Piestewa Peak a fitting memorial for one of Arizona’s bravest daughters: Lori Piestewa

Mountain peak rises above desert landscape is lit up by the sun.
Piestewa Peak, viewed from Trail 100 in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. The second tallest mountain in Phoenix, it rises high above the city and serves as a lasting memorial to Lori Ann Piestewa – the first American Indian woman to lose her life in a war on foreign soil. The mountain is a favorite among area hikers and can be seen from many vantage points around the city.

In 2008, officials of the State of Arizona approved the renaming of the second highest peak in Phoenix to honor one of Arizona’s bravest daughters: Lori Ann Piestewa – a U.S. Army Private killed while serving in Iraq in 2003.

This memorial and the one below were installed during a renovation of the base area of Piestewa Peak in October 2019.
Piestewa-Laurie-plaque-2

Piestewa was driving a Humvee through the Nasiriyah region as part of a supply caravan when it was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). The sergeant and two marines died at the scene. Piestewa died hours later, after being transported to a medical facility as a prisoner.

close up of Lori Ann Piestewa

Who was Lori Ann Piestewa?

  • Born December 14, 1979
  • Died March 23, 2003
  • Left behind a son and daughter
  • First female casualty of Iraq war
  • First Native American Woman soldier to die in overseas combat
  • Grew up in Tuba City, AZ
  • Raised with Hopi and Catholic values
  • Hopi name Qotsa-Hon-Mana means “white bear girl”
  • Surname Piestewa means “people who live by the water”
  • Served as JROTC Commanding Officer at her high school
  • Joined the Army in 2001, was stationed at Ft. Bliss
  • Awarded Purple Heart and Prisoner of War medals
  • Grandfather and father both served in the military

According to others who were part of the convoy, Piestewa remained calm and collected behind the wheel as bullets whizzed by. Most of the soldiers traveling with her were virtually defenseless due to their firearms malfunctioning.

Jessica Lynch was one of Piestewa’s closest friends and comrades. Lynch roomed with Piestewa on base back at Fort Bliss in El Paso. She was also serving with Piestewa on that fateful day. Lynch made national news when Marines rescued her from days after the attack. She was being held as a prisoner of war in the same facility where Piestewa died.

Jessica Lynch (left) with Lori Piestewa (right) at Fort Bliss before their deployment to Iraq. (Photo: Bagnato Pflipsen Communications)

Through it all, Lynch said, Piestewa kept cool.

She was great, actually. Honestly I was not too worried. I had a peace—this calming feeling—because I was with Lori. I knew that whatever we had to face, we were going to do it together.

Jessica Lynch, as quoted on History.com.

Piestewa embodied Hopi values in her service

Hopi people have a long-standing reputation for being a peaceful tribe. Given the treatment of many American Indian people by the U.S. Government, it’s remarkable that Piestewa, like her father and grandfather, would enlist to serve in the military. Generations before her, Hopi servicemen aided the U.S. Military in non-combat roles as code talkers.

In 1950, tribal leaders demanded that President Harry Truman stop drafting Hopi youth into the Korean War, stating in an open letter that “we have no right to be fighting other people in other lands who have caused us no harm.”

Consistent with Hopi values and traditions, Piestewa served in a non-combat capacity. She was responsible for helping move water and supplies to locations where the troops needed them.

Hopi’s are not to inflict harm on anybody. For her, picking up her comrades and bringing them to safety was instilled in her through the Hopi tribe. We feel that Lori’s purpose on this earth was to bring people together in peace and unity. If you look at all the people she’s touched, that is her legacy.

Percy Piestewa (Lori’s mother)

Perhaps one of the most notable outcomes of Piestewa’s legacy was a rare joint prayer gathering between members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes, which have had a centuries-old rivalry.

After her death, Piestewa was promoted from Private First Class to Specialist. She was also awarded purple heart and prisoner of war medals.

Learn more about Piestewa’s military service>>

History Channel Video: Lori Piestewa, Native American Soldier and Hero

About Piestewa Peak

Piestewa Peak is the second highest mountain in the Phoenix metro area, topping out at 2,612 feet (796 m). The peak is clearly visible from many vantage points around the Valley of the Sun.

It’s easily spotted if you look directly north from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Look for a very symmetrical cone-shaped peak that rises high above the city. Only the hump on Camelback Mountain, directly to the east (right) rises higher.

Piestewa Peak quick facts:

  • Originally named Squaw Peak in the early 1900s
  • Officially renamed Piestewa Peak in 2008
  • Peak elevation: 2,612 feet (796 m)
  • 2nd highest peak in Phoenix behind Camelback Mountain
  • Summit Trail (#300) is 1.2 miles one way to top
  • 1,200 foot elevation gain from parking lot
  • Located within Phoenix Mountains Preserve
  • Free parking with access to several hiking trails
  • No pass or permit required
  • Entrance gate is open until 7 p.m. daily
  • Once inside the gate, visitors can remain until 11 p.m.
Silhouette of hikers on mountain peak
Hikers reach the 2612-foot summit of Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Although legend tells of a handful of other names the mountain has been referred by over the last century, the Piestewa Peak name appears to have emerged from the “getting used to it” phase. Few people in Phoenix still refer to it as Squaw Peak and widespread adoption of Piestewa has taken hold.

Man holding flag high overhead with rocky mountain behind him
Unidentified man displays his patriotism by carrying the U.S. flag above him while descending Piestewa Peak
Piestewa Peak is one of the most popular locations in Phoenix to hike up and watch the sun set.
Shortly after sunset, dazzling views of the city lights are visible in practically every direction from the summit of Piestewa Peak.

Memorials aren’t given out to just anyone who serves in the military. They’re earned by a select few who have stood out from the rest by paying the ultimate price with their life while carrying out heroic acts of bravery. Lori Ann Piestewa left behind two children and a legacy of serving her country in a courageous, non-combative role. Piestewa Peak rises high above the desert Arizona landscape as a fitting memorial to one of its bravest daughters.

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