Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Walking A Different Path (added to, 7/1110)

And to the North, the Southern Paiute*

If we think of the Canyon, and the north and south plateau country into which it is cut, as places of human occupation, we know the people, and recognize them as the descendants of those who occupied this “deserted” landscape after the Puebloans left in the XIth & XIIth centuries. The whitefolk who a century or so ago recorded their impressions helped give us a picture of many groups using the land and its resources in similar ways. They knew what was available where and when, whether animal, vegetable, or water. They did some gardening, but their knowledge of what was edible among the plants and how to hunt the beasts, and their ability to move over their own area, was crucial to their survival. Over-population due to success and over-confidence is offered as one of the causes the Puebloan developments were abandoned. For those who spent the second millennium in the Grand Canyon region, over-population would not have seemed a danger.

The Havasupai, perhaps the easternmost band of what are now called the Hualapai, ranged from the plateau west of Havasu-Cataract Canyon far toward the east where the Hopi lived and the Navajo were appearing. From the Canyon, they went south to the mountains. To their west, and perhaps over to the Colorado, as well as south to the Bill Williams river, the several (13?) bands of what are now called the Hualapai practiced a similar way of life, gardening in places with water, otherwise depending on an intimate knowledge of plants and animal. The area each band associated with, seems to have been much smaller than for the Havasu-based band. All of this picture, of course, could be influenced by how matters have sorted out after the whitefolk arrived and intruded.

On the north side, the Southern Paiute were organized into the Shivwits --on the west-- , then the Uinkarets, and easternmost, the Kaibab, bands. They too lived a mobile, seasonally changing life. They went into the Canyon as the weather warmed, to the river shore to use the agave, for instance. They hunted. Their knowledge of a trail complex of trails connecting water was encoded in songs, and springs were claimed as part of the resource area of each of the three bands. Alive, the land was holy; the entire canyon country a land of power. Whatever we think of these groupings of bands or extended families, they were sociable; Runners carried messages from camp to camp on knotted strings, something done south of the river, too. They traded with neighbors, and went across the Colorado and married.

The Southern Paiute are not the less interesting because they are the most vanished from the Canyon. Martha Knack's discussion of how they dealt with disagreement and scarcity provides a very different perspective on what seem superficially to have been a group of people run off their territory by guns, germs, and cattle. Not that these elements, largely introduced by the Mormon settlers surging southward from northern & central Utah, were absent. Cattle particularly, with their deadly impact on the range plants and water sources were habitat destroyers of high order. The Southern Paiute, as their resources – vegetation, water – were grabbed or despoiled, tried to accommodate, to replace their resources by building an interdependency with the whitefolk. In doing so they were sucked away from the Canyon area and its story. So, where the Pai to the south ended up moving closer to the Grand Canyon in survival mode; the Paiute
went north, abandoning the Canyon, in order to engage the invaders. Could Knack's idea of their accommodationist politics indicate a cultural difference? Or is there a light this conception throws on the Havasupai reservation mystery? In any case, like the Pai south of the Colorado, they persisted, until piecemeal reservations gave them a place and platform for asserting their claims.

What do you do, when EVERYBODY beats up on you?

The entry of the Spanish far to the Canyon's east affected the Paiute at first because of the appearance of horses. Their own horse use could have been to facilitate the movement that was necessary to their exploitation of a geographically wide, diverse landscape for gathering and hunting.  However, the horses also required food. More terrific was the impact from the increased aggressiveness of the Utes to the northeast. who adopted the horse to become a military, dominating force. They kidnapped Paiutes, especially women and children, selling them to the Spanish to be made slaves. Paiute response to this, and the central point of Martha Knack’s book, is that social structure (including leadership) led Paiutes toward accommodation. They did not become war-like, and did not confront Ute incursions. They did not use violence to maintain themselves, their resource base, or for resolution of disputes. Their expectation was that they would be accommodating, and others would reciprocate. Unfortunately, neither the Utes, nor later the Mormons, practiced mutuality, and misinterpreted Paiute response as capitulation, and agreement in the incursions.

The cultural discrimination was illuminated by trappers, meat-eaters who looked down on the Paiute vegetarian-based diet. There was little recognition that they were successful residents of a particular resource base characterized by isolation of water, and undependability of production. Of course, for whitefolk, this misconception was heightened by their contacts with Indians & history with them to the east. To whitefolk, the Paiute seemed passive and low in attainments. They tended to flee strangers at first, so the more aggressive intruders--surely a redundancy--  looked down on the Paiute as they hid or ran away.

The introduction of horses included trade between the Rio Grande and California which impacted grasslands that Paiutes used. Any travel and trading would mean their springs and other waters would be taken over, perhaps not to be shared. Immigrant parties had similar impacts; all revered horse/oxen use of vegetation over its human use, and treated Paiute resources & resource areas as their own. They neither understood nor cared how Paiute lived.

Whether the overall impact of the slave-traders, trappers, explorers, emigrants and other transients would have been enough, combined with whitefolk diseases, to make the Paiute way of life impossible, becomes moot with the arrival of the determinedly permanent population of the Mormons. They came in numbers and with a settlement organization; they built, they farmed, they grazed stock. What before the Paiute had occupied and used as hunter-gatherers, the Mormons now occupied and used as a sedentary agricultural society.

Mormons delivered multi-directional, permanent direct blows to Paiute demographics: they took camping areas, springs, girls, mobility; they bought Paiute children; they introduced missionaries in line with their doctrines; they distorted Paiute social arrangements by assuming hierarchy, in order to ease their ability to dominate by co-opting or just ignoring. Mormon men married Paiute women, not the reverse. The clash of Paiute reciprocity and M private property concepts meant that if Paiute withdrew to avoid conflict, Mormons just took over. In other instances Mormons excluded with intimidation. Stock was used as a tool to occupy extensive areas, just as town settling occupied waters and campsites. Stock competed for vegetation, and if Paiutes, reciprocally, ate a cow, the Mormons charged theft.

Then, once overwhelmed and no longer an obstacle to Mormon settlement and economy, starting in the 1870’s, they were shunned and excluded, in spite of some pro-aboriginal ideas in the Mormon religion. Throughout this period, whitefolk rules of property and resource use prevailed.Then occurred, or did not occur, the major difference with Grand Canyon lands south of the river: No reservation was established by the military or any other federal agency. And why? Because the Mormons excluded the U.S. government, too; indeed, for a while Mormon leader Brigham Young was the Indian agent.

Without perhaps meaning any evil to the Paiute (unlike the Ute slavers), the Navajo complicated the situation by coming west of the Colorado as they started to re-expand. There were stock raids, and Mormon retaliation, which took in friendly Paiute. Some of this affected the travel route from the Colorado River into House Rock north of the Canyon.

To the west and south, Colonel W R Price--he who was central to the Hualapai and Havasupai reservation configurations-- of Fort Mohave used a Paiute “headman” as a set-off against the Hualapai when the latter were being hostile, because the Paiute “country adjoins theirs[the Hualapai], separated by the Colorado River”. He hoped to prevent the spread of hostility, and held some Paiutes as hostages. No friendly gloved hand here. 

One response to Mormon settlement and cattle grazing was a rare use of the Grand Canyon to avoid the Mormons. The deserters from Powell’s first river trip ran right into this tense situation. Later in the XIXth century, the Southern Paiute took up the ghost dance to regain their land, and then passed it south, to the Pai bands; another instance of the friendly relations indicated in Hualapai oral history. However, these southern responses died out when more remote (to the south) lands were needed by Mormon stock as those closer to towns were overgrazed. So Paiute camps farther out were pre-empted, and in the 1880’s, the  Mohave Land and Cattle Co claimed it had bought land and water rights to the far-south Shivwits area in exchange for some cattle in 1890. In a twist, A. Ivins bought that Co and claimed that Shivwits Paiute hostility, including cattle killing, made it impossible to raise cattle. In what sounds like a bit of a swindle, there was some land in Utah bought under false pretences. In the event, 1892-3, Ivins proposed the Shivwits band get his cattle company, and not the questionable land. The federal government said no, and he went on to something else.

Further east, in 1871, J. W. Powell had wintered near a Paiute band near Kanab, and suggested a reservation near Kanab Creek where there was a camp, but the Indian Agency was not interested. With the establishment of National Forests and when the states started enforcing game laws, any hunting the Southern Paiute might have been interested in after 1900 was foreclosed, as it was south of the river. Nevertheless, there was Navajo activity west of the river, some said hunting, as well as trading with the Paiute. Local Mormon farmers resisted a reservation since they wanted Paiute labor, so a 1910 BIA investigation suggested small reservations near towns for water & labor, the usual dispossession by reservation. A Kanab leader, Bishjop Woolley moved to get land bought around Moccasin springs to get Paiute away from Kanab. BIA found they were doing well economically as wage laborers. When the Indian Agency tried for a reservation of some size, the locals objected, and what was finally established was cut down. Then of course, as for the Pai, there were years of getting cattlemen off.

These actions --almost all geographically peripheral to the Grand Canyon-- seem to be the only mention of the Canyon in the Paiute history. The real action was always to the north, Utah and Nevada, where most of their story with whitefolk played out in the XXth century. A major attraction was the wage work to be found in mining camps. When the Paiute did last, they were segregated from whitefolk, even as they adopted and adapted to the dominant society/economy. What makes them interesting, then, is not their impact on the Canyon itself, but their offering, as longtime Canyon inhabitants, a different policy to being made everybody's victim, becoming the near-vanishing accommodationists. As Knack says, theirs was a culture of flexibility, a major technique to manage relations with the permanent intrusions of whitefolk. Of course, they deployed the technique within the American legal-political framework. Did the Grand Canyon as a home have anything to do with this? The Pai ended up closer to the Canyon; the Paiute farther from it; could they have cared less?

An Important Contrast?

But wait. Back to the story of Palfrey and Price, and the 1881 Havasupai reservation "mystery". What did Ko-hot' (also called "Navajo"), say when asked about the reservation boundaries? Did he point out, as the soldiers already knew, that they used lands up above the canyon, that they needed to be protected from incursions on their waters and winter resources, so please establish a big reservation and keep the whitefolk out? No. And if contemporary accounts are to be believed, his reasons were that if the Havasupai were given a adequate tract of land, whitefolk would encroach on and eventually remove them anyway. So better not to attract attention. Here's a piece of Lt. Price's reasoning on Ko-hot's behalf: they hesitated to accept anything, even food, very suspicious it would be the wedge to getting them removed. Opposition would be foolish because they would be exterminated. This might seem simple fear and prudence, but might it be Southern Paiute-style accommodation? If we don't insist on exclusive rights, then we will be allowed to continue our long-exercised uses. As the story unfolds, this was, for the Havasupai as for the Paiute, a vain policy. Yet, as a window on an aspect of a political culture quite different from American legalism, it has to remain tantalizing. What if? What if whitefolk had been able to conceive of a landscape of interwoven cultures, accommodating each other, instead of insisting on an exclusive, excluding set of rigid rules?

Martha Knack's is the final summary: The Southern Paiute re-fashioned ways of dealing with the environment with Utes and Navajo and whitefolk in it in the same, though restricted, landscape, re-building their internal social networks. The Paiute used open space of vast land base as buffer, maintaining a social boundary even as they abandoned territory & political autonomy. Their land base was never put in whitefolk face as with others, because of their very flexibility.. Their reactions to whitefolk preemption were based on their mores, not as a degraded culturally poor “race”. So when cattle ate grass, Paiute shifted to other seasonal food, and to other camps as if there were drought. The contrast was between flexible Paiute and legal-frame whitefolk. Could both have worked together?

*I depended heavily for both the information and the point of view on Martha Knack's work, especially Boundaries Between: Southern Paiutes 1775-1995; 2001, University of Nebraska Press. But also see Piapaxa 'uipi , Stoffle Richard et al., June 1994, Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, Univ. of Arizona, for an river trip view on Southern Paiute use of the Colorado rivershore in the Canyon.


  1. Fascinating. I like the "what if" question; we're still trying to answer that.

  2. And I have just come across a couple more articles that bear on this point of view. See entry of Oct 20.