Havasupai Legends

The following stories are Havasupai legends that were collected by Carma Lee Smithson in the summer of 1958. She collected twenty-six stories total, but for the purpose of this blog and project, I will be sharing three stories with you. These are called the Origin Story, Havasu Canyon Walls Closing Up, and Frog Rock. You can find these stories and more in Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. 

Origin Story

The Havasupai origin legend goes like this. People once lived under the earth somewhere, but nobody knows where. They lived underground where it was dark with no sun. There was a pool of water near their living space and just a few families. Two brothers, who were leaders, told their people what to do all the time. One day, one of the men that lived underground planted a grape seed by the pool. The seed grew into a grapevine and grew very fast. It grew in a spiral way then shot up straight above ground. The people climbed the first part of the grapevine and stayed there for the night. Then they climbed the next part and stayed there for another night. It is not known how many times they spent the night like this, sleeping on the parts of the grapevine, until they reached the surface of the Earth. 

Back at the camp, underground, there was a young woman whom none of the men wanted to marry. She was jealous of other women. One day she was sitting beside the pool looking into the water when some women came with jars to collect the liquid for drink. One of the women said, “Why do you run off like this? We want you to come home.” The woman grabbed the young one’s hair sitting by the pool and began inspecting her hair for lice. She saw many scars and asked what they were. 

The young woman was mad that the men did not like her, so she came up with something that the men would like. She turned herself into a tobacco plant that grew beside the pool. The men gathered the leaves and took them back to camp. The men put the tobacco in the middle of their circle and started smoking it. Then the tobacco changed back into the young woman and she said, “I thought you men didn’t like me!” and she laughed and went off alone. A few days later the young woman was missing, so a woman went to the spring searching for her. She found her, and inspected her head again for lice. The woman tried to grab her, to inquire about her scars again, but the young woman leapt into the pool and avoided her questions. Instead, she turned into a frog and the water began to rise.

In the meantime,  the men were sitting and talking. They were talking about this world. Small game was plentiful, but they could not get close enough to see it in the dark. They asked their leader to make a light so they could see to shoot their game. Older Brother said, “Yes I can make a sun. But first you must go to bed and this will be night. Then someone must call, ‘It is daybreak, there will be a dawn in the east. The sun will come up and move across the sky to the west.’” The people did as they were told, but at dawn the moon came up instead of the sun. Older Brother said, “We’ll call this Sun and we can see small game to kill it.” However, Younger Brother disagreed, and said, “No, that isn’t bright enough. It looks shady and we can’t see good enough.” He described the moon as looking like an old man. 

Younger Brother took a pipe wrapped around with sinew. He told his people to go to bed like they did before and he would make a sun and call this one another name. At daybreak, the sun came up and it was bright enough so they called the other one a moon. According to Havasupai legend, in those times, the sky was about half as high as it is now. The clouds passed by low and the sun went across the sky too fast. Younger Brother took a cane and pushed the sky higher so that the sun and sky would be together. Then the people began to go where they could see grass, springs, and other things in the world. They found plenty of game and thought this would be a good way to live. 

It was at this time that the frog-woman made the spring rise up through a hole to the first coil of the vine, then to the second, and then up to the top until the water was covering the earth. The people put a small girl in a log. They gave her food, water, birds, and animals. Two men told her she would be going up and down in the water and that everyone would drown. They told the little girl to remember the San Francisco Peaks so she could find it if she came back to earth in another place. Her mission was to get water from a spring on top of the peaks. 

The water covered the earth and drowned all of the people except the little girl. It rose to the top of the sky. A lone woodpecker hung to the top of the sky. He called, “Gi-u Gi-yu.” Water touched his tail feathers but he managed to escape. The water receded, because it knew that all of the people had drowned. In this origin story, the water thought like a person and had human-like characteristics. The little girl in her log came to rest near Grand Falls, a waterfall on the Little Colorado River. This was the first place that the girl made camp. The mud was soft and she made horses, grinding rocks, pots; anything she could think of. After a while, she got tired of staying in the same place so she set out to find the mountain and the spring the two men had told her about. She found the spring, dripping from overhanging rocks. She used the water to cook. 

The girl had grown up and was lonely. She decided to make another person. One morning when it was early, she laid down and spread her legs. The sun’s rays hit her womb. After this, she took a dip in the waterfall and became pregnant. She had a baby girl 1 and together they lived happily until her daughter was grown. 

Then the mother told her daughter to do as she had done. The daughter did so, and became pregnant with a baby boy. This boy grew big enough to hunt and he hunted many animals. He was the first to come to Supai, 2 the modern day home of the Havasupai tribe. Here, the Havasupai believe that the rock walls closed to kill people and to prevent them from entering. The boy was a fast runner and one day he jumped in and retrieved some reeds before the walls could close in on him.

Then, the boy took an animal hide and smeared it with blood. An eagle descended and carried the boy off to its nest. He killed eight big eagles and four little ones and took all of their feathers. He prayed and blew his breath, and the rock turned into sand so he could walk down and return to camp. When he returned to camp, he made arrows with the eagle feathers. He lived there for a while at camp. One day he met a man. His father was the dripping spring who impregnated his mother. He could assume both forms. The man had some horses and asked the boy which he would like for himself. The boy picked his best horse, a roan, and although reluctant, the father gave it to the boy. 

The man then said, “Son, you must be like me.” He laid the boy down on the ground and split him open. He placed a lightning bolt inside of his body. The man said, “I am the sun and the water and now you will be like me forever. Come on and I’ll show you the world.” They visited a tree in the sky and many other places. The boy then returned home and lived with his mother for many years. He then decided it was not good to stay in one place all the time. So his grandmother said, “I’ll go west and take the big horses. You go east and take the little horses. If you want to see me anytime, in the spring or the fall, if the days are windy or cloudy, I’ll know you are coming to see me. I’ll give you seeds. You can scatter them along with the rain. You can say this will be grass, food, pinyons 3, and other plants. There are many people in the world but they fight one another and we will do this to keep them going.” So the boy went east and his grandmother went west. When the weather is windy or stormy, the Havasupai know the boy is visiting his grandmother. This concludes the origin story of the Havasupai. 

Havasu Canyon Walls Closing Up

The legend surrounding Havasu Canyon 4 and its walls closing up has three versions. In the first version, Coyote said that long ago the walls of Havasu Canyon used to close and open so no one would come down into the canyon. Many people were crushed between the walls. Then two boys came down with arrows and tried to stop the walls from closing. They shot arrows at the walls and this stopped them from closing. After this, people could pass through the canyon. The second version states as well that the canyon walls long ago would move back and forth and kill anyone who tried to pass through. This happened repeatedly until many people were unfortunately killed. Then a man came and wondered how he could stop this. He carried a big log on his head to the walls. The walls closed in around the log, which left an opening clear for people to pass through safely.

The third version of this story is the longest. An old lady lived somewhere on the plateau and she had two boys. While they were on the plains they saw many game animals such as wild deer and rabbits. They wondered how they would get them and kill them for food. Finally, they asked their old mother how to shoot them. She told them they have to use an arrow, but it had to be made with feathers and points. They asked where to get reeds for the arrows and she told them it was a dangerous place and she did not want them to go. The reeds grew in the canyon in a place that was full of bones. They did not tell their mother they were going. They cut two long juniper trees and started down to the canyon carrying the logs on their heads. When they made it to Havasu Creek 5, the walls closed up. The boys were smart, however, and placed the logs in between so the walls could not completely close. They got the reeds they needed for their arrows and when their mother asked how they did it, they told her nothing. 

A shot of Havasu Creek. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018702028/
Another image of Havasu Creek. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018702073/

Frog Rock

Frog Rock is a Havasupai story that concerns a rock formation on top of Redwall limestone near Supai Village. The legend goes that a frog came from the ocean in the west looking for a good place to stay. He crossed the Colorado River and then spent four more nights jumping around and playing close to the river. He took about a month more to arrive in Havasupai Canyon. 6 He was ready to jump when he saw the river below. He was on the very edge of the rim when he turned to stone and could not jump anymore. A local culture hero named Bagiova, turned the frog to stone and made him stay right there for the Havasupai. 

One of the many views in Havasu Canyon. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018702080/
Another look into Havasu Canyon. It is easy to see why the Havasupai have legends about rock walls closing up in this image. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018702081/

Other Havasupai legends

Like most Native American mythology, Havasupai legends revolve around animals, family, and journeys or quests. There is great wisdom in these stories for the tribe. These stories are meaningful and full of symbolism, especially symbols from nature and animals. Their animal legends focus on creatures familiar to them, which include the coyote, eagle, bear, bat, gila monster, turkey, fox, and hawk. Other legends that do not focus mainly on animals are about menstruation, being unable to have children, marriage, grandparents, and the sun and his daughters. Since the Havasupai had no knowledge of science, naturally they believed that the world around them was related to their origins and thus they found religious significance as well in their canyon environment.

  1. Another version says she was impregnated by the sun’s rays.
  2. Capital of the modern-day Havasupai Reservation, their main home for centuries.
  3. A type of pine tree that grows in the Southwest.
  4. Where Supai is located.
  5. Located on the Havasupai Reservation and features many notable blue-green waterfalls that the tribe holds dear to their hearts.
  6. Another name for Havasu Canyon.

Sources used:

Smithson, Carma Lee, and Robert C. Euler. Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. University of Utah Press, 1994.

Havasupai Religion

Welcome back to my blog. In this post, I would like to share with you some information about the Havasupai and their religion. I hope you enjoy learning something new.

To the Havasupai, the world is flat. This is what they believe. The sky is a great dome that meets the earth all around the edges. The earth, in the middle, is rather small, but the sky is vast and very high. The middle of the world is the Hvehasahpatch, or “Big Rock Mountain.” Today, we know these mountains as the San Francisco Peaks, which are the highest peaks in Arizona. They are north of Flagstaff and visible from all parts of Havasupai territory except deep in the gorges of the Grand Canyon. The prominent visibility of these mountains connects to Havasupai culture, as they viewed the peaks as the central part of their world. Geographically, the San Francisco Peaks are near the Southeastern part of their former range which have eroded with time. 

View of snow-capped San Francisco peaks. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018701881/

The Havasupai believe that below the surface, underground, the world consists of four levels. The sky, above ground, has four levels as well. Shamans, according to Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon, are said to have seen these different levels underground, which were inhabited by people with wings, also known as sky people, or miabadjih. The Havasupai recognize six directions, including the zenith and the nadir as parts of the celestial sphere. This means that the Havasupai acknowledge north, south, east, and west as four directions, but view the zenith and nadir as directions as well despite being in the celestial sphere. The Pacific Ocean, 500 miles to the west, was vaguely acknowledged before Europeans arrived; they learned of its existence from the Mohave, who traded with coastal peoples in California and in return traded with the Havasupai. 

Sacred places exist for the Havasupai and are often associated with spirits. These spirits, who could be ancestors or other souls, are thought to inhabit Gray Mountain1 on the eastern boundary of the Havasupai’s historic range. The San Francisco Peaks and Mount Sinyella2 are also thought to contain spirits. If these spirits are appeased, the Havasupai believe they will bring rain. Certain places in the Havasupai world are particularly associated with their need in this arid region for rain. The Havasupai sometimes visit a rock formation at the end of the Great Thumb3 peninsula in the Grand Canyon, for instance, in hopes of conjuring rain. It is considered dangerous by the Havasupai to visit these sites, lest visitors might cause too much rain or wind, which could blow people off the canyon walls. To the Havasupai, every spring contains spirits as well. Offerings such as tobacco, peaches, and dried corn are made to the water spirits. Women that are menstruating are advised to avoid visiting these springs because if they do, the water might disappear. 

The Havasupai conception of the soul intertwines closely with the heart. Their word for the soul in fact means “the heart” and “works inside with the blood.” A person has only one soul. They believe souls enter individuals from the east. When a person dies, their soul leaves the body to journey to meet the sky people. Shamans report that souls leave the body through the area in the throat where the pulse is. The soul then goes straight up into the air and then wanders around for a little bit until it sees “the narrow path that leads to the place of the dead.” 

If a body is buried with the head facing west, the soul will stay with the body and not meet the sky people. They believe that the souls of shamans, however, depart for a separate place in the sky after they die. If one commits suicide, that person’s soul will join other souls in the west that wanted to die. A malevolent spirit is thought to live in the west and he attempts to persuade people to join him there. To the east, there is a spirit who had the opposite of the western spirit’s intentions. This eastern spirit is white and the one in the west is black. They often quarreled over individuals, each spirit trying to attract souls to their spheres. When they fought, the eastern spirit would turn half of the world white, while the western spirit turned the other half black. 

The Havasupai believe that at death, a person becomes unconscious and has no knowledge of what is happening to them. After death, the deceased knows his identity, relatives, where he lived, but he would not remember his illness. After death, souls took the forms of cats, dogs, or a person and they could return as ghosts. This process happened at night, and if a ghost attempted to return and communicate with a friend, that friend would then become sick and die. If a ghost appeared in a darkened form or like a fire burning read, they were considered to be more dangerous. If one tried to touch a ghost, they would then become weak. If one heard a ghost cry out, then that person would then become unconscious and a shaman would be called to sing for that person. 

The Havasupai also believed in omens, some of which portended death. If they hear an owl hooting during the day or late in the evening, it means that a close relative is dying somewhere. The noise of a porcupine had the same meaning. If a member of the tribe is traveling at night and sees a red fire burning in the distance, this also means death. If a snake appeared from inside a wickiup4, someone is sick or had had an accident and would most likely die. If a husband killed a snake while his wife was pregnant, the baby’s legs would be weak. 

An image of a Havasupai wickiup. Taken by Edward Curtis in 1903.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2003652734/

The Havasupai believe sickness is caused by bad dreams, sorcery, or supernatural forces. If one had an upsetting dream, a shaman would be contacted so he could exorcise the evil from that person. This would be done by sucking from the patient or through song. Shamans practiced this by sucking with lips directly on the skin, using cupped hands, or by pulling with their mouth from a distance. This is thought to pull the sickness out of one’s body. Shamans are thought to be sorcerers who can produce illness in others but cure them too. Bone fractures are thought to be caused by evil shamans, either living or dead. Shamans themselves could become ill if they made mistakes in curing others and disobeying instructions from their spirits. 

Diagnoses of illness is accompanied by a shaman singing special songs. These special songs are answered by the shaman’s spirit, often in the form of an old woman or young boy who are sky people. The woman lives in the west and the boy lives in the east. Each shaman had his own individual songs to attract his spirit. Various illnesses take specific forms and colors as they appear to the shaman, but the true form of an illness is not entirely revealed until the shaman sings his last song. Pneumonia, for instance, is round, a smoky gray color and mixed with blood. Influenza is round but appears blue and silver in color. Occasionally a shaman would wear feathers in his hair while curing. The patient would have feathers placed on their body as well along with white paint. Shamans typically practiced alone, but on occasion would have assistants. 

The Havasupai had virtually no preventative or beneficial medicine, other than their personal superstitions and beliefs. Strips of porcupine skin with quills attached are worn on a hat or the back of a shirt to ward off illness. Obsidian is worn as a pendant as warded off illness. Only a few plants and minerals are thought to have medicinal value. Sap from a willow stem is applied to acne. Grass ashes are used and spread over open sores. A pinch of salt, either dried or dissolved, is blown into sore eyes. Needles from a Douglas fir are boiled and the tea from it was drunk to stop excessive bleeding. Juniper leaves are used to remedy diarrhea. As a contraceptive method, a woman could urinate on red ants, or eat the meat of a cottontail rabbit or antelope. If a woman wanted to conceive easily, all she had to do was eat more prairie dog meat. 

The sweat lodge used by the Havasupai served both ritual and therapeutic purposes. It was mainly for men, but people who had been injured would receive part of their treatment in these structures. Four people is the ideal number to be present in a sweat lodge. These people enter backwards, with the shaman taking his place near the heated rocks. Sweet smelling herbs are often hung in bundles above the rocks and the floor would be covered with willow or cottonwood branches. Openings to the sweat lodges always face east. Songs that are sung in sweat lodges were not to be used outside of them. Men remain in sweat lodges for fifteen to twenty minutes. They would rub their bodies with sand in front of the entry, a process thought to remove their afflictions. After using a sweat lodge, it was customary to bathe in the river. Women are allowed to use sweat lodges too, but it was customary to attend with their husbands. Children are also permitted, but did not use the sweat lodges as frequently. However, pregnant or menstruating women were advised not to use the sweat lodge. Should a man and a woman be discovered together alone in a sweat lodge, the structure would be abandoned. 

When the Havasupai suspects an individual is near death, relatives try to stay close by. The ill person or relative sings a song, as this ensures that the individual will “keep the song” after they have died. Keeping the song ensures that the individual leaves their physical body to meet with the sky people. Wailing begins before death as well. Upon death, relatives will wash the corpse and dress it in clean clothes. A blanket is then wrapped around the body and sewn together, leaving only the face showing. Within 24 hours, the body is cremated. Infants, however, are not cremated, for fear that the mother will become barren. Burial in rock crevices or in caves was also common before missionaries visited the tribe. 

Thus, the Havasupai practice shamanism, have their own form of medicine, have funeral processes, and overall are quite superstitious with their belief in spirits and sky people. Rain is vital to their culture, therefore it has its place in their religious practices as well. With the Southwest being so dry, it is no wonder they have cultural traditions surrounding rain. In later times, when the tribe was converted to Christianity by missionaries, upon the urging of the Bureau of Indian affairs, the Havasupai began burying their dead. Despite the conversion to a foreign religion, the tribe never stopped “keeping the song,” even after death.

  1. Today this is a community east of Grand Canyon National Park.
  2. 5,411 foot elevation summit located in the western part of Grand Canyon National Park.
  3. Located in the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park about 20 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village.
  4. Semi-permanent dwelling.

Sources used:

Smithson, Carma Lee, and Robert C. Euler. Havasupai Legends: Religion and Mythology of the Havasupai Indians of the Grand Canyon. University of Utah Press, 1994.

Ancient Pueblo Peoples

Welcome! I am ready to present to you my historical evidence and findings from my research. For my first blog post on my historical research, I have chosen to start with ancient peoples of the American Southwest. I wanted to use this as a starting point before I delve more into the history of the Havasupai tribe. 

According to Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest by Stephen Plog, the first humans to enter the Southwest encountered a very different environment than the one we know today. The Southwest includes the modern day states of New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California, Nevada, and Colorado. These first humans entered North America when ice sheets still covered much of the Northern hemisphere at the end of the last ice age. Sea levels were lower, resulting in a land bridge that connected  modern-day Alaska and Asia. Scientists estimate that these people came to this new land around 10,000 B.C.E., because archaeological sites have been found in Alaska dating to this time period. By 9,500 B.C.E. widespread human occupation of North America is evident. Some sites show, however, that humans began arriving on this continent even earlier; in New Mexico, for instance, sites such as Hermit Cave and Pendejo Cave date between 33,000 and 15,000 B.C.E. These people were early hunters and gatherers and they would have been surrounded by now-extinct megafauna and many different types of plants such as pinyon pines, sagebrush, and spruce trees. These megafauna included ancient North American horses, giant armadillos, mastodons, mammoths, short-faced bears, dire wolves, the North American cheetah, the ground sloth, giant beavers, and even camels. 

Before the Havasupai arrived, the Colorado Plateau had already been occupied for several thousand years. Archaeologists have dubbed these people simply as the “Desert Culture.”1 These ancient peoples of the Desert Culture were the ancestors of indigenous cultures that would form later, such as the Anasazi, the Cohonina, and eventually the Havasupai. About 2,300 years ago the Pueblo people, or Anasazi as they are called today by the Hopi and Navajo, made pottery, wove cloth on looms, and built semi-excavated pit houses in this area east of the Grand Canyon. By 200 C.E., at the end of the Archaic period,2 these early people had already become less mobile and moved less often from place to place in search of food. The development of villages marks a major change in human life, because when these people became settled, they began to farm. The Anasazi planted their fields along drainages where flood water would reach them. They hunted a wide range of plants and animals as well. Along with farming, the Anasazi made beautiful pottery. Their pottery is marked with geometric patterns and were red or white. They produced their paints by boiling plants for such colors. These key aspects contributed to Desert Culture. 

As these people settled down, dwellings began to appear in the Southwest in the form of pit-houses. These were subterranean rooms with floors excavated to about 4-6 feet below the surface. They had wooden beams for support and often a ladder was placed through a hole in the roof. The Anasazi primarily occupied these pit-houses during winter, because underground they could remain warm from a fire. They also used these structures to store food, as the lack of air limited bacteria and insects from spoiling it. Beans, corn, and squash played a vital role in the health and nutrition of the Anasazi and could easily be stored in clay pots and jars. Religion played a role as well. A kiva is what an underground structure is called when it is used for religious purposes. Groups of 10-25 people lived in each village, on average for about 10-20 years. They also buried their dead in a specific position, with the deceased’s knees drawn up to the chest in a shallow grave. Today, remnants of these grand villages can be found such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, Navajo National Monument, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument. 

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. Notice the round structures at the bottom, known as kivas. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017885513/
A close up view of a kiva at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2017687407/

About 500 C.E., the Anasazi began to migrate and appear in the Grand Canyon area. They eventually settled to the east of the Grand Canyon, close to the modern day state of Colorado and the Four Corners Region.3 Their pit houses faded and they started building more elaborate structures and communities. Around 700 C.E., a mysterious group of people also appeared on the plateaus south of the Colorado River. Their artifacts are very similar to the ancestral Pueblo, but whether they are a part of this group or another remains unclear. Archaeologists refer to this group of people as the Cohonina. Although the Havasupai are not directly descended from the Cohonina, they are important to mention because they were heavily influenced by the neighboring Anasazi and because they most likely occupied Havasu Canyon4 first where the Havasupai live seasonally to this day. 

The next few centuries that the Cohonina inhabited this area were prosperous. They were lucky enough to live through a period of agricultural stability as the climate was ideal, unlike today. Warmer weather with more rain provided great conditions for farming. The Cohonina built permanent settlements using stone, even incorporating some kivas. They made plain brown pottery that sometimes featured red ochre as well. This red ochre was traded with the Anasazi. The location of the red-ochre deposits are kept secret by the Havasupai. Today, this red-ochre is still traded with the Hopi. By 1,100 C.E., the Cohonina had spread their settlement from west Havasu Canyon to Desert View5 in the east. 

A century later, life began to change and take a turn for the worse for the Cohonina. The summer rains that fed their great agricultural harvests began to decline and their conditions worsened. This forced the Cohonina to search for springs and creeks at lower elevations. Around this time may have been when they established their first seasonal settlement at the bottom of Havasu Canyon. As the drought persisted, construction on the Colorado Plateau6 died down, and after the 1000s, their archaeological sites and evidence virtually disappeared. 

As the Cohonina began to fade from the Grand Canyon, another group of people emerged by the 1300s when the drought conditions in the area improved. They were a Yuman-speaking group7 from the lower Colorado that archaeologists call the Cerbat.8 This group spoke the Hokan9 language, which is the language that the Havasupai still speak today. The Havasupai are believed to be directly descended from this group of people. These newcomers built temporary settlements in the form of brush shelters, similarly to the ones the Havasupai continued to build into the 20th century. Their pottery was plain, similar to the earlier Cohonina, but fired in an oxidation process. The Havasupai ancestry can be traced to the Cerbat easily, but nailing down a connection with the Cohonina is more difficult. Much of the area the Havasupai inhabits today is scattered with untouched and priceless archaeological sites. These uninvestigated archaeological sites in Grand Canyon National Park could hold the answer to whether the Cohonina and Havasupai are related or not. At least two of these sites are right within the Havasupai’s village. 

There is evidence, however, that contact occurred between the Pueblo-like Cohonina and the Cerbat. This is because of a Yuman-style sweat lodge10 that is at a Cohonina site north of modern day Seligman, Arizona. There is also a burial site east of Havasu Canyon that shows 800 years of ceramic deposits that include both cultures. Evidence like this likely suggests that there was contact between the two groups. Havasupai stories recount a time where they occupied Havasu Canyon with a different group of people other than themselves. 

Havasu Canyon, where the Havasupai tribe have lived for centuries. Full credit to Carol M. Highsmith.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2018702107/

The Havasupai also tell of a time where they encountered scatterings of people in Coconino Wash11 who called themselves the Juwiiba. These people lived in the area between Havasu Canyon and Grand Canyon Village12 where the Cohonina once flourished. The Havasupai relate them to the Anasazi, because they lived below the canyon rim and made split-twig figurines. The tribe says that they could communicate with the Juwiiba, because the Juwiiba were like them but had split off a long time ago. It is possible that the Juwiiba are just a myth, but if it were to be a historical account, this would be a revolutionary encounter. If the Havasupai did, in fact, meet with remnants of the Cohonina people, this could distinguish the Havasupai from other Yumans. 

As for the Havasupai, their arrival in the Grand Canyon traditionally tells of a great northeastern migration that began from Blythe, California, on the Colorado River. Their journey went northeast, passing through modern-day Kingman, Arizona. They stayed close along the Colorado River until they could not anymore and began to tackle the canyon. They stopped in Matwidita Canyon, which is north of modern-day Peach Springs, Arizona, but when a dispute broke out among the groups that had settled there, these groups dispersed to new homes. One of these groups were the Havasupai, who left Matwidita Canyon and continued their journey towards the sunrise until they came upon Havasu Creek. Here they remained for many generations, together with other people, as legend tells it. A part of this group decided to take their chances elsewhere and elected to continue their migration east. This party was said to be led by a man named Hung Mata. When the group departed, they were never seen again. Present-day Havasupai are not shocked to know that people as distant as the Tonkawa in Texas speak languages related to their own. They say this explains what came of Hung Mata’s group who went east. It wouldn’t be until the 16th century that the Havasupai encountered another group of people, who would be entirely different and rather white and strange looking.

  1. Ancient cultures centered in the Great Basin area of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
  2. Approximately from 8,000-2,000 B.C.E.
  3. Region of the Southwestern United States that consists of the southwestern corner of Colorado, the southeastern corner of Utah, the northeastern corner of Arizona, and the northwestern corner of New Mexico.
  4. Located today on the Havasupai Reservation.
  5. Scenic drive/road located near the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
  6. Refers to the desert region within the Four Corners.
  7. Native American groups that lived in the lower Colorado River valley, parts of California, and Mexico.
  8. Native American word meaning bighorn sheep.
  9. Grouping of language families in California and Arizona.
  10. Heated dome structure used in religious ceremonies and for good health.
  11. River on the Havasupai Reservation.
  12. Located in the South Rim area of Grand Canyon National Park.

Sources used:

Hirst, Stephen. I Am the Grand Canyon: the Story of the Havasupai People. Grand Canyon Association, 2006.

Plog, Stephen, and Amy Elizabeth Grey. Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest. Thames & Hudson, 2008.

Welcome Back

Marble Canyon, AZ.

I would like to wish you all a warm welcome back to my blog! I have spent the last couple of months intensely researching and preparing for my senior project. I had to settle on one of the travel stops specifically for the project, because if I had chosen to write about the history of every single place we went, my topic would have been too broad. After I finish my senior project however, in my own time, I will probably write up some short blog posts on the other stops we had on the road trip. 

Dipping my toes in the Colorado River, Marble Canyon, AZ.

So, I have decided on the Grand Canyon for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when I visited, I was quite literally swept off my feet and mesmerized by its sheer size and staggering beauty. I remember standing at the edge, my breath taken from my chest, as I marveled at how the canyon seemed to go on for miles and miles. My legs shook a little, as my fear of heights and gravity reminded me how small I really am on this planet. Secondly, I chose to focus on the Grand Canyon for my senior project because of its rich history and culture. The Havasupai tribe has been living within the canyon for 700 or more years. Before that, other Native American cultures were thriving in the area too. Many other tribes name the Grand Canyon as their birthplace, or place of emergence, such as the Navajo and the Hopi. It is truly a magnificent and magical place. Going back even further in time, the Grand Canyon is estimated to be 5.5 million years old. The Grand Canyon is almost like a book. It had recorded its very long natural history within its many stacked layers. You can feel how sacred it is when you are there.

On the edge of South Rim.

For my senior project, I am required to write eight blog posts that include my history major and my literary studies emphasis for my English major. To make sure I meet all of these requirements, and include both areas of study, I have assembled a list of posts. I will be doing one book review, a post on a Havasupai story, two posts on Havasupai religion and legends, a post on ancient Pueblo peoples, two posts on how the National Park System (NPS) has affected the Havasupai and other tribes, and another post on colonialism. There are certain requirements of my blog posts as well. I will be including footnotes and writing it in Chicago style. I will update you guys with any other plans for the project when and if they come up. I expect these blog posts to be rolling out in the next couple of weeks. Be on the look out for them! Thank you for sticking with me on this journey. I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve learned about the Grand Canyon and the Havasupai!

Brandon’s first look at South Rim.

Coming Home

Hey guys! It’s been almost two weeks since we arrived back home. This is the last update from the trip until I start posting on the history of the places we saw. 🙂 When we left Denver, we drove through Kansas to stay a night in Kansas City, MO. Kansas was exactly what I expected. A whole bunch of nothing, but pretty nonetheless. We stayed a night in St. Louis as well and were pretty disappointed because it rained from the time we got there up until we left the next morning. We didn’t get to see the famous arch. Oh well, next time! The last night it rained so much that it leaked through our water proof tent. We woke up wet and ready to go home. After having some time to reflect on the trip since I’ve been back, I’m already missing the west and the sights we saw. The conclusion I came to is that America’s landscape is as diverse as its people. Traveling during a pandemic and political revolution cross country really opened my eyes further to how great this country is capable of being. We are all Americans, no matter our background, religion, or race. We all deserve to be here and enjoy the natural beauty that exists here. I am humbled. I saw many indescribable sights and I am itching to get back out there soon. My top three places that I recommend are the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the hot spring called Homestead Crater we visited in Utah, and Yellowstone in Wyoming. These places have left an imprint on me. For as long as I live I’ll never forget our great cross country trip out west in the tumultuous year that was 2020!

Some red rocks near Marble Canyon in Arizona.
A pretty sight for book lovers in Kansas City.
A mural in Denver that everyone can take advice from.
Driving through Montana on our way to South Dakota.
The squad at Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone!
Enjoying Great Salt Lake!
Near Lee’s Ferry, AZ.
My first look at the South Rim.
Brandon posing next to a huge fossilized tree in Petrified Forest.
Kali, Brandon, and Kami in Boca Negra Canyon, NM.
Boca Negra Canyon in Petroglyph National Monument

Denver – 10th Stop

Hello! We are home and have completed our travels! However I still have some updating to do and this blog is far from being finished. Just to remind you, I will be updating this blog further over the course of this year and write posts on the history of the places we visited.

Now back to your scheduled programming! After leaving South Dakota, we went south to Colorado. Colorado from the route we took looked very similar to Wyoming. A bunch of flat farm land. When I tell you I got really sick of seeing it; I literally jumped out of the car once we got to our KOA. As an east coaster, I’m not used to seeing such flat land for miles and miles. Denver was a dream. It is bursting with young energy and vibes. It presents itself as a “cool and hip” city. There were so many murals and I made sure to take pictures of them! The streets were lined with bars, breweries, restaurants, and coffee shops. My kind of city. Oh, and if it’s your fancy, there’s a dispensary on literally every corner, because Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, being the first state to do so!

Denver was a great time. We spent our day in the city drinking coffee and meandering through the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. This museum was probably one of the best I’ve been to in my life, and believe me, being a nerd I’ve been to numerous museums. They had a very expansive collection of crystals, and I learned a lot! I don’t want to go into too much detail so I can write more later on, but I learned that aquamarine is the gemstone of Colorado! It was awesome to go to all of these places out west and see geological history in the rocks and then top it off with a trip to a museum to learn more about that in depth! It really wrapped up the trip. There were exhibits on what the ocean sea floor used to look like, evolution, dinosaurs, Native Americans, habitats from all over the world, and more. The museum was so large we didn’t even get to see it all before they closed. We also paid extra so we could view a movie in the planetarium on black holes. It was super cool. I hope you enjoy the pictures from Denver!

Mount Rushmore/Rapid City – 9th Stop

Upon leaving Yellowstone, we got in the car and headed east to South Dakota. The drive through Montana to get to South Dakota was breathtaking. I came here once when I was 12 or 13 and I saw Mount Rushmore. This time I came back with a broader and enlightened view of the monument itself. Weeks before I began my journey out west I discovered that Mount Rushmore sits on sacred Lakota land and that the mountain itself is known as the “Six Grandfathers.” It’s incredibly sad that the land is permanently smeared by faces of white supremacy that forced natives from their land. I won’t say much further on this right now because I will delve into the history later on but this was a huge part of me experiencing Mount Rushmore for a second time. Our time in South Dakota was short, as we only stayed one night, but we did manage to see some cool murals in Rapid City and check out the downtown area. It was lovely and I wish we could’ve done more in this state.

Rolling hills in SD.

Yellowstone – 8th Stop

Hello again! I have been busy seeing the most beautiful sights and once again I haven’t had the best service. Sorry to keep you waiting! After Salt Lake City we headed north to Yellowstone National Park. We stayed at a KOA in West Yellowstone which was technically in Montana. The west park entrance was about 15 minutes from our campsite! Let me tell you, we were so unprepared for the cold nights while we stayed there. It was totally unexpected but I guess to be expected since that was the furthest north we went on our grand road trip. Also, this KOA was by far the best we stayed at as they offered coffee and breakfast first thing in the morning. They had very clean restrooms and it was a nice stay overall.

Yellowstone had me in awe. There were so many things to see it’s impossible to do it all in one day, but nevertheless we got our fill of geological specimens and activity. I had never been to a place before with volcanic activity, much less a super volcano! Yes, Yellowstone is a super volcano right here in our country and if it erupted it would have the power to wipe out the United States. Rad. Also, Yellowstone is a bit stinky and that becomes evident once you get further into the park. We were lucky to see two bison grazing alongside the Madison River as we made our way into the park. We saw the famous Grand Prismatic Spring and it is one of the most marvelous sights you could ever imagine. The spring is ringed by vibrant red, orange, blue, and yellow tones. The color comes from the organisms that thrive there in the heat! After Grand Prismatic we drove to Old Faithful and watched her erupt in all her magnificence. This was definitely the busiest part of the park as we and hundreds of others patiently waited for the geyser to do her thing. Then we drove further into the park to Yellowstone Lake, where I was surprised to see springs and geysers right up to the lake’s surface. We even saw holes on the shoreline. It was dazzling. An abundance of white, yellow, blue, and purple wildflowers dotted the grass wherever we went. I promise you Yellowstone is unlike anything you have ever seen. It is so unique and I could understand why it’s so popular! I recommend it highly and would like to see it again one day. Add this to your bucket list!

Grand Prismatic Spring.
Madison River
A bison peacefully grazes in Yellowstone National Park.
Old Faithful erupts behind us.
Grand Prismatic again.

Salt Lake City – 7th Stop

After experiencing the stunning Grand Canyon, we worked our way up into Utah. The original plan was to hike the Narrows in Zion National Park. This is what I was most looking forward to as the water from the Virgin River is shallow enough for one to walk through and the views are spectacular. Unfortunately when I checked the national park website that morning, they had posted an advisory warning about toxic algae. They recommended not submerging your head or even drinking it though a filter. I’m pretty sure it’s the kind that kills dogs that you hear about on social media sometimes. So we scrapped our plans and went straight to Salt Lake City. I ended up having an amazing nature experience regardless. We found a hot spring 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City called Homestead Crater. It’s $13 per person to get in and you have to reserve a time. The crater itself is 65 feet deep and full of minerals. It felt like a warm bath and I could feel the bubbles while I was swimming. We only had an hour and it went by so fast because I was enjoying myself. I love to swim and this was a once in a lifetime experience. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I felt so refreshed after I left the spring! They even had divers there that were exploring the bottom. I wish I was that brave.

The next day we went to Antelope Island State Park which is also about 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City. It was absolutely beautiful. It smelled a little funky like a marsh. That’s because the island is located on one of the saltiest lakes in the world, Great Salt Lake. It’s so salty no aquatic life can survive there expect for brine shrimp and brine flies. Bison roam freely as well as antelope, hence the namesake. We went to the visitor center and learned about the history of the lake and how colossal it used to be. Basically thousands of years ago Salt Lake City would’ve been underwater. More on this later. We found an area with beach access. We were amazed by the brine flies on the beach and how they moved in a swarm. They looked like sand particles flying down the beach. They won’t hurt you, they’re just more aggravating than anything. It was funny to watch the seagulls run after the bug swarms and try to eat them. The water was clear and very shallow. We walked out till we were about knee deep. On the way out of the park we were lucky to see some deer! I really enjoyed Utah and I would like to come back here one day. This state is truly amazing.

Grand Canyon – 6th Stop

Sorry for the delay, but the past couple of days have been so incredible and I’ve been taking it all in! After Albuquerque we made our way to the Grand Canyon. First we stopped in Petrified National Forest. It’s no longer a forest, but in prehistoric times millions years ago it was a lush rainforest home to the dinosaurs. The trees fell into a riverbed and eventually crystallized in the mud. What is left today are brilliantly colored crystals in the form of petrified wood. This place was awesome and it made me seriously think about how much the earth’s landscape has changed over time. After this we crashed at our KOA for a night. The next day we got up and we chose to go to the South Rim because it was closer to our KOA. There are no adequate words to describe it. I think it’s something everyone should try to see in their lifetime. It was so vast and deep that looking at it made me dizzy and breathless. It seemed to go on for miles and miles as far as the eye could see. I’m afraid of heights too and it didn’t help that the rocks at look out spots were slick. It wasn’t crowded when we went, but busy enough. We walked the trail of time for several miles and soaked in the views. The Grand Canyon is really old. Millions of years old. The Colorado River has been carving it out for a very long time. This is easily observed by all the colorful layers of sediment in the rock. We chose not to hike down into the canyon. Although I am well equipped to hike in the North Carolina mountains, I know I am no expert and I decided to not push my limits as hiking down into the canyon is extremely dangerous. It’s hotter the further down you go. Right before I left on my trip I heard about two people that had just died while visiting. It is no joke and should be taken seriously. The next day we went to a cool spot in Marble Canyon called Lee’s Ferry. It’s actually part of the Grand Canyon and it provides easy access to the Colorado River. When we arrived some people were leaving on boating tours. The Colorado River apparently is very dangerous as well. A sign posted said that 85% of people who enter the river without a life jacket die. So we stayed back on the edge and took some pictures. The red color of the rock was mesmerizing and something that I can’t get out of my mind! I am honored to have seen this land that is special to the Navajo amongst other tribes.

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