Anglo kids couldn’t afford shoes either. This is likely a day school instead of a boarding school. Still, most Indian schools failed to produce fully integrated citizens. In the words of former Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis Leupp, writing in 1910, the Indians did not fail in their quest for an education but the schools failed the Indians. (p. 129, Dejong, Promises of the Past, 1993) Well educated Natives Americans would continue to have difficulty competing in the job market, excelling at liberal politics or finding happiness at home in a country where half of all marriages fail.
In the end, European civilization came to dominate the western hemisphere. Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs & Steel, 1997) has shown how chance circumstances of geography denied Native Americans the usefulness of steel tools, animals capable of domestication and warriors with the force of gunpowder. Indigenous Americans were certainly intelligent and clever enough and their ideals were no more debilitating than the Machiavellianism and chivalry of the old world. As soon as they got their hands on horses, sheep and cattle, knives, guns and badges, Native Americans quickly demonstrated their skill with these implements.
The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 (Snyder Act) granted full US citizenship to Indians. That didn’t mean they could vote. Voting rights have never been accorded all citizens in the US. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 established a framework for tribal government on reservations. Native Americans would now be able to elect tribal leaders. The service of ethnic minorities in World War II opened the door to participation in civil society following the war. When Native Americans were refused voter registration in Arizona because they were “wards of the government” they went to court and won a judgment in their favor July 15, 1948 in the Arizona Supreme Court. County election officials then turned to literacy tests to disqualify Indian voters. Local governments found ways around the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory practices. When the first Navajo was elected to the Apache County Board of Supervisors in 1972, the Anglo supervisors refused to certify his election. Again, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of Indian electoral rights. (109 Ariz. 510, 1973) But disqualification of ballots, voters and candidates on technicalities continues.
The Quechan or Yuma people operated a ferry service across the Colorado River at Fort Yuma for forty-niners going to California. Anglo entrepreneurs then started a competing ferry. When the Quechan tried to block access the Anglos got the military to intervene. Belligerent Indians ran the troops out of the fort for a year, but soldiers returned and put the Quechan out of business for good. As Yuma’s commercial district grew, its indigenous residents were criticized for indolence and alcoholism. In this view from about 1910 with the Southern Pacific railroad depot and hotel behind the trees, a few industrious women offer train passengers their crafts. The train is just out of view at left. The little house with lots of windows is a produce exhibit. This was when the SP main line crossed the river near the old quartermaster depot and went down the middle of Madison Avenue. The bridge, depot and tracks were removed from 1927-1966. Recently this whole area of Yuma was bulldozed for development, leaving it completely unrecognizable as a historic district.
Many of Arizona’s natives produced works of art with great value. Navajo blankets, Pima baskets and Hopi pottery were admired around the world after display at a number of international expositions. This unnamed Hopi woman appears to be making everyday utilitarian vessels rather than the highly polished and finely painted pueblo ware produced during the same time period. Her clay has been ground on a stone and mixed in a bowl and the pot is fashioned from coils. The picture is a colorized black & white photo copyright 1899 by Detroit Photographic Company, which issued it as a postcard.
After a couple bloody rebellions, most of the Tohono O’odam people eventually embraced the Catholic church and labored from 1783 until 1797 building this still astonishingly beautiful work of colonial architecture, Mission San Xavier del Bac, south of Tucson. The architecture has been attributed to Ignacio Gaona but there is no documentation. Padre Kino, who first visited the area in 1692, established the mission in 1700 at a site two miles from the present church. Following the creation of the Mexican republic, the friars left in 1828, not to return until 1911. During that time, faithful Tohono O’odam caretakers preserved the building. This postcard view shows the church after repairs were completed in 1906 following an 1887 earthquake. (Celestine Chinn, Mission San Xavier del Bac, 1951)
Judith Harlan, American Indians Today, (1987)
Robert H. Jackson, Indian Population Decline, (1994)
Levin & Lurie, eds., The American Indian Today, (1970)
Richard C. McCormick, Arizona: Its Resources and Prospects, (1865)
Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest, (1962)
Sonoran Desert field trip guides
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