Hat Tip to the Pima Nation

This page begins with the following clip about boats on the Gila River in 1849:

“On the first of November, 1849, a flatboat, which had made the voyage down the Gila from the Pima villages, with Mr. Howard and family, and two men, a doctor and a clergyman, on board, arrived at the camp. During this voyage a son was born to Mrs. Howard, said to have been the first child born in Arizona of American parentage. The Lieutenant, it is said, purchased the craft, which was used as a ferryboat during the remainder of his stay, and was transported to San Diego where it was used on the bay. ‘‘This,’’ says Bancroft, ‘‘was the history of the first Colorado ferry.’’

The Gila was once a navigable river, teeming with fish. Below is an account of what happened to the Gila from an article published in 1923:

“More recent information is furnished by Mr. John Montgomery, a ranchman residing in Arlington, who has had many years of experience in southwestern Arizona. He states that in the summer of 1889, when as a boy of 12, he was in camp near Powers Butte, on the Gila River. At that time, the river had a well-defined channel with hard, sloping banks lined with cottonwoods and bushes. The water was clear, was 5 or 6 feet deep, and contained many fish. The grazing lands near the river were in much better condition then than now. Several varieties of grass then abundant have since died out. Mr. Montgomery attributes the change in the character of the river largely to the practice of cattleman burning the heavy brush that once covered its banks in order to drive out the wild cattle which had sought shelter there. This destroyed the natural protection and left the soft silty soil exposed to rapid erosion. The disastrous floods of 1890 and 1891 did much to break down the river’s confining banks, partly filled the channel with sediment, and in general interfered with the equilibrium that had been established.”

The Pima Villages; what are those?

The Pima Villages were a population of about 4,000 people that lived in several villages extending for 20 miles downstream of the Casa Grande Ruins near Coolidge, Arizona. The extents of the Gila River Reservation are shown below (and the Peralta mines).

The PIma (Tohono O’odham) Reservation

Father Kino visited the Pima villages and introduced them to wheat and livestock. The wheat allowed for 2 crops a year (corn being the other). He reported of the Pima fishing in the Gila near the villages, and at that time fish were a major portion of the Pima diet.

The Gila river disappeared downstream of Florence due to a combination of the construction of the Coolidge Dam, and upstream agriculture. The dam is on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

The Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans used the Northern Pimas for soldiers because of their fighting skills, and the following link describes the early Pima participation:

https://open.uapress.arizona.edu/read/9 … 5e35aeb16

The article states, “Northern Piman Indian participation in the expedition is significant evidence of the extent of military cooperation of these Native Americans with Spanish troops only 28 years after they rebelled against Spanish colonial rule (in 1751). This marked the beginning of integration of significant numbers of Northern Pimans into Spanish frontier forces.”

The article continues:

“The 1779 records of the Tucson presidio, the Spanish military post nearest to the Gila Pimas and most Papagos, disclose a much earlier European militarization of Northern Piman culture. The Pimas and Papagos gained 40 years of direct experience in the Spanish army, learning European patterns of warfare and military organization as well as the Spanish language before Mexico gained its independence. Mexico did rely heavily on the military prowess of loyal and friendly frontier Native Americans, following a colonial pattern. Colonial accounts make clear that the Spaniards paid Native American warriors, so that their progressive professionalization is not at all surprising.”

This article in this link describes the Pimas skill as warriors:

https://www.globemiamitimes.com/how-apa … -warriors/

The article states:

“In 1764 Padre Juan Nentvig noted that “The most warlike of all the Pimas are commonly called Sobaipuris for having been born and raised on the border of the Apaches.”

Also from the article:

“A number of historical accounts reinforce the notion of the Sobaipuri as the region’s foremost fighters. None is more pertinent than an event that occurred in 1698, when 500 Apaches and their allies attacked an 80-person village on the San Pedro River. As a result of the battle, where neighboring O’odham warriors came to the aid of the small village, half the enemy died, while only five O’odham were killed.”

These are just a few of the many resources available that tell of the Pima exploits.

I have presented several times on this site where the Peralta Mines are, but three things have always puzzled me:

• How did the large groups of Peralta Miners pass every season without being recorded?
• How did they keep the miners fed?
• Why did the Peralta Party get slaughtered all of a sudden in 1848?

It is very clear that the answers to these questions can be found in what were Pima Villages. The Pima were highly successful farmers that traded with all that passed through. The Pima were reported to be very friendly to everyone, with the exception of Apaches.

The article in this link describes the friendliness of the Pimas :


The article describes the Pimas response when Stephen Watts Kearny passed through the villages with a much reduced force of 100 men in 1846 to help take California during the Mexican-American war:

“Stephen Watts Kearny, asked how much their wheat cost, the Indians replied, “bread is to eat, not to sell; take what you want.”

The article goes on to say:

“From as early as the seventeenth century, Spanish missionaries, Mexican troops, mountain men, forty-niners, Civil War Soldiers, and eventually American settlers availed themselves of the plentiful crops and eager hospitality offered by the Pima Villages. Even though the inhabitants outnumbered their visitors, they preferred farming to fighting. Astute traders, they appreciated cloth, tools, and livestock they received for their products. Because the Pimas successful defense against the Apaches, travelers felt relatively safe from the depredations anywhere within two days ride of the Pima Villages.”

The following theories are presented:

• The Peralta’s had always used the Pima for security, hiring them to protect the mines. The Pima Villages had a standing army that specialized in fighting Apaches.
• The Peralta’s gained most of their food and livestock from the Pimas.
• The Pimas did most of the mining. Up until about the last decade, when mining went underground, the pits were easily mined by the Pimas that were accustomed to hard labor.
• The Peralta’s had to practically just “show up”. Iron mining tools were shipped by water up the Gila, staying away from prying eyes.
• The Pima had met the “Father of the American Calvary” in 1846 (Kearny), and knew full well that the Mexicans would lose or had lost the war at the beginning of 1848 when the Peralta’s were massacred. It is suggested that the Pimas knew there was going to be a “new Sheriff in town”, and intentionally did not help the Mexicans during their fight with the Apaches because they were already aligned with the Americans.

It is further offered that the “Peralta Mines” are a misnomer; they should be called the “Pima Mines.” It is hypothesized that there are many Pima today that chuckle about the stories about a lost mine in the Superstitions, when there is an entire mining district out in the open, possibly having been mined for centuries.

Stumbling upon the importance of the Pima Villages and their connection to the missing mining district has been a very exciting discovery. It is one of those things that “have to be true” for the legend of the missing mining district to be true. For this author, it ranks up there with the Salazar Survey, the discovery of high levels of mercury in First Water Canyon, the cart ruts in solid rock, and the comprehensiveness of the Minas del Oro map. Only the fact that there is a very large IOCG gold deposit that defines the district usurps all.

According to oral tradition, the Pima are descendants of the Hohokam, and they speak a Uto-Aztecan language (related to the Aztec Nahuatl). Many do not realize the immensity of the Hohokam civilization that once existed in Phoenix. Below is a map of the Hohokam canals that were mapped in the Phoenix area in 1929. These are just the canals on the Salt River, and do not include the ones found on the Gila. The intersection of the Salt and Gila can be seen in the lower left. (Note: each square is a square mile)

The Hohokam Canals on the Salt River

One canal unearthed on the north end of Dobson Road in Mesa was 15 feet deep and 45 feet wide, and was estimated to have the capability to irrigate over 100,000 acres. It appears that the climate was much wetter then, and the Salt and Gila had a greater, more stable flow. People just had to move away as the water slowed.

Below is a map of what was estimated to be the Pima Territory in 1700. It roughly encompasses all of the area irrigated hundreds of years before and more. They held this area against all attackers for centuries, and it became a place of refuge for others. Unfortunately, they could not defend themselves from nature and those upstream that took the water.

The below snip from https://bajaarizonahistory.org/gila-river-villages/ describes the bounty produced by the Pima villages; even though this is a little later than the massacre, the Peraltas likely didn’t have to bring food (or tobacco):

“An 1860 accounting found the Gila River Villages’ 763 farmers harvested 13,380 tons of corn and wheat, 240 tons of beans, 4.6 tons of cotton and 2.5 of tobacco, and raised seven hundred oxen and cattle on 7,291 acres of cultivated land that year. The women additionally gathered and processed 1,950 gallons of saguaro preserves.”

Below is a very detailed presentation that tells the who, what, where, when, and how the Gila river was destroyed downstream of Florence, AZ.

https://asfmraaz.com/papers/2004/04%20L … 202004.pdf

below is a map of the Hohokam canals on the Gila River. Along this section of the river and an little further downstream is where the Pima Villages were located.

The Hohokam Canals of the Gila River

In summary, the Apache had no answer for the skill and ferocity of the Pima Nation, and the destruction of the lower Gila River is an American tragedy. It is clear that the destination of Marcos de Niza on his first expedition, and that of Hernando Alarcon on his first expedition of was the Pima Villages (see the Chichilticale page for details).