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

Understanding the Hohokams, Phoenix, Arizona

As a history adventurer, I mostly focus on pioneer stuff in Phoenix. That is, from the first canals being dug by Jack Swilling and his crew in 1867, to when Arizona became a state in 1912, and so on. But you really can't walk around Phoenix, and appreciate its history, without understanding a little bit about the Hohokams.

Most of the people I know who grew up in Phoenix had to go on field trips in school and were taught about Pueblo Grande, the Hohokams, that sort of thing. And I've visited these museums, and read the books, which make a serious effort to understand from what little traces have been left behind. That's archeology, I know. But I'm not an archeologist, I'm a time-traveler, so I'll tell you what I've found.

Nobody really knows much. Sorry, but even the big display signs often say something like "it's difficult to say..." And it is. That there were people living in these places long ago is what we do know. What their buildings really looked like, what the people themselves looked like, what they did, is just an educated guess. But for me, it's enough to know that they were there.

Professional Omar Turney disliked the term "Hohokam", which just means "those who have left". To him, it seemed disgraceful that people who had built such a gigantic place, with canals larger than even the modern ones are now, to called them by such a dismissive name. It's as if a great civilization flourished, and we only called the people "former tenants", or "people who have wandered off". Turney preferred to refer to these people by the tools they used, which were simple hand-held stones. Yes, they dug those gigantic canals with hand-held stones. To me, since we have to call them something, Hohokam is fine. I imagine that nowadays Omar Turney would make comments on Facebook like "don't call them that!" Yeah, this kind of stuff has been going on for a long time.

It's reasonable to assume that these people looked like modern American Indians. But of course, that's just an educated guess - the Hohokam didn't leave any "selfies" behind - unless you look at petroglyphs, and those are open to a lot of interpretation.

But even though we don't know a lot, we know this - they were here. These were people living in one of the harshest environments on planet earth, using their intelligence, controlling the water. And if you think that the climate was any nicer back then, think again. They lived in the Sonoran Desert, which has been pretty inhospitable to anything but cactus and mesquite for the last 10,000 years. If you want to understand them, don't bother with history books, or museums. Go there. And I don't mean a museum, go to Phoenix. I have a tendency to call all of it "Pueblo Grande", and when you look at it that way, from Tempe to the Peoria and beyond, it's astonishing.

Image above: looking southwest over Pueblo Grande towards where Tempe is nowadays. At right is South Mountain.

Thank you to my patrons on Patreon who help support History Adventuring! If you like these blog posts, and would like to make suggestions for future ones, please go to where you can show your support for as little as $1 a month. Thank you!

What Patreon is