National Geographic : 1948 May
Land of the Havasupai BY JACK BREED FEW of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Arizona who marvel at Grand Canyon every year realize that in a hid den side sanctum of this mighty gorge a tribe of 250 Indians peacefully farms verdant fields. After the beautiful stream that flows merrily through their canyon home they are called Havasupai (People of the Blue-green Water).* First record of a visit by a white man to the Havasupai is that of Padre Francisco Garces in 1776. The Spanish father descended into the canyon about the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the latter part of the 19th century sev eral exploring parties crossed the land of the Havasupai, but the tiny tribe remained vir tually unknown until 1918 when Leslie Spier, anthropologist of the American Museum of Natural History, lived for several months at Supai and began to study them. Hard to Find, But Has a Telephone At Grand Canyon village, on the south rim, few of the National Park personnel could give information on the canyon of the Havasupai- some 35 miles west of the main tourist area. I learned, however, that the road to Havasu Hilltop, beginning of the tortuous 14-mile trail descent into the canyon, was terrible, but that the remote land of the Havasupai had good telephone service! An easy call from the Grand Canyon tele phone office put me in touch with cordial Noble Guthrie, then Indian subagent at Supai, who told me how to reach the land of the blue-green water people. I could either go to the rim on the mail bus on Tuesdays or Fridays, or drive out myself any day. An Indian guide with pack horses would meet me at the Hilltop if I came in my own car, or I could go out with the mail and con tinue into the canyon on the mail horses. I elected to drive the 35 miles to Havasu Hill top (map, page 659). Before starting, I purchased food supplies at the Grand Canyon store, for visitors to Supai must do their own cooking. For gifts to the "aborigines" I added a sizable box of cookies, candies, cigarettes, and chocolate bars. The road from Grand Canyon, through Rowes Well, to Havasu Hilltop was far better than I had been led to expect. For the most part, it was an ungraded dirt affair that wound through pine and juniper timber areas, as well as the expansive meadows bordering the south rim of the canyon. At the 33-mile mark this easy dirt road ended, and the last stage required careful driv ing to negotiate a twisting, rocky wash. Sev eral dilapidated barns and numerous junked automobiles and wagons littered Havasu Hill top, the start of the Topocoba Trail down Lee Canyon to hidden Supai village. John D. Lee, for whom this particular branch canyon is named, was a notorious outlaw of the 1860's who lived for three years with the Havasupai while hiding out after the Mountain Meadow iIassacre in 1857. At the head of Topocoba Trail, where I arrived in half the three hours I had been told the drive would take, I waited for about an hour before shouts and whistling from the canyon depths told me my guide was ap proaching. The overhang of the rim and the steepness of the dropoff prevented my seeing more than a few hundred feet down the trail. The shouts continued for more than a half hour before Joe Jones, my Havasupai guide, came into view. When Joe greeted me with a throaty hello, I was certainly amazed by his appearance. The traditional costume that I was expecting on a member of a remote and untouched tribe turned out to be a pair of tweed trousers given him by some previous visitor, a sweat shirt, heavy boots, cotton socks, and, to top it all, a baseball cap! His round face, tanned and wrinkled and brightened by keen brown eyes, reminded me of the faces of the Hopi, but his gray hair was neatly cut and parted in barbershop style. Joe spoke little English, but enough to tell me he'd like to share my luncheon sandwiches. He had ridden 14 miles that morning from the village with no food or water. Horses Preferred to Mules Soon he had my camping gear and equip ment strapped to the crude wooden pack sad dle, and the modern Western riding saddle cinched up for me. With Joe quietly puffing on one of the cigarettes I had brought along and munching a candy bar, we set off down the trail, driving the pack horses ahead of us. It was interesting to note that the Hava supai use horses and not mules. I asked Joe about this, and he replied, "You train horse early, he good as mule, faster." * See "Indian Tribes of Pueblo Land," by Matthew W. Stirling, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Novem ber, 1940.