Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been a place of significance for many communities over the centuries, especially the Hia C’ed O’odham, a tribe without federal recognition who share a reservation with the Tohono O’odham. There are three groups that comprise the O’odham people, the Tohono O’odham, the Akimel O’odham (also known as Pima), and the Hia C’ed O’odham. A natural oasis in the desert, Quitobaquito began as a rest stop for the O’odham people on their way to the Gulf of California in their traditional salt pilgrimage. Some Hia C’ed families, such as the Orozcos, even called Quitobaquito home, settling in the mid-nineteenth century. Spanish explorers, American settlers, and travelers became enamored with the oasis. Quitobaquito never lost its significance to the Hia C’ed and Tohono O’odham despite restrictions placed upon them and their movement through the land. In 1937, the National Park Service established Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument which began federal jurisdiction and management of Quitobaquito. By 1950, the NPS pushed the last O’odham families out of their land in Quitobaquito, further cementing federal control and management of Quitobaquito. Since then, the NPS has had difficulty properly managing Quitobaquito in part due to the fragile desert ecosystem.

This is the background for the project “Telling O’odham Stories at Quitobaquito.” The project involves gathering oral histories from the O’odham peoples about Quitobaquito Springs, an oasis located in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. The ultimate aim of the project is not only to document the experiences of Indigenous people with a centuries-old resource but also to aid National Park Service managers to integrate Indigenous land management and practices into the management plan for the oasis. The project this summer has been what Dr. Jared Orsi, Ariel Shnee, and I have called the “pilot”, as next summer the project will have funding from the NPS to perform as many oral histories as possible and write the deliverables. As part of this pilot program, we are aiming to complete three oral histories before the end of the year.

My contributions to the project have been to research, compile information, and participate in meetings and oral history interviews. One example of my work has been compiling research of the Hia C’ed O’odham, a group of the O’odham that has been battling the almost century-old perception that they are extinct. The research entailed finding sources about the Hia C’ed, of which there is little. I also wrote a literature review of the sources and created a chronology of the archaeological studies conducted within Organ Pipe, among other tasks.

Through my time on this project, I learned some of the most valuable skills for every public historian. Not only have I honed my research and writing skills, but I’ve also been able to learn the practice of oral histories in more depth, such as crafting oral history questions that are meaningful but not too broad or specific. This project has aided me in understanding how deeply important working with communities is to the work of public history, and has also piqued my interest in how oral histories can be used in various ways, such as in land management. The project has not only given me the skills, professional experience, and confidence to prepare myself for career opportunities in public history, but has also emphasized to me the importance of communities in public history.

-Margaret Gentry