Arizona September 10, 2017
The Sinister Story Behind This Popular Arizona National Monument Will Give You The Chills
There’s no questioning the violent history Arizona has had over the centuries. It’s been documented in written form ever since Spaniards began traveling north into Arizona’s vast deserts clad in their heavy Conquistador armor. And while a great number of atrocities have occurred in the centuries since then, Indigenous oral histories and archaeological evidence suggest the threat of violence was nothing new for societies living in the area.
Today, we’re going to take a look at Montezuma Castle National Monument, a place of history, intrigue, and a great amount of cultural evidence left behind since it was vacated in the late 14th century. New evidence suggests it may also have a violent past that points to why this dwelling was quickly abandoned in those years.
Located in the Verde Valley, just outside Camp Verde, Montezuma Castle National Monument is a well-preserved cliff dwelling that was home to the Sinagua. Ancestors of the Hopi, the Sinagua built this large, multi-story home around 1050 AD and housed a modest population of about 50 in its 4,000 square feet. Visitors today can see the monument from the ground below; the interior has been closed off to everyone except archaeologists and anthropologists to reduce deterioration, defacement, and vandalism.
In these photos of the fourth floor of the cliff dwelling, black streaks coat the wall. This is, in fact, soot coating the walls. Archaeologist Matt Guebard suspects it may have resulted from a
violent conflict taking place
between 1375 and 1395.
Guebard noted in an interview with Western Digs
that this "changed the conventional thinking" about the monument’s history by gathering and analyzing evidence found around the site.
Charred walls, burned wood, broken pottery, and even remains of some of its former residents suggest the castle went up in flames from an attack, perhaps without warning. The human remains showed signs of blunt trauma and violent burns, perhaps before death. Until recently, the most common assumption was the Sinagua left due to drought.
This evidence is corroborated by the oral histories of at least three Arizona tribes: the Hopi, Apache, and Yavapai. All three lived in the region during the time period and their stories mention fire taking place at the cliff dwelling, although the perspectives differ from tribe to tribe.
Hopi oral history details the villagers seeking shelter inside the dwelling, "isolating themselves inside while invaders set it on fire." Meanwhile, Tonto Apache stories talk about forming an alliance with the Yavapai to evict "the Sinagua from the cliff dwellings by ‘burning them out.’" However, the details are slim as to why the Sinagua would be forced out and what happened after the fire.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is located just
outside of Camp Verde, off Interstate 17. You can find details about visiting the monument by checking out their website with the National Park Service.
You can learn about the violent underreported history of another Arizona location, at Aravaipa Canyon. Read about the tragic Camp Grant Massacre in
This Place In Arizona Has A Dark And Evil History That Will Never Be Forgotten.