Before there was a Davis or Bullhead City, before Hardyville, the Colorado River Valley was the home of the Pipa Aha Macav — “The People By The River.” Today our neighbors are better known as Mojave.
The Mojave are the most northern of the Yuman tribes. The traditional homeland stretched along the Colorado River from Black Canyon near the present site of Hoover Dam to the Picacho Mountains below Parker Dam. The tribe lived in three groups or clans.
The northern Matha lyathum clan lived along the river from Black Canyon to near the present site of Mojave Valley. The central Hutto-pah inhabited the central Mojave Valley. The southern clan, Kavi lyathum, lived in villages between the Mojave Valley to a point below Needles Peaks.
The Mojave masterfully used the the regular overflow of the Colorado River to irrigate crops planted along the banks. Foods grown were supplemented with wild seeds, roots, mesquite beans, fish taken from the river with nets and traps, and game hunted in the mountains along the river.
There is increasing evidence that the Mojave, and tribes in northwestern Arizona, were prolific traders. A trade route that was later incorporated into the Mojave Road across the Mojave Desert connected with tribes living along the Pacific coast and in the Los Angeles basin.
The Mojave developed a unique style of pottery used for pots, dishes, ladles, bowels and other items decorated with distinctive geometric designs. Pottery was also used to make dolls for children that even had human hair.
Early European and American explorers noted that the Mojave were adept tattoo artists that used dots, lines and other markings on their faces as a fashionable cosmetic adornment. Olive Oatman who spent time with the Mojave was famous for the tattoo on her chin.
The first European references to the Mojave were made during the expedition led New Mexico governor Don Juan Onate in 1604. But the first European to spend with the Mojave and document their culture was Fray Francisco Garces that led expeditions in the area and across northern Arizona in 1775 and 1776.
He noted that the Mojave were friendly even though they had a reputation among the Hualapai for being fierce warriors. He noted in his travel journal that “the female sex is the most comely along the river, the males very healthy and robust.” He also noted that the men walked naked, the woman wore rabbits and beaver skin capes. He called them Jamajab.
The clash of cultures commenced in earnest with the arrival of American mountain men led by Jedediah Smith in 1826. Initially the Mojave welcomed the trappers. In 1827, James Ohio Pattie and a party of trappers were working their way along the Colorado River collecting beaver pelts. They ignored the Mojave demand in exchange for the beaver. There may have been a resultant assault on a Mojave elder. Four days later several men in the Pattie party and more than a dozen Mojave were killed in a battle.
Later that year Jedediah Smith returned with a party of trappers and was attacked. For more than thirty years afterward there would be clashes between the Mojave, explorers, trappers, immigrants and settlers.
In May 1854, Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen, a German artist, was hired as a topographer and draftsman for the Lt. Amiel Whipple expedition. While charting surveying a possible route for a proposed transcontinental railway he documented Native Americans, including the Mojave people, and scenes of the southwest.
You can learn more about the Mojave people and the Bullhead City area at the Colorado River Museum. Housed in a building built in 1947 to serve the population of workers who were building Davis Dam. The Museum is located a few miles south of the Laughlin Bridge at Bullhead Community Park.
To learn more about area attractions contact the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.
Picture by Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen courtesy the Library of Congress
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America