Cliff Dwelling People, Ancient Life at Montezuma Castle is a fiction story about a girl named Nayeli who would have lived in the early 1300s. She is a member of the Sinaqua tribe who possibly migrated from Ridge Ruin, occupied from Ad 1085 – 1207, about 30 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, United States. They built Montezuma’s Castle, a five story, 20 room structure, which was an astounding feat. They inhabited the cliff dwelling possibly till the 15th century. Later inhabitants were the Anasazi people. Both the Sinaqua and Anasazi peoples are ancestors of today’s Hopi people of the Four Corners Region. The Hopi journey to the cliff dwelling once a year to honor their ancestors.
Nayeli tells of two days in her life at the cliff dwelling:
After saying my morning prayer of thanks to Great Spirit I go over to a small opening and gaze out from our cliff dwelling and admire lands of beauty as far as I can see. Far below me Black Hawk circles effortlessly above Beaver Creek, looking for aquatic animals. I know his mate waits in a nearby tree. The call of the beautiful Gambel Quail, encouraging his mate and young ones to hurry to their destination, echoes throughout the canyon and drifts up to me.
A little wren perches on the ledge and looks up at me expectantly. I slowly scatter some crumbs saved from my morning bread along the ledge and say a prayer to protect little sister bird. She cautiously hopped forward a little at a time cocking her head, watching to make sure I would not harm her. Then she began pecking at the crumbs. After a few quick tastes she flies away. I leave the opening, knowing she will come back soon.
Across the room I climb a ladder to an upper level and walk over to an opening where I can see the black hills stretching out to the distant mountains. I would have to gather some juniper berries and leaves today for Grandmother’s headaches. The tea we make from the leaves will help her. I retrieve my pouch from the corner where my blankets lay crumbled after my night’s rest. I shake and fold the blankets and place them near my baskets, then check my pouches to make sure I have everything. I never go anywhere without my medicinal herbs, cutting tools, and totems. I attach the pouches and my long knife to my belt then tie the belt around my waist. As I picked up my gathering basket there was suddenly a strange, uncomfortable feeling crossing my mind. I stood up and closed my eyes for several minutes. No visions of any danger came to me, so I left the sleep room and went down to tell Mother and Grandmother where I will be for the day and that Rayen, my friend, will go with me. We hoped to gather some amaranth, buckwheat, ricegrass, cactus fruit and beeweed flowers as well as the juniper berries.
Father left yesterday morning with the hunter group. They had not yet returned and should be back soon with meat for the tribe.
Rayen and I had been out gathering plants and roots for a few hours. We were happy with the amounts we had in our baskets. We had decided to sit and rest for awhile when Antiman, Rayen’s brother, and a few other young scouts, came running towards us. “Get back to the cliff!” Antiman yelled and pointed to our cliff dwelling before he reached us. “Hurry, we have little time. We might be followed.”
Two of the scouts took our baskets to carry and they all surrounded us as we ran back home. When we were safely up in the cliff dwelling the scouts pulled up all ladders and ropes then warned our chief to post warriors on lookout. After Antiman consulted with the chief and warriors in the great kiva he came to Rayen and I as we anxiously awaited his news. By that time, all the women and their children had gathered with us, waiting to be advised of obvious trouble. Antiman explained that they had found part of our hunting group who had been attacked by an enemy tribe. Two of our hunters had been killed and three enemies were also killed. “Our hunters fought well. The six who were not there have either been captured or managed to escape. We do not know where they are.”
All the women started crying and wailing. Antiman had to tell the two women who had lost their husbands. My mind was spinnling crazily. Father! My father and Rayen’s father were hopefully still alive and had escaped. We knelt together and prayed that our fathers had not been captured. Captors would be tortured before being killed.
The rest of that day was a nightmare. Antiman and the other scouts were included in the war party being organized to search for our hunters. Every woman stayed busy cooking for the warriors and packing pemmican in pouches for their men. Other than their weapons the warriors had to travel light to keep up their speed. They ate lightly of the cooked food. When the warriors gathered to leave all the women and children knelt in a circle at the back of the plaza, praying. We knew not what our warriors would find or what they would encounter.
Mother and Grandmother spent the night, each in their private sleep area, praying. I stayed at the opening facing the black hills, where enemies would come from. I had hopes that Father was okay, for the feeling of danger I had early the morning before I went out to gather had not shown a vision of sorrow. Still I prayed to Great Spirit that Father would come home safe. Off and on I lay my head on a blanket at the opening and dozed. When Grandfather Sun began to shed light early in the morning I awoke with a start and gazed out towards the hills. I thought I saw some movement and fear rose in me. I kept watching till I could see more clearly. It was our war party and they were moving slow. I saw four travois being carried by the scouts. I prayed the men on the travois were not dead. I called to Mother and Grandmother. They came to the opening to watch.
By the time our warriors reached the cliff dwelling all women had gathered to wait for them. The warriors stationed as outlooks lowered ladders and kept close watch that our war party was not being followed. The first men up the ladders to our cliff dwelling were the hunters. Ropes were let down to tie the travois securely to be pulled up. When I saw Father’s face appear at the top of one of the ladders I knew he was okay and started to get up and run to him. Mother pulled me back down and told me we had to wait till the council was finished talking. All the hunters and warriors went to the kiva to talk with the chief. Our spiritual leader and medicine man would be there to heal the two wounded hunters and conduct a ceremony for the two dead hunters found at the attack sight. We all returned to our homes to begin cooking for our men.
The men spent hours in the kiva. Food and water was sent down to them. Tomorrow the whole tribe would participate in a ceremony and burial rites for our dead hunters.
When night time came again we all gave thanks that Father was safe and back home with us. The two antelope and several rabbits they had were taken by the enemy, but there would be more hunting soon. The presence and spiritual strength of Father was so comforting in our home and we slept well.
Note from Author:
Names of my characters were found on a site for ancient Native American names. I found no name references for the Sinaqua people, so. I chose names that sound good for my characters. Some information about the cliff dwelling and Ridge Ruin in my introduction was retrieved from Prehistoric People of the Desert Southwest by J.W. Sharp .
All information of flora and fauna come from my own research of the Sinaqua. The daily routine of Nayeli comes from my own knowledge from years of heavy research on the ancient cliff dwellers, hunters and gatherers.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns
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