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A Game Manager’s Reconnaissance of Papaguería

From: Journal of the Southwest
Volume 54, Number 3, Autumn 2012
pp. 471-498 | 10.1353/jsw.2012.0022

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September 17th. Near Papagos villages. Last night, as for many preceding evenings, we sat down to our supper of bread and water. . . .the country affords no game.

J. W. Audubon, 1849

Travelers to and through the area known since 1986 as the Tohono O’odham Nation often commented on the lack of game to be found in “Papagueria” when compared to lands unoccupied by these Indians (Audubon 1906; Hornaday 1908; McDougal 1908; Lumholtz 1912; Bryan 1925). Hornaday expressed his explanation for this scarcity when he stated that “the species [mule deer] has been exterminated chiefly through the efforts of the Papago Indians who are diligent hunters”—a commentary shared by Carl Lumholtz (1912:81), who, while traveling northeast of Altar, stated, “The scarcity of wildlife was also striking, though we saw a deer once.” Charles Sheldon (1994) and other American chroniclers also commented on the prowess of O’odham hunters when it came to securing game. Whether the paucity of game in Papagueria was indeed caused by overharvesting or was due to something else was a question of great interest to off-reservation wildlife managers in the early 1960s.

From January 1962 through August 1968, the senior author was, in turn, the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s wildlife manager in GilaBend, Casa Grande, and Tucson—districts which bordered what was then called the Papago Indian Reservation (Game Management Unit 38), and which is now the Tohono O’odham Nation. Although not within the department’s jurisdiction, the area contained three federally assigned call-count routes to survey white-winged and mourning doves, the accomplishment of which was assigned to the state and its wildlife managers. There was also the perception at that time that the population of bighorn sheep on the reservation might be sufficient to provide the Tohono O’odham with significant income should the tribal council wish to participate in a management program for this species (Levy 1963). Thinking that the tribal council and Bureau of Indian Affairs might someday want to participate in a wildlife management agreement with the state similar to those between the department and the Apache Indians, Region VI Supervisor Ted Knipe (d. 2001) and two Arizona Game and Fish Department directors encouraged me to work with the Tohono O’odham as time permitted and conduct reconnaissance trips and wildlife surveys on the reservation.

In addition to Brown, a main investigator was the late Ron Anderson (d. 1995), wildlife manager in Casa Grande from 1963 to 1968. Surveys to particular areas were also accompanied or conducted by John Carr (Mesquite Mountains); Bruce Duke (Mesquite, Slate, and BaboquivariMountains); Bob Henry (Quijotoa Mountains); Ted Knipe (Pozo Verde, Mesquite, and Table Top Mountains); Dennis Kubley and Bill Silvey (d. 2003, the Great Plain); C. J. (Jack) Mantle (d. 1991, Pozo Verde Mountains); John Phelps (d. 2007, Cimarron Mountain); Harley Shaw, Norm Woolsey, and Jim Wegge (South Comobabi Mountains); John Theobald (Morena Mountain); Paul Webb (Ajo Mountains); and Mike Halloran (Slate Mountains, Kohatk Valley). We were also assisted in our surveys into the area’s range conditions by Game Ranger Bob Kirkpatrick (d. 1997), Jim Levy, Seymour Levy, and Dr. Charles H. Lowe Jr. (d.2002) of Tucson. Our only restriction was to be unobtrusive and not violate any tribal regulations.

Most helpful in the determination of past and present Indian hunting interviews arranged by Neil Carmony and conducted with Milton Blaine, a Tohono O’odham hunter living in Fresnal village. Other interviews with Tohono O’odham hunters were facilitated by Ron Anderson, Dr. Raymond M. Turner, and Kelly Neal. Randy Mead, resource manager for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Sells, assisted in making arrangements for a mountain lion survey and provided the results of a 1985 helicopter count of the reservation’s ungulates. The lion surveys, conducted with Milton Blaine in the Schuk Toak District with Harley Shaw, Norm Woolsey, and James Wegge, were accomplished on horseback and were an attempt to determine the presence and relative abundance of mountain lions through track counts and the location of lion sign (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. 

Preparing for a lion survey in the Schuk Toak District.

Physical Setting and Historical Perspective


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