James F. Brooks, UC Santa Barbara Professor of History and Anthropology and the William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Robert Penn Warren...

James F. Brooks, UC Santa Barbara Professor of History and Anthropology and the William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, offers a scrupulously researched investigation of the mysterious massacre of Hopi Indians at Awat’ovi as well as the event’s echo through American history in Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat’ovi Massacre (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016).

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.

A French edition of of the book, Awat’ovi : l’histoire et les fantomes du passe en pays Hopi, is forthcoming.


Ryan Tripp is an adjunct instructor for several community colleges and online university extensions. In 2014, he matriculated from the University of California, Davis, with a Ph.D. in History. His Ph.D. double minor included World History and Native American Studies, with an emphasis in Linguistic Anthropology and Indigenous Archeology.

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