Arizona Edition

Cotton woven in Pinal County along Gila River since ancient peoples

Cotton branch on white background

Cotton, one of the five “C’s” of the Arizona economy (Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate), has a long history in Central Arizona, especially Pinal County.

Cotton seeds from Mesoamerica arrived in southern Arizona over 1,500 years ago.

The ancient people who lived along the Gila River from Florence to Gila Bend and along the Salt River at Phoenix developed the most extensive prehistoric water management system in North America, capable of irrigating vast stretches of thirsty cotton fields. was maintaining. Through time and selection, they have developed a variety known as Aboriginal Sakaton cotton.

Today, Pinal County continues to be an important cotton research and production area.

Cotton was domesticated independently in the New and Old Worlds. New World cotton seeds found in Peru and Mesoamerica are 5,000 to 6,000 years old. Old World cotton is only slightly younger and is the oldest variety found in the Indus Valley and Sudan. Crossbreeding of these species provides the cotton used in today’s Blue His jeans.

Around 500-600 AD, large communities in southern Arizona began growing cotton.

For nearly a thousand years, these ancient communities in the metropolitan areas of Coolidge, Florence, Sacaton, Maricopa, Gila Bend, and Phoenix were centers of culture and trade. Abundant cotton was grown in his two large communities, east of Maricopa and at the Casagrande ruins.

Flood irrigation and long growing seasons were ideal for cotton production. These ancient farmers were part of the market for textiles favored in prehistoric textiles. Over time, they cultivated abundant cotton, producing beautiful, sometimes lace-like fabrics, and traded cotton throughout the Southwest.

Around the mid-15th century, most large communities, such as the Casa Grande ruins, were depopulated. Many people have moved. Communities in southern Arizona grew smaller, but cotton farming remained.

Early Spanish records of visits to Sacaton mention cotton surpluses and the quality of cotton fabrics. Father Kino, a Jesuit priest who visited the area in the late 1600s, said that the Pima (Pima is Akimel Oodum, the Spanish name for “people of the river”) would seek the aid of Papago (Tohono Oodum). I’m here. , “Desert People”) help harvest a large amount of cotton. By the 1900s, the diversion of the Gila River upstream in Florence made it impossible for Akimel Oodum to grow cotton on a commercial scale due to water shortages. Nevertheless, the centuries-old techniques of cotton farming have not been forgotten.

In 1907, the USDA established experimental farms in Yuma and Sakaton to develop high-yielding commercial varieties of cotton. Seeds derived from a recent hybrid from Egypt were planted in Yuma. We selected high-yielding plants from the Yuma field, which is cultivated in Sakaton. Characterized by its bright colors and long fibres, this variety was named ‘Pima Cotton’ in honor of Odham’s farmers.

The Sakaton Experimental Farm continued research into cotton production for another 50 years. In 1983, the research facility was moved to MAC’s Maricopa Agricultural Center, continuing the tradition of cotton research.

Alycia Hayes is a Master Gardener Volunteer at the University of Arizona.

This content is in Maricopa magazine.

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