For thousands of years the Hopi Indians have lived in permanent farming villages in what is now northern Arizona.
The Hopi are not a tribe in the sense of having a unified central government: they are a grouping of politically autonomous villages. The designation Hopi is a contraction of Hopi-tuh which means “peaceful ones.” The Hopi villages, called pueblos by the Spanish, include:
Walpi which means “place of the gap.”
Sichomovi which means “place of the mound where wild currents grow.”
Hano is actually a Tewa village whose name is derived from anopi which means eastern people.
Shungopovi which means “place by the spring where the tall reeds grow.”
Michongovi which means “place of the black man.” The name comes from Mishong, the leader of the Crow Clan who brought his people from the San Francisco peaks to Hopi in 1200 AD.
Shipaulovi which means “the mosquitos.”
Oraibi which means “place of the rock called Orai.”
Kiakochomovi which means “place of the hills of ruins.”
Hotevilla which means “skinned back.”
Bakabi (Bacobi) which means “place of the jointed reeds.”
Moenkopi which means “place of running water.”
As a farming people, the Hopi historically raised 19 different varieties of corn were raised, but no single family raised all of these varieties. Each family carefully guarded its own seeds and seeds were given away only when a young man married and went to live with his wife’s people.
Regarding Hopi religion, John Loftin, in his book Religion and Hopi Life, reports:
“The Hopi are not polytheistic; rather, they worship one spiritual substance that manifests itself in many modes of being.”
Land is a fundamental part of Hopi spirituality. According to Hopi Bluebird Chief Andrew Hermaquaftewa:
“Our religious teachings are based upon the proper care of our land and the people who live upon it.”
Rain is an important focus of Hopi spirituality. There is a short growing season – 133 days – coupled with limited rainfall – an average of 12 inches per year. Thus it is important that the Hopi obtain supernatural help to make sure that there is adequate rainfall at the right time to ensure bountiful harvests. Many of the complex and beautiful Hopi rituals and dances are intended to bring rain.
Mormons and Indians
Compared to other forms of Christianity and to the traditional Hopi religion, Mormonism—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDSS)—is a fairly recent religion having emerged in the nineteenth century as a result of a vision. While the Bible doesn’t mention American Indians, the Book of Mormon which is composed of fifteen books which tell the story of a family who left Jerusalem about 600 BCE and eventually settled in the Americas.
In the Americas, the immigrants broke into two groups: Nephites and Lamanites. The Lamanites, who turned away from Christ’s teachings, would become American Indians. In an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, Floyd O’Neil and Stanford Layton report:
“Descendants from Laman, rebellious son of Lehi whose family had sailed from the Old World to the American continent in the seventh century B.C., these people grew distant from the teachings of God and came to assume a ‘dark and loathesome’ countenance. Becoming fierce and warlike, they succeeded over a period of centuries in annihilating their righteous, lighter-skinned brethren.”
According to the Mormon belief, American Indians were descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel who had lost their way spiritually. In his book Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960, Edward H. Spicer writes:
“It was therefore a duty of Mormons to convert Indians and bring them back to the right path.”
Mormon Missions to the Hopi in the 19th Century
In 1847, the Mormons entered what is now Utah and began to proselytize the Utes, Paiutes, and Shoshones who had traditionally lived in this area. Within a decade, the Mormon missionaries began to move south into present-day Arizona and to seek converts among the Hopi. Overall, the Mormon missionary work attracted only a few converts, but it was somewhat more successful than other Christian missionary efforts.
Jacob Hamblin (1819-1886), a sub-Indian agent, reported in 1858 that the Mormon mission to the Paiute in southern Utah had not been successful and suggested that missionary efforts be redirected to the Hopi and the Navajo. Consequently, Jacob Hamblin and eleven other men set out from Utah to make contact with the Hopi villages south of the Colorado River (in Arizona). The group was charged by Mormon leader Brigham Young to make contact with the Hopi and to preach the gospel to them. The party reached the village of Oraibi and the Hopi treated them with friendship. According to the Mormon accounts, there was a Hopi prophesy that the Mormons would bring the Hopi knowledge which they had formerly had.
Two years later, Jacob Hamblin attempted to return to the Hopi, but was stopped by a group of unfriendly Navajo. Over the next few years, raids by the Navajo and by the Paiute against Mormon settlements (sometimes called the “Mormon-Indian wars”) would result in at least 70 deaths and would enrich the Navajo with 1,200 horses and cattle.
In 1862, Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin arrived at the Hopi village of Oraibi and helped establish a Hopi settlement at Moencopi. In addition to bringing Mormonism to the Hopi, he also brought some new crops including turban squash, safflower, and sorghum.
In 1863, the Mormon missionaries to the Hopi village of Oraibi were greeted as men of destiny. In an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, Charles Peterson explains:
“Hopi tradition, it seems, looked to the time when bearded prophets, usually said to be three in number, would lead the Hopi back across the Colorado River when they had come as the result of an ancient treaty with the Paiutes.”
The Hopi had predicted that the Mormons would come and live among them. Charles Peterson writes:
“It is difficult to know how sincere the Hopis were when they recounted such stories, but it is certain that the bearded prophet tradition continued to affirm the Mormon’s own idea of himself as a messenger of destiny and to buoy his aspiration that the Hopis would one day respond to his preachments.”
The Mormons also heard about the sacred stone which is kept in an Oraibi kiva. Charles Peterson reports:
“Bearing inscriptions which, according to the Hopis, described the advent of prophets from the west, the stone and indeed the entire ritual and tradition of the Hopis, seemed to suggest parallels to Mormon doctrines and ceremonies.”
At the same time, a Hopi delegation was taken to Salt Lake City where they met with experts on the Welsh language. There was a belief at this time that the Hopi had some sort of mysterious connection with the Welsh. According to a story concocted in England in 1580, Prince Madoc of Wales had led an expedition to Florida in 1170, thereby establishing England’s claim to North America under the Discovery Doctrine. During the 19th and 20th centuries, many people believed that Indian tribes, such as the Mandan, Hopi, and Kootenai, were the Welch-speaking descendants of Prince Madoc. The story was a hoax and the Welsh language experts soon determined that Hopi, a Uto-Aztecan language, was unrelated to any European language.
With regard to the missionary efforts of Jacob Hamblin, Edward H. Spicer reports:
“Although Hamblin worked periodically for six years among the Hopis and gained their friendship, he made no converts and finally gave up the task.”
In 1870, John Wesley Powell, the first American to explore the Colorado River, was taken to the Hopi village of Oraibi by Mormon missionary Jacob Hamblin. He stayed in the village for several weeks. Powell had great respect for Hopi religious traditions, and after a while he gained the trust of many Hopis. Upon his return to Washington, D.C., Powell fought successfully against plans by the Indian Office which would have harmed the Hopi. He considered himself to be a friend of the Hopi.
Tuuvi, a Hopi leader from the village of Oraibi converted to Mormonism in 1870 and settled near the village of Moencopi. In 1875, the Mormons established their own village near the Hopi pueblo of Moencopi. They named their new village Tuba City in honor of Tuuvi (whom they called Chief Tuba).
At this time the United States government was actively discouraging and suppressing all forms of Native American religion. The government was also active in discouraging and suppressing Mormonism. Not only had Mormon missionaries converted a few Hopis, but they had also expanded their activities into Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and performed more than 100 baptisms. This action alarmed the Presbyterians who had control over several southwestern tribes, including the Zuni. The Presbyterians felt that the Mormons were a greater threat than paganism.
In 1876, the Indian Agent for the Hopi recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that a reservation be established for the Hopi to help block intrusions of Mormon settlers on their land. In his book Pages from Hopi History, Harry James reports:
“This suggestion was acted upon almost at once—largely due, no doubt, to the then anti-Mormon attitude of both the Indian administration and the military.”
Six years later the Hopi Reservation was formally created by executive order of President Chester A. Arthur. One of the reasons for establishing the reservation was concern about the influence of the Mormons. In his chapter in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 9: Southwest, Frederick Dockstader reports:
“With increasing hostility manifested toward Mormon occupancy of the Southwest, federal authorities felt it was necessary to head off their further expansion: one avenue was by way of the establishment of controlled lands.”
The reservation was totally surrounded by the Navajo reservation and excluded the major Hopi village of Moenkopi (the area where the Mormons had been most active). The Hopi were not consulted in the creation of their reservation and its boundaries ignored a larger area that was settled and claimed by the Hopi.
While there may have been anti-Mormon sentiment that helped spur the establishment of the Hopi Reservation, a year later the Indian Agent asked for a detachment of Army Troops to help in gathering up Hopi children to be sent to the Mormon Intermountain School in Utah. The peaceful Hopis met the troops with a bombardment of rocks.
More American Indian histories
Indians 101: The Hopi Reservation in the 19th century
Indians 101: Allotment and the Hopi Reservation
Indians 201: The Pueblos and the United States, 1846 to 1876
Indians 201: Shoshone Indians and Mormon Missionaries in the nineteenth century
Indians 101: Apache Prisoners of War
Indians 101: An imaginary war
Indians 101: Southwestern Indian Reservations 150 years ago, 1873
Indians 101: America's Christian General confronts the Nez Perce