THE MOGOLLON (The Mountain People)

In the broad valleys and rugged mountains of northern Mexico, southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona lived a people that today we refer to as the Mogollon. Named for the Mogollon Rim that bordered their domain on the north, these people traded heavily with the people of Meso-America.

One of the best-known trading centers was Casas Grandes, in Chihuahua, less than 100 miles south of today's New Mexico border. At the time of the story Race to the Moonrise: An Ancient Journey, Casas Grandes was beginning to expand from a small farming village to a huge trading center filled with warehouses full of raw copper, turquoise, painted bowls, and thousands of shells. Beautiful macaws from the tropics were raised in mud-walled cages, their feath­ers a highly-valued trade item in the northern lands.

Although some Mogollon people still relied on hunting and gathering of wild foods to survive, others had become full-time farmers, building "apartment complexes" along rivers from which they irrigated their crops of corn, beans, squash, and cotton.

Related to the people of Casas Grandes but also influenced by peoples farther north and west were the Mogollon of the Mimbres Valley, east of today's Silver City, New Mexico. Here the famous Classic Mimbres pottery was made-white bowls with lively black painted designs. The pictures on the bowls portray scenes of everyday life such as hunting. Fun and fanciful designs also are depicted, e.g., a turkey perched on a dog's back, seemingly engaged in conversation. Snakes, lizards, fish, ducks, and rabbits (which some think may have represented the moon) are also painted on the bowls.  Almost all Classic Mimbres bowls are found in burial sites, usually covering the head of the deceased. A "kill hole" was usually made in the bowl's center, perhaps to allow the spirit of the dead to pass through.

Around A. D. 1130 many traits of the Mimbres branch of the Mogollon culture were disappearing. Perhaps people from Casas Grandes moved into the Mimbres Valley and elsewhere in Mogollon country to grow cotton for their expanding population. The Mimbres people may have been absorbed by their peaceful "cousins" who could have tried to change their religious practices. The burial pots were no longer made. (Race to the Moonrise occurs roughly 50 years after potters had quit making the Mimbres bowls, the "pure" Mimbres culture having already been diluted.)

Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) migrants from the north and other cultural groups found the old Mogollon country to their liking. The Gila Cliff Dwellings near the head of the Mimbres Valley are the remnants of these more recent intruders. By A. D. 1400, however, most of the country had been abandoned-the Mogollon had moved elsewhere.

The popularity of the Mimbres bowls has brought about the modern destruction of most Mimbres sites. Burials have been dug up by "pothunters" who sell the bowls illegally. One site, although ravaged by pothunters, still retains the original walls of a Mimbres village. Known as the Mattocks' Site, this buried village requires permission to enter as it is located on private land near the modern town of Mimbres. Miles to the north up the canyon, a tree-lined trail leads visitors to the ruins of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Here, those who succeeded the Mogollon of the Mimbres Valley built homes of stone high in the protected overhangs.

If you have an opportunity to visit, stop in the shade of a pine tree for a moment. Imagine hearing the sounds of farmers tilling the corn fields with stone hoes, or children laughing as they chase each other through mountain streams.

THE HOHOKAM (The Canal People)

When American settlers began farming the broad desert valleys of southern Arizona in the 1860s, they marveled at the hundreds of miles of irrigation ditches and the crumbled ruins of ancient villages dotting the canals. The settlers cleaned out the ditches and used them to water their fields. Ancient platform mounds were leveled to build modern cities.

Archeologists excavating some of the prehistoric towns uncovered thousands of house pits and apartments of the Hohokam, a Tohono O'odham word meaning "all used up." Slowly the prehistoric story unfolded.

Almost 1,600 years ago, the hunters and gatherers of the Salt and Gila River Basins adopted many of the subsistence means of their sophisticated neighbors to the south in Mexico. With pointed sticks they planted corn and, later, beans and cotton. To soak the arid fields, they dug ditches and diverted water from the Salt and Gila Rivers. However, some years there was too much water and floods destroyed the ditches. More than just farming knowledge was needed from Mexico; the people along the Salt and Gila Rivers and their tributaries needed to know the correct ceremonies that would please the gods who, they believed, had the power to keep the rivers from flooding or drying.

The religion of Meso-America involved a ball game played in large courts. Games played in similar courts by the Aztecs were documented by the Spanish. For centuries, ball courts were built in the major Hohokam towns along the rivers and canals. Clay figurines of men wearing arm shields give us some idea of what the ball players looked like as they played.

Other Hohokam artifacts showing the influence of Meso-America include stone bowls carved in the shape of lizards and dogs, mirrors of iron pyrite, copper bells, pottery and shells for jewelry. The Hohokam themselves developed the art of etching beautiful animal designs on clam shells. Applying a design with pinyon pitch, they then soaked the shell in fermented cactus juice, which ate away the layer of shell surrounding the design.

For reasons we may never know, the Hohokam quit playing their ball games around 1200 A. D. or earlier. Weeds grew up in the abandoned courts. These courts were sometimes used as trash pits. Nearby, previously constructed low mounds of earth capped with caliche (chalky-looking rock) were piled with earth and trash to form high platforms. Single houses were built on the mounds. Could the managers of the canal systems have lived in these mound-top houses? Most of them afforded good views of the ditches so workers cleaning and repairing the canal systems could be watched carefully. In the towns, people of high status, e.g., priests and medicine men, might have lived in mound­-top houses.

For over a thousand years, the hand-dug canals brought life-giving water to the desert farm fields. But, by 1450 A. D., only wind whipped through the dry ditches and crumbling villages. Strange as it seems, too much water may have been part of the problem. Climate studies show unusually heavy rainfall prior to Hohokam abandonment. Perhaps flash floods roared down the Salt and Gila Rivers, overflowed the canals, and destroyed key portions of the system beyond repair.

The Tohono O'odham, who today live in the land once occupied by the Hohokam, tell a different story. Their warrior ancestors supposedly attacked the Hohokam villages one by one because they felt the Hohokam chiefs had become arrogant and evil.

A Hohokam site easily visited is Painted Rocks Petroglyph Park, north of Interstate 8 near Gila Bend, Arizona. The name is misleading; the rocks are not painted but have been carved with designs of Desert Bighorn sheep and wavy lines that some think may represent important prehistoric trade routes. Here, traders bringing shells from the Pacific Ocean (southern California) met traders from the Gila and Salt River Basins,  northern Chihuahua, Mexico, and the Sea of Cortez.

THE SINAGUA (The Volcano People)

For over 700 years a culture called Sinagua (Spanish for "without water") thrived in the mesas, canyons, and moun­tains of central and northern Arizona. From the lush Verde Valley to the volcanic fields north of the San Francisco Peaks, these people farmed the common crops of corn, beans, and squash. In addition, they mined salt, grew cotton, and wove beautiful textiles which were a popular trade item.

In 1064 A. D., the eruption of Sunset Crater (north of present-day Flagstaff) forced the nearby farmers to leave. When the cinders had cooled, the farmers returned and their population multiplied. Increased rainfall may have increased crop yields. Some think the soil may have been enriched by the volcanic detritus.

During the 1100s, the Sinagua were greatly influenced by other cultures. Hohokam ballcourts, pithouses, clay fig­urines, and shell jewelry indicate a southern connection. Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery became so popular that the Sinagua made little of their own. What they did make was similar to pottery made by the Mogollon.

Near Sunset Crater, the Sinagua did not have the rivers and streams of their brothers in the Verde Valley. That is why their Spanish name seems appropriate. Natural basins in flat boulders captured rainwater, and the Sinagua improved on nature by constructing shallow reservoirs. Towns such as Wupatki (where Weaver lived in the story) were built near springs. Rainfall was held in the farm fields by terraces and long ridges of piled cinders. Soil nutrients may have been added through the application of household garbage.

The Sinagua were always "middlemen" to surrounding cultures because of their location north of the Hohokam and south of the Ancestral Puebloan. Villages such as Wupatki were noisy trading centers where foreigners traded pottery, jewelry, and feathers for fine Sinagua cloth and salt.

An ancient trail, called "Palatkwapi" by the Hopi, connects the Verde Valley to the three mesas of the Hopi Villages, over Chavez Pass. One may walk much of the trail today and imagine the thousands of traders and migrants who trav­eled it through the centuries.


For almost 1,000 years, people farmed in the Four Corners region, where the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona today share a common point. Commonly called Anasazi, a Navajo name meaning "ancient enemy," "ancient ancestors," or "enemy ancestors," these people are more appropriately referred to as Ancestral Puebloan because they were the ancestors of today's modem Pueblo cultures (Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and the Pueblos along the Rio Grande in New Mexico).

The Ancestral Puebloan first lived in small villages of pithouses. Gradually, the pithouses became deeper and served as ceremonial centers, or "kivas." Near the kivas, connected, box-like rooms were built of shaped stone and soon villages, or "pueblos" dotted thousands of mesa tops.

In later years, Ancestral Puebloan families moved into larger villages such as Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon. This four-storied, walled town had more than 800 rooms and most likely served as a trading and ceremonial center. One theory holds that Chaco Canyon served as a "redistribution point" for outlying villages. For example, if one village grew poor corn one year but had a bountiful pinyon crop, the resources would be swapped at Pueblo Bonito according to the needs of other communities.

A system of straight, wide roads (portions still visible today) extended from Chaco Canyon to other Chaco outliers. The roads range from 26 to 39 feet in width. At least 30 villages are connected to Chaco Canyon by these roads which extend 40 to 60 miles. Instead of veering around ridges and prominences, the roads were engineered straight over them, traversing cliffs with cut stairs, masonry steps, or masonry ramps. Theories propose that the roads may have been used for trade, ceremonial processions, to carry logs side-by-side, or simply to ease travel between the villages and Chaco Canyon. Some think they may represent the paths spirits take after death. Workers at the Chaco outlier of Chimney Rock ("Finger Rocks" in the story) in southern Colorado might have hauled huge logs down one of the roads to be used in the massive construction of Pueblo Bonito or one of the other towns of Chaco Canyon.

By 1200 A. D., Chaco and many of the nearby outliers were deserted. Pueblos such as Salmon and Aztec replaced Chaco as centers of power. At this time, too, many Ancestral Puebloan moved from mesa-top towns to the more protective rock overhangs. The cliff dwellings may have offered the Ancestral Puebloan protection from each other. Over-population was already taking its toll on resources. Or, ancestors of today's Navajos may have wandered into the Four Comers country and raided Ancestral Puebloan communities. Excavated sites show evidence of increased warfare during that time, although it may represent internal competition for resources.

Whatever the reason, the cliff dwellings were occupied for less than a hundred years. In. 1276 A. D, a severe drought lasting more than 25 years struck the area. Com stalks withered in dry fields. When a rare storm broke over the parched land, brief but violent flash floods slashed deep arroyos into the farmland and washed away precious topsoil. The Ancestral Puebloan had survived previous droughts, but this time there were more people and the land was played out.

Packs were filled with necessary items and family by family, the people left their homes.  They drifted south to the pueblos along the reliable Rio Grande in New Mexico. They also moved in with the Zuni, Aroma, and Hopi peoples whose villages were located near permanent springs.

Today, ceremonies occur at these villages perhaps much as they did over 700 years ago in the Four Corners region. Boys and girls are initiated in clan kivas, and mudheads tease the audience in dusty plazas (mudheads and other Hopi "Kachinas" may not have been present as early as Long Legs' time but became important parts of Hopi ceremonial life perhaps a little over a hundred years later).

Changes have occurred at the Hopi Villages. People rarely jog along time-worn routes; rather, these descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans drive pick-up trucks along dirt roads and modern highways. Most of the pueblos may be visited.