Native American Desert Peoples

American Indians

Many cultural and linguistic Native American groups made (and still make) the deserts of the American Southwest their home. Each group in each of the four deserts -- Mojave, Sonoran, Great Basin and Chihuahuan -- adapted differently, depending on local conditions and limitations. Most were farmers, in addition to hunting and gathering. Some groups relied on dry farming, while others utilized irrigation techniques, perhaps inherited from ancient cultures that preceded them.

indians farmers

Different groups developed pottery, basketry or other arts and crafts, depending on local resources and cultural traditions. All learned to utilize the precious resources available in the desert to maintain a way of life that was both practical and religious. As with all desert life, water was of primary concern, and communities tended to form near sources of free water, which were vital habitats for desert animals and plants as well.

Communities tended to form near sources of water.

Native American culture permeates the desert regions of North America, even to this day. Because of the complexity of Native American groups and subgroups, classification has remained problematic, except on a linguistic basis, as employed below.

  • Native Americans of the Desert Southwest

    • Western
      • Hopi
      • Acoma
      • Laguna
      • Zuni
    • Eastern
      • Keresan
      • Tanoan


    • Akimel O'odham (Pima-River People)
    • Tohono O'odham (Papago-Desert People)


    • River
      • Cocopah (Cocopa)
      • Quechan (Yuma)
      • Mojave (Ahamakav)
      • Maricopa (Pee-Posh)
    • Pai
      • Yavapai
      • Hualapai (Walapai)
      • Havasupai
      • Kumeyaay (Diegueno)
        Southern California



    Steve Crouthame


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