What’s For Dinner in Prescott Several Centuries Ago?

By Sandra Lynch

Historians and archaeologists who speak with Yavapai tribal elders about their past learn that Yavapai history is measured in millennia – not centuries. Until the 1800s, Yavapai bands occupied a territory of over 20,000 square miles of Arizona – one-sixth of Arizona’s land mass – that included deserts, grasslands, canyons and mountains. Given what we know about Arizona’s deserts, grasslands, canyons and mountains – it begs this question: HOW?

Besides water, a critical factor for survival is food. Yavapai families bettered their odds of finding plant resources and game animals by moving among seasonal camps across their vast territory. According to Elders from the Yavapai – Prescott Indian Tribe: “Small groups of Yavapai lived together and traveled to different locations where wild foods were ripening. The sequence of collection would be subject to the conditions of the season…and guided by the leader of the group, who watched for signs and used the knowledge handed down from many generations.”

The Yavpé (a Northwestern band of Yavapais known to us as the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe) included several family groups living in the region, socially accepting membership with the Yavpé band. Each family group would have had a home base camp from which they would travel to different localities as particular plants reached peak readiness for harvest. The family, perhaps supported by extended relatives and their families, would often trek many miles to catch the peak of each plant’s nutritional potential for harvest.

For example, it is June 22, 1680: where is the best place to find food in the Prescott region? Cleator! Eighteen miles away, the band would find saguaro fruit, palo verde seeds and mesquite bean pods ready to harvest. The family might spend a few days picking, preparing and eating some of these plant products. They would also collect enough seed and fruit to fill several burden baskets or deer hide sacks which would be carried back to their base camp in Mayer. Here, the surpluses would be prepared (by cooking or drying), stored in clay cisterns dug into the ground and covered with rocks until needed in the winter’s starving months.

By August, the band would have collected plants near Granite Mountain 50 miles away: manzanita berries, walnuts, and acorns. Three days later, they would travel to Williamson Valley – 58 miles away – to gather sunflower seeds, juniper berries and chia seeds. As luck might have it, two of the older boys might catch sight of a mule deer. The trip’s reservation in Williamson Valley would be extended several days to cut and dry left-over deer meat.

Join Sandra Lynch and Linda Ogo on Saturday, August 7 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.in the auditorium of the Fred W. Veil Education Center to learn about “The Power of Plants: Surviving a Millenia in West Central Arizona.” Presentations will include:  “Watarama’s Journey: One Yavpé Family’s Seasonal Round” with Sandra Lynch, PhD., Adjunct Curator of Anthropology; “The Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe: Past to Present” and “Yavapai Women’s Roles in a Plant-Based Economy” with Linda Ogo, Director, Culture Research Department, Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. Presentations will include a tour of the Yavpé Ethnobotanical Garden on the Museum grounds. Admission is free, but reservations are required and facial coverings are encouraged. Reserve a seat here.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to dayspast@sharlothallmuseum.org. Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at archivesrequest@sharlothallmuseum.org for information or assistance with photo requests.

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