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The Pima used a sophisticated water distribution system and strict social controls to irrigate their lands and insure the continuation of their economy. Emigrant Benjamin Hayes observed individual Indians “have regular days of work to which they were assigned,” with each village under a “Captain.” Committees were set up in three zones along the river to manage the irrigation system and “there were certain people in each village who decided how each ditch was to be handled” as well as to determine who was to get water. Brush dams diverted water at various points along the river into a series of acequias centered in the Vah ki (Casa Blanca) area.94 In 1855, Thomas Antisell, a geologist exploring possible railroad routes near the villages, pointed to the cooperative distribution of water with acequias running “around half a dozen fields, giving off branches to each.” Topographical engineer William Emory observed the Pima not only irrigated their lands but also drained it, a measure vital to prevent water logging and ensure the leaching of salts from the soil. Such flooding of their fields also fertilized the land by depositing rich silt over it, maintaining its fertility and productivity.
95 Thomas Antisell, “Geological Report” in “Report of Lieutenant John G. Parke, Corps of Topographic Engineers, upon the routes … and upon that portion of the route near the thirty-second parallel lying between the Rio Grande and the Pima Villages of the Gila,” in “Report of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean,” Volume VII, Senate Executive Document 78 (Washington, DC: Beverly Tucker, Printer, 1855), 33rd Congress, 2nd Session, p. 137. Emory, “Notes of a Military Reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri, to San Diego, in California, including Part of the Arkansas, Del Norte, and Gila Rivers, made in 1846-1847,” p. 83. Journal of William Miles, p. 24.
Adventures of Charles Pancoast, p. 244.
69 Pima used “only forked sticks … to loosen the soil, as it was loose, rich and easily worked.” Other emigrants agreed agricultural implements were unnecessary as the “soil is so easily pulverized that ploughs are not needed.” Simple tools such as “a stick of wood for a plow, brush for a harrow, and a stone Muller for a Mill” served the Pima well.
While utilizing simple technology, Pima fields were systematically prepared before they were planted and irrigated. Nonetheless, the Indians desired to acquire American implements so they could more efficiently and effectively cultivate their land, especially seeking tools from military officials who might have the authority to fill such requests.
When Graham passed through the villages from the west in November 1848, the Pima asked for “a thousand or two spades, so they might have a great deal of corn for the next time white men came along.” Such requests were rarely made of emigrants.96 By 1850, change was afoot in the Pima mode of farming. Wooden Mexican ploughs—probably already in the villages but lacking a sufficient number of draught animals—were used by the Pima. While the Pima were known to have good horses, mules and oxen were in short supply. And while a horse might be purchased from the Pima at a high price, mules and oxen were rarely sold, demonstrating the Pima utilized these animals in their expanding agricultural endeavors. “Being an agricultural people,” William Chamberlin wrote, “they require what few animals they have for that purpose.” In December 1849, Judge Benjamin Hayes noted the Pima had “no good animals to trade” and John Bartlett, entering the villages as part of the U.S.-Mexico boundary survey
in 1852, wrote it was “impossible to procure a single mule.” William Hunter, however, noted Pima Chief Antonio Culo Azul told him he “could procure from his people whatever we stood in need of,” going so far as to indicate the Pima had “plenty of horses, mules and oxen,” which it turned out they did not have. What few draught animals the Pima had were carefully guarded because of their desire to increase their economic output.97 Mexican ploughs made of wood were more frequently observed as time passed.
One emigrant noted oxen were used to pull “a long hooked-shaped stick used as a plough.” Metal axes and hoes were also documented. According to emigrant William Goulding, the Pima were using oxen to plough their land. Hayes also noted the “Pimos ploughing their lands.” Bartlett noted not all land was yet ploughed by draught animals, implying the Pima used ploughs drawn by oxen to break new land for cultivation of additional crops to market to emigrants on the western trails.98 Emigrants—especially if they carried Creuzbaur’s 1849 guide to California or were familiar with Emory and Cooke’s journals—were quick to note the Pima were “all that Colonel Emory has described them—peaceable, quiet, and honest Indians, and possessing considerable intelligence.99 Harris was so struck by their integrity and goodness that he opined Americans could learn a lesson from them. “Finding a heathen people so kind, good, sympathetic, simple, honest and hospitable,” Harris chronicled, 97 Diary of Judge Benjamin Hayes’ Journey Overland from Socorro to Warner’s Ranch, from October 31, 1849, to January 14, 1850, (MS 341, Arizona Historical Society, Tucson) (hereafter Diary of Judge Hayes). Bartlett, Personal Narrative, 2:237. Diary of William Chamberlin, p. 172. Journal of William Hunter, p. 164.
98 William Goulding, Diary, Overland to California, 1849, (New Haven: Yale University Library, 1849), (hereafter Overland to California). Diary of Judge Hayes. Bartlett, 2:237. Cozzens, p. 100, wrote in 1859 the Pima never used the plough, only the hoe. More than likely, the plough continued to increase in value and utility but required an “education” regarding its uses. This may explain the Pima requests for farm implements and teachers to instruct them in how to use such tools.
99 Journal of John Durivage, 218. House Executive Document 41, pp. 82-84. Emory noted in his visit to the Maricopa that “all that has been said of the Pimos” was applicable to the Maricopa as well. Adventures of Charles Pancoast, p. 218.
71 “was indeed a surprise well worth all the toil and privation of the trip, and calculated to make Christianity blush for its meager attainments.” In an April 15, 1850, letter to his sister, W. Wilberforce Alexander Ramsey observed the Pima “have the character of being the most honest and virtuous tribe in the West…. They are peaceful and never disturb the emigrant.”100 Anxious to exchange food for cloth, tools and coin, the “Pimos came out to the road to see us,” one emigrant chronicled. Another noted the Pima greeted the emigrants by “bringing flour[,] corn meal[,] watermellons (sic) &c.” to trade.101 Since the Gila and Southern trails entered the Pima villages above the Maricopa settlements, the Pima had an advantage over the latter in demonstrating hospitality. As thirsty or delirious emigrants came down the Southern Trail from Tucson, many were disoriented, suffered from heatstroke, or were separated from their company. While the Pima assisted these emigrants back to their villages to convalesce, they also frequently rounded up stray animals, restored their health and sold them back to the emigrants.
William Chamberlin recorded he met two Pima men out in the desert looking for “horses and mules to exchange with the American emigrants.” Harris observed the Pima rounding up “Broken down or abandoned stock” and bringing them to the villages. When H.M.T.
Powell lost one of his horses in the desert, a young Pima man rode twenty-five miles south searching for it, returning two days later with the horse.102 100 Journal of Benjamin Harris, p. 80. Thomas J. Noel, “W. Wilberforce Alexander Ramsey, Esq., of Tennessee,” Journal of the West (12:4, October 1973), p. 569 (hereafter Letters of Wilberforce Ramsey).
101 Howard Louis Conard, Uncle Dick Wootton: The Pioneer Frontiersman of the Rocky Mountain Region (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1957), p. 262 (hereafter Uncle Dick Wootton). Erwin G. Gudde, ed. Bigler’s Chronicle of the West: The Conquest of California, Discovery of Gold, and Mormon Settlement as Reflected in Henry William Bigler’s Diaries (Berkley: University of California Press, 1962), p. 36 (hereafter Henry Bigler’s Diaries). Journal of Asa Clarke, p. 72.
102 Diary of William Chamberlin, p. 171. Journal of Benjamin Harris, p. 80. Journal of H. M. T. Powell, p. 155. Powell adds that when the horse was recovered and returned, Azul encouraged the emigrant to pay $2.00 to the young man for his services. Having only $1.50 on his person, Powell—accompanied by Azul—rode fifteen miles to the emigrant camp to collect the remainder of the fee. The chief then demanded a shirt from Powell for his part in the matter. Not willing to accept any shirt, Azul demanded—and received—the shirt then worn by Powell.
72 Hospitality was also demonstrated by permitting emigrants to recruit their stock on the limited grasslands near the villages. An emigrant named Dr. J. G. Candee explained how his party remained among the Pima “several days for the purpose of recruiting our stock.” Isaac Duval and a party of Texas Argonauts spent thirteen days at the Pima villages, with one group of weary Texans remaining in the villages for five weeks. When emigrant parties arrived, they were frequently encouraged by the Indians to “dispense with the custody of [their] horses” to be “grazed and herded at good pasture at a distance of two or three miles” from the villages. While there was little forage available en route to the villages and a limited amount near the villages along the river, grasslands did exist in several locations away from the main road along ephemeral water channels.
These grasslands restored many an animal, as noted by Special Indian Agent Sylvester Mowry when he informed the commissioner of Indian affairs that the Pima “supplied many a starved emigrant, and restored his broken down animals.”103 As Head Pima Chief, Antonio Culo Azul was justly proud of his people’s reputation among the emigrants as shown by his display of their letters of commendation.
Although none of these letters are known to have survived, a number of them are referenced in journals of the forty-niners and soldiers. Couts records Azul showed “passports,” or letters of commendation from a host of emigrants, including Stephen Austin Kearny. Hayes wrote Azul showed him “an imposing array of certificates of good 103 Quoted in Journal of Captain Marcy, p. 327. Rea, At the Desert’s Green Edge, pp. 38-39, notes three main grasslands in or adjacent to the modern reservation. One was near Maricopa Wells along the Santa Cruz River, one on the north central part of the modern reservation in the Queen Creek drainage, and one in the McClellan floodplain east of the Sacaton Mountains. “Letter of Sylvester Mowry, Lieutenant United States Army, to the Honorable J. W. Denver, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated Fort Yuma, September 16, 1857,” in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, (Washington, DC: William A. Harris, Printer, 1858), p.
300. Richard H. Dillon, Texas Argonauts: Isaac H. Duval and the California Gold Rush (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1987), pp. 106, 142 (hereafter Isaac Duval’s Journal).