Saturday, October 31, 2015
Museum offers intimate look into lives of early Arizonans
A diorama at the Sharlot Hall Living History Museum in Prescott, Ariz., shows a mother from the Yavapai Prescott tribe teaching her young daughter how to weave one of the 40 different baskets used by their people.
Last week, we introduced you to the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Ariz., a major living history museum. This week we will take you through some of the other buildings that bring visitors back to what life on the frontier was like in the 1800s.
The first building we entered, the Frémont House, was staffed by a master’s level historian who was an admirer of John Charles Frémont (1813-1890), a former governor of Arizona who had lived in the house for a number of years. He was a famous explorer known as “the Pathfinder,” an anti-slavery presidential candidate and a military officer during the Civil War.
Later in life, Frémont became destitute and had to depend on the earnings from the writings of his wife, Jessie, the daughter of Missouri Sen. Thomas Hart Benton. The house had to be substantially rebuilt after falling into disrepair, but it has been refurnished with furniture and artifacts of the time Frémont lived there.
The old Governor’s Mansion was staffed by a very pleasant guide who, for the past 16 years, has been dedicated to making history interesting for the fourth-grade children visiting from around the state. She took them all back to the days before electronics and power tools when the important occupations were tin smiths, wheelwrights, coach makers and gunsmiths.
One room in the mansion displays a dozen boxes visitors can open that hold different equipment of the 1800s, such as shaving tools, a gun with a bullet mold and gunpowder container and what a man might carry in his pockets. Boards that had covered the log walls have been removed and the room was close to its original condition when it was built in 1864 to house John Goodwin, the first territorial governor.
There also is a series of small log buildings on the grounds: a ranch house, a schoolhouse, a frontier mercantile and Fort Misery. Built in 1863, Fort Misery is the oldest building in the collection. There is a question as to whether it ever actually was a fort. One story indicated the building was called Fort Misery because of the way one of its occupants, a judge, handed out justice. Another story notes that when the building was converted to a boarding house, the food was miserable.
The major displays are in the largest building, the Sharlot Hall, where the largest collection of artifacts is on display. One section called “Baskets Keep Talking” has objects from 9,000 years ago, which show how the Yavapai-Prescott tribe lived. Forty different uses for baskets are listed, among them infant cradles, seed beaters, strainers, artwork, fish traps and cooking equipment.
One setup with mannequins has a mother teaching her young daughter how to weave a basket.
The other section has wax museum scenes from everyday life on the frontier, among them a young officer proposing to the colonel’s daughter, a mother teaching her daughter to wash clothes and a chuck wagon where food is being prepared for the cowboys.
The final building we visited was the transportation building, which had a collection of vehicles of the period: a stagecoach, a covered wagon, various buggies and a small collection of bicycles.
As our readers probably recognize, we are interested in the past and how people survived. Our experiences in living history museums makes us thankful for the rather luxurious lives we 21st century people live.
Animals of the period appeared to be quite dangerous
The Hohokam: Arizona's Lost Tribe
The Hohokam, an American Indian tribe we had not previously heard of, might have been the most technologically advanced tribe of its time living in what is now the United States. They appeared to have started the settlement of a little village, Pueblo Grande, before A.D. 500. They left in the mid-15th century 1,000 years later.
The site is now the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix, Ariz. Our visit began with a movie from which we learned that, at one time, much water was flowing into the Salt River from the mountains. It needed to be controlled in irrigation canals if it was to be used for growing food. The food plants of the area were squash, corn, jack beans, tepary beans, lima beans and barley. The Hohokam also grew cotton and tobacco.
The Hohokam developed ways to control the river. Using only simple tools, baskets and digging sticks, they created deep, 10-foot-wide canals that made growing lush fields of plants possible. With this control, the Hohokam also made it possible for fish and small animals to thrive, giving the tribe an additional source of food. Small communities grew into villages that eventually formed large pueblos, of which Pueblo Grande was an example.
Living quarters have been reconstructed
The museum had a number of interesting collections. First was the Dig It room, which featured the fundamentals of the area’s archeology. In the Landscapes and Lifeways room, a 3-D map illustrated the canals the Hohokam built and how they controlled them. One room provided more about the Hohokams’ lifestyle and displayed their art — such as petroglyphs — and trade goods, including the beautiful pottery.
We walked the Going Back in Time Trail in 107 degree heat. The guide at the museum gave us each a large umbrella for protection against the sun. Fortunately, there were numerous water fountains along the trail.
Indian mounds are frequently found throughout American Indian cultures, and the one here has been preserved and partly reconstructed. We climbed to the top of it and saw the rocky outlines of the rooms that once existed there. Much information about the Hohokam lifestyle has been gathered from the garbage piles they built up over the years, giving us information on such things as what animals they ate.
Close to the mound was an adobe compound with two one-room buildings within a wall. Here were artifacts including tools used for upkeep of the area, arrow-making tools, weaving equipment and grinding rocks for turning grains into edible food. Later in the museum, we saw an example of cotton cloth and a loom. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to us before that American Indians wore more than animal skins.
A courtyard had examples of earlier Hohokam abodes — pit houses with entrances like those of igloos from around A.D. 950. Pottery-making equipment was also on display. Later, we learned that materials in the area were ideal for making pottery, including the ability to get an ideal temperature from burning mesquite. This led to the women, who made the pottery, having special power in the tribe because their objects became major trading goods throughout a 400-mile span.
The tour stressed the importance of location, location, location for setting up a successful culture. A close proximity to resources such as flint for weapons, weaving material, sea shells for jewelry and other trade goods was important for the success of the culture.
The Hohokam traded pottery for a variety of other goods
Games were important for the Hohokam, and the original ball court can be seen at the museum. While few details are known about the rules of the game, we could see the pits at each end that served as goals and the walls where the viewers would stand on the top sides.
Our last stop was the gardens that were growing a variety of plants. We were told the story of how birds and animals were kept away by scarecrows, grandfathers and noisemakers.
We have no conclusive answer to why the tribe disappeared — only questions. Was it a flood? Was it a dry period? Were there enemies? Did the population outgrow the resources? Did internal conflict destroy them? We are only sure that they disappeared as a culture.