Native North Americans of the Southwest

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Native North Americans of the Southwest

More than ten thousand years before the first Europeans arrived, Native North Americans settled in what is today the southwestern United States, an area that includes present-day Arizona , New Mexico , southern Utah , southern Colorado , and parts of Nevada . The earliest group of hunter-gatherers arrived in the Southwest around ten- or fifteen thousand years ago, probably pursuing the giant mammals of the Ice Age (a period from 2 million to 11,500 years ago in which much of the Earth was covered in ice sheets). As the Ice Age ended, these hunters apparently migrated east. During the next five thousand years, people known as desert dwellers settled in the Southwest. They, too, were hunter-gatherers, but by about 1500 bce, they began to harvest plants, to sow their seeds, and to raise animals for food. Over the centuries, their farming and livestock-raising led to the formation of settled communities.

By about 1 ce, three major cultures began to distinguish themselves in the Southwest: the Mogollon (pronounced mug-gee-OWN), Hohokam (hoe-hoe-KUM), and Anasazi (ah-nah-SAH-zee). All three cultures depended on hunting, gathering, and farming for their food supply. They developed unique ways of irrigating (watering) the land, adapting to the unpredictable environment that varied between long cycles of dry weather and irregular bursts of drenching rainfall.

Mogollon and Hohokam cultures

The Mogollon people lived in what is now eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Highly skilled basket makers, by 300 ce they had begun producing high-quality pottery as well. The Mogollon raised large crops of corn, beans, and squash and lived in small villages of earth-covered houses. In later times, they began to build multistoried stone or adobe (bricks made of sun-baked mud and straw) buildings that housed many families.

Farther south in the Sonoran Desert, the Hohokam culture emerged, eventually settling in present-day southcentral Arizona. The Hohokam wove cloth from cotton and made pottery with distinctive red designs. Their major claim to fame, though, was an elaborate system of

canals to carry water to their crops. By 1000 ce, they built rectangular, aboveground dwellings in small villages.

The Anasazi

The Anasazi (meaning “the ancient ones”) culture arose in the high desert of northern Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Utah and Colorado around 400 ce. Borrowing from the Mogollon and Hohokam cultures, the Anasazi made baskets and clay pots and irrigated their fields. They introduced successful dry farming techniques and bows and arrows for hunting. Early Anasazi villages, now known as “pueblos” (Spanish for “town”) were simple groups of pit (underground) houses built around a central pit house, later known as a kiva. Kivas served as sacred places for religious ceremonies. They were built underground; people climbed in through the roof and descended a ladder. Inside there was a sipapu—a hole in the floor leading to the center of the Earth.

Anasazi pueblos arose in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, around 700 ce. As the pueblos grew large, their inhabitants built aboveground, mul-tiroom adobe houses. The greatest of these was Pueblo Bonito, where more than eight hundred rooms surround an enormous plaza with many large kivas. At least eleven Anasazi “Great Houses” arose in Chaco Canyon during the eleventh century. More than 400 miles (640 kilometers) of unpaved roadways—shallow tracks up to 40 feet (12 meters) wide, often running in perfectly straight lines across the desert—linked Chaco Canyon pueblos to outlying settlements. By 1000, the thriving Chaco Canyon culture consisted of about 75 to 100 interconnected communities and occupied an area of more than 25,000 square miles (65,000 square kilometers).

Another major Anasazi center developed in the Mesa Verde and Montezuma Valley area of southern Colorado, starting around 600. By 800, Mesa Verde's deep canyons were home to about twenty-five hundred people. The canyon towns were built in nearly inaccessible caves and under overhangs in the steep canyon walls. As many as thirty thousand people lived in the nearby Montezuma Valley, some of them in pueblos of more than one thousand people. The Anasazi of Mesa Verde built a system of ditches to collect rainwater in a reservoir capable of storing up to a half million gallons (two million liters). These water systems allowed dense populations to settle in the canyons.

Sometime around 1200, raiders from the north called Apaches (meaning “enemies” in the Zuñi language) migrated into the Southwest, disrupting the Anasazi culture. Then, in 1276 a twenty-year drought struck, causing food shortages and loss of life. Deadly diseases may also have struck the Southwest societies. By 1400, the Anasazi, Mogollan, and Hohokam societies had disappeared. Survivors were absorbed into the emerging cultures of their descendants, the Pueblo (pronounced PWAY-blow), Hopi (HOE-pee), Pima, and Tohono O’odham (toe-HOE-noe oh-OE-tahm) Indians.

Pueblo Indians

The Pueblo Indians, with origins that date to the Anasazi era, are one of the oldest Native American cultures in the United States. In the sixteenth century, there were somewhere between sixty-five and one hundred Pueblo farming villages in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. Although related by shared customs and similar economies, the Pueblo societies were distinct from each other. Each of the Pueblos spoke its own form of one of the four distinct Pueblo language families: Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, and Keresan. Each established its own social and religious practices. To the Pueblo people, the spirit world was real, significant, and central to every aspect of their lives. Shamans (religious leaders) played a significant role in their daily lives. Secret societies organized seasonal ceremonies to bring rain, good harvests, or successful hunting.

Pueblo tribes fought with one another to gain control of the limited supply of water and arable (useful for farming) land in the Rio Grande Valley. Apaches and Navajos frequently raided Pueblo communities, taking their livestock. Because of warfare, the adobe pueblos (communal dwellings) were built for defense, either on top of steep mesas (flat-topped hills) or with sheer, multistoried exterior walls enclosing the plaza (the center of the pueblo).

Apaches and Navajos

The Apaches (who called themselves Diné, which means “the People”) moved from the Rocky Mountain region in present-day Canada to the desert Southwest between 800 and 1500. They were never a unified group, but rather a number of bands who spoke similar languages and shared some customs. One of these bands, which adopted local Pueblo traditions of farming, would become known as the Navajo. The other Apaches retained their nomadic ways. In small hunting and gathering bands, they scoured the dry countryside for food, living in moveable tepees or brush shelters. The Apache were skilled fighters who frequently raided the settlements they encountered to steal sheep or horses.

European contact in the Southwest

When the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest in the sixteenth century, approximately one hundred thousand Native Americans occupied villages in present-day Arizona and New Mexico. Most of these people lived in the pueblos located along the Rio Grande River. Nomadic hunters and raiders lived in areas that surrounded the pueblos. The Utes lived to the north, the Comanches to the northeast, the Apaches to the southeast and the southwest, and the Navajos to the west and northwest. Farther west, small Colorado River tribes lived at the western edge of Arizona,

while the Pimas and the Tohono O’odham dwelt in the southern deserts of Arizona.

The population of Southwest Indians dropped drastically almost immediately after the Spanish arrived with deadly epidemic diseases such as smallpox, the measles, and yellow fever. Epidemics killed tens of thousands of the native Southwest people. At least ten pueblos were abandoned before 1650 due to the huge death tolls; the survivors simply went to live in other pueblos. But disease was not the only killer. When Spanish conquistador (conqueror) Juan de Oñate (c. 1550–1630) arrived in 1598 with the intention of settling New Mexico, many Pueblo Indians suffered and died under his extremely cruel reign.

Intent on converting the native inhabitants to Christianity, the Spaniards established Spanish missions across the Southwest. Besides religion, the missionaries provided the Pueblos with basic education, particularly in the Spanish language. They taught them how to raise sheep and cultivate new crops such as wheat, peach trees, and watermelon. The Spanish brought horses, seeds for some European foods, and the ability to make metal tools. In turn, the Pueblos influenced the Spanish in arts and architecture, food, and farming. At times, the Pueblos and the Spanish joined forces against the raiding Navajo and Apaches.

But the relationship between the Pueblos and the Spanish was not a happy one. Spanish soldiers brought settlers into the Pueblo country in the seventeenth century. They forced the Pueblos to work for the military officers who were settling in large homes. Under the leadership of the shaman Popé (d. 1692), the Pueblo mounted a successful rebellion in 1680, driving the Spaniards out of northern New Mexico for nearly twelve years. Although the Spanish returned and once again dominated the region, the Pueblo Indians remained aloof (distant in sympathy and interest). They attended the Catholic church as required, while secretly practicing their own traditional religions.

Life in the United States

In 1848, the Southwest region became part of the United States after the Mexican-American War (1846–48). The Pueblo, who had been citizens of Mexico, were immediately granted U.S. citizenship, long before the nation's other Native Americans. But as citizens, they did not receive the status of an independent nation. By the end of the century, white settlers had taken large sections of Pueblo lands, which the Pueblo owned under Spanish law.

Navajo and Apache resistance to American soldiers was fierce, but within decades the U.S. military forced both groups to settle on Indian reservations (land set aside by the government for the use of groups of Native Americans). In 1864, thousands of Navajo were marched 800 miles across New Mexico in the deadly Long Walk. Those who survived the march were placed in miserable surroundings in a 40-square-mile reservation they were to share with the Mescalero Apaches, who did not speak the same language. There was neither enough water nor food on the reservation and the Navajos and Apaches began to starve. Their desperate plight was finally reported in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, newspaper. In response to public outcry, the U.S. government allowed the Navajo to return to their homeland, but to an area that was only 10 percent of their original holdings.

Southwestern Native Americans today

Nineteen Pueblo towns exist in New Mexico today. Many of the pueblos remain on the same sites as before the Europeans arrived. The combined population of the Pueblo Indians in 2000 was 74,085, making them the tenth largest Native American group in the United States. About 90 percent of Pueblo Indians are Catholic; in the pueblos, Catholicism is practiced along with Pueblo religions that have been carried on in secret over many generations. The Pueblos are independent of each other but their governors participate in the All Indian Pueblo Council to fight for their rights for water, education, health, and education. The Hopi, a Pueblo tribe in the northeastern part of Arizona, differ from other Pueblo people in that they speak a Shoshonean language of the Uto-Aztecan language family. They have resided in the same location for at least one thousand years.

Over the years, the Navajo reservation, now called the Navajo Nation, has expanded to more than 26,000 square miles—about the size of the state of West Virginia . It is the largest federal reservation in the United States. In 2000, the Navajo was the second-largest Native American tribe in the United States with a population of 298,197.

The Apaches are divided into two groups, the Eastern Apache, who live in New Mexico and Oklahoma, and the Western Apache, who live in Arizona. According to the 2000 census, the combined Apache groups numbered 96,833 people, making them the seventh largest Native American group in the United States.

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Native North Americans of the Southwest

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