The Cocopah Indians (also called Cocopa), also known as the River People, are one of 22 Native American tribes who live in Arizona. They also reside in Baja,
California and a portion of
Mexico. They did not have a written language where important historical information could be written down. This is the reason why they have had to rely on what has
been passed down through the generations by word of mouth. Travelers to the areas where these Indians lived also kept journals of their observations and experiences
when they encountered the Cocopah people. They are described as a generous and non-materialistic group of people who value their heritage. Below are more interesting
facts about the Cocopah people.
Cocopah Basic Facts
The Cocopah were skilled at navigating the waters of the Colorado River. They traveled on brush rafts and sometimes used baskets to transport small items and
The Cocopah are one of seven tribes to speak the Yuman language.
Hernando de Alarcon, a Spanish explorer, was one of the first Europeans to come into contact with the Cocopah in the mid 1500s. Unlike most other explorers, he is
credited for treating them with kindness and in return was offered gifts of food, shells, beads, and leather.
Today, most Cocopah live and work on a 6,500 acre reservation that was established in 1917 and located 13 miles from Yuma, Arizona. A good portion of that land is
leased to non-Indian farmers.
Faming was important to the Cocopah as a means of survival. They relied on the annual spring floods to moisten the soil on 50,000 acres of farmland on which they
grew corn, peas, beans, pumpkins, and eventually melons.
During the California Gold Rush of the 1840s, settlers and migrants flooded into the Cocopah and Yuma homeland. As the United States seeked to lessen hostilities
with the Yuma, it caused conflict between the Yuma and the Cocopah. It was at this point that an outpost, called Fort Yuma, was established, aimed at facilitating
travel and protecting emigrants while passing through the area.
Typically, the men were the hunters. They would hunt deer, elk, boar, and other available animals. They would also fish for bass and mullet. Women would gather
eggs, seeds, roots, and seasonal fruits.
Rabbits were not only a source of food to the Cocopah, but the hides were dried and tanned and eventually made into blankets, vests, and baby buntings.
Cocopah Arts and Crafts Facts
The Cocopah are known for creating beautiful bead art and wearable art. Beaded clothing was created with vibrant colored beads that were woven into complicated
patterns. Specifically, they wove intricate beaded shoulder capes that were worn for both ornamental and ceremonial purposes. They were also known for creating
beautiful ribbon skirts and dresses.
The thin malleable branches of willow trees were skillfully used to make houses and wooden baskets. The bark was used to make a variety of clothing such as shirts,
skirts and breech clouts (a form of loincloth).
Clay was skillfully used by the Cocopah to create children's dolls and pottery which was used mainly for utilitarian purposes.