How Did Pueblo Farmers Carry Water?

Imagine that you are a pre-historic, or even an early historic, Pueblo farmer. The home you live in is often far from the fields that you tend. For example, if you lived at Mesa Verde in the cliff dwellings, you might be a mile from where your corn or beans grow.


Hopi Indians planted their crops in small low patches of earth where water would gather during the infrequent storms. But it was usually some distance from the mesa they lived on. Water is the key to life in the Desert Southwest, and these people would leave their homes during the heat of the summer to tend their crops.

To make the trip, you had to take water with you. Pueblo potters crafted clay canteens, usually with handles to put rawhide through, allowing the farmer to carry the water over his shoulder.

One of the finest collections of this pottery is at the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. This museum is one worth visiting if you haven’t been there.


When well-known Santa Clara potter Susan Folwell became intrigued by re-creating these canteens as art pieces, she visited the museum to examine the construction (which is not simple as it requires making two identical sized pots and joining them along their edges. Then you must keep the clay from collapsing while adding the spout and handles before you fire the piece.)  Folwell made an observation that made me think about the canteen’s use: "I was intrigued particularly by reparations made to these clay canteens after years of use and abuse. Metal backings adhered with pine pitch, canteens worn through that brought to mind the idea that this was a vessel that might have held more than water, i.e., whiskey, beans, dried corn, you name it.”


I am not sure about the whiskey, but seeds or other small items you wanted to preserve could have been carried in these vessels. But, most importantly, they had to hold water.

Today a small number of Pueblo potters create these canteens as art pieces. We received one last week by Michael Kanteena from Laguna Pueblo. He is an incredible talent and specializes in recreating antique potter styles with a modern twist.

This canteen is ornate with Rams heads for the handles and the spout and two Rams, feet to feet, drawn to resemble ancient Mimbres designs.


See all Pottery Canteens in the Gallery

These contemporary canteens are a tribute to the Ancestral Puebloans, who depended on them for sustenance during the heat of the day.