by Linda Ogo and Sandra Lynch

Many American Indians have been popularized in books, documentaries, and provocative motion pictures.  The Yavapai Indians, however, have been largely absent from such published history.  Much of this is the result of a tradition that enabled the Yavapai to survive from prehistoric times to the present—that of preserving their culture within family groups.

Yavapai records are hidden in early Spanish documents where several expeditions recorded their encounter with the Yavapai.  Most of these encounters were friendly, as the Yavapai were known by many surrounding Native American tribes as “Cruzados” because of distinctive crosses they wore as items of apparel and body decorations.  The cross was a symbol of their “Nation” as early Spanish documents record.  This fascinated the Conquistadors and enabled peaceful interactions between them.  The Spaniards were looking for valuable silver and gold deposits, and the Yavapai were happy to show them their mines in the Jerome area.  The tradition of the cross continued well into the Indian war years, where it was used as a “message stick” to carry information for long distances between Yavapai groups.

The Yavapai are people of an ancient culture recognizably here in America for more than 10,000 years.  Their oral history, recorded both in song and narrative carefully kept by knowledgeable Yavapai elders, relate that they have always been here.  The Yavapai know that they have been here from “time immemorial.”  There are no migration stories, and the Yavapai young maiden who survived the “Flood” walked these lands, and her grandson, Skatakaamcha,named the mountains of their landscape, taught healing to the medicine people and cleared the land of many prehistoric predators.  These narratives are also documented in the Yavapai “libraries,” which are the petroglyphs and pictographs dating to an estimated 8,000 years ago.


In 1900, the Yavapai returned to Prescott, the heart of their homeland, establishing Camp Yavapai on the outskirts of town. (Photo Courtesy of Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number: IN-Y-2101p, cropped)

Archaeologists track the aboriginal territory of the Yavapai to over nine million acres.  The Yavapai groups used descriptive landscape names, such as “Wii-guvdtepai” (Granite Mountain People) for the Yavapai-Prescott group, as a way to record for posterity where their ancestors called home. The name “Yavapai” refers to a geographical concept—an easterly direction, toward the sun, which has traditional meanings as well.  All the groups are Yavapai but they also have a name describing their area of ancestry within their vast territory.  In this way the Yavapai were able to maintain their control of such a tremendous amount of territory.  The evidence of their presence can be found, left in small scatters of broken stone and distinctive Pai-points knapped by Yavapai hunters.  These points rank alongside the most finely-made arrow points found anywhere in the world.  It is recorded also that the Yavapai made many of the prehistoric “stone houses” nestled in rock shelters and strategic locations.

On their foraging treks to seasonal gathering places, the Yavapai took time to make ceramic vessels, which were carefully stored for use when needed for collecting and storing plants as they ripened.  They gathered great varieties of plants for food, tools, and medicines and also cultivated plants normally associated with village agriculture.  By cleverly seeding corn and squash in areas visited in the spring, most young plants survived to provide an additional bounty for the fall hunt.  Agave was processed and provided an essential carbohydrate prized for its calcium, sugar, and vitamin C.

The Yavapai made some of the most beautiful baskets in the world, and examples have been documented as a “Local Legacy” for Arizona in the Library of Congress.  Sharlot Hall Museum is a repository of many beautiful Yavapai baskets as well as Arizona State Museum, along with major museums across the United States and in foreign countries.

Today’s Yavapai continue their culture through classes for language, traditional basket weaving, and pottery.  Life-skills classes are often held in the mountains and valleys of their homeland, where traditional structures are lived in and hunting and gathering skills are practiced.

Linda Ogo, Culture Research Director for the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, and Audray Ogo Harley, also from the Culture Research Department,  invite you to join them for a FREE presentation at Sharlot Hall Museum to learn about the culture and history of the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe.  Their talk will be on Saturday, August 16, at 11a.m. in the Sharlot Hall Museum’s Lawler Exhibit Center.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to