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Native Americans are missing from the “Wild West” of Desperate Measures. While in no means exhaustive, here are some jumping off points if you would like to learn more about Indigenous communities in America, then and now.




by Dianna Garten


There are currently twenty-two federally recognized tribes in the state of Arizona. Some particularly well known tribes who interacted with settlers trying to stake their claim in the Arizona territory are the Hopi, Apache, and Navajo.


The Hopi have one of the oldest documented living cultures known to the world. Branching off from the Pueblo tribe, evidence places the Hopi people migrating north and settling in Arizona in the 12th century. They consider themselves the guardians of the sacred land which they call Hopitutskwa. Living across mesas of the Southwest, the Hopi developed a unique farming practice called “dry farming”, allowing for growth in the arid climate and high elevation.

Hopi society is structured along matrilineal lines in small family clans organized by Mesa. The current Hopi reservation in Arizona is made up of 12 villages across the First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa. Each Mesa community is known for their own prowess in artisan crafts. The Hopi village of Oraibi, located on top of the Third Mesa, has been continuously inhabited since it was established around 1150 C.E. making it the oldest in the United States. The Hopi language is part of the Uto-Aztecan family, connecting to the indigenous languages across the west coast of Mexico.

The Hopi and Navajo had regular conflicts over land. The Hopi tribe at first tried to ally themselves with the United States government to gain protection from the Navajo. While early American military efforts were more concentrated against the Navajo and Apache, in 1875 an American boarding school was founded for Hopi children and a reservation established in 1882. Local US officials implemented forced attendance of Hopi Children to the boarding school. This epitomized the American colonial mantra of “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man.” While this forced education may seem less overtly violent than the military efforts against the nearby Navajo and Apache, the result was a similar threat to the annihilation of Hopi culture.

Hopi and Navajo land disputes continued after the establishment of their respective reservations, with the Hopi reservation contained entirely within the borders of the Navajo Nation. The Hopi restored their power and autonomy with the establishment of their constitution in 1936. In 1912, Hopi member Louis Tewanima won the Olympic silver medal in the 10,000 meter run. As of 2021, there are close to 10,000 individuals who identified as Hopi.


The Apache earned a reputation as the “fiercest warriors in the west” for their staunch defense of their home territory. The various bands of Apache were known to carry out raids on those who encroached upon their territory. The Apache people are descended from a branch of the Athabascan tribe originating in western Canada and are believed to have settled in the American Southwest in the late 1400’s. The name Apache was derived from the Pueblo word for “enemy”. The Apache’s name for themselves varies based on the band and dialect, Tinneh, Tinde, Dini, but all mean “the people”.

The Apache were nomadic hunter-gatherers with limited farming practices. Tribes used a matrilineal structure, tracing descent through the mother. Polygamy was practiced, though not implemented in any regimented way and was primarily dependent on economic circumstances; marriages could be ended by either party with relative ease and little to no social stigma. Religion played a central role in tribal life. Their religious ceremonies were based on beliefs in mountain spirits known as “ga’ns” with their central god-figure being The Giver of Life known as Ussen.

The Apache first earned their warrior reputation while fighting the expanish of the Spanish territory and slave trade into New Mexico. They took captives from both other tribes they fought and Spanish and American settlers causing rapid growth in numbers throughout the 17th and 18th century. Apache bands did not hesitate to raid and fight the United States military throughout westward expansion. Geronimo, the most famous Apache warrior, led armed resistance against the United States even while reservations were being established until 1886 when they were defeated. In an attempt to make an example of him, Geronimo was forcibly displayed at fairs and exhibitions after his capture, including the second inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt. 

In the 2000 Census approximately 97,000 individuals identified themselves as Apache or partially Apache. This modern day population is mostly located on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico where farming, cattle herding, and tourism are the primary sources of employment. Modern Apache combine aspects of their traditional way of life and religious beliefs with American culture.


The Navajo are the largest Native tribe in the United States, most known for their artwork and crafts. The Navajo people share their origins with the Apache from the Athabascan people of western Canada. Once the Navajo settled in the American Southwest between 1100 and 1500 C.E., they embraced more sedentary farming practices adopted from the neighboring Pueblo people. The name Navajo is a Spanish adaptation of the Pueblo word meaning “farm fields in the valley.” 

Navajo religious traditions became uniquely well known among Native American creation stories to non-native people. The intricate origin story involves worlds or different levels and colors from which various aspects of nature emerge with animals playing significant roles in the formation of many rituals and traditions. Practice of Navajo rites and ceremonies ranged from being conducted by individuals in family settings to more complex rites led by specialists for the larger community. The Navajo have historically eschewed centralized hierarchical structures, and functioned in small familial bands relying on consensus for decision making. Like the Apache, Navajo society is organized with a matrilineal structure.

The Navajo survived through their farming efforts and raiding livestock from local ranchers until the encroachment of white settlers from the east. They were generally peaceful and their decentralized structure made it difficult for organization against American forces. By 1868 the Navajo had faced enough decimation from American forces that a loose collection of tribal leaders settled a treaty with the US government to accept placement on a reservation. 

The Navajo were able to preserve their language and their unique artistic crafts. During the second World War, 29 Marine Navajo Code Talkers played an instrumental role in the American victory in the Pacific.They designed a code based on the Navajo language, which had previously been unwritten and used this to relay communications between American troops. The previous obscureness of the language made their code unbreakable. 

The Navajo have reservation land in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. As of 2021, there was just shy of 400,000 individuals enrolled as members of the Navajo Nation. In 2007 Jacoby Ellsbury became the first person of Navajo descent to play in Major League Baseball.


  1. Ak-Chin Indian Community

  2. Cocopah Indian Tribe

  3. Colorado River Indian Tribes*

  4. Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation

  5. Fort Mojave Indian Tribe*

  6. Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe

  7. Gila River Indian Community

  8. Havasupai Tribe

  9. Hopi Tribe

  10. Hualapai Tribe

  11. Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians

  12. Navajo Nation*

  13. Pascua Yaqui Tribe

  14. Pueblo of Zuni

  15. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

  16. San Carlos Apache Tribe

  17. San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe

  18. Tohono O'odham Nation

  19. Tonto Apache Tribe

  20. White Mountain Apache Tribe

  21. Yavapai-Apache Tribe

  22. Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe


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