Jerome, Arizona


Most of what we know about the ancient people that inhabited Arizona relies on inference and circumstantial evidence. Almost everything about them is shrouded in mystery.

There were actually several different, though related, groups of ancient Indians that left pueblo and cliff dwelling ruins in the Four Corners area on into southern Arizona and New Mexico. The most well known of these are the Anasazi (Navajo for “ancient ones”), who lived in the Four Corners area for about 2000 years.

The first known people in the Southwest were basketmakers and had no metal, pottery, cotton or wool; and no draught or pack animals. Sandals from yucca fiber were an essential garment. They left very little trace, and the facts of their lives in prehistoric times are obscure.

They utilized wood, bone, stone, plant fibers, and hair. Basket maker men usually wore their hair long, while “mummies” of the women have hair hacked off with a stone knife to a length of two or three inches, and of varying lengths, suggesting that they cut their hair as the need for weaving material arose.

The ancient people produced all that they needed to survive and provided a base from which arose the high culture that culminated in the great communal dwellings of later times.

Early inhabitants of the Verde Valley were the Hohokam and later the Sinaqua at Tuzigoot. The Mogollon and Salado occupied nearby regions of Arizona during much of the same time.

The Sinagua were pithouse dwellers and dry farmers, dependent on rain for their crops. The pithouse was constructed with a shallow rectangular, but round-cornered pit which was covered with a superstructure of poles, brush and clay.

In 1066 Sunset Crater erupted, covering 800 square miles with black ash, and forcing the inhabitants to flee the lower slopes of the San Francisco Mountains. The Sinagua returned to the Verde River along with Hohokam and Pueblo people, each bringing their own special traits.

The move altered Sinagua culture in two important ways: they adopted the irrigation system of the Hohokam, and they began to build above ground masonry dwellings, an idea they may have borrowed from the Anasazi to the north.

At first, masonry was used to replace timbers in pit houses, but in a very short time the Sinagua people began building surface masonry dwellings and multi-roomed pueblos became the rule. It is believed that originally each home had its own shrine but eventually the kiva was a separate structure used for religious ceremonial purposes among the Pueblo Indians.

The ruins and remains of the early people tell a story of a peaceful race who had plenty of land and resources, and no need to fight over it. Evidence suggests a democratic society, with all of the dwellings in the pueblo of equal size and shape.

The Verde Valley is a crossroad between the Northern Colorado plateau and southwest deserts. The varied architecture along the Verde River and its tributaries attests to the styles of the time merging in the central basin. The structure at Tuzigoot uses the topography and local materials in a way that would impress a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast. The Pueblo crowns a mesa overlooking the Verde River and harmonizes with the landscape. An advantageous view of the surroundings and the roof hatchways suggest that the Sinaguans kept a watchful eye out for intruders.

Tuzigoot was constructed of rough blocks of limestone and sandstone plastered with the clay and sand. Rafters of pinon, juniper, cottonwood and sycamore, occas and pine rested on roof beams. The roof had a smoke hole and entry hatch with a ladder leading to the floor inside where there was a storage pit and large pots buried in the floor. The storage pits were also used for burying the dead. One half of the burials at Tuzigoot are infants and children.

In the early 1400s, the Sinagua abandoned the entire valley. No one can say why: perhaps too much pressure on the land, drought, or conflict with Yavapai, who were living here when the Spanish entered the valley in 1582. Whatever the reason or reasons, the survivors were probably absorbed into pueblos to the north. Some may have moved to the Little Colorado and may be among the ancestors of present Hopi Indians. Cotton weaving found at Tuzigoot has been compared to the Hopi and the similarities suggest a connection between the the two cultures.

The first written record of the inhabitants of the Jerome area comes from the Spanish explorers that came up from Mexico in search of silver and gold. The name Yavapai [Yavapai said to be from enyaleva “sun” and pai, “people;” “People of the sun.”] refers to bands and groups of Yuman-speaking people who formerly hunted and gathered over a large portion of central Arizona. Though the Yavapai were not directly connected with the Apache, at various times they have been erroneously referred to as Apaches.

The early Spanish explorers distinguished three Yavapai groups. They called the northeast group “cruzados,” referring to a cross made of reeds they wore tied to a lock of hair on their foreheads. Those in the southeast they called “nijoras,”and in the west “tejunas.”

Because of the practice of doing everything possible to forget the dead, involving cremation of the body, burning the house and possessions in it, and not mentioning the dead, it is difficult to obtain information about the Yavapai prior to the time of the grandparents of the surviving people.

The Yavapai were nomadic, moving from one area to another in small bands and family groups. They followed the various wild foods and the locale of the game they hunted. They made brush shelters called “rancherias,” small temporary circular shelters, usually made at each stopping place out of branches, brush and mud.

At times some groups took shelter in natural caves. Crops were occasionally planted in moist bottomland to supplement their wild diet, but they did not store food in any large quantity. After planting, the Yavapai continued their migration and returned in fall to harvest their crops.

Principle foods were ground pinon nuts, crops of maize, mescal (agave), prickly pears and juniper berries. The women gathered the wild plants. For meat the men hunted deer, mountain sheep and small animals, including rabbits and rats. They moved generally on foot with few belongings and ranged from 20 to 30 miles per day depending on the circumstances. They wove baskets for their utilitarian needs and probably cooked in pottery vessels. The character of the land encouraged this manner of living and made large areas of land necessary to sustain small numbers of people.

In 1582 Diego Perez de Luxan, a Spanish explorer, recorded the first evidence of a Yavapai settlement. “This region,” wrote Luxan, “is inhabited by mountainous people, because it is a temperate land. During this night some of them came to our horses and fled when they heard them as they found the sound unfamiliar.” The next day the explorers came to a “rancheria” where the people who had fled had built a hut of branches.

Luxan describes bread made of mescal and pinon nuts. The Indians gave the explorers metals as a sign of peace and led them to the mines. The explorers considered the mine poor, as it was of copper and not silver, so returned to their camp.

In 1583, Antonio de Espejo gives a differing account of metals found in the same location. He wrote, “I extracted the ore, said by those who know to be very rich and to contain much silver. The region where these mines are is for the most part mountainous, as is also the road leading to them,” describing present day Jerome.

Farfan, who was travelling with Juan de Onate, described the mines as an old shaft eighteen feet deep with brown, yellow, blue and green ores, “from which the Indians obtained the metals for daubing themselves and painting their blankets . . . The vein was very wide and rich and extended over many ridges, all containing ores. It extended along the hill that had been discovered, across from another hill opposite to it.”

The first mention of the Sierra Azul is in a memorial which stated that Penalesca (governor from 1661-1664) planned an expedition to Sierra del Azul, which appears to be in the Verde Valley. The site of the sierra coincides with the locale of the visits of the earlier Spanish to the mines in the Verde Valley, in the vicinity of present day Jerome.

In 1686 Posadas wrote that the Sierra Azul is 100 leagues southwest of Santa Fe and 50 north of Sonora. In 1691 Vargas checked reports on Sierra Azul while at El Paso and said that the Indians had not worked it very much, having merely dug out a cave-like pit. This would describe the pit, some 16 feet deep that Farfan reported at the mines in 1598.

Mange, in 1699, stated that the Indians told him the Verde River was so named because it passed by a mountain containing veins of green, blue and other colored minerals. In May 1744 Fray Carlos Delgado stated that, “This sierra is called “Azul” because the land, rocks and the whole thing in fact is blue with green, red, yellow and purple veins. It runs from south to north, where it terminates in a flat, barren summit, on top of which is a stone two varas long and a vara and a half wide that is transparent and has the same luster as gold.”

Explorers came to the Verde Valley from time to time, lured by the Sierra Azul, but their attention was to the east in Spanish settlements like El Paso and Santa Fe. Aside from the brief visits of Espejo, Farfan and Onate, between 1583 and 1605 the Yavapai had extremely rare contact with the Spanish or Anglo-Americans prior to 1860.

After 1821 when the United States – Mexican boundary was settled, Americans penetrated the Southwest. When the Mexican-American war ended in 1848, Yavapai territory passed to the United States.

Before the Yavapai came under the influence of the United States troops and Indian Agents, the aboriginal Yavapai chiefs, or headmen, were leaders of Yavapai family units and bands. No political organization existed above the bands. This loose political organization changed under the pressures of the arriving miners, settlers and troops. Bands then formed which sought shelter and protection from encroaching civilization.

Anglo-Americans began to mine the area around Jerome and Prescott in the 1850’s. Ranchers and homesteaders settled the land and cut off the food supply for the Yavapai.

Prior to 1860 contact between the US Government and the Yavapai were very limited. When the miners and settlers entered this area shortly after 1860, hostilities broke out between the Yavapai and the miners, settlers and the US military forces. The hostilities continued until the Yavapai were completely defeated by General Crook in the fall and winter of 1872-1873.

Most of the three groups of Yavapai were placed on the Camp Verde Reservation where they remained until 1875. The government treated the three groups as a single unit in military campaigns against them and when placing them as a group on the Camp Verde Reservation. Removed from the hunting and gathering that had occupied most of their time, the Yavapai had little to do. There they greatly reduced in numbers and lost courage and self-reliance and fell into a state of dependence. The population, about two thousand in 1860, dwindled.

In 1875 the Yavapai were moved from the Camp Verde Reservation to the San Carlos Reservation. In 1900 most of the tribe drifted from the San Carlos Reservation and settled in part of their old home on the Rio Verde. By 1903 those were said to number between 500 and 600. In 1905 the ravages of tuberculosis were reported to be largely responsible for a great mortality, with deaths exceeding births four to one.