BAPCHULE — Amil Pedro learned about native medicines from his Uncle Pete. He learned about his people’s history. He learned to carve wood and make weapons used by early ancestors. He learned to make stone tools.
He learned to track runaway horses, all from his uncle.
Pedro remembers, years ago, he was in the desert. A pair of horses were loose, one white and one brown. His uncle pointed and said the brown one went that way. Young Amil asked him how he knew.
“See the hair, the fur, on the mesquite?” his uncle said.
This was all before Pedro turned 10. But his uncle’s lessons stayed with him. He later became a tracker for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. He led searches for people lost in the desert.
His uncle, Pete Cachora, was a Quechan Native American. Pedro was born into the Fort Yuma Quechan Nation, some 77 years ago. It’s on the California side of the Colorado River, just north of Yuma.
Pedro was 4 when he moved with his mother to the Gila River Indian Community. He later became a Gila River member. He now lives on Casa Blanca Road, a few miles east of State Route 347.
First impressions suggest a spare living room, anchored by a small dining table. But look around. Large paintings lean against the wall. One shows a horse galloping. Another a steer’s skull. It’s a work in progress. A cabinet displays kachina dolls and other crafts.
What looks to be a too-large arrow leans against the wall. It’s a type of spear used by early American natives. It’s called a dart, flung at passing wooly mammoths with an atlatl, a kind of wooden slingshot.
Pedro makes them. Darts and atlatls. One of his atlatls, along with a dart, is now part of a university collection. His atlatl entry took first place at a prestigious Native American arts and crafts competition in Cahokia, Illinois, site of pre-Columbian burial mounds.
He was there with his wife, Ann, a few years back. They traveled a lot in the 1990s and early 2000s. They’d often visit Ann’s relatives outside Chicago.
“We had an RV,” Pedro said. “We’d drive down there every year, so she could be with her nieces.”
Ann’s brother gave them a basset-hound puppy. Pedro named him Hoss. Hoss could catch mice. He once killed a cockroach like any person would. He stepped on it. And, with his nose, could probably track down just about anybody — or anything — lost in the desert.
But Ann was adamant. Hoss wasn’t going on patrol. Pedro suggested Hoss could help the posse track down a missing body part, a hand.
“She said, ‘You better leave that dog. Don’t mess with my dog.’”
Pedro was more focused on rescuing the living, in any case. He got into tracking, in part, because of his sister, Viola. She went missing at Fort Yuma. She was later found dead. She was just 8.
“They had a lot of kids out there, in the wilderness. I think about my sister.”
He had the knowledge of tracking. So he signed up. That was 1981.
Mostly he found lost grownups. And many, not surprisingly, had lost their way in the Superstition Wilderness.
Pedro paused to give me a pointer on reading tracks. Perhaps the edge around a footprint has slightly collapsed. Perhaps a few leaves have blown in. And perhaps a marauding kangaroo rat has left overlying prints.
You can figure the footprint is likely a day old. Made before nightfall, when the kangaroo rats come out to forage.
I asked what case stood out.
“I got called in the middle of the night, maybe 12 or 1 o’clock,” Pedro said.
A man in his mid-60s was lost in the Superstitions. He had become disoriented and a bit paranoid. He was hiding from the search team.
“The guy went all over,” Pedro said.
They found him hiding in the bushes, dehydrated. Rescuers gave him water and a honey and peanut butter sandwich, a good pick-me-up. Sandwiches, Pedro said, are part of the search-team kit — along with flashlights, extra batteries and rope.
“Plus our sidearm,” he added.
Pedro retired as a sergeant after 26 years. He could spend more time with Ann. She died in 2009, after a three-year battle with cancer.
In 2015, Pedro had to give up driving after his lower left leg was amputated. An injury in his home had led to an infection. Doctors told him there was more. He had diabetes, a disease that also affected vision in his left eye.
He said goodbye to his 1983 Corvette.
“Boy, I miss driving,” he said. “I’d be in California right now, in Palm Springs, doing something. But I can’t.”
Pedro misses them all. His wife, his dog, his uncle, his Corvette.
He doesn’t miss out on life, however. He still paints and works on his crafts, making stone tools and atlatls. He had a booth at January’s grand opening of Eloy’s Santa Cruz Valley Historic Museum. Exhibits focused on Native American history. Pedro was co-chairman.
Earlier this month, he applied his art to gourds for the Running of the Gourds festival at Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center. He attended all three days.
Relatives from Sacaton offered him rides.
Well, that was a short version of our conversation. Toward the end, he pointed out a large bush in the front yard. It was a wolfberry plant, a type native to the desert. When he was young, he said, he’d pick wild berries for his grandmother. She’d cook them into a jellylike mash.
It was sweet. He asked his grandmother if she added sugar. No, she said, the berries were naturally sweet.
These are the things you learn if you hang around Amil Pedro. He’s happy to share.