This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

How the Pima Indians helped to create Phoenix, Arizona


Like most people who live in Phoenix, Arizona, I have Indian friends. And I drive on Indian School Road. I've even been to some of the casinos, which are on the Indian Reservations. And I know about the Apaches and the Navajos. The Apaches I learned about from watching movies as a kid, and the Navajos I learned about from reading Arizona Highways. But my fascination with the history of Phoenix has lately been leading me to learn about the most important Indian tribe to the success of Phoenix, Arizona, the Pimas.

To really understand the Pimas, you have to turn your Arizona history inside-out, and to try to see it from their point of view. They were a group of people living along the Gila River, just south of present-day Phoenix, for hundreds of years. They watched the invasion of Spain, and then Mexico, and then the United States, to their land. And yes, they fought against violent invasions from anyone, including other Indian tribes, but when they recognized friends, they helped.

In one of the harshest climates on planet earth, the Pimas farmed. They understood the rivers. They knew where to find water, and how to use it.

The Pimas were not a nomadic tribe, they were settled. They were not hunter-gatherers, they had taken the step that defines civilization, they farmed. They did not attack, they defended. And when the pioneers of Phoenix started straggling in, in the 1860s, they made an alliance.

The pioneers of Phoenix learned a lot from the Pimas. They studied their farming methods, they learned that it was possible to grow food in a place that looked like a barren desert. And they took the basics and applied some of their high technology. They built dams, they built canals. They were successful, and the city of Phoenix was built.

When the United States Indian School at Phoenix was built in 1891, for the Pimas, there had been an alliance for generations. The school was established to teach young people, not the "ways of the white man", but the ways of civilization, which the Pimas had known for a long time.


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