In present day central Arizona’s Gila River Valley there stands a remnant of what was once a thriving ancient and “pre-Columbian” civilization. The People today known as Hohokam, a derivation of the Pima word huhugam which means “those who have vanished,” disappeared as much as a century before Columbus ‘discovered’ what the world today knows as the Americas, the lands of the Western Hemisphere. The Hohokam were, like many of the First Peoples of the western world, advanced both culturally and scientifically. They were desert agriculturalists whose major surviving physical remnant is the Casa Grande, an edifice already abandoned and in ruin when the Spanish discovered and named it, perhaps as early as the sixteenth century of the Common Era, while on their two-fingered northern explorations of New Spain in search both of (confiscatable) gold and silver riches and, of course, (confiscatable) souls presumed to be potentially convertible to Christianity.
In any case, the Spaniards presumed that because of its size the Casa Grande was an abandoned “apartment” building of some sort, standing as the centerpiece amidst a dozen or so smaller structures, each also constructed mainly of desert clays, of caliche. The reality is, however, that The Great House was likely far more than simply a dwelling, that it was at least an abode of royalty, and most likely also an astronomical observatory. There are, for example, portals — “observation holes” — in the adobe walls which precisely line up with and mark the position of the sun on solstices and equinoxes. There is also the academic surmise that the Hohokam (along with numerous other “primitive” peoples in both today’s American Southwest and in Mexico as well) were intimately familiar with lunar cycles, with constellation migrations across nighttime skies, as well as with the ‘practical’ impact of astronomical realities on climate and weather patterns necessary to sustain their agricultural practices.
As an aside, it’s an interesting exercise to ponder the reasons that today, the greater share of this country’s post-Hohokam population is not only unaware of “astronomical realities” of most any type, but is also unwilling (or unable) to comprehend the potential impact of climate change on the human population. Many are, however, still interested in Christianizing the heathen (or, in the case of Muslims, simply killing them is also a favored option). One does, indeed, wonder if/when humanity will ever advance, perhaps even to the level once attained by “primitive” peoples. Time will reveal all, assuming someone remains alive to carry forth the evaluation.
Below are a handful of photographs from the Casa Grande and of some Hohokam artifacts, accompanied by some excerpts of actual writings by early Spanish visitors including Fr. Eusebio Kino, the pioneer Jesuit missionary in Sonora’s Pimeria Alta who conducted a mass inside the Casa Grande in 1694, by New Spain military leaders Captain Juan Mateo Manje and Lieutenant Cristóbal Martín Bernal in 1697, also in 1775 by Franciscan Padre Pedro Font who was in the company of Spanish Commandant Juan Bautista de Anza of the Tubac Presidio in the Pimeria Alta. Anza shortly thereafter led an expedition to Alta California where settlements and missions were established and called, resp., San Gabriel, Monterrey, San Francisco, and San Jose. Upon his return from California, Anza was assigned (1779) to the Presido at Santa Fe in Nuevo Mexico and charged with finding and killing the Comanche chieftain named Tabivo Naritgant, aka Cuerno Verde (see https://tpzoo.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/233-years-ago-today/).
Fig. 1: Casa Grande, The Great House; Gila River Valley, Arizona
“In November, 1694, I went inland with my servants and some justices of this Pimeria, as far as the casa grande, as these Pimas call it, which is on the large River of Hila [Gila] that flows out of Nuevo Mexico and has its source near Acoma. This river and this large house and the neighboring houses are forty-three leagues beyond and to the northwest of the Sobaipuris of San Francisco del Bac . . . the casa grande is a four-story building as large as a castle and equal to the largest church in these lands of Sonora . . . . Close to this casa grande there are thirteen smaller houses, somewhat more dilapidated, and the ruins of many others, which makes it evident that in ancient times there had been a city here. On this occasion and on later ones I have learned and heard, and at times have seen, that further to the east, north, and west there are seven or eight more of these large old houses and the ruins of whole cities.”
Fig 2: Interior Portal, Casa Grande
Excerpt From the Diary of “Lieutenant Cristóbal Martín Bernal,
presently of the Compaña Volante [Flying Company]
of this Province of Sonora . . . “
“The following day, the 18th, I set out marching, looking for the Casa Grande, leaving the river to the right. About two leagues we came upon it again. This valley is very wide and dry without pasture for the horses. Continuing the march through the valley . . . and having traveled four leagues, we arrived at the Casa Grande which is away from the river about a league where our Father Kino said Mass at 11 o’clock in the morning. Because there was much wind from the north he did not say it in the place he should have. We saw all the rooms of the building, which is very large, four stories high, the walls forming a square, and very thick about two yards in width, of the previously mentioned white clay. Although the heathens had burned it at different times, the four stories can be seen with very good rooms, apartments and windows, curiously plastered inside and out in such a way the walls are washed and smoothed with a somewhat red clay, the doorways similarly. There are also in the immediate area outside eleven somewhat smaller houses built with peculiar curiousness of the large high one. Also it is seen that it was greatly populated and that they had a government and in a large area is seen a lot of broken, painted pottery. Also is seen a main irrigation canal, ten yards wide and four deep and with very thick sides made of the same earth, which goes to the house through a plain.”
Fig 3: Wall remnant of secondary building, Casa Grande National Monument
“[The walls] are so smooth on the inside that they look like planed boards . . . and shine like Puebla earthenware . . . the same is true of their doors, although these are narrow . . . . The building is 36 paces long and 21 paces wide – of good architecture . . . . A crossbow shot farther on 12 other houses and all with roofs burnt, except one room beneath one house, with round beams, smooth and not thick, which appear to be of cedar or savin, and over them reeds very similar to them and a layer of mortar and hard clay making a ceiling or story of very peculiar character. In the neighborhood many other ruins may be noted . . .
“ All those buildings at Casa Grande were built by people whose chief was called el Siba, which in their language means ‘The cruel and bitter man.’”
Fig. 4: Hohokam Sun Petroglyph at Painted Rock, Gila Valley Arizona
Eighty-two years following Kino’s discovery of the Casa Grande, Commandant Juan Bautista de Anza of Tubac, accompanied by Franciscan Padres Font, Garcés, and Eixarch visited the area on October 30, 1775; Font wrote:
“We made an exact inspection of the edifice, and of its situation, and we measured it with a lance for the nonce, which measurement I reduced afterward to geometrical feet, and a little more or less it is the following: The Casa is a quadrilonga-un carre long [oblong square] and perfectly to the four cardinal winds, east, west, north and south.
“The woodwork was of pine, apparently, and the sierra most near, which has pines, is distant some twenty and five leagues and also has some mesquite. All the edifice is of earth, and according to the signs, it is a mud-wall made with boxes of various sizes. . . . To give light to the apartments there is nothing but the doors and some circular openings in the midst of the walls which face to the east and west, and the Indians said that though these openings (which are pretty large) the Prince, whom they call El Hombre Amargo (the Bitter Man), looked out on the sun when it rose and set, to salute it.”
Fig 5: Hohokam Axe head, Approx. 900 Yrs. Old
Voices in the Wind
Though modern ears seem deaf to primal song,
Ideas seek – and probe – subconscious minds.
Where spirits walk, old muted voices long
To search – as dust now gathered by the winds –
To speak in silence, whispering to souls
Their sacred manifests of unsung dreams.
Then Suffrage of the land – through Gray Wolf’s howls
And breath of noiseless Deer – expresses themes
As surely as the murmur of the trees
Announces wind and wingéd life, in kind.
And silently as Eagle rides the breeze,
These messages – the Sum of Life – remind:
Man’s aimless, modern Din shall ne’er transcend
The Wild – and Ancient – Voices – in the Wind.