The report concerning the Palm - Washingtonia filifera - of Moapa - in SIX parts. [plus photos and bibliography]
'Washingtonia filifera - It's history in Nevada revisited'
By: Spencer, W - December - 1995 -©1995-2011


click here to go back to part ONE

Part 4 - Moapa's Palms - Is there Evidence in petroglyphs?

Petroglyphs and other possible Connections

Roger's Springs,
Arrow Canyon & the Valley of Fire:
Palms, Mortars & Petroglyphs.

and the Presence of Unidentified Red seed in historical vegetative remains.

Roger's Springs: Palms and bedrock Mortars.

All around the Moapa valley one may find deep bedrock mortars. In the affidavits from Native American Moapa Elders collected in this document, mortars were mentioned in every single case. Most referred to the mortars as having been passed down through the families to their children. IN other groves of Washingtonia filifera throughout the southwest identical deep bedrock mortars have been associated with palm groves through both literature and by personal communications and are usually adjacent and within viewing distance of the groves. The bedrock mortars associated with Moapa Warm Springs (related to me by contemporary Moapas) were specifically used in some way with Palm fruit or seed although no one could recall exactly what was done with it. I have also found bedrock mortars at locations around four small groves at the south west end of the Mormon Mesa near the old Angel homestead and there is another one at Roger's Springs.

IT isn't clear whether Palms have always been at Roger's Springs - We know that the palms extant there at this time have mostly grown in the last 100 years. Ute Leavitt [Overton] however has stated that this is because the Palms were completely removed at various times during her lifetime. Once it was bulldozed to create the pool after a child died from jumping in the pool from an old tall structure that used to be there. Another time it was disturbed for a set of irrigation channels that were put into place by a Man named Syphus who went on to became a governor in the state of Nevada.

It's possible that repeated removals since 1900 at Roger's Springs have left the current impression that Palms only recently thrive in that location - Palms may subsequently regrow from seeds which were left behind. Kleon Winsor and Harold Doty - (pers. comm.) have related many people in the valley consider the palms nuisances because of the spines. Typically area residents are understandably more more concerned with water than wild plants that may deplete some of that water.

The curator of the Desert Museum in Tucson, Dr. Gary Nabhan has elsewhere suggested that - "[Palms]...may have been occasionally extirpated on a local basis from small canyons with their range by floods, freezes, droughts, or disease. Later, they could have been dispersed to some of the same sites again as seeds coyotes."(1)

All palms at Roger's Springs appear naturalized and are not planted in rows or straight lines. There also exists the possibility some of these are older than size implies. This is a difficult question because this species of Palm has been observed to go into a kind of stasis under stressful conditions and may apparently remain the same size for a very long time.

There is a photograph of a 50 year old palm with a trunk not even a meter tall - in James Cornett's book 'Desert Fan Oasis' on page 13. This is not only due to cold temps as Cornett suggests other factors such as water loss and condition of soil etc. may contribute to this. One of the palms in his pictures looks as though it is growing out of the crack a large rock.)

We know when the palms in a row at Blue Point were planted. They were planted in 1903 by Syphus when he started a fish hatchery there. THIS is an extremely interesting fact. It may in fact prove that palms were in Moapa Area before the arrival of Mendis Cooper. Cooper died in 1903. Syphus was reported to have planted the palms at Blue Point in 1903. However Cooper arrived in the area in 1893, which means that if HIS palms were the ORIGINAL only palms in the valley ALL others had to be progeny of his. His palms would have had to be sexually mature in less than 10 years for Syphus's trees to be progeny of Coopers. This is not believable since under best conditions these palms require a minimum of 15 years to mature. This has been stated elsewhere by Dr. James Cornett, Botanist and curator of the Palm Springs Desert Museum. - This single fact alone allows us to PREDATE the palms in the Moapa Valley to BEFORE Cooper's arrival in the area effectively killing the Mendis Cooper story as the Original Source of Moapa Valley's Palm groves.

This ONE fact alone demonstrates that Palms predated Cooper's arrival to the Valley. Furthermore in 1903 Blue Point was remote over rough roads. The Manner of the palms planted at blue point strongly suggest that Transplants - not seed - were used. A nearby source had to be available for transplants to be the case. That source was most likely Roger's springs.

AT some point in the past water was diverted and the palms were left without surface water. This condition has persisted for at least 30 year per my own observations. In photographic evidence I have collected I have demonstrated that they have remained unchanged in height for many years. This shows that they can thrive but not appear to grow significantly for long periods of time. Blue Point trees are over 100 years old and yet very short compared to the tallest trees in Moapa Warm springs under very similar soil conditions, It would be reasonable to extrapolate from this that many palms there which appear young judging from size / height alone may in fact approach 100 years of age and much more.

Bedrock mortars at Rogers Springs suggest palms were extant when Moapas still used mortars as Moapa Elders have stated in affidavits. In a curious note - I should also point out that deep bedrock mortars appear to be associated with the Moapas rather than the Lost City civilization according to anthropological references. (Nevada Museum Anthropological pagers #5 1961)

The 'Salvage Ethnography' technique made known by Lowell John Bean (An authority on the Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs) relies on the cultural memory of living Peoples as a standard means of reconstructing the past. He has shown this to be a very valuable too. It would be unwise to dismiss Moapa Elders' memories regarding their claims.

J. Lowell Bean has shown that The Cahuilla used the bedrock mortars for soaking and crushing palm fruit and this is similar to what Moapa elders have described seeing when very young. Bedrock mortars are associated with foods which require soaking, According to Bean and Saubel in 1972 and Barrows in 1900. Most accounts name these foods as Acorns, Holly leaf Cherry but in areas that support these Palms, Washingtonia filifera fruit is associated with the mortars as well. Since neither of the two former mentioned plants exist in the Moapa region it is even more likely that this unique type of mortar was used for soaking and crushing palm fruit in among the Moapa. Anecdotally at least, Native American Moapa elders claim that this was what bedrock mortars in the Moapa valley were used for along with mesquite.

Blue Point springs has been historically referred to as "Slim Creek". The high magnesium content gives the water a very laxative effect and also a rather bad after-taste. I used to drink from that spring in the 1980's. Later I drank from Roger's Springs which tasted much better. I would discover the unfortunate effects of drinking Amoebic laced waters... But tasting it made it very clear to me why Indians camped around Roger's Springs in historical accounts but not Blue Point. This might also be a clue as to why bedrock mortars might exist at Roger's Springs and not at Blue Point even though the water is abundant at both locations. The Cahuilla made a "beer" from the sweet water in which the Palm fruit had soaked. The Moapa may also have had such a practice.

I also tried to grind some Palm seeds on flat stones - but the very hard seeds pop out from under the grinding tool and it is hard to control the crushing action. A deep mortar would have cured that problem. A lot of work must go into making some of these deep mortars partially explains why deep mortars were handed down through families to progeny.

Curator of the Palm Springs Desert Museum, James Cornett has written:

"Although most desert springs or streams support cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores, it was probably the Desert Fan Palm that held the greatest attraction of any oasis tree. For Although cottonwood branches were occasionally used for building posts, and willow stems were used for bows and large storage baskets, palms provided construction material for dwellings, bows, baskets, and clothes as well as wood for tools, ceremonial objects, and fire starting material."(3)

...and food! 100,000 to 300,000 fruits per tree is a substantial harvest.

Roger's Springs and Blue Point together are the nearest large springs to the Vally of Fire. In the Valley of fire is an interesting set of Petroglyphs that I want to mention. What makes this glyph interesting is where it may be found in two other locations. One other location is in Arrow Canyon just west of the main Oases at Warm Springs [Larry Brundy photograph archives - Moapa NV] but of much more interest is that an identical glyph is found again far to the south in Chihuahua mexico among another related Native American Palm using culture.

I am making observations - not interpretation. I am suggesting however, that the highly stylized glyph might be found in all three locations because of ongoing social contact between all three geographical areas. Palms are extant in all three areas historically, and the groups are all Uto-Aztecan linguistically and culturally. The glyph is described as a cross with an outline placed around a central cross. It is highly stylized and therefore unlikely it could accidentally be repeated unless there was some important and longstanding contact between those who frequented these widely separated areas.

The curious Signs in the Valley of Fire and Arrow Canyon

In references to the Cahuilla, petroglyphs are apparently found in every case alongside extant palm groves. Of course this is also true in Moapa.

Two particular glyphs that I want to mention caught my attention because of the peculiar shape of the drawing.

In the photograph here you will notice two glyphs on the left which appear as stems with two arching symmetrical branches and an attached three fingered type of appendage. On the right in the lower part of the picture you will see a very highly stylized picture of an upright cross I just mentioned above with the outline.

Cahuilla Chief Patencio has said the following: [in reference to petroglyps]

Palm spadice-like glyphs in Valley of Fire

According to Patencio, (Desert Hours with Chief Patencio-Kate Collins 1971)

"These marks did not mean language, no. The language could change, but the sign Marks never. Our tribal signs are woven in the baskets, but they are also on the rocks. These sign marks were put on rocks on the highest mountains. Here is how it happened. When Ev-on-ga-net went looking for places for his people to live, he made signs, not words, no, but signs of things and places and power. Ca-wis-ca-on-ca looking down from the mountain at the green spots of our springs, (he liked that place very much, and was glad to fine the sign marks, marking the country for his people. ...All families had their family sign marks. The people took them ever after.

...Many times I have been elected Chief or Captain by the people but it is nothing, for the Chief's mark of my family is written on the rock on the high places of the mountains. If the time comes when there are no more men in a family, then the nearest man relative is chosen. There are other marks besides the rock writing and the basket weaving that I would tell you of. ...After the separating of the tribes, these marks were much used. Then, the people meeting each other knew what tribe was represented." (emphasis mine)

From this written account, we understand a little about the rock symbols. We know that they represented things and places of power. We also know that they represented families, tribes and clan marks.

Here are some observations:

The glyphs in the photo above are symmetrical. They might appear "plant-like" but apparently entire plants in this desert are not usually so outwardly visually symetrical [Note re: symmetry](4) Instead note that the glyph displays equilaterally placed arching arms with each distal end carrying a hand like or three-fingered splay which reaches down about midway paralleling the single central line or stem.

From Patencio's words one might wonder if this symbol represented the name or power of a clan or family. It may have also represented a place. According to other records which follow it may have indeed represented a plant. Indeed, In the Cahuilla creation story the FIRST Cahuilla was three things: A palm, A Place and a Man all rolled into one being. It is possible that even if the glyphs were from a much earlier culture other than the Moapas local glyphs likely embody similar ideas regarding sacred places, plants and people or clans. Patencio stated glyphs sometimes symbolized "places of Power." These sacred springs at Moapa probably qualify as such places. (Ca-wis-ca-on-ca also looked down at the green spots of the springs!)

It is clear from other cultural studies that ethnic groups often shared similar regard for similar places and things. The eagle for instance was almost universally regarded among aborigines as being human. The frog and owl were almost always regarded among different groups from different cultures as being a bad omen. The Coyotes shars cross cultural distinctions and similar legends were assigned to it by almost every western culture crossing ethnic and language barriers and suggesting common sharing or borrowing of stories among cultures or a very ancient origin indeed. We have testimony from the Moapa that the Warm Springs was considered a very sacred place. This would certainly qualify as a place of power. We also know that the Cahuilla regarded their springs as Sacred Areas of Places of Power.

It seems reasonable that this would be so. This is an area of extreme desert.

The fact that the glyph was repeated and that both are identical argues that this was a completed and recognized glyph. It also argues that it was in some way recognizable with a specific meaning. The highly stylized cross to the right of the picture is repeated on rocks in the Arrow canyon outside of Warm Springs shown in Photographs by Larry Brundy of the Upper Muddy Valley. There, this glyph is unique in that the main lines are raised rather than being gouged out. It is not likely this highly stylized glyph would be accidentally repeated by anyone without having prior exposure to the same glyph elsewhere.

Larry Brundy has been quietly collecting massive numbers of photographs for over twenty years along the arrow canyon as well as others. She will probably be singlehandedly responsible for the most complete permanent photographical record of some of these items of antiquity and mystery.

This identical cross form in identical upright position is also noted on page 117 of "The Rocks Begin to Speak" by LeVan Martineau. The location of this glyph is Chihuahua Mexico, 880 kilometers southwest of the Cahuilla traditional grounds and far into the territories of at four other Palm Cultures: The Cahitan, the Tohono O'otam, the Pima and the Wahirio.

This one glyph makes ancient contact certain between other areas in which This Palm is historically extant.

The use of small Huki's or palm thatch huts is something also referred to through all of the cultures mentioned above. This is also noted by Gary Nabhan in his book Gathering the Desert. When you take the testimony of the four Local Moapa women, they also remembered small palm thatch huts used by their grandparents. This is information they volunteered. Although none of them mentioned any names for the structures they remember palm thatch used for small structures.

An interesting observation about

the double glyph in the Valley of Fire

I also have noticed a strong resemblance to palm spadices in the double petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire.

Juanita Kinlichinie stated that they used to

..."take the real long things that hang down from the palm..."

It is possible that the rock art signified not the leaves, but the fruiting spadices of palms. These are most easily drawn and stylized.

Petroglyph showing uncanny spadice similarity

I took a photograph of a palm with spent spadices growing in the landscaping at the Moapa Water company just between Logandale and Overton. (a fitting place) ... and I painted the petroglyph on the picture slightly below the spadices to demonstrate the uncanny resemblance.

Although conjecture, still the resemblance could not be more accurate.

On page 35 of the book: "Messages on Stone" by William Michael Stokes & William Lee Stokes it is said that the following petroglyph is regarded as depicting a plant. The resemblance and symmetry of the two glyphs is close. I have examined hundreds of glyphs from the area but none which come as close in suggesting Palms. One with it's uncanny similarity to inflorescence spadices and the other possessing what appears to be an apical meristem or terminal bud opening along with graceful arching and symmetrically opposed branches.

Here we read:

"...primitive people knew the plants of their environment...the few they chose to illustrate are mainly those of most practical value. Complete plants are represented. Here and there are objects that look like complete trees; These are difficult subjects for any artist..." p. 36 (5)

Ladders depicted on page 47 of the same article appear identical to the long segmented portions in the center of the first photograph of Atl Atl rock. Lost City people may have used ladders as do many later pueblo peoples and others in the Shoshone linguistic families. It may be that ladders could have been useful to collect palm fruit which otherwise hung from trees far too tall to collect by the pole method. It is certain that palms approaching the contemporary heights of some at Warm Springs are simply far too tall to collect fruit without ladders or poles.

According to Patencio the first Human became a Palm tree to benefit his people.

Unidentified Seeds?

O n a couple of occasions I read in manifests of "vegetative remains" from local archaeological digs from the Pueblo Grande and other Local sites references to small red seeds. The thing which made these items stand out was that no identifyication or genus or taxonomic affinity was offered in these cases. This is evident in the Museum papers from the Lost City digs on a number ofoccasions.(6) I was also told by Chick Perkins that at least one member of an archaeological dig recalled vegetative remains of Palms being listed in a box of artifacts sent as a part of the "Reid collection" for storage to Carson City Nevada many years ago but I could not locate the collection. A lot of these collections were lost and no one knows what happened to them.

It is possible that the small round seed or small red Bean could certainly be seed of Washingtonia filifera. It looks remarkably like a bean by visual description.

It is clear to me that in much research in the area there appears a bias against the inclusion of palms as a part of the local biota. A number of otherwise thorough surveys fail to even mention the plant even though it was present at the times of the surveys. Yet on all these occasions even though Washingtonia filifera is completely ignored, Tamarix are admitted to their lists of riparian and typically riparian flora. Other known introductions such as certain Willows and Cottonwoods were admitted as well, while the Desert Fan Palm earned not even a passing mention.

This qualifies as organized intentional dismissal.

IT is NOT because the Palms were NOT there. That much is provable through photographs.

The palms were most certainly extant. Clearly they were simply and completely ignored without explanation.

The most remarkable part is that this has been a pattern even though climate, hydrology, elevation, biotic communities and even native cultural associations fairly shouted that distinct likelihood that these palms were in fact, indigenous in the area.

It is unfortunate but clear that many research forays conducted in the area have not remained objective when the subject turned to palms. Apparently the subject has always bee approached predisposed to their already formed conclusions. Some of the tradition's supporters were intimately involved with local stewardship of historic places (whether professionally trained or not) since the inception of the lost City digs in the early 1900's. This may have given an air of authenticity to the story.

We know that a great deal of the ancient sites throughout various loci in the upper and lower Valleys were disturbed and collected by enthusiastic but non-professionals, before and during the "real" archaeological digs. According to Chick Perkins, mortars found around Angels ranch at one time contained a few "seeds". (Chick Perkins pers. com) Palm seed is very hard and even rodents are unable to eat it under normal circumstances. [Dr. James Cornett] This may also be why the seeds pass undigested through birds and beasts and why Aboriginals had to soak them before using them.

There are stories of the southern Paiute playing Jokes with rodents by stealing their food caches. It was a source of great fun a sort of "trick" played on the animal.(The Paiute People -Euler)

The fact that unidentified small red 'beans' or round seeds are listed in anthropological logs of the early digs listing vegetative remains of the area argues against the idea that Palm seeds have never been found in ancient sites.

end of Part 4 --- Click Below for Part 5:

go to: Part FIVE - Plant comparisons & Climate in Groves

1. Nabhan, Gary -"Gathering the Desert" Univ of Az press- 1985 p-24 (back to text)

2. I have one pair of shoes which were my work shoes which I have never replaced or resoled in over 14 years even though I have worn them almost continuously for at least 10 of those years. (back)

3. Cornett, J. W. - "Desert Palm Oasis" -The Palm Springs Desert Museum- 1989 pp 23-24 (back)

4. I could point out of course that the palm is that symmetrical but that will come later. (back)

5. Stokes, Wm. Michael & Wm. Lee, "Messages on Stone" -Starstone Publishing Co. Salt Lake City (back)

6. Pg 53 and 57 of Nevada State Museum anthropological papers # 5 among others. (back)

end of Part 4 --- Click Below for Part 5:

go to: Part FIVE - Plant comparisons & Climate in Groves

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