Water Bottle Found in Sonoran Desert

A plastic gallon water bottle with blue cap and burlap cover. The burlap is tied at the bottom. This bottle was collected in a remote part of the Sonoran Desert near the Mexican border. The past 20 years has seen a rise in unauthorized border crossing, border enforcement procedures, and debates about who and how migrants should be let into the country.
As the US federal immigration enforcement strategy known as Prevention Through Deterrence (PTD) increased the security presence around urban ports of entry in the mid-1990s, there was a shift in undocumented migration towards more remote regions of the American Southwest. Those making the perilous journey through this inhospitable desert landscape faced extreme temperatures (summer temperatures as high as 100° F/38° C and winter temperatures approaching freezing), rugged terrain, abuse from coyotes (human smugglers), and the risk of getting caught by the Border Patrol.
The site where this was found likely served as a way station used by human smugglers or a site of Border Patrol apprehension. Typical items found at these sites include personal hygiene products such as combs, backpacks, excess clothes, and empty water bottles. In preparation for the journey across the desert, migrants packed items necessary for survival, including plastic water bottles like this one to hold drinking water. Migrants often modified these bottles with cloth/fabric covers to make carrying them easier or to camouflage them to prevent detection by the authorities. Migrants often carried no more than two gallons of water and many reported extreme dehydration and hyperthermia as a result of the lack of drinking water. Along the way, many resorted to drinking water from bacteria-laden cattle tanks for survival.
place made
United States: Arizona
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
plant fiber (overall material)
overall: 12 in x 6 in; 30.48 cm x 15.24 cm
ID Number
nonaccession number
catalog number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Ethnic
Many Voices, One Nation
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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