Walking with the People of the Stone Hoe - the Hohokams, in Phoenix, Arizona
Today I feel like walking with the Hohokams. Walk with me. If you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area you won't have to walk very far. I'll be walking into my backyard in suburban Glendale.
Hohokam is a name that was given to the people who lived in the Salt River Valley (which is where Phoenix is) long before the arrival of the modern people, like the Pimas (Akimel O'odham) or the Apaches. And the word Hohokam simply means "those who have gone". No one really knows anything about them, except that they were here, and that they built gigantic adobe structures, and dug gigantic canals. It must have been amazing to see the ruins, which were a common sight through the 1930s, all over the Phoenix area.
If you want to learn more about the Hohokams, I recommend reading the essays of Omar Turney, who was kinda their number one fan. He lived in Phoenix before just about every trace of what they had built was covered up by a modern city. A tiny bit of it is preserved at the Pueblo Grande Museum, at 44th Street and Washington. But don't call them "Hohokam" to Omar Turney - he disliked the term. To him, it was degrading that this magnificent culture should be reduced to a word that just meant that they were, like, former tenants. Instead, he liked to focus on the fact that these people did all of this with stone tools. They dug canals that are bigger than the modern ones nowadays, by hand, they built with stone tools, they farmed with stone tools. He called them "The People of the Stone Hoe".
If you're like a lot of people who had to go visit Pueblo Grande on a school field trip and came away wondering why anyone would preserve a bunch of dirt and mud buildings, I understand. I've been there too, and it really doesn't look like much. So I recommend that you step away from the museum, turn around and look at the valley. The Hohokams lived from Tempe to Peoria, and much more, and that's what I call Pueblo Grande - the Big Town. The People of the Stone Hoe didn't just live at 44th Street and Washington, they were everywhere. Their bare feet walked just about every square inch of the Salt River Valley, including where I live, and where you live, too.
And if you're wondering why more of it wasn't preserved, it's because the city of Phoenix is on top of it. And no one really knows why they left. It may have gotten too hot, it may have gotten too cold. There may have been a drought, there may have been floods. But there was a city there, and when a new city was built on top of it, it was called Phoenix, rising from the ashes.
Image at the top of this post: The People of the Stone Ho at Pueblo Grande, 44th Street and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona. You're looking east towards Tempe, with the Salt River and South Mountain at right.
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Posted by Brad Hall