Southwest Indians

Jicarilla Apaches ~ "little basket"

During their zenith in the SouthWest, two divisions of the Jicarilla Apache were known: the Llanero, or "plains people," and the Hoyero, the "mountain people." They roamed from central and eastern Colorado into western Oklahoma, and as far south as Estancia, New Mexico. As a result of their eastern contacts, the Jicarilla adopted certain cultural traits of the Plains Indians, as did the Mescalero who also ranged the eastern plains. 


Mescalero & Chiricahua Apaches


The band was the informal political unit, consisting of followers and a headman. They had no formal leader such as a tribal chief, or council, nor a decision making process. The core of the band was a "relative group," predominantly, but not nessarily, kinsmen. Named by the Spanish for the mescal cactus the Apaches used for food, drink, and fiber. The basic shelter of the Chiricahua was the domeshaped wickiup made of brush. Similar the Navajo, they also regarded coyotes, insects, and birds as having been human beings; the human race, then, but following in the tracks of those who have gone before.


The mythical Seven Cities of Cibola (the Spanish word for "buffalo") lured Coronado to the Southwest in 1540 in a treasure quest. Unfortunately, with the exception of the village of Zuņi, all those sites were abandoned long ago.
The Zuņi originally lived along the northern bank of the Zuņi River in seven pueblos. Today, the Zuņi territory is located in New Mexico near the Arizona border. The reservation covers 408,404 acres to the southwest of Gallup, New Mexico. The Zuņi is one of the highest populated of the pueblo groups, numbering over 7,200 Indians.
The Zuņis spoke a distinct language dissimilar to other Pueblo Tribes. Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicate that Zuņian-speaking people have been in their present location for about eight hundred years.
Zuņis, like other Pueblo Indians, dwelled in multi-leveled apartments interconnected by wood ladders. The Zuņi pueblos were constructed of stones covered with plaster rather than adobe bricks found to the east in Rio Grande pueblos.
Farming supplied most of their food though they supplemented their diet by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Today, the Zuņi farm and raise livestock for income.

>Hopi ~ Hopituh - Peaceful Ones

According to legend, the ancestors of the Hopi tribe migrated from various locations and settled near the Grand Canyon. Legend also portrays a peaceful people, willing to cooperate with others to improve their life. 
Classified as Pueblo Indians they most likely descended from the Anasazi. The Hopi were the only Pueblo Indians that spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family called Shoshone. 
The Hopi currently reside in 11 villages on or near three high mesas on a prominant rock land table called Black Mesa. The Hopi reservation is located in northeastern Arizona and surrounded by the Navaho reservation. One village, Oraibi, founded around 800 years ago, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in the U.S.A. 
The tribe practices an holistic approach to life known as the Hopi Way. They view religion, nature, society, craftsmanship, and survival as components of the great whole.
Hopis reside in pueblos made of stones set in mud and plastered with more mud. The roof is made of poles, branches, leaves, and grass filled with plaster. The walls have no windows or doors. They climb up and down through an opening in the roof, using a notched log. In village plazas Hopis dug kivas, underground chambers made of stone walls. They are used primarily by male members of the tribe as chapels or as clubhouses. A stone-lined hole in the floor, a sipapu, represented the entrance to the cave world from where their ancestors supposedly emerged.
Hopis were mainly horticultural people who supplemented their diet with hunting and gathering. Men farmed and hunted while women collected wild nuts, berries, and roots and did most of the cooking. Men planted crops primarily corn, beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco. Corn being the overwhelming favorite food crop for the Hopis they planted several varieties, blue corn being a favorite. They had more than fifty ways of preparation that included a thin bread called piki. They planted seed in the sandy loam at the base of the mesas, where they could capture runoff from the flat lands after rare rainstorms. They also kept flocks of domesticated turkeys as a source of meat since wild game was scarce on the mesa. 
Religion being a way of life for the Hopi, ceremonies are conducted throughout the year, especially to influence the weather. Because of their dependence on rain, rituals are performed regularly to ensure bountiful harvests. 
Leadership of most Native American tribes was performed by chiefs as well as medicine men, or shamans. For the Hopi the Shaman was both medicine man and chief of the tribe. 
Kachinas played a significant role in Hopi faith as guardians and rain spirits. Believed to be supernatural beings that descended from their own high world of the mountains in the west to the world of the humans once a year , during winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. They occupied the bodies of the people and remained there until summer solstice, the longest day of the year. During religious festivals men impersonated kachinas by wearing elaborately painted masks of wood, feathers, and other materials. They performed a variety of raindances. The famous of these was the snake dance, performed at the conclusion.
Clans perform a pivotal role in social and religious functions. Each clan claims its special sacred fetishes and ceremonies. Hopi society is divided into twelve phratries, or clan groups, containing many clans within each phratry. Children inherit the clan of their mother. 


Directly translated as the ancient enemies in the Navaho language and pronounced ah-nuh-SAH-zee, thrived in the SouthWest from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 1300. Pueblo peoples found this term as offensive and prefer their term ee-SAH-tse-nom or the ancient ones. It is believed that the ancestors of these peaceful corn growers had migrated over the Bearing Straits land bridge during the last glacial period over 11,000 years ago. Their descendants hunted Mammoths in small bands. The earliest known signs of humans in the southwest were discovered near Clovis, New Mexico, dated about 11,300 years ago. Some of these nomadic hunters settled in the four corners region (the junction of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) living in semi-permanent camps. These earliest groups were known as basket makers for the finely woven baskets discovered at their sites. Beginning around 500 A.D. they began making pottery about the same time when corn became a major staple in their diet. They also began to harvest the cactus fruit from the saguaro and prickly ear. 
The Anasazi history can be divided into two primary phases, the Basket Maker period, from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 750 and the Pueblo period, after A.D. 750.
During the first period they lived in pit dwellings that later developed into subterranean chambers called kivas which they used for religious and social ceremonies. After 700 A.D. they began constructing above ground structures out of stone and adobe mortar, or adobe bricks capped with log roofs overlaid with twigs, grass, and mud. At first they erected single one-room dwellings, then they began assembling them one on top of the other interconnecting them with ladders. 
The Anasazis habitually constructed their pueblo dwellings on the top of mesas. A typical example of an Anasazi mesa-top village is Pueblo Bonito located in Chaco Canyon New Mexico. After about A.D. 1000, the Anasazi Indians abandoned most of their mesa-top pueblos for cliff dwellings. Up until 1300, they carved their pueblos on cliff ledges, affording them better defense from invading tribes.
The Pueblo period is also referred to as the Golden Age of the Anasazi culture. During that period their population grew through the employment of irrigation that increased their crop yields of corn and beans. In addition to their abilities as builders and farmers they also refined their artistic skills by designing elaborately painted pottery, brightly dyed cotton-and-feathered garments, elegant turquoise jewelry, and intricate mosaic patterns. 
To this date it is not known why the tribes of the region abandoned their cliff dwellings for smaller settlements. Contributing factors include: a prolonged drought during the late 1200s, invasion by other nomadic tribes, such as the Athapascans (Apache and Navajo) from the north, or pueblos began competing against each other for the available food sources. 
It is believed that the Anasazis were the ancestors of the Hopi, Zuni, Pima, and, Papago Indians.

Pima ~ Maricopa

The Pima Indians reside primarily on the Gila River reservation south of Phoenix, that they share with a smaller group of Maricopas. Early Spanish explorers called them Pimas because it was the reply they received to their questions, derived from pi-nyi-match, "I don't know." In actuality they refer to themselves as Ak-kee-mul-o-o-tam, or "river people," to distinguish themselves from their kinsmen the Toho'no-o-otam, or "desert people," the Papagos. Both spoke dialects of the Uto-Aztecan language family.
The Pima Indians lived in Southern Arizona and northern Sonora, a state in Mexico. They were separated into two groups the Upper (Alto) Pima and Lower (Bajo) Pima. The Upper Pimas dwelled along the Salt and Gila rivers. The Lower Pimas (Nevones) dwelt along the Sonora and Yaqui rivers further south.
It is believed that the Pimas and Papagos are descendants of the Hohokam Culture. Hohokam means "vanished ones" in the Pima tongue.
The Pimas lived in the Gila River valley from prehistoric times. Having a dependable source of water from the Gila, the Pima developed an complex canal system to irrigate their crops. They grew corn, kidney beans, pumpkins, squash, tobacco, and cotton. After their contacts with whites, whom provided them seed they planted wheat and alfalfa. Men farmed, fished, and and hunted small game, such as rabbits.
Men were the builders, they constructed Pima shelters. They were small, round, flat-topped, pole framed structures, covered with grass and mud. Villages also contained several ramadas, rectangular frameworks with no walls, or one side as a windbreak. They used them as clubhouses. Square huts were used for storage.
Woman gathered wild plant foods, such as saguaro and prickly pear cactus fruits and mesquite seeds. They weaved baskets from willow, devil's claw, and cattail, as well as polished red-and-black pottery. They also made clothing....cotton loincloths for men and skirts of shredded bark or deerskin for themselves, as well as sheep skin sandals and cotton and rabbit-hide blankets for both sexes. Men wove cotton on a horizontal loom. 
The saguaro cactus played a central role in Pima life, which bears fruit at the start of the monsoon (rainy) season. A family usually settled near a saguaro forest. The cactus pears were gathered in late June and early July, just prior to the rains. They picked the fruit using a pointed pole and fermented the juice into a liquor which they drank during a ceremony to bring rain. The fruit harvest signaled the start of the new year in Pima calender.
They wore their hair long and free flowing - a sign of beauty. Turquoise and other precious stones were fashioned into ear pendants, sometimes hanging to the shoulders, and worn by both sexes. On special occasions, women painted designs on their bodies. Lines were also tattooed from the mouth to the chin. Though painful, all girls over sixteen performed this rite.
Each village was lead by a chief. The village chiefs, in turn, elected an overall tribal chief whom presided over councils. His subordinate chiefs directed communal farm projects and defense against Apache raids. Each village was divided into two clans....the White Ant and Red Ant clans....who competed in games. Uncommon among most tribes, Pimas were permitted to marry members of the same clan.
Every village also had a ceremonial leader, called the the Keeper of the Smoke. A festival called the Viikita was held every fourth harvest to celebrate the tribe's abundance and assure good fortune in the future. The two most important gods worshipped by the Pima were the Earthmaker and the Elder Brother.
Established in 1859, the Pima reservation now extends to 371,933 acres, on the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers, much less property than what the Pima had claimed as their homeland. The Pima agency is located in Sacaton, about forty-two miles southeast of Phoenix.
From prehistory several Yuma-speaking Indians journeyed up the Gila River and settled. During the early nineteenth century one group who called themselves Pipatsje, or "The People," dwelled on a tract along the Colorado River, south of present-day Parker, Arizona. The Maricopas migrated from the Colorado River area before the Spanish arrived. 
After a major disagreement with the selection of leaders with other Yuma Indians the Maricopas moved up the Gila River and settled with the Pima Indians. The Pimas gave them land and security from other Yuma Indians. The Maricopa and Pima fought as allies in the battle of 1857 facing Yuma and Maricopa forces, whom they summarily routed. Although handicapped by language differences it proved no barrier to an enduring relationship.
When the Maricopa vacated the bottom land along the Colorado river the Mohave expanded into this territory from the north, as well as the Ute related Chemehuevi, and dwelled in what would become the Colorado River Reservation.
Today, descendants of the Maricopa reside among the Pima on the Gila River Reservation and the Salt River Reservation. The economy depends primarily upon subsistence farming, raising cotton, and wage work. Since most of the land apportionments are not large enough to farm profitably they are leased to non-Indians for agricultural development.

Toho'no-o-otam ~ Papagos ~ Desert People

The Papagos lived in the Sonoran Desert near the Gulf of California on the border between Arizona and Mexico. Like the Hopi, the Papagos spoke a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, similar to that of the Pima. Anthropologists believe that both Papago and Pima tribes descended from the ancient Hohokam culture. 
The Papagos were a semi-nomadic people. They resided primarily in two village locales. They spent the warm weather seasons in field villages, from spring planting through the fall harvest, in the desert near an arroyo or gulch. They used the runoff during the summer monsoon to irrigate their fields of corn, beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco. They spent their winters in well villages, near mountain springs up in the sierra, hunting deer and rabbit. 
Today, many of the Papagos reside on the second largest reservation in the country. The Papago Indian Reservation stretches from the Mexican border more than halfway to Phoenix and from the eastern suburbs of Tucson almost halfway to California. They also reside on two smaller reservations; one to the north called Gila Bend and the other to the east called San Xavier Indian Reservations.


The Navajo are the largest Indian tribe in the United States. They live on the largest reservation in the U.S. which covers over three states on 17 million acres in the Four Corners area of the southwest. The states include Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and a small part of Colorado. The current population is at least 160,000 and projected to grow to a quarter of a million by the year 2000. Growth in commerce on the reservation promises to make the Navajo one of the wealthiest tribes in the country.
The Navajo are not part of the Apache Nation, they just share a language. Like the other Athapascan-speaking people in the southwest, the Apaches, they arrived later than most tribes in the region. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Navajos migrated from the north about 1025 A.D. and the earliest Apache bands arrived about 825 A.D..
The Spanish began calling the Navajos by the name Apache de Navajo to distinguish them from the Apaches. The word Navajo, or Navaho (pronounced NAH-vuh-ho), is not Athapascan however, it is a Pueblo Indian word of a stretch of land in the Southwest. In their own tongue they identify themselves as the Dine, or "the people" and call their homeland Dinetah. 
The Apache and Navajo were feared by Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and American inhabitants of the region. They earned their vicious reputation from the time they first arrived in the Southwest by launching raids on the agricultural Pueblo Indians for food, property, women, and slaves. Gradually through contact with the native tribes of the area they began to adopt new cultural traits. They learned to farm, weave and sand paint, as well as mold pottery and new basket weaving techniques. 
The Navajos acquired sheep and goats from the Spaniards. Unlike the Apache they did not consume all of their meat supply. In contrast, they allowed their flocks to increase, which they kept for a meat, milk, and wool source. Therefore, animal husbandry, especially sheepherding became an economic resource to the Navajo. 
Art and religion, for the Navajos, as for all Indians, are intimately related. Art served as a bridge between the natural and supernatural worlds and a way to relate to spirit beings. It was also a medium to contact their ancestors and influence the spirits to bring good weather or cure the ill.
The Navajos reside in shelters called hogans. Their hogans were shaped as conicals and later into hexagons and octagons. They used logs and poles for the framework and built the walls of earth and bark, and eventually, into stone and adobe.


Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by a culture known as the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400. The site is currently comprised of 42 acres. 
The Sinagua of the Verde Valley were peaceful village dwellers. They lived primarily by farming and augmented their diet by hunting and gathering. The local area supplied them with more than the basics. There was abundant water in the central valley, fertile bottom lands, and sufficient game....including deer, antelope, rabbit, bear, muskrat, turtle, and supplement a diet that depended on corn.
The Sinagua were fine artisans. They shaped stone tools such as axes, knives, hammers, and manos and metates for grinding corn. Turned bone into awls and needles, wove handsome garments of cotton, and fashioned ornaments out of sea shells, turquoise, and a local red stone for personal adornment.
Tuzigoot (Apache for crooked water) is the remnant of a Sinaguan village erected between A.D. 1125 and 1400. It stands on the summit of a long ridge that rises 120 feet above the Verde Valley. The original pueblo had 77 ground floor rooms and 15 rooms on the second floor for a total of 92 rooms. Since there were few exterior doors residents climbed wood-pole ladders through hatchways in the roofs. 
What started out as a small cluster of rooms inhabited by about 50 Indians for a hundred years or so doubled, and doubled again as dry-land farmers sought relief from a drought during the 1200's resettled here. 

Hohokam ~ Vanished Ones

Hohokam pronounced ho-HO-kum in Pima means "vanished ones". The Gila and Salt River Valleys of southern Arizona was the heart of the Hohokam culture that thrived from about 100 B.C. until A.D. 1500.
Where once burgeoned a prosperous agricultural civilization remains a desolate desert amidst the rugged volcanic hills and slow-running rivers. In times past, the Hohokam made this sandy soil fertile by channeling waters from the local rivers, through a series of canals to irrigate their crops. Canals were dug shallow and wide stretching as far as 10 miles in length. Dams were made of woven mats that redirected the water from the rivers to their fields of corn, beans, squash, tobacco, and cotton. 
The Hohokam's advanced farming methods provided an adequate supply of food to support a sizable population. SnakeTown (near present-day Phoenix, Arizona)....the preeminent Hohokam village....had about 100 pit houses. Another large settlement was discovered east of SnakeTown called Point of Pines. 
Hohokam constructed shelters similar to the Mogollon pit houses, only shallower and larger, made of logs covered with reeds, saplings, and mud. Archaeologists also found remnants of two sunken ball-courts and some rubber balls. Ancient ball game relics indicate a link to the MesoAmerican cultures (Toltec, Maya, and Aztec). 



Mogollon, pronounced mo-goi-llon, is the name of the mountain range along the southern Arizona and New Mexico border. The Mogollon Indians, probably descendents of the ancient Cochise Culture, are thought to be the first of the southwestern peoples to farm, build shelters, and make pottery. They prospered from about 300 B.C. to A.D. 1300.
In the high valleys of the rugged mountains the Indians planted corn, beans, squash, cotton and tobacco. They sowed the seed using crude digging sticks. To supplement their diet they also harvested wild plants and hunted small game. When they took up the bow and arrow about A.D. 500 hunting became a more efficient prospect.
Farming successfully afforded a sedentary village life-style for Mogollon Indians. They selected locations near streams, or behind ridges they could easily defend against marauders. Mogollon shelters were similar to Hohokam pit houses though smaller and taller. They were ideal for the extreme temperatures encountered in the mountains that employed the ground as natural insulation. The Indians used logs for the framework which they covered with reeds, saplings, and filled with mud. The largest structure called kiva served as the social and ceremonial center of the village. 

Ute Tribes

The state of Utah derived its name from the Utes (pronounced yoot) signifying "high up" or 'land of the sun." The nomadic tribe was centrally located in Colorado, but ranged as far south as the San Juan river in northern new Mexico and as far north as southern Wyoming. At the zenith of their power, there were seven main Ute clans.
Today the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribes occupy two reservations in the southwest corner of Colorado and a small section in northwest New Mexico.
The Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Indians speak the same Shoshonean dialect (of the Uto-Aztecan language) and have identical physical features, but are separately organized tribes. Each is governed under its own constitutional elected tribal council.

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Updated April 29, 2007 by Who Else....PurpleHawk