The Southwest Region Native American tribe that is discussed in the following focuses on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The Pima-Maricopa Indians have struggled and endured a constant hardship of events in its background, history, and location. Thomas Dobyns, the author of The Pima and Maricopa stated, ”they have suffered through their worst years at the hands of ruthless investors and land grabbers, and the fight to undo the damage will never end. Descendants of the region’s original inhabitants are, however, gaining skills in law, business, farming, and community organization that they are utilizing to win back the water and land that was once theirs.”
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community is in-fact two Indian tribes, made up of the Pima tribe and the Maricopa tribe. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, these two tribes joined together between 1740 and 1780 in a federation and would be governed by a single tribal council, although they would follow their own tribal traditions. Although speaking distinctly different languages the Maricopa and Pima have since dwelled in harmony.
The Pima Indian tribe is believed to be the ancient ancestors of the Hohokam. The Hohokam were a farming tribe that mysteriously vanished centuries ago. The Pima attributed their decline to the rapacity of foreign tribes, who came in three bands, and killing or enslaving many of their inhabitants destroying their pueblos, devastating their fields, and killing or enslaving many of their inhabitants. It is speculated the Hohokam people may have suffered from plague and disease after physical with the Spaniards. The ancient Hohokam villages can still be seen today at different archaeological sites in the southwest.
The Pima had abundance of water from the Gila River that gave the Pima a distinct agricultural advantage over other Indian communities. Therefore they had less need to wander in search of wild foods and were able to live a settled life in villages near the river. Pima translates to “Akimel O’Odham,” which means river people. They developed irrigation systems that channeled water to their fields; this promoted a more abundant supply of food. They also benefited from the Spanish, whom introduced them to wheat. Wheat being a winter crop allowed them to double their productivity, this resulted in a surplus of grains and allowed the Pima to engage in an increased amount of trading and commerce.
The Pima remained neutral during the Mexican-American War, which took place from 1846 to 1848. Shortly after the Mexican-American War the land the Pima dwelled on became U.S. territory. During the California gold rush of 1849 the tribe thrived on agriculture, bartering food and livestock for guns and shovels to U.S. troops and prospectors passing through. They also protected them from Indian raids on the white-man.
The Maricopa joined the Pima, whose language they did not understand, for mutual protection against their enemies. They were at war with the Mohave and Yavapai Indians as late as 1857 near Maricopa Wells, South Arizona. The result was 90 of the 93 Yuman warriors gave their lives in battle, after this disaster for the Yumans they never wandered further up the Gila River.
The years preceding 1871 were devastating for the tribe due to a shortage of water from the Salt River attributable to the recent non-Indian settlements. The Pima were unable to reclaim their water rights, causing the failure of crops and before long famine that would diminish the population of the tribe significantly.
Today the Pima tribe resides in Southern Arizona along the Gila and Salt rivers, near Phoenix, Arizona. The Spanish estimated there were approximately 2,000-3,000 members of the tribe in 1694, and a 1989 census showed a joint population of about 16,800 members.
Evidence shows that the Maricopa Indians originated in Southern California. Prior to the fifteenth century they dwelled near the shores of the Salton Sea, approximately fifty miles east of San Diego. The Maricopa migrated east towards the Colorado River basin. The Maricopa tribe lived among other Yuman language speaking tribes. Living among other tribes caused constant fighting because of the scarcity of available resources.
By the early 1600’s the Yuman speakers were divided on the lower Colorado River Valley into three distinct groups. The Mohave had settled in the Mohave River Valley northward along the Colorado. The Quenchan had settled at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. And the Cocomaricopa settled between the Mohave and Quenchan tribes. By the mid 1700’s the Maricopa were being victimized by both the Mohave and the Quenchan. They were forced upstream with their rancherios extending about 40 miles along the Gila from the mouth of the Hassayampa to the Auguas Caliente. Later, that same decade, they made their historic alliance with the Pimas for mutual protection against their kindred.
The Maricopa tribe was at war with the Mohave and Yavapai Indians as late as 1857 near Maricopa Wells in southern Arizona. The result was 90 of the 93 Yuman warriors gave their lives in battle. After this disaster for the Yumans they never wandered further up the Gila River. Two years later the United States Congress created the Gila River Reservation on which they still live today. In 1775 the Maricopa population was estimated at 10,000, and only 200 in 1986.
Dobyns, Henry F. The Papago People. Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series, 1972.
Furtaw, Julia C. Native Americans Information Directory. Detroit: Gale Research Inc, 1993.
“Maricopa”. Handbook of North American Indians. 1979 ed.
Myers, John. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indians. Phoenix: Life’s Reflection, 1988.
“Pima”. Handbook of North American Indians. 1979 ed.
“Pima-Maricopa Indians.” 25 February 1999. On-line. Internet. *http://www.thememall.com/tribes/pima.htm*
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