Summer Intern Stories: G’ashdla a cho o aa

Written by Cassandra Villegas, a 2021 Sky Island Alliance Binational Internship Program participant.

Aravaipa Canyon is one of the Sky Island region’s treasured memories that will always be etched in my heart. The “Camp Grant Massacre” was the name given to the massacre of Apaches at Aravaipa in the historical books. With the implicit awareness of what happened, the Apaches refer to the site as g’ashdla a cho o aa, meaning “huge sycamore standing there.”

Howard Hooke Sr., the author’s late father. Credit: Cassandra Villegas

My father, the late Howard Hooke Sr., and his grandfather traveled through Aravaipa Canyon on horseback when my father was young. My great grandfather, the late Walter Hooke, was an Apache Scout at one time, although my great grandfather rarely spoke about his encounters with the Camp Grant Massacre. They instead spoke about the traditional Apache foods and medicinal plants.

The knowledge he obtained during his trips through Aravaipa Canyon triggered his memory, and he would quickly identify several species in rapid succession, breaking off small samples to examine more closely while using his senses to call forth their uses.

Plants such as ragweed would be filled in canvas sacks and placed on ashes from a fire to relieve back pain. Another is the creosote, which was boiled for drinking or used as an inhalant to cure headaches, sinus congestion and chest colds. These are just a few examples of what my father shared. He would talk for hours about the different types of plants and their uses.

When I was little, we would take a trip to Aravaipa to collect acorn. Acorn, when ground up to a powder like substance, is mixed in a meat and dumpling soup. It’s one of the Apache traditional foods and very delicious, if you can handle the taste of acorn.

When I hike through Aravaipa, my fondest memories are of my father and how excited he would get describing each plant and their use. I miss him every day.

Aravaipa Canyon. Credit: Zoe Fullem / Sky Island Alliance