Notes of a Military Reconnaissance

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Source: 30th Congress, 1st Session, Senate. Executive No. 7.



DECEMBER 16, 1847. Read, and ordered to be printed; and that 1,000 copies, in addition to the usual number, be printed ror the use of the Senate.




We made our noon halt at the grass patch. At this place were the remains of an immense Indian settlement; pottery was everywhere to be found, but the remains of the foundations of the houses were imbedded in dust. The outlines of the acequias, by which they irrigated the soil, were sometimes quite distinct.

The soil was moist, and wherever the foot pressed the ground the salts of the earth effloresced, and gave it the appearance of being covered with frost. In this way the numberless tracks of horses and other animals, which had at times traversed the plains, were indelible, and could be traced for great distances, by the eye, in long white seams.

We found fresh trails of horses, which might be those of General Castro, or the Indians. When leaving California, Castro's determination, as we learn from Carson, was to go to Sonora, beat up recruits, and return. Our route might easily be reached, for we are now marching along a road everywhere accessible, and within three days' march of the setttements of Sonora and the fort at Tucsoon, said to be regularly garrisoned by Mexican soldiers.

We passed the deserted lodges of Indians, and, at one place remote from the lodges, we saw thirteen poles set up in a sort of incantation formula; twelve on the circumference of a circle, twenty feet in diameter, and one in the centre. Radii were drawn on the ground from the centre pole to each one in the periphery of the circle. It was the figuring of some medicine man of the Apaches or Pimos, we could not tell which, for it was on neutral ground about the dividing line of the possessions claimed by each.

After leaving the mountains all seemed for a moment to consider the difficulties of our journey at an end. The mules went off at a frolicsome pace, those which were loose contending with each other for precedence in the trail. The howitzers, which had nearly every part of their running gear broken and replaced, were, perhaps, the only things that were benefitted by the change from the mountains to the plains. These were under the charge of Lieutenant Davidson, whose post has been no sinecure. In overcoming one set of difficulties we were now to encounter another. In leaving the mountains we were informed that we bade adieu to grass, and our mules must henceforth subsist on willow, cotton wood, and the long green ephedra.

November10. --The valley on the southern side of the Gila still grows wider. Away off in that direction, the peaks of the Sonora mountains just peep above the horizon. On the north side of the river and a few miles from it runs a low chain of serrated hills. Near our encampment, a corresponding range draws in from the southeast, giving the river a bend to the north. At the base of this chain is a long meadow, reaching for many miles south, in which the Pimos graze their cattle; and along the whole day's march were remains of zequias, pottery, and other evidences of a once densely populated country. About the time of the noon halt, a large pile, which seemed the work of human hands, was seen to the left. It was the remains of a three-story mud house, 60 feet square, pierced for doors and windows. The walls were four feet thick, and formed by layers of mud, two feet thick. Stanly made an elaborate sketch of every part; for it was, no doubt, built by the same race that had once so thickly peopled this territory, and left behind the ruins.

We made a long and careful search for some specimens of household furniture, or implement of art, but nothing was found except the corngrinder, always met with among the ruins and on the plains. The marine shell, cut into various ornaments, was also found here, which showed that these people either came from the sea coast or trafficked there. No traces of hewn timber were discovered; on the contrary, the sleepers of the ground floor were round and unhewn. They were burnt out of their seats in the wall to the depth of six inches. The whole interior of the house had been burnt out, and the walls much defaced. What was left bore marks of having been glazed, and on the wall in the north room of the second story were traced the following hieroglyphics.

Where we encamped, eight or nine miles from the Pimos village, we met a Maricopo Indian, looking for his cattle. The frank, confident manner in which he approached us was in strange contrast with that of the suspicious Apache. Soon six or eight of the Pimos came in at full speed. Their object was, to ascertain who we were, and what we wanted. They told us the fresh trail we saw up the river was that of their people, sent to watch the movements of their enemies, the Apaches. Being young, they became much alarmed on seeing us, and returned to the town, giving the alarm that a large body of Apaches were approaching.

Their joy was unaffected at seeing we were Americans, and not Apaches. The chief of the guard at once dispatched noew to his chief, of the result of his reconnoissance. The town was nine miles distant, yet, in three hours, our camp was filled with Pimos, loaded with corn, beans, honey, and zandias (water melons.) A brisk trade was at once opened. This was my >observing night; but the crowd of Indians was great, and the passing and repassing, at full speed so continuous, that I got an indifferent set of observations.

The camp of my party was pitched on the side nearest the town, and we saw the first of these people and their mode of approach. It was perfectly frank and unsuspicious. Many would leave their packs in our camp and be absent for hours, theft seeming to be unknown among them. With the mounted guard, which first visited us, was a man on foot, and he appeared to keep pace with the fleetest horse. He was a little out of breath when he reached us, but soon recovering, told us he was the interpreter to Juan Antonio Llunas, chief of the Pimos.

We were taking some refreshments at the time, and invited him to taste of them. The effect was electric; it made his bright, intelligent eye flash, and loosened his tongue. I asked him, among other things, the origin of the ruins of which we had seen so many; he said, all he knew, was a tradition amongst them, that in hygene days, a woman of surpassing beauty resided in a green spot in the mountains near the place where we were encamped. She received the tributes of their devotion, grain, skins, &c., but gave no love or other favor in return. Her virtue, and her determination to remain unmarried were equally firm. There came a drought which threatened the world with famine. In their distress, people applied to her, and she gave corn from her stock, and the supply seemed to be endless. Her goodness was unbounded. One day, as she was lying asleep with her body exposed, a drop of rain fell on her stomach, which produced conception. A son was the issue, who was the founder of a new race which built all these houses.

I told the interpreter repeatedly, he must go and report to the general, but his answer was "let me wait till I blow a little." The attraction was the aquardente. At length he was prevailed on to go to head-quarters, leaving at our camp his bows and arrows and other matters, saying he would return and pass the night with us.

November 11.--Leaving the column, a few of us struck to the north side of tile river, guided by my loqacious friend, the interpreter, to visit the ruins of another Casa Montezuma. In the course of the ride, I asked him if he believed the fable he had related to me last night, which assigned an origin to these buildings. "No," said he, "but most of the Pimos do. We know, in truth, nothing of their origin. It is all enveloped in mystery."

The casa was in complete ruins, one pile of broken pottery and foundation stone of the black basalt, making a mound about ten feet above the ground. The outline of the ground plan was distinct enough.

We found the description of pottery the same as ever; and, among the ruins, the same sea shell; one worked into ornaments; also a large bead, an inch and a quarter in length, of bluish marble, exquisitely turned.

We secured to-day our long sought bird, the inhabitant of the mezquite, indigo blue plumage, with top knot and long tail. Its wings, when spread, showing a white ellipse.

Turning from the ruins towards the Pimos village, we urged our guide to go fast, as we wished to see as much of his people as the day would permit. He was on foot, but led at a pace which kept our mules in a trot.

We came in at the back of the settlement of Pimos Indians, and found our troops encamped in a corn field, from which the grain had been gathered. We were at once impressed with the beauty. order, and disposition of the arrangements for irrigating and draining the land. Corn, wheat, and cotton are the crops of this peaceful and intelligent race of people. All the crops have been gathered in, and the stubbles show they have been luxuriant. The cotton has been picked, and stacked for drying on the tops of sheds. The fields are sub-divided, by ridges of earth, into rectangles of about 200 X 100 feet for the convenience of irrigating. The fences are of sticks, Wattled with willow and mezquite, and, in this particular; set an example of economy in agriculture worthy to be followed by the Mexicans, who never use fences at all. The houses of the people are mere sheds, thatched with willow and corn stalks.

With the exception of the chief, António Llunas, who was clad in cast off Mexican toggery, the dress of the men consisted of a cotton scrape of domestic manufacture, and a breech cloth. Their hair was very long, and clubbed up. The women wore nothing but the scrape pinned around their loins, after the fashion of Persico's Indan woman of the east side of the Capitol, though not quite so low.

The camp was soon filled with men, women, and children, each with a basket of corn, or frijol"és, or meal, for traffic. Many had jars of the molasses expressed from the fruit of the pitahaya. Beads, red cloth, white domestic and blankets, were the articles demanded in exchange. Major Swords, who had charge of the trading duty, pitched a temporary swing, under which to conduct the business, which had scarcely commenced before this place formed a perfect menagerie, into which crowded, with eager eyes, Pimos, Maricopas, Mexicans, French, Dutch, English, and Americans. As I passed on to take a peep at the scene, naked arms, hands, and legs protruded from the awning. Inside there was no room for bodies, but many heads had clustered into a very small space, filled with the different tongues and nations. The trade went merrily on, and the conclusion of each bargain was announced by a grunt and a joke, sometimes at the expense of the quartermaster, but oftener at that of the Pimos.

November 12.--We procured a sufficiency of corn, wheat, and beans from the Pimos, but only two or three bullocks, and neither horses nor mules. They have but few cattle, which are used in tillage, and apparently all steers, procured from the Mexicans. Their horses and mules were not plenty, and those they possessed were prized extravagantly high. One dashing young fellow, with ivory teeth and flowing hair, was seen coming into our camp at full speed, on a wild unruly horse that flew from side to side as he approached, alarmed at the novel apparition of our people. The Maricopa, for he was of that tribe, was without saddle or stirrups, and balanced himself to the right and left with such ease and grace as to appear part of his horse. He succeeded in bringing his fiery nag into the heart of the camp. He was immediately offered a very advantageous trade by some young officer. He stretched himself on his horse's neck, caressed it tenderly, at the same time shutting his eyes, meaning thereby, that no otfer could tempt him to part with his charger.

The general gave a letter to Governor Llunas, stating he was a good man, and directitig all United States troops that might pass in his rear, to respect his excellency, his people, and their property. Several broken down mules were left with him to recruit, for the benefit of Cook's battalion as it passed along.

To us it was a rare sight to be thrown in the midst of a large nation of what is termed wild Indians, surpassing many of the christian nations in agriculture, little behind them in the useful arts, and immeasurably before them in honesty and virtue. During the whole of yesterday, our camp was full of men, women, and children, who sauntered amongst our packs, unwatched, and not a single instance of theft wis reported.

I rode leisurely in the rear, through the thatched huts of the Pimos; each abode consists of a dome-shaped wicker-work, about six feet high, and from twenty to fifty feet in diameter, thatched with straw or cornstalks. In front is usually a large arbor, on top of which is piled the cotton in the pod, for drying.

In the houses were stowed watermelons, pumpkins, beans, corn, the three last articles generally in large baskets; sometimes the corn was in baskets covered with earth, and placed on the tops of the domes. A few chickens and dogs were seen, but no other domestic animals, except horses, mules, and oxen. Their implements of husbandry were the axe (of steel,) wooden hoes, shovels, and harrows. The soil is so easily pulverized as to make the plough unnecessary.

Several acquaintances, formed in our camp yesterday, were recognized, and they received me cordially, made signs to dismount, and then I did so, offered watermelons and pinole. Pinole is the heart of Indian corn, baked, ground up, and mixed with sugar. When dissolved in water, it affords a delicious beverage, it quenches thirst, and is very nutritious. Their molasses, put up in large jars, hermetically sealed, of which they had quantities, is expressed fiom the fruit of the pitahaya.

A woman was seated on the ground under the shade of one of the cotton sheds. Her left leg was tucked under her seat and her foot turned sole upwards; between her big toe and the next, was a spindle about 18 inches long, with a single fly of four or six inches. Ever and anon she gave it a twist in a dexterous manner, and at its end was drawn a coarse cotton thread. This was their spinning jenny. Led on by this primitive display, I asked for their loom by pointing to the thread and then to the blanket girded about the woman's loins. A fellow stretched in the dust sunning himself, rose up leisurely and untied a bundle which I had supposed to be a bow and arrow. This little package, with four stakes in the ground, was the loom. He stretched his cloth and commenced the process of weaving.

We travelled 15-1/2 miles and encamped on the dividing ground between the Pimos and the Maricopas. For the whole distance, we passed through cultivated grounds, over a luxuriantly rich soil. The plain appeared to extend in every direction 15 or 20 miles, except in one place about five miles before reaching camp, where a low chain of hills comes in from the southeast, and terminates some miles from the river. The bed of the Gila, opposite the village, is said to be dry; the whole water being drawn off by the zequias of the Pimos for irrigatition; but their ditches are larger than is necessary for this purpose, and the water which is not used returns to the bed of the river with little apparent diminution in its volume.

Looking from our camp north, 30 west, you see a great plain with mountains rising in the distance on each side. This prospect had included some travellers to venture from here in a direct line to Monterey in California, but there is neither grass nor water on that passage, and thirst and distress overcame, undoubtedly, those who attempted it.

In almost an opposite direction north, 50 east, there is a gap in the mountains through which the Salt river flows to meet the Gila, making with it an acute angle, at a point ten or fifteen miles distant from our camp, bearing northwest. A little north of east, another gap, twenty or thirty miles distant, shows where the Rio San Francisco flows into the Salt river. From the best information I can collect, the San Francisco comes in from the north; its valley is narrow and much cañoned; good grass abounds all the way. Le Vonoceur, one of my party, came down that river in 1844 with a trapping polrty of forty-eight men. He states that they were much annoyed the whole way by the Apache Indians, a great many of reside on that river. Every night they were fired upon, and an attempt made to stampede their mules. Many traps were stolen, and one of their party, an old man, who had been in the mountains forty-five years, was killed by the Indians in this expedition.

Near the junction of the Gila and Salt rivers, there is a chain of low serrated hills coming in from both sides, contracting the valley considerably. Around the South Spur the Gila turns, making its course in a more southerly direction. To the east, except where the spurs already mentioned protrude, the plain extends as far as the eye can reach. A great deal of the land is cultivated, but there is still a vast portion within the level of the Gila that is yet to be put under tillage. The population of the Pimos and Maricopas together is estimated variously at from three to ten thousand. The first is evidently too low.

This peaceful and illustrious race are in possession of a beatitiful and fertile basin. Living remote from the civilized world, they are seldom visited by whites, and then only by those in distress, to whom they generously furnish horses and food. Aguardiente (brandy) is known among their chief men only, and the abuse of this, and the vices which it entails, are yet unknown.

They are without other religion than a belief in one great and overruling spirit.

Their peaceful disposition is not the result of incapacity for war, for they are at all times enabled to meet and vanquish the Apaches in battle, and when we passed, they had just returned from an expedition in the Apache country to revenge some thefts and other outrages, with eleven scalps and thirteen prisoners. The prisoners are sold as slaves to the Mexicans.

The Maricopas occupy that part of the basin lying between camp 97 and the mouth of the Salt river, and all that has been said of the Pimos, is acceptable to them. They live in cordial amity, and their habits, agriculture, religion, and manufactures are the same. In stature, they are taller; their noses are more aquiline, and they have a much readier manner of speaking and acting. I noticed that most of the interpreters of the Pimos were of this tribe, and also the men we ment in the spy guard. Though fewer in number, they appear to be superior in intelligence and personal appearance.

Don Jose Messio is their governor, and, like the governor of the Pimos, holds his office by the appointment of the Mexican governor of California. The people have no choice in the selection. Both of these Indians are respectable looking old men, and seem to be really worthy of the trust reposed in them.

We had not been long in camp before a dense column of dust down the river announced the approach of the Maricopas, some on foot, but mostly on horseback. They came into camp at full speed, unarmed, and in the most confident manner, bringing water melons, meal, pinole, and salt, for trade. The salt is taken from the plains; wherever there are bottoms which have no natural drainage, the salt effloresces and is skimmed from the surface of the earth. It was brought to us, both in the crystallized form, and in the form when first collected, mixed with earth.

My camp was selected on the side towards the village, and the constant galloping of horses rendered it difficult for me to take satisfactory observations, which I was desirous of doing, as it is an important station. When I placed my horizon on the ground, I found that the galloping of a horse five hundred yards off affected the mercury, and prevented a perfectly reflected image of the stars, and it was in vain to hope for these restless Maricopas to keep quiet. News got about of my dealings with the stars, and my camp was crowded the whole time. The latitutde of this camp by such observations as the Maricopas would allow me to make, was 33° 09' 28", and the longitude 112° 07' 13".

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