Intimate obscurity: American Indian women in Arizona households and histories, 1854--1935

Katrina Jagodinsky
History, University of Arizona
December, 2011


In three microhistories, this narrative reconstructs Indian women's engagement with imperial regimes and raises questions about power and agency in a territorial borderland. Exhaustive research in archives not previously considered valuable sources of Native history yielded census data, legal transcripts, and probate records that revealed Native women's participation in the formation of Arizona's legal culture--an overlapping network of federal, state, and tribal jurisdictions that fostered racial ambiguity and cloaked inter-racial intimacy. One of the strengths of this work is that it is based in sources few others have bothered to consider closely. Heavily steeped in the work of third-world and critical legal scholars who see the exploitation of Indigenous women's bodies as a fundamental component of American conquest, Intimate Obscurity puts Native women at the center of Arizona and borderlands historiography. Obscured by chroniclers who continue to celebrate the region's pioneer past, and yet intimately tied to the territory's founding fathers, the women in this study are exceptional because they made their cases known in unsympathetic courts and exemplary because they shared the same economic and sexual vulnerabilities that Native women continue to face today. In 1864, ten-year-old Yaqui girl Luc Martez escaped Apache slavers and was re-captured by a territorial Arizona senator. While the legislator and his friends codified a legal regime that granted citizens access to Indigenous labors and lands, Martez bore his abuses and children. She escaped him when she turned eighteen and initiated a legal challenge that turned paternal authority and white supremacy on their head. Though she did not exactly win, her efforts redeemed her children from their liminal status as illegitimate, mixed-race, and unfree wards of the state. Juana Walker's father served as Pinal County surveyor and judge while he mined Indian land and married an Indian woman in the 1870s. When he died in 1891, Juana claimed his vast estate, but was denied because her mother was Akimel O'odham and miscegenation statutes made Juana an illegitimate heir. Before the Arizona Supreme Court issued its final ruling against her, however, Pinal County jurors--the Walker family's neighbors--decided in Juana's favor, suggesting that territorial Arizona families disagreed on the status of their mixed-race descendants. In 1913, Yavapai woman Dinah Foote Hood and her grandmother, Tcha-ah-wooeha witnessed a murder. They challenged the state's authority to subpoena Indians, indicating that not all Native women wanted a presence in state courts that served the mission of imperialism. Hood's family had survived their own violent encounters with the state during the 1875 Yavapai removal, on the San Carlos Apache Reserve, and at the Santa Fe Industrial Indian School. Hood's familiarity with colonial violence explains her resistance to state interventions and raises questions about the incorporation of Indigenous people into Arizona's body politic.