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  • Harry J. Winters Jr.'s 'O'odham Place Names:Meanings, Origins, and Histories, Arizona and Sonora
  • Amadeo M. Rea

Over the years we have seen the publication of a number of monumental books dealing with the Greater Southwest. In my own areas of interest some outstanding ones come immediately to mind: In the biological sciences there is Donald Hoffmeister's Mammals of Arizona (1986), Raymond Turner, Janice Bowers, and Tony Burgess's Sonoran Desert Plants: An Ecological Atlas (1995), Richard S. Felger's Flora of the Gran Desierto and Río Colorado of Northwestern Mexico (2000), Richard Felger, Matthew Johnson, and Michael Wilson's The Trees of Sonora, Mexico (2001), and Howard Scott Gentry's Agaves of Continental North America (1982); in archaeology, Emil Haury's The Hohokam, Desert Farmers and Craftsmen (1976); and from the mission era, Bernard L. Fontana's A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac (2010). These works are thorough and definitive, unlikely to be superseded, except perhaps for bits of new information that might come to light. Now there is one more that can be added to this list of Southwest greats: Harry J. Winters Jr., 'O'odham Place Names: Meanings, Origins, and Histories, Arizona and Sonora (Tucson: Nighthorses, 2012; $179).

The 'O'odham, known to outsiders for centuries as the River Pima and Papago, occupy Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and northern Sonora. The country is part of the West's basin-and-range province. This physiographic region is characterized by flat arid valleys or basins. Narrow [End Page 724] faulted mountain chains thrust up like sky islands in this sea of alluvial sediments. The landscape is stark. Yet O'odham and other indigenous peoples made a comfortable living wherever they found the essential commodity: water. They developed a lexicon of O'odham toponyms or place names to map the mountains and other features of the desert.

As a young scholar Harry Winters began the task of cataloging the O'odham toponyms. Now published, the resulting tome weighs over 7 pounds. Its fine-quality heavy stock does justice to the nearly 150 geological photographs, mostly by Peter L. Kresan, with others by Susan Winters. The exquisitely sharp color photos must have been taken on clear, cold winter days, early in the morning when the colors are brightest and the relief strongest. There is one colored map. There also are sketches illustrating critical terms the O'odham use to describe topography.

The work was over half a century in the making. (As soon as it was published, Winters began working on a second edition.) It covers exactly what the subtitle says: meanings, origins, and histories. There's no skimping on details. One is treated not merely to the intricacies of etymology of place names but to the broader context of O'odham linguistic usage. It will come as no surprise that the author is as interested in languages as in toponyms themselves. The same can be said for history. The colonial documents (left by Kino, Manje, Sedelmayr, Pfefferkorn, Nentvig, Fages, Carrasco, Och) as well as those of later explorers such as Lumholtz are thoroughly mined. Itineraries are detailed. So, we are treated to the deep history of each O'odham-named locality.

If anything is missing it is the spiritual or supernatural dimensions of the peaks and mountains found throughout O'odham land. Still, at 741 pages in 8.5- x 11-inch trim size, the volume is already weighty, in both senses. A topic for another work and another author now that the taxonomy is thoroughly in place.

The orthography used is a practical one. There is a detailed section on pronunciation (xxxix–xlii) to aid non-O'odham speakers with the phonology. Most importantly, ch and sh are written in full, just as English readers would expect to see them. The v and w, often dialectical markers, have been written however his O'odham consultants have pronounced them. Phrase environment may also influence the sound even among speakers of a dialect with v/w distinctions, as Winters shows.

The geographic scope of the book is the historic Upper Piman sphere spanning from the Colorado River around Yuma, north...


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