By Kate Robinson

The Depression settled more slowly and quietly into the West than the urban, industrial areas east of the Mississippi.  Folks were used to living at survival levels.  Arizona paid little attention to the crash of 1929, despite a significant decline in the mining industry.


The Indian nations were already struggling for survival.  Inadequate housing, poor or non-existent health care, and diminutive per capita incomes had plagued reservation dwellers throughout the 1920s.  Seasonal work performed by Indians and Mexicans was virtually absent in Arizona's agricultural zones due to severe summer and winter weather in 1932-3.  Native people had difficulty selling goods and received very low prices. 

Indian adjuncts to New Deal programs were implemented throughout the Depression years.  The Indian Emergency Conservation Works Program (IECW), for example, was an offshoot of the well-known Civilian Conservation Corps.  Indians also participated in mainstream New Deal programs.  Arizona's first people constructed roads, storage dams, fences, wells, and began badly needed conservation programs concerned with soil erosion, fire control, pest eradication and removal of poisonous weeds. 

Locally, Prescott received $50,000 of Arizona's initial appropriation from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act (RFC) for work relief efforts.  A May 1933, Welfare Board report outlined number of men hired and expenditures made on 14 Prescott District projects, including work relief at Camp Yavapai.  Camp Yavapai was the Depression era name given to work relief activities on the Fort Whipple Military Reserve, as workmen gathered in community camps and at projects on state, federal and Indian lands.  Seven Yavapai men were paid $103.50 for their efforts, from a total of $88,824.13 paid to 5,952 men employed in the Prescott district.  The RFC was likely the initial funding source for construction of the community building or "workroom" (now the Yavapai-Prescott tribal headquarters) fashioned of logs from the national forest and native stone hauled by the Yavapai people. 

Designed by city engineer Art Cline, the workroom was praised by a local reporter as being "the first start toward a highly desirable, permanent Indian colony".  By August 25, 1933, work on the building stopped due to material shortages.  Relief funds paid for labor but made no provision for materials.  Chamber of Commerce Secretary and Arizona Welfare Board member Grace Sparkes requested that Prescott citizens donate sacks of cement for the project. 

In November 1933, Grace Sparkes met with state officials, then worked frantically to meet a December 1, deadline to initiate Civil Works Administration (CWA) projects.  One of nine Prescott District projects was homes of native stone for the Yavapai community.  The project employed 22 men between November 1933, and February 1934; Sam Jimulla served as foreman.  Sam was also instrumental in constructing hand-built roads on the Reserve and around Prescott.  CWA crews in Prescott and Camp Yavapai labored quickly under the ninety-day time limit set by Federal government.  Only twenty-two extra days were given to complete projects in case of severe winter weather.  Apparently moderate weather prevailed -- crews worked industriously on New Year's Day, 1934. 

On Valentine's Day, 1934, Arizona newspapers announced the February 15, termination of all federal civil works projects on private land.  The majority of Arizona projects were not affected.  Prescott was relieved when the announcement came that jobs would continue until May 1, under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA).  The Emergency Relief Administration (ERA) in Arizona was formed in response to FERA, and administered work relief until July 31, 1935, when replaced by the Works Progress Administration. 

The Civil Works Service (CWS), sponsor of women's work in Arizona, began December 22, 1933.  Projects in Maricopa, Pima and Yavapai Counties were described as "unusual and creative".  Yavapai County provided "a rich field for research...into the history of its first inhabitants", and archaeological and historical research projects were completed.  It isn't clear whether any Native women were involved in studying the cultural remains of their ancestors.  Reports noted Mexican women were "particularly adept in the reconstruction of pottery." 

While women of mainstream Yavapai County were engaged in projects ranging from braiding rugs to nursing, Yavapai women were encouraged to practice their ancestral arts.  Viola Jimulla guided her people in what Anglo society considered a "rehabilitation" program reviving traditional basket weaving, and producing pottery, beadwork, and dresses influenced by neighboring tribes or the day's fashion. 

A splendid photograph available at the Sharlot Hall Museum's Archives and Library shows Yavapai women at the recently constructed Smoki Pueblo.  This image was featured in a volume commemorating the outstanding projects of the CWA and Arizona ERA.  In the foreground are a cluster of girls and a display of pottery, beadwork and baskets spread on the floor.  Behind the girls, Viola Jimulla and her tribeswomen weave the meticulous yucca and devil's claw baskets that are the hallmark of their people. 

While husband Sam supervised construction at Camp Yavapai and road projects in the area, Viola and Yavapai women created, displayed and presumably sold their handiwork.  In August of 1933, a display appeared in the Arizona Power Company windows. 

Grace Sparkes accepted an appointment to the Arizona Committee for the century of Progress Exposition in April 1933.  Congresswoman Isabella Greenway dedicated the Arizona Exhibit on July 28, 1934.  It featured 5,000 pounds of articles shipped by the Yavapai Chamber of Commerce shortly after Miss Sparkes arrived in Chicago as Governor Mouer's exposition representative.  Listed on bills of lading are a variety of objects, some the product of work relief programs, including a large basket made by Viola Jimulla.  It is recorded that Yavapai baskets were displayed in "various sections of the East and Middle West". 

In the fall of 1934, the County Welfare Board announced that women's handicraft work created under ERA patronage would be displayed in Phoenix at the State Fair and Resource Exposition in November.  About the time ERA displays at the upcoming State Fair were announced, a stone recreation hall was built by transient men at the Northern Arizona State Fairgrounds under the direction of Elmer Brannen.  The ERA of Arizona Exhibit was housed in the recreation hall the following summer during Prescott's Frontier Days.  Prominent in the Yavapai County Exhibit were the Yavapai women's crafts. 

The current reservation was also set up during this same time period.  The Yavapai were confused with the Apache by Anglos in the latter half of the nineteenth century, due to growing hostility toward the Apache and their similarities and intermarriage with the Yavapai both before and after a brutal forced march to San Carlos in 1875.  The Yavapai remained on the San Carlos reserve until the turn of the century, when they began trickling back to Camp Verde and Prescott, finding their best lands settled by whites.  The scattered remnants of the Yavapai people were soon forgotten by federal agencies . A federal review of CWA activities in Arizona describes the status of the Yavapai as "lost, so far as government aid or records are concerned."  The same report doesn't mention the Yavapai in a list of thirteen reservations and the groups living on them.  The National Archives and Records Administration reports that Yavapai Indians appear to have come under the jurisdiction of Truxton Canyon Agency (Hualapai) in the early 1930s. 

Under policies set by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, and through the efforts of Grace Sparkes, historian Sharlot M. Hall, and the Arizona Congressional Delegation, seventy-five acres of land from the Fort Whipple Military Reserve were transferred to the Department of the Interior for the Yavapai people.  The IECW approved and implemented projects for fencing and water development.  Two cows were issued to each family.  In May 1956, the prospering size of the cattle herd led to a government decision to add 1,320 acres to the reservation. 

From small seeds planted in the stony soil of the Great Depression, a healthy tree continues to grow for the Yavapai people.  This author extends warmest wishes for their continuing spiritual and material prosperity. 

Kate Robinson is a recent Graduate from the Prescott College Adult Degree Program with a Bachelors in Anthropology.  If you have some of the types of pottery that was created by the Yavapai during the Depression, please contact the Sharlot Hall Museum's curator of Anthropology, Sandra Lynch.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (iny2114pn). Reuse only by permission.
When it was built in 1935, the "workroom" was fashioned of logs from the national forest and native stone hauled by the Yavapai people.  Today, this same building is part of the Yavapai-Prescott Tribal headquarters.