Arizona: Pima


The Pima Indians are known as the “River People.” Today the Pima Indians are primarily on three reservations in Arizona:

  • The Gila River Reservation
  • The Salt River Reservation
  • The Ak-Chin Reservation

The Pima Indians were excellent farmers and extended the Hohokam’s already large irrigation system with reservoirs, dams, and over 200 miles of irrigation ditches. They developed strains of drought-resistant corn and were able to raise several crops a year to store and trade.

Indian raiders (believed to be Apache) from New Mexico came in three times between 1500 and 1800 and the Pima fled, only to return when the raiders left. Many Pima were killed or enslaved during these raids.

After each raid, the Pima rebuilt their water systems and their agricultural economy. After the third raid, they built mud and thatch houses rather than rebuilding their adobe towns.

For the most part, the Spanish left the Pima alone and they did not convert to Catholicism. The Pima added wheat to their crop rotation after obtaining seeds from the Spanish.

The Pima were polygamists. Men could take as many wives as they could support, but marriages were quite easy to abolish. Life was hard for the Pima women, who did most of the work.

After the 1849 gold rush in California white settlers moved into the Pima’s traditional territory next to the Pima River. They pushed the Pima off their fertile land and away from their water sources. The Pima moved to the Salt River area.