Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Many Southwest tribal groups descended from Anasazi cliff dwellers


An ancient group of Indians (Native Americans) who had a great impact on the history of the Old West, specifically in the Southwestern region of the U.S., was the Anasazi cliff dwellers. They were ancestors of more well-known, modern tribal groups such as the Zuni and Hopi. The Anasazi created the captivating Pueblo dwellings such as Mesa Verde and Kayenta.

The word “Anasazi” itself is a Navajo term that means “the ancient ones,” and researches say these people lived in what is now known as the Four Corners Region (where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah boundaries come together) until about seven or eight centuries ago. Archaeology is sketchy, and written records are non-existent, about where these Anasazi cliff dwellers may have originated. And all that’s known about their departure from that region into the Rio Grande Valley near the end of the 1200s — where they became the ancestors of the Zuni and Hopi tribes — is that it may have come about because of extended drought or pressure from their enemies. (One source tells us that contemporary Pueblo groups object to the name “Anasazi” because it is a word from their longtime “enemies,” the Navajos.)

Anasazi life was based on agriculture, included the development of wonderful Anasazi pottery, and showed a highly developed ceremonial religion.

It is always important to remember that few cultures or groups of people lived in isolation, with many ancestral and tribal groups have an impact on each other. The Anasazi cliff dwellers at their height traded and spread people and traditions throughout the Southwest and into the Plains regions. An excellent source of information about the spread of tribal cultures and the ancestral origins of Native Americans throughout the West, especially the Plains, is a very readable yet scholarly work titled “The Plains Indians” by Paul Carlson.