Montezuma Castle is an ancient Native American cliff dwelling of the I-17 just before the McQuireville exit. It attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year. It appears as though this cliff dwelling was also quite the busy place during its heyday.
Hohokam Indians were the first to move into the area. They were great farmers and arrived in about 700 A.D. They lived in small single-room structures constructed of poles, sticks, mud and other things they could find. They lived near the bank of Beaver Creek, only a few hundred feet from the site of the castle. They relied on a constant source of water, thus their living location. They set up primitive irrigation for their maize, bean, squash, and cotton crops. Near the end of the 11th century (1000 A.D.), many Hohokam moved away to the San Francisco Peaks. With the fresh eruption of Sunset Crater in 1064 A.D. the ground was very fertile and perfect for farming.
The next residents of the Montezuma Castle area were the Sinagua Indians. They moved from the Flagstaff area to this area around the year 1100 A.D. They were pueblo dwellers and actually lived peacefully with the Hohokam Indians. Cultures, traditions, and methods mixed as these two lived together. In addition to these two cultures, we see hints that Ancestral Pueblo, Cohnina, and Mogollon Indians also lived in this area. This suggests that Montezuma Castle was a major trade route for the people of the Southwest.
It was in about the year 1250 when the Sinagua Indians began construction on the marvelous Montezuma Castle. The castle was carved into the limestone cliffs. With about 20 rooms, it was inhabited from about 1100-1400. About 50 people lived here and took advantage of its perfect location. Protected from the harsh elements, the Sinagua flourished during this time.
There are two possible reasons for the abandonment of such a nice place. The first is that Montezuma Castle began to get overcrowded. The second is that a 23 year drought that ended in 1299, forced the Sinagua’s to compete for resources and possibly to leave the area. In 1450, the entire area near Montezuma Castle was empty, including the large, 45 room dwelling just west of Montezuma.
Montezuma Castle was discovered by Antoine Leroux who was a scout. This was in 1854 and by 1890, Montezuma Castle was in bad shape. It was at this time, on December 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt passed the Antiquities Act making four Native American sites (which included Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well) the nation’s first National Monuments. What was pending certain doom and collapse, now stands today as National Monument. Thanks to those that helped preserve this great historic site, we can now look into what Ancient Native American life was like.