Sedona Ancient History

Sedona is a city with a rich and fascinating history. Ancient Native American tribes considered Sedona to be the center of the universe, and rock art depicting their history can still be seen in the area today. Pioneers began growing crops and establishing the city’s name after resident Sedona Schnebly, founder of the hospitality business. Today, Sedona is well-known as a tourist destination, with its unique red rock landscape and amazing views. However, its history is just as remarkable as its natural beauty. Anyone who takes the time to explore Sedona’s past will be rewarded with a fascinating glimpse into the city’s long and rich history.

In a far away place in time, before any man can remember, the forces of the universe created ancient winds that began to blow rose-colored sand grains into magnificent mesas of crimson.

These pinnacles were sculpted by winds and waters into monuments of timeless beauty. A canvas of panoramic wonders stands today as Mother Nature’s own masterpiece, called Sedona!

Sedona has a rich and varied history, beginning tens-of-thousands of years ago.

The first Native Americans roamed the Sedona area about 37,000 years ago. At that time, nearly one sixth of the world’s surface was covered with gigantic glaciers. These frozen glaciers caused the sea levels to be lowered, in some places as much as 300 feet! Originally it was believed that Paleolithic man crossed a land bridge created by melting glaciers. However, recent data reveals that this is not so because that land corridor couldn’t have supported man’s survival.

There is compelling evidence that the Paleolithic man was preceded by an earlier and possibly separate population, but either way, the first people to reach the Americas in Ice-Age times would have found the corridor itself impassable, according to a study by David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University.

We do know that they wore animal furs, cooked over fires and hunted with tools of flint and bones. This new race of Paleo-Indian hunters is called “Elephant Hunters” because they hunted large ice age mammals like the mastodons, mammoths and elephants. It is known that these ancient hunters migrated down into the Verde Valley and roamed Red Rock Country since 11,000 B.C.

The nomadic Elephant Hunters experienced a more tropical Sedona that also supported wild ancient camels and huge bison. However, as the climate became drier, the lush vegetation was depleted, and the giant mammals disappeared from the area.

As the climate continued to change, a different culture of people developed called the “Archaics.” They relied more on hunting smaller animals and food gathering. Their stone tools or arrowheads have been found in the Sedona area dating back 4,000 years. The culture of the Archaics evolved into one of farming and pottery-making creating a tribe called the “Hakataya.”

About this same time, the Hohokam tribe migrated into the Sedona region from the south and merged with the Hakatya tribe. The Hohokam introduced the cultivation of crops utilizing irrigation canals. Irrigation farming enabled the Hohokam to settle in villages and to develop superior arts and craft skills. As master potters and craftsmen, the Hohokam were at least 300 years ahead of their European counter parts.

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They built one room huts partially underground called, “pithouses.”They even constructed elaborate ball courts like the one still standing at Wupatki just north of Sedona. The word “Hohokam” is a Pima Indian word meaning “those who have vanished,” which they did mysteriously.

Another tribe called “the Sinagua”  meaning “without water” were living North of the Hohokam near Flagstaff. These early Sinaguans were dry farmers and relied solely on rainfalls for their crops. They were not as sophisticated as the Hohokam and the typical Sinagua pottery was plain brown or brick red.

Around 1025 A.D. the Sinaguan people migrated to Sedona from the North and merged with the Hakatyas and Hohokams. The Hohokam and Early Southern Sinaguans tilled the soil and planted crops of corn, beans and squash. Another staple in their diet was the agave plant, which is also called the “century plant” because it was once thought it took one hundred years for its flowering stalk to shoot up. Actually, it blooms in about 25 years. When the plant is about to die, it’ll shoot a stalk right out of the middle that looks like a giant asparagus spear and will grow at the amazing rate of 8 to 12 inches per day!

The Ancient Sinaguans roasted the heart of this plant in a pit for several days. Then ate it much like we do the artichoke. They also used the spine of the agave reed as a needle and its fibers as thread like a self-contained sewing kit. They also carved the big spikes into spoons, or sometimes made whisk brooms out of them. Their sandals made from the agave leaves are so durable that archaeologists are digging up ancient sandals that are still intact, even though they were made over 1,000 years ago!

Suddenly the tranquil and productive lifestyle of the Sinagua came to an abrupt halt. Around 1064 A.D. a volcano erupted violently scattering volcanic ash over 800 square miles. This ominous dark cloud frightened these gentle people and they fled from their peaceful homeland.

The Hopi and the Navajo arrived centuries later. Sunset Crater is still considered as a holy place by the Hopi, who believe that the friendly Kana spirit lives here and that a wind god, Yaponcha, inhabits a fissure at the base of the cinder cone.

As a result of this eruption a very fertile soil was created by the volcanic ash.

This attracted neighboring tribes, like the Anasazi. The two tribes merged and exchanged ideas. The Anasazi taught the Sinagua how to build their architectural masterpieces of multi-room pueblos.

These dwellings were constructed with low entrance ways so an intruder would have to bend over to enter. The family was then able to club the intruder over the head and capture him.

Today, you can still see these ancient cliff-dwelling ruins like Montezuma’s Castle near Sedona. It is an excellent reminder of the superior level of civilization which these ancient people achieved. Their masterfully constructed dwellings were built facing the South so they would get the low angle of winter sun that kept them warm but also avoided the direct scorching, hot sun in the summer.  The builders of Montezuma’s Castle were so skilled they even curved their 12- inch thick walls to fit the shape of the cave. Montezuma’s Castle, was home to about fifty people.

Sedona ancient cliff dwellings

Another cliff-dwelling near Sedona is “Tuzigoot,” which is an Apache name meaning “crooked water,” perhaps referring to nearby Peck’s Lake. It is believed the ancients built this large ruin that housed over 250 people during the drought of the 1200’s. The drought, which lasted between 1276 and 1299 A.D. forced these dry farmers to move closer to the Verde River.

Tuzigoot was constructed high on a hill with two stories and 97 rooms. A ladder through the hatchway in the roof provided entry instead of a doorway.  The roofs were made of pine and sycamore beams covered by willow branches and sealed with mud.

By the mid-fourteen hundred’s, these civilized pueblo people suddenly disappeared.  No one knows why. There are only a few traces left by these intelligent people such as their ancient petroglyphs and pictographs etched on nearby cave walls. Why did they leave so suddenly….without a trace? Leaving behind their corn cobs still roasting in their fires?  

The answer to this mystery is known only to the thousand -year old walls of their primitive dwellings. Perhaps the answer is in their crude etchings on the rocks. Are their messages in stone clues that could unlock their secrets and dreams.?

We can only imagine what it was like to walk in the steps of the Anasazi, which is a name given to them by the Navaho meaning, “ancient ones.” We do know that they walked Sedona’s land over a thousand years ago in yucca- made sandals. They were short, gentle people, who left their footprints in stones and their stories in carvings on the rock walls.  When they etched their “rock art” out from the dark, desert varnish it was called, ‘petroglyphs.” On the other hand, pictographs are painted pictures using color pigments from the clay, minerals and natural plant dyes.

Sedona Native Americans

Evidence suggests that the meaning of their rock art is mainly religious since everyday life seemed to revolve around the spirit world. These ancient people were very superstitious and mystical. They believed that animals, as well as natural phenomenon were spirits of mythical gods and capable of great magic that could control their destinies. They believed that following the movements of celestial bodies like the sun, was the way to follow the movements of their gods… the moon, sun and stars.  

They recorded the movements of their “gods of the sky” with a crude solar calendar, which they etched in the rock walls in such a way so the sun’s rays would light up a particular section of the glyph indicating the various solstices and seasons. For example, when both sides would light up it meant it was the beginning of winter and the animals they hunted where going to migrate South.

This solar glyph also told them when to plant their corn; when the sun god would shine on the seedlings and when the god of rain would water their plants.

These concentric circles or solar calendars could only be interpreted by the shamans or high priests of their tribe. The shamans are depicted in rock art usually with triangular bodies and horned headdresses or masked faces to distinguish them as the spirit guides.  Often the supposed visions of the shamans were recorded next to their image.

The concentric circle calendar was also a symbol of the shaman’s gateway to the spirit world where they received their universal knowledge such as how to interpret the solar calendar glyph.

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Today, glyph interpretations vary but many common opinions have been formed. For instance, the mountain lion portrayed in this rock art could mean that a warrior killed the lion at that location or it could be the name of the clan of that area or a certain spirit that ruled that particular canyon.

These pictographs represent some type of combat. Whether it is marking the location of a battle waged between tribes or between their supernatural gods is unknown.

A somewhat humorous glyph is the hunchbacked, flute- playing, Kokopelli.

Kokopelli is a colorful character, who is found in many ancient sites. He is very definitely male and the personification of their fertility rites. Kokopelli is the deity of potency and perhaps the most popular glyph of the Anasazi.

Hand prints like these symbolized that the owner of the prints was praying to the gods for either a prosperous hunting season or relief from fear of evil depending on nearby glyphs. In either case, the hand prints were also placed there to assure that the god would know by whom the prayer was being made.

Ancient Sedona artists also displayed their creativity in their distinct white and black pottery. Their jewelry made from juniper berry seeds were considered valuable and traded for cotton, seashells and beads from the far east.

The Anasazi were extremely resourceful and even made chewing gum from the pinon tree. These ancient ones slept under carefully handmade blankets of yucca and turkey feathers. The very blankets that they would also be buried in along with their dreams.

The Northeastern Yavapai entered the Verde Valley by 1582 A.D. Then the Tonto Apache arrived somewhere between 1400 and 1700 A.D. The tribes eventually merged and today are referred to as Yavapai-Apache Tribe.

Yavapai is pronounced “yah-vah-pie” which means “people of the sun.” The Yavapai refer to themselves as Wipuhk’a’bah and speak the Yuman language. The Western Yavapai lived in the Northern mountains of the Sonoran Desert.

The Northeastern Yavapai lived in the Middle Verde Valley and Red Rock Country around Sedona.

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Who Discovered Sedona?

It was a quest for gold and silver and two missing Franciscan priests that brought European explorers to Sedona around 1583.  Antonio de Espejo was the first European man to travel to Red Rock Country. .

After discovering that the priests had been killed, Espejo, four Spaniards and several Hopi guides followed the “Palatkwapi Trail” which means the “Trail of the Red Rocks.” They followed the trail in search of gold and turquoise. The Palatkwapi Trail descended from the Hopi Mesas to the Verde Valley by route of Chavez Pass. Perhaps Espejo didn’t find silver or gold here in the way he thought he would but the scenic countryside was certainly a precious commodity to behold.

Pioneers, prospectors, surveyors and trappers began to arrive in the early 1800’s. Their peaceful co-existence with the Yavapai and Apache tribes was short lived because the white man began taking over the Native American’s hunting grounds. The Native Americans reacted by raiding the white man’s crops.

Tensions and raids accelerated. The army sent troops, who established Camp Lincoln, named after the President Lincoln but it was soon changed to Camp Verde. 

Unfortunately, malaria overtook many of the men killing more soldiers than the feuding raids did.  A tough General George Crook was called in to settle the problem. He finally contained the Native Americans in 1871 and convinced them to grow surplus crops on a reservation.

However, the farm machinery he promised to them never arrived and politicians and ruthless ranchers succeeded in having the reservation abolished. In 1875 the Native American’s were ordered to immediately move to the San Carlos reservation despite the harsh cold of March. In the “March of Tears,’ where hundreds of Native Americans died in this merciless march of death.

How Did Sedona Get Its Name

In 1901 a Pennsylvania Dutch couple, Carl and Sedona Schnebly moved to Sedona. They purchased 80 acres of land where the present- day Los Abrigados is located and built a large home, which coincidentally became the first Sedona hotel.  

Hoping to get a post office established, Carl Schnebly submitted the name, “Schnebly Station”. It was rejected because it was too long. Carl’s brother, Ellsworth suggested they use Sedona’s name. The post office accepted her name and in 1902 the town of Sedona was founded. Sedona was officially named after Sedona Schnebly.

Sedona Art History

Crude etchings in the rocks near ancient Indian ruins mark the beginning of Sedona’s Art History. Their petroglyphs (etchings) and pictographs (paintings) are relished today as timeless art forms. They can still be viewed in the many Indian ruins that dot the Sedona area.

Art in Sedona began in a barn. The Jordan family’s other orchard grew alongside Art Barn Road. This old Jordan apple-packing barn became an historic landmark when it was purchased by the newly formed Sedona art Center on April 28, 1961.  This fulfilled the dream of the Egyptian-born Nassan Gobran. Gobran fell in love with Sedona the moment he laid eyes on red rock country and literally dreamt the night he arrived of the city becoming a center for the arts — an artists haven.

Crude etchings in the rocks near ancient Indian ruins mark the beginning of Sedona’s Art History. Their petroglyphs (etchings) and pictographs (paintings) are relished today as timeless art forms. They can still be viewed in the many Indian ruins that dot the Sedona area.

Fate introduced Gobran to internationally-famed surrealist Max Ernst in Sedona. Gobran was commissioned by Ernst to cast the notorious sculpture, “Capricorn” and Sedona’s art fame ensued.  

Due to the unfaltering efforts of the late Nassan Gobran, Sedona has become widely recognized as a center for the Arts in the West. Sedona also became the birthplace of the “Cowboy Artists of America. Sedona resident, Joe Beeler, Charlie Dye, John Hampton and Robert Mac Leod founded this historic group on June 23, 1965 at the Oak Creek Tavern known today as the Cowboy Club in Uptown Sedona.

Today Cowboy Artists of America is one of the most prestigious associations in the history of American Art and continues to authentically perpetuate the memory and culture of the Old West.

Presently there are over 25 art galleries in Sedona, where world-renowned as well as very talented local artists exhibit their works. More than 400 artists reside in Sedona, along with an unknown number of authors, movie stars and others of the creative spirit, who are naturally attracted to Sedona’s aesthetic surroundings.

A work of art in itself, Sedona, is a land of majestic beauty. Every sunrise and sunset inspires a new drama. The rocks are painted by the light into breathtaking hues of red and gold.

Wander through SedonaBest.com and discover the beauty of amazing art that awaits you in Sedona!

Hollywood In Sedona

Zane Grey

In 1923 Zane Grey convinced producer, Jesse Lasky to film the silent hit movie based on that book in its actual setting. After its success, film crews flocked to Sedona’s beautiful Red Rock Country. Since then hundreds of movies have been filmed here.Today, it is not unusual to see Hollywood film crews shooting movies, TV commercials, music videos and TV programs all using Sedona’s natural beauty as their backdrop.

A work of art in itself, Sedona, is a land of majestic beauty. Every sunrise and sunset inspires a new drama. The rocks are painted by the light into breathtaking hues of red and gold. Crude etchings in the rocks near ancient Indian ruins mark the beginning of Sedona’s Art History. Their petroglyphs (etchings) and pictographs (paintings) are relished today as timeless art forms. They can still be viewed in the many Indian ruins that dot the Sedona area.

Sedona’s popularity in the modern art world began with the dream of the great Egyptianborn American sculptor named Nassan Gobran. Once in Sedona, Gobran met Max Ernst, the internationally famed surrealist who was one of the originators of the collage. Gobran’s dream for Sedona was to make it “a center for the arts” because it was “an artist’s haven.” Gobran’s dream became a reality on April 28, 1961, when the old Jordan applepacking barn was purchased and became the Sedona Arts Center.

Another major landmark in Sedona’s art history was the founding of the Cowboy Artists of America. Joe Beeler, Charlie Dye, John Hampton and Robert MacLeod founded this group on June 23, 1965. Its purpose is to authentically perpetuate the memory and culture of the Old West.Today it is one of the most influential groups in American Art. More than 400 artists reside in Sedona, along with an unknown number of authors, actors, and others of the creative spirit.

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