Pima / Maricopa Indians

John C. Cremony met Pima and Maricopa Indians for the first time in 1850 when he was traveling in the Gila Bend area with the Bartlett / Conde Boundary Commission. Cremony was very favorably impressed with their friendliness and good nature, as can be seen from the following excerpt about them taken from his book, Life among the Apaches, available as a free e-book.

After a long travel through Sonora, visiting Santa Cruz, Bacuachi, Babispe, Tumacacori, Imurez, Arispe, Ures, Hermosillo, Guaymas, and several other towns, Mr. Bartlett took passage by sea from Guaymas, leaving Dr. Webb, Mr. Thurber, Mr. Pratt and his son, myself and five others, making a party of ten, to reach California overland, and join him at San Diego. This was a very small party to travel through the Apache strongholds, especially at a time when those Indians were at open war with us; but we were all splendidly armed, except Dr. Webb, who could never be persuaded to carry anything but a small five-inch five-shooter and a knife--and we were also tolerably experienced in the Apache style of warfare, and the nature of the country to be traversed. The magnificent Santa Rita, ten thousand feet high, with its majestic head wreathed in snow, Tubac, San Xavier del Bac [pictured below] and Tucson were successively reached and passed. The great desert of ninety miles without water--I speak of eighteen years ago, in 1850--between Tucson and the Gila river, was crossed safely, but not without much suffering; and we finally reached the Pimo villages, where we met Lieutenant Whipple and party.

San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, HABS photo

One of the earliest photos of the Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac,
Historic American Buildings Survey, Photographer, Leo Goldschmidt.

The Pimos have ever been most friendly to Americans, and I have yet to learn of a single instance in which they ever harmed a white man. These Indians are not nomads. Their villages have remained in the same localities for hundreds of years. As their country affords no game, and they are by no means a warlike tribe, they maintain themselves in comfort and abundance by tilling the ground, and limit their warlike propensities to punishing the raids made upon them by other tribes. These Pimos profess to have originally come from the far south. According to their tradition, their forefathers were driven from their native land many centuries ago, and sought an asylum by coming northward. They profess to have crossed through Sonora, and finally settled on the Gila, about twenty miles east of the eastern limit of the Great Gila Bend, where that river makes a detour to the north of nearly ninety miles, and, after sweeping round the base of a range of mountains, resumes its original course westward. Here they were visited by the Jesuit missionaries, who taught them how to till the ground, and supplied them with many valuable seeds, and also instructed them in the art of preparing and weaving cotton. A Pimo cotton blanket will lalst for years, and is really a very handsome and creditable affair. Pima man, NARA photo

The men never cut their hair, but wear it in massive plaits and folds, which frequently descend to the calves of their legs. The front hair is cut even with the eyebrows. The women wear short hair and are not permitted to have it more than eight or nine inches in length. They are a robust and well-formed race, and not at all revengeful, but exceedingly superstitious--far more so that any other tribe I ever met. They are hospitable, chatty, and exceedingly proud of the purity of their blood.

Living in the closest amity with them are the Maricopa Indians, who, like the Pimos, claim to be direct descendants from Moctezuma, but differ from them essentially in their language, laws, habits, manners and religious ceremonies. The Maricopa tradition, as given me by Juan Jose, a chief of some importance in former times, and subsequently confirmed by Juan Chivari, the present head chief of the tribe, is to the following effect.

"About a hundred years ago, the Yumas, Cocopahs and Maricopas composed one tribe, known as the Coco-Maricopa tribe. They occupied the country about the head of the Gulf of California, and for some distance up the Colorado river. At that time a dispute occurred, and what is now known as the Cocopah tribe split off, and the secessionists were permitted to go in peace. This pacific policy soon afterward induced the party, now known as Maricopas, to secede also; but this defection incurred the severe displeasure and hostility of the remainder, who now form the Yuma tribe. Many sanguinary conflicts ensued, when the Yumas succeeded in obtaining the aid of the Cocopahs, and, together, they gradually forced the Maricopas up the Colorado, until the Gila was reached. Knowing that the country to the north was occupied by the Amojaves, a large and warlike tribe, the retreating Maricopas turned their steps eastward, and followed the windings of the Gila river, pursued by their relentless enemies, until they reached the Great Gila Bend. Their spies were sent across this desert and returned with the intelligence that they had met with a tribe living in well constructed and comfortable houses, cultivating the land, well clothed, numerous, and apparently happy. A council was called and it was agreed to send an embassy to the Pimos, to negotiate a defensive and offensive alliance, and with the request that the Pimos would parcel out to them a suitable amount of land for their occupation. After much delay, and with true Indian circumspection, it was agreed that the Maricopas should inhabit certain lands of the Pimos; but it was made a sine qua non that the newcomers must forever renounce their warlike and hunting propensities, and dedicate themselves to tillage--for, said the Pimos, we have no hunting grounds; we do not wish to incur the vengeance of the Tontos, the Chimihuevis, the Apaches and others, by making useless raids against them; they have nothing to lose, and we have, and you must confine yourselves solely to revenging any warlike incursions made either upon us or upon yourselves. You are free to worship after your own manner, and govern yourselves according to your own laws; but you must be ready at all times to furnish a proportionate number of warriors to protect the general weal, and, in the event of taking any booty, there shall be a fair division made by a council of sagamores, composed of equal numbers from each tribe, and their decision must be final."

These equitable and generous terms were accepted by the Maricopas, who immediately occupied a portion of Pimo territory, and imitated them in the construction of their dwellings and the cultivation of the land, being supplied with seed by the Pimos. In this manner the two tribes have continued together for one hundred years; yet, as an instance of the pertinacity with which an Indian will cling to his own particular tribe and customs, although many of them have intermarried, and their villages are never more than two miles apart, and in some cases not more than four hundred yards, to this day they cannot converse with each other unless through an interpreter. Their laws, religion, manners, ceremonies and language, remain quite as distinct as on the day they sought the Pimo alliance.

More than ten years after Cremony's visit, J. Ross Browne traveled through the Pima (or Pimo, as he calls them) villages and gave the following account of the tribe.

The Pimo Villages by J. Ross Browne from
Adventures in the Apache Country

Self-portrait by J. Ross BrowneAn hour more and we were snugly lodged at the mill and trading establishment of our friend Ammi White near the Casa Blanca. Crowds of Indians from the neighboring villages came in to welcome us; and for several days there was no end to the shaking of hands and complimentary speeches that signalized the arrival of the Superintendent [Charles Poston had been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the new Territory] and his party. I vow the labors through which I went on that occasion surpassed the fatigues of the journey; and if Mr. Dole does not give me full credit for my sufferings in his report to Congress, I shall always consider him deficient in gratitude. As for Poston, he lost ten pounds of flesh; and the only reason I was more fortunate was that I had none to lose, being by this time as dry as a mummy.

In the old Spanish records of the expeditions made to the Gila River, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, special reference is made to the Pimo, or, as the Spaniards called them, Pimas Indians. As far back as 1539 Friar Marco de Niza encountered, during his famous expedition to the north of the Gila, a tribe whom he designated the Pintadoes, from the fact that they painted their faces. These were probably the Papagoes, who are of the same nation as the Pimos and speak the same language. In the seventeenth century Father Kino explored the country of the Coco-Maricopas south of the Gila, and also gives an account of the Pimos, with whom they now live in juxtaposition. Savedra, an excellent authority respecting the Indian races of Sonora, having spent much time among them, says the Pimos, Maricopas, Cuchans, and Mojaves are all "Indians of Montezuma" in proof of which he refers to one custom common to all -- that of cropping their hair across their foreheads, leaving the back part to fall its full length behind. This statement is corroborated by the Pimos of the present day, who proudly boast of their descent from the Montezumas. The most interesting fact in the history of these people is, that as far back as the records extend they lived, as they do to this day, by cultivating the earth; showing a direct affinity with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Alarcon, who visited the great valley of the Colorado in 1540, mentions that it was cultivated to a considerable extent by tribes having a fixed residence and permanent abodes. Unlike the Apaches and the mountain tribes to the north, who live a wandering and predatory life, the Pimos have always manifested a friendly disposition toward the whites, and seem much devoted to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture and stock-raising.

Pima Indian drawing by J. Ross Browne

Pima Indian (possibly Antonio Azul), drawing by J. Ross Browne

In consideration of their industry and their amicable conduct toward Americans, the government of the United States, in 1859, caused a reservation to be set apart for them, embracing all the lands which they had in cultivation at the period of the acquisition of Arizona. The survey was made by Colonel A. B. Gray, and embraced 100 square leagues of arable land, most of it susceptible to irrigation. The length of the reservation is about twenty-five miles -- breadth, four; and the River Gila runs through it from one end to the other. Three large acequias take their head near the upper boundary; one on the south side of the river two miles below Sacatone, and the other on the north side. These, with their various branches, comprise nearly five hundred miles of well-defined acequias, and extend over a tract of land eighteen miles in length. We have authentic history in proof of the fact that for three hundred years the same land has been under cultivation, producing two crops a year without manure or renewal of any kind; yet it continues as productive as ever. It is probable the deposits left by the water are of a fertilizing nature. The return in wheat is twenty-five fold. The season of wheat-planting is December and January. Tobacco and cotton, which flourish with remarkable luxuriance, are planted when the mesquit leaves put forth -- generally about the 1st of March. The summer rains commence about the 25th of June, by which time the wheat harvest is over, and corn is then planted in the same ground; also pumpkins, melons, and other vegetable products requiring great heat and moisture. Considering the rude system of agriculture pursued by these people, and the indolence of their young men, who seldom do anything but ride about and gamble, it is remarkable what crops they have produced on this reservation.

Pima Indian Girls, drawing by J. Ross Browne

The number of Pimo villages is 10; Maricopas, 2; separate inclosures, 1000; total population, 6000. In 1858, the first year of the Overland Mail Line, the surplus crop of wheat was 100,000 pounds, which was purchased by the company; also a large quantity of beans called taperis, and a vast quantity of pumpkins, squashes, and melons. In 1859 Mr. St. John was sent among them as a Special Agent with a supply of seeds and some agricultural implements. That year they sold 250,000 pounds of wheat and a large supply of melons, pumpkins, and beans. In 1860 they sold 400,000 pounds of wheat -- all the Mail Company would purchase. They had more, and furnished the government and private teamsters all that was necessary for transportation from Fort Yuma to Tucson. Beyond this they had no market, except for about 40,000 pounds of wheat which Mr. White purchased for the supply of Fort Breckenridge. In 1861 they sold to Mr. White 300,000 pounds of wheat, 50,000 pounds of corn, 20,000 pounds of beans, and a large amount of dried and fresh pumpkins, which was all intended for the supply of the California column [Union forces from California bound for Texas to fight in the Civil War]. The greater part of the crop was destroyed or given back to the Indians by the Texans under the guerrilla, Hunter [Sherod Hunter of the Confederate forces] who arrived at the Pimo villages that year, robbed Mr. White of his property, and took him prisoner in their flight to the Rio Grande. The Pimos sold, during the same year, 600 chickens and a large amount of other stuff, showing a gradual increase of production under the encouragement of an increased demand. In 1862 they sold to the Government over a million pounds of wheat, included in which was a portion of the previous year's crop, returned to them by the Texans. They furnished pinole, chickens, green peas, green corn, pumpkins, and melons for the entire California column, subsisting nearly a thousand men for many months.

Pimo Village, drawing by J. Ross Browne, 1864

In 1863 they furnished the Government with 600,000 pounds of wheat, and disposed of about 100,000 pounds made into flour and sold to miners and traders. Their crop was smaller than usual, owing to the breakage of their main acequia at a critical period of the season, and in January, 1864, they were nearly out of wheat, but still had a good supply of other products.

It will thus be seen that the Pimos are not a race to be despised. They have always proved themselves good warriors, and have been uniformly successful in resisting the incursions of the Apaches. Their villages have afforded the only protection every given to American citizens in Arizona. If it were not for the Pimos and Maricopas it would now be impossible to travel from Fort Yuma to Tucson.

Pima Widow in Mourning, drawing by J. Ross Browne

Many of the customs which prevail among this interesting people might profitably be introduced into our judiciary system. As administrators upon the estates of deceased members of their tribe they are especially worthy of imitation. No wrangling about wills, no jealousy among relations, no grabbing of effects by avaricious lawyers disturb the exit of the dying man. Peacefully and without worldly concern he shuffles off the mortal coil, satisfied that all will be well when he is buried. His property is fairly and equitably distributed among his people. If he be a chief, and possessed of fields and corn and cattle, his death is a windfall to the community. The villagers are summoned to his burial. Over his grave they hold a grand festival. The women weep and the men howl, and they go into a profound mourning of tar. Soon the cattle are driven up and slaughtered, and everybody, heavily-laden with sorrow, loads his squaw with beef, and feasts for many days. All the effects of the deceased become common property; his grain is distributed; his fields shared out to those who need land; his chickens and dogs divided up among the tribe; and his widow is offered by public proclamation to any man who desires a wife. If she be an able-bodied woman, capable of doing much work, she is generally consoled within a few days by another husband, though custom allows her to howl for the last until the conventional demands of grief are satisfied. Marrying a wife with a tar-covered face having its inconveniences, the new husband is also permitted to wear tar, which doubtless has a tendency to cement the union. The bow and arrows, blankets, beads, paints, jews'-harps, and other personal effects of the deceased are buried with him. The body is placed in a sitting posture, with the face toward the sun; over the grave sticks and stones are placed; and thus he sleeps the sleep that knows no waking till the day of resurrection.

The Struggle for Apacheria
The Struggle for Apacheria by
Peter Cozzens
Volume I of the Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars series
The American West in the 19th Century
The American West
in the 19th Century
by John Grafton