A Look at Arizona's Past provided by an Arizona Land Surveying Company

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This weeks Look at Arizona's Past...

Chapter 127 - From #18 ; To the white man only a few of the trees, bushes and plants we have been considering would be regarded as productive of food, but to the aborigine, whose garden provided him at best with only squash, corn and beans, demands for a more varied vegetable diet, and for fruit, if possible, stimulated him to experiment with many unpromising growths.

Pine nuts, bellotas, walnuts and wild grapes, wild currants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries were naturally all eaten with avidity by the highland Indian, nevertheless they were given decidedly a second place to the agave. About the first of July the stalk that later would have borne its wealth of flowers, is very tender, juicy and sweet, its heart resembling the sugarcane. From it the noble braves made "tizwin," a firewater that when imbibed by the redman turned him into something akin to a homicidal maniac.

The heart and bases of the under leaves were roasted in pits dug in the ground, the heat being supplied by hot stones. After being left in these primitive ovens for two days the stalks would be reduced to a pulpy, sweetish, glutinous mass, not at all unpalatable.

The southwestern Indian was ever more cleanly than the northern members of his race. One reason probably was that when the thermometer stands above one hundred, bathing becomes a pleasurable exercise. Another reason may have been the familiarity the redman had with the properties of the amole (of the Yucca family), whose roots make a splendid substitute for soap, as well as an excellent hair invigorator.

But to return to our bill of fare: There is a wild parsnip that grows on the higher levels in Arizona that in the '50s the Pai-ute women used to collect in large quantities in the early months of the year. It was dried, ground and stored for future use.

The fruits of many different kinds of cacti were highly prized by the Indians for food. The fruit of the prickly pear was eaten by the redmen both raw and cooked, and Mexican and American pioneers alike made excellent jelly from it. Berries of Arizona's several varieties of manzanito also make delicious jelly.

Preserves, jams and dried sweet meats were made from the fruit of the suhuaro, and specially prized by the Pimas and Papagos. In the early days the Pimas, once a year, would allow a Chapter of the syrup made from the suhuaro fruit to ferment, and on the liquor thus obtained would go on a debauch which would usually last for two days, after which they would return to their usual life of sobriety for another twelve months.

Mesquite beans were a staple with the Pimas, Papagos, Yumas and other desert Indians. The beans were dried and ground, and the meal thus obtained would be used for making gruel and bread. A meal was also made from acorns.

Grass seeds were carefully collected by the Apache women. The seeds would be cleaned of hulls, ground, stored in pottery jars and used as meal. Sometimes the unground seed would be used for porridge.

Perhaps the most valuable of the desert growths, not only to the Indian, but in later days to the white traveler as well, was the bisnaga, whose interior is a mass of white pulp, full of moisture. By cutting off the top of the plant and mashing the pulp, enough watery juices may be obtained to sustain life. --- Both Mexicans and Americans cut the pulp into cubes, and by boiling it in sugar and other materials make a delicious sweetmeat out of it. An enterprising Phoenix confectioner has made a national reputation by crystallizing and converting it into a delicacy de luxe.

The Mojave Indians, after scraping out the interior of the bisnaga, used the shell for a cooking vessel. They would fill it with water and boil a desert rat or rabbit therein with the use of hot stones.

Did the aborigines in Arizona fare well gastronomically? Except in times of war we may assume with reasonable safety that the thrifty ones at least did. Do you think you could get along if invited to dine with a cliff dweller's family, in Montezuma's Castle, for instance, and sat down to something like this: Grass seed puree, Quail broiled on the spit, Roasted Agave ends, Stewed Antelope, Beans Squash, Corn cakes, Dried prickly pears, Pine nuts

Naturally it is not to be expected that Mrs. Cliffdweller arranged her menu in just this order, but as Mr. Cliffdweller sat squatting before his pottery bowl eating elegantly with his fingers, assisted by a piece of corn cake for a scoop, he did pretty well; so did his descendants, the Hopis, before the white men exterminated the deer and antelope; so did the Indians of the San Pedro valley and the White Mountains. Remember how they fed Fray Marcos on quail and other delicacies.

All of the material joys of living are not with him who sells soap or nails, or keeps books all day and goes home to corn beef and cabbage and to sleep, not under the starry vault of heaven, but in a stuffy nine by ten bedroom, and imagines, therefore, that he is civilized.

About The Historical Texts

Following is the list of uncopyrighted publications used for the History of Arizona and the Southwest. All can be easily found on-line in PDF format. Sorted by publication date they are:

  1. The Memoir of the Proposed Territory of Arizona - 1857 | By Sylvester Mowry
  2. Arizona and Sonora - 1863 | By Sylvester Mowry
  3. The Territory of Arizona_1874 | By Arizona Legislative Assembly
  4. Resources of Arizona - 1881 | By Arizona Legislative Assembly
  5. The History of Arizona and New Mexico, Volume 17 - 1889 - (Arizona Portion) | By Hubert Howe Bancroft
  6. Titan of Chasms the Grand Canyon - 1906 | By C.A. Higgins, J.W. Powell, Chas.F.Lumins
  7. Reminiscences of a Soldiers Wife - 1907 - (Arizona Portion) | By Ellen McGowan Biddle
  8. The First Through the Grand Canyon - 1915 | By Major John Wesley Powell
  9. The History of Arizona, Volume 1 - 1915 (starting Chapter VII) | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  10. The History of Arizona, Volume 2 - 1915 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  11. The History of Arizona, Volume 3 - 1916 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  12. The History of Arizona, Volume 4 - 1916 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  13. The History of Arizona, Volume 5 - 1918 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  14. The History of Arizona, Volume 6 - 1918 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  15. The History of Arizona, Volume 7 - 1918 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  16. The History Of Arizona, Volume 8 - 1918 | By Thomas Edwin Farish
  17. Arizona the Wonderland - 1917 | By George Wharton James
  18. The Story of Arizona - 1919 | By Will H. Robinson

The majority of the publications listed here were written with the intent to be historically accurate. This is not an attempt to make a point of historical fact by providing this information. It is intended to simply share what is documented about the American Southwest, primarily on the Arizona Territorial area.

There are no living people to speak for the time period related here. We must use recorded information to look into that era. The point-of-view of today is different from those living then. The intent here is not to provide an opinion. If one spends time reading the material listed, it will be enlightening as to life in the untamed Territory of Arizona as it was in the minds of the people of at that era.

Regarding the stories of the all of people in the Territory of Arizona it can bring out all emotions. From sympathy to anger and sadness to admiration, you will feel something. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like to be living here, or traveling through, at different times in the past. It is hopeful that all will find a least find some amusement looking through the window of the past provided here.

A little about the Arizona Land Surveyors of yester-year

It was a rough life for the Land Surveyor of yester-year. The Survey party that was sent out then consisted of a large crew. Usually between 5-7 men. There was a head Land Surveyor along with a couple of Land Surveyor trainees which pulled the chain. The chain was an actual 66 foot long chain, with 100 links, used to measure distance. It looks similar to what holding the flags at the base of the page. There were laborers to help clear trees and brush out of the way. Given the crude equipment of the time, it is amazing how accurate some of the old Land Surveyor's measurements were.

Land Surveying in Arizona Started in 1866. From a report in 1867 by Joseph S. Wilson, Commissioner of the General Land Office : "A contract was entered into with Deputy Surveyor William H. Pierce on the 15th day of December, 1866, for the survey in Arizona of 96 miles of the Gila and Salt River Meridian; 36 miles of the base line and standard and exterior township boundary lines, to amount in the aggregate to a sum not exceeding $7,500. Mr. Pierce completed the survey of the meridian from the initial corner north 24 miles, the base line from the same corner east 36 miles, and the first standard parallel north along the south boundary of township 5 north, east 42 miles, and west 42 miles, when the military protection which had been furnished him was withdrawn, and he was compelled to quit the field, the Indians infesting the country, rendering it unsafe and impracticable to continue the work without military escort. At his request, and by your order, Mr. Pierce has been released from further obligation to prosecute the work under his contract."

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Our Weekly Look into the Past of Arizona...

Chapter 127 - From #18 ; To the white man only a few of the trees, bushes and plants we have been considering would be regarded as productive of food, but to the aborigine, whose garden provided him at best with .........Continue to complete Chapter

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