Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre (Paperback)
A scrupulously researched investigation of the mysterious massacre of Hopi Indians at Awat'ovi, and the event's echo through American history.
The Hopi community of Awat’ovi existed peacefully on Arizona’s Antelope Mesa for generations until one bleak morning in the fall of 1700—raiders from nearby Hopi villages descended on Awat’ovi, slaughtering their neighboring men, women, and children. While little of the pueblo itself remains, five centuries of history lie beneath the low rises of sandstone masonry, and theories about the events of that night are as persistent as the desert winds. The easternmost town on Antelope Mesa, Awat’ovi was renowned for its martial strength, and had been the gateway to the entire Hopi landscape for centuries. Why did kinsmen target it for destruction?
Drawing on oral traditions, archival accounts, and extensive archaeological research, James Brooks unravels the story and its significance. Mesa of Sorrows follows the pattern of an archaeological expedition, uncovering layer after layer of evidence and theories. Brooks questions their reliability and shows how interpretations were shaped by academic, religious and tribal politics. Piecing together three centuries of investigation, he offers insight into why some were spared—women, mostly, and taken captive—and others sacrificed. He weighs theories that the attack was in retribution for Awat’ovi having welcomed Franciscan missionaries or for the residents’ practice of sorcery, and argues that a perfect storm of internal and external crises revitalized an ancient cycle of ritual bloodshed and purification.
A haunting account of a shocking massacre, Mesa of Sorrows is a probing exploration of how societies confront painful histories, and why communal violence still plagues us today.
About the Author
James F. Brooks is professor of history and anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Captives and Cousins, which received the Bancroft, Francis Parkman, and Frederick Douglass Prizes. He lives in Santa Barbara.
Opens an enthralling window into an ancient culture...[and] offers a reflection that any society forgets at its own peril.
— Laura Miller - Slate
An engaging anthropological investigation into this difficult subject…. An attractive, authoritative read.
— Library Journal
Vivid…. Brooks tells this tragic story with great sensitivity and power, offering readers a fascinating perspective on the history of the American Southwest.
— Publishers Weekly
In this rich work of anthropology, archaeology, and personal sleuthing, James Brooks carefully unravels a mystery of enormous violence that convulsed the desert Southwest some three hundred years ago—and that still sends off psychic shockwaves. Here is a haunting tale that is also deeply revealing, not only about the ancient Hopi Indians but all human societies.
— Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder
Mesa of Sorrows is at once a profound immersion in the unique worldview of the Hopi and an eloquent meditation on the long shadows that violence in the past can cast into the present. A remarkable achievement by one of our preeminent historians of the Southwest borderlands.
— Karl Jacoby, author of Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History
this brilliant and humane book, James Brooks recovers a grim tale of massacre, memory,
and forgetting. Paying deft attention to bones, documents, pottery, and
stories, he reveals a great mystery with a haunting and evocative clarity. In
rich and telling detail, Brooks explores a particular massacre to illuminate
powerful truths about the dilemmas of human nature.
— Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832
Mesa of Sorrows signals the emergence of a new kind of history that weaves archaeology, sacred knowledge, written words, and oral traditions into transcendent insight. The result is a deeply disturbing glimpse of the American past, populated by pathos, poison, prophecy, and persistence. James Brooks writes beautifully, and he writes for all of us.
— Elizabeth Fenn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
Mesa of Sorrows recalls the history and legacy of the Awat’ovi massacre by brilliantly connecting the past to the Hopi present. It is a story of violence, destruction, and annihilation, but as James F. Brooks so eloquently demonstrates, it is also a story that is deeply rooted in the human experience.
— Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, author of Education Beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902–1929