Indigenous Sonora: Four Centuries of Conflict (1531-1927)

The Yaqui Indians are seen as a rare vestige of the old Mexico.

By John P. Schmal
Published on LatinoLA: March 5, 2014

Indigenous Sonora: Four Centuries of Conflict (1531-1927)

Located in northwestern Mexico, Sonora occupies 180,608 square kilometers, which takes up 9.2% of the national territory of the Mexican Republic. Sonora shares 588 kilometers of borders with the United States, specifically with the States of Arizona and New Mexico. The state also shares a common border with the Mexican states of Chihuahua (on the east), Sinaloa (on the southeast), and Baja California (northwest). Sonora also shares a long shoreline along the Gulf of California.

In the 2010 census, Sonora had a total population of 2,662,480 inhabitants, representing 2.4% of the total population of the Mexican Republic. Sonora, with Hermosillo as its capital, is a mostly mountainous state, with vast desert stretches, located along the Gulf of California in Northwestern Mexico. Politically, Sonora is divided into seventy-two municipios.

It is believed that the word Sonora was derived from the Opata word, "sonotl" which means "corn leaf." A legend speaks of an indigenous group that lived near the village of Hu?®pac and used corn leaves to cover the walls and roofs of their huts. Yet another story claims that the word comes from the name of a tribe that lived on the banks of the Sonora River; these people were known as the Sonora Indians. This river crosses a large part of the state.

Nueva Vizcaya

During the early part of the Spanish colonial period, Sonora belonged to the Spanish province of Nueva Vizcaya, which took up a great deal of territory (610,000 square kilometers), most of which now corresponds with four Mexican states: Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa and Sonora. Because of its great mineral wealth, the Spaniards took a special interest in the southern part of Sonora. However, the indigenous people in this part of Sonora waged a long battle of resistance against the Spaniards, a resistance that did not really end until the Twentieth Century. This is the history of that resistance.

The C?íhitan Language Group

At the time of the Spanish contact, the C?íhita group of tribes were living in pueblos and permanent villages along the banks of the Mocorito, Sinaloa, Fuerte, Mayo and Yaqui Rivers in the coastal regions of both southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa. Speaking eighteen closely related dialects, the C?íhitan group is part of the Uto-Aztecan Language Group and is most closely related to the Pima and Cora.

Numbering about 115,000 at contact, the C?íhitans were the most numerous of any single language group in northern Mexico and included the famous Yaqui and Mayo ethnic groups, who lived along the middle and lower portions of the valleys of the Yaqui, Mayo and Fuerte rivers in the southwest Sonora and northwest Sinaloa. They ranged from the Gulf of California in the West to the Sierra Madre Mountains in the East. Other C?íhitan groups included the Bamoa, the Sinaloa, Tehueco and the Zuaque.

Living in the fertile valleys along these rivers, most of the Cahita engaged in agricultural pursuits, growing corn, cotton, calabashes, beans, and tobacco, and also in cultivating the mezcal-producing agave. They hunted in the neighboring Sierra Madre and fished in the streams that supplied the water to irrigate their fields.

First Contact (1531)

In 1529, the professional lawyer turned Conquistador, Nu??o Beltr?ín de Guzm?ín, led an expedition of 300 Spaniards and 10,000 Indian allies (Tlaxcalans, Aztecs and Tarascans) from Mexico City and ravaged through Michoac?ín, Jalisco, Zacatecas, and Nayarit, provoking the natives to give battle everywhere he went. The historian Peter Gerhard, in "The North Frontier of New Spain," observed that Guzm?ín's army "engaged in wholesale slaughter and enslavement."

In March 1531, Guzm?ín's army reached the site of present-day Culiac?ín (now in Sinaloa), where his force engaged an army of 30,000 warriors in a pitched battle. The indigenous forces were decisively defeated and, as Mr. Gerhard notes, the victors "proceeded to enslave as many people as they could catch." The indigenous people confronted by Guzm?ín belonged to the C?íhita language group.

During his stay in Sinaloa, Guzm?ín's army was ravaged by an epidemic that killed many of his Amerindian auxiliaries. Finally, in October 1531, after establishing San Miguel de Culiac?ín on the San Lorenzo River, Guzm?ín returned to the south, his mostly indigenous army decimated by hunger and disease. But the Spanish post at Culiac?ín remained, Mr. Gerhard writes, as "a small outpost of Spaniards surrounded on all sides but the sea by hostile Indians kept in a state of agitation" by the slave-hunting activities of the Spaniards. Nu??o de Guzm?ín was eventually brought to justice for his genocidal actions.

The Rancher?ˇa People

As the Spaniards moved northward they found an amazing diversity of indigenous groups. Unlike the more concentrated Amerindian groups of central Mexico, the Indians of the north were referred to as "rancher?ˇa people" by the Spaniards. Their fixed points of settlements (rancher?ˇas) were usually scattered over an area of several miles and one dwelling may be separated from the next by up to half a mile. The renowned anthropologist, Professor Edward H. Spicer (1906-1983), writing in "Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960," stated that most rancher?ˇa people were agriculturalists and farming was their primary activity. Jesuit missionaries first started their efforts to convert the C?íhitans to Christianity in 1591.

Conversion of the Mayo Indians (1609-1620)

The Mayo Indians were an important C?íhita-speaking tribe occupying some fifteen towns along the Mayo and Fuerte rivers of southern Sonora and northern Sinaloa. As early as 1601, they had developed a curious interest in the Jesuit-run missions of their neighbors. The Mayos sent delegations to inspect the Catholic churches and, as Professor Spicer observes, "were so favorably impressed that large groups of Mayos numbering a hundred or more also made visits and became acquainted with Jesuit activities."

As the Jesuits began their spiritual conquest of the Mayos, Captain Hurdaide, in 1609, signed a peace treaty with the military leaders of the Mayos. After 1613, the Jesuit Father Pedro Mendez established the first mission in Mayo territory. By 1620, with 30,000 persons baptized, the Mayos had been concentrated in seven mission towns.

Conversion of the Yaqui Indians (1610-1620)

At contact, the Yaqui Indians occupied the coastal region of what is now present-day Sonora along the Yaqui River, north of Mayo Territory. Divided into eighty autonomous communities, their primary activity was agriculture. Although the Yaqui Indians had resisted Guzm?ín's advance in 1531, they had welcomed Francisco de Ibarra who came in peace in 1565, apparently in the hopes of winning the Spaniards as allies in the war against their traditional enemies, the Mayos.

In 1609, as Spanish forces under Captain Hurdaide became engaged with the pacification of the Ocoronis (another Cahita-speaking group of northern Sinaloa), he reached the Yaqui River, where he was confronted by a group of Yaquis. In 1610, with the Mayo and Lower Pima Indians as his allies, Captain Hurdaide returned to Yaqui territory with a force of 2,000 Indians and forty Spanish soldiers. He was soundly defeated. When he returned with another force of 4,000 Indian foot soldiers and fifty mounted Spanish cavalry, he was again defeated in a bloody daylong battle.

In 1617, the Yaquis, utilizing the services of Mayo intermediaries, invited the Jesuit missionaries to begin their work among them. Professor Spicer noted that after observing the Mayo-Jesuit interactions that started in 1613, the Yaquis seemed to be impressed with the Jesuits. Bringing a message of everlasting life, the Jesuits impressed the Yaquis with their good intentions and their spirituality. In seeking to protect the Yaqui from exploitation by mine owners and encomenderos, the Jesuits came into direct conflict with the Spanish political authorities. From 1617 to 1619, nearly 30,000 Yaquis were baptized. By 1623, the Jesuits had reorganized the Yaquis from about eighty rancher?ˇas into eight mission villages.

Detachment of the Province of Sinaloa and Sonora (1733)

In 1733, Sinaloa and Sonora were detached from Nueva Vizcaya and given recognition as the province of Sonora y Sinaloa. In her work, "Indigenous Rebellions on the Northern Mexican Mission Frontier: From First-Generation to Later Colonial Responses," the author Susan Deeds commented that this detachment represented a recognition of "the growth of a mining and ranching secular society in this northwestern region."

Rebellion of the Yaqui, Pima, and Mayo Indians (1740)

The Yaqui and Mayo Indians lived in peaceful coexistence with the Spaniards from the early part of the Seventeenth Century to 1740. Ms. Deeds, in describing the causes of this rebellion, observes that the Jesuits had ignored "growing Yaqui resentment over lack of control of productive resources." During the last half of the Seventeenth Century, so much agricultural surplus was produced that storehouses needed to be built. These surpluses were used by the missionaries to extend their activities northward into the California and Pima missions. The immediate cause of the rebellion is believed to have been a poor harvest in late 1739, followed in 1740 by severe flooding which exacerbated food shortages.

Ms. Deeds also points out that the "increasingly bureaucratic and inflexible Jesuit organization obdurately disregarded Yaqui demands for autonomy in the selection of their own village officials." Thus, this rebellion, writes Ms. Deeds, was "a more limited endeavor to restore the colonial pact of village autonomy and territorial integrity." At the beginning of the revolt, an articulate leader named El Muni emerged in the Yaqui community. El Muni and another Yaqui leader, Bernab?®, took the Yaquis' grievances to local civil authorities. Resenting this undermining of their authority, the Jesuits had Muni and Bernab?® arrested.

The arrests triggered a spontaneous outcry, with two thousand armed indigenous men gathering to demand the release of the two leaders. The Governor, having heard the complaints of both sides, recommended that the Yaqui leaders go to Mexico City to testify personally before the Viceroy and Archbishop Vizr??n. In February 1740, the Archbishop approved all of the Yaqui demands for free elections, respect for land boundaries, that Yaquis be paid for work, and that they not be forced to work in mines.

The initial stages of the 1740 revolt saw sporadic and uncoordinated activity in Sinaloa and Sonora, primarily taking place in the Mayo territory and in the Lower Pima Country. Catholic churches were burned to the ground while priests and settlers were driven out, fleeing to the silver mining town at Alamos. Eventually, Juan Calixto raised an army of 6,000 men, composed of Pima, Yaqui and Mayo Indians. With this large force, Calixto gained control of all the towns along the Mayo and Yaqui Rivers.

However, in August 1740, Captain Agust?ˇn de Vild??sola defeated the insurgents. The rebellion, however, had cost the lives of a thousand Spaniards and more than 5,000 Indians. After the 1740 rebellion, the new Governor of Sonora and Sinaloa began a program of secularization by posting garrisons in the Yaqui Valley and encouraging Spanish residents to return to the area of rebellion. The Viceroy ordered the partition of Yaqui land in a "prudent manner." The Yaquis had obtained a reputation for being courageous warriors during the rebellion of 1740 and the Spanish handled them quite gingerly thereafter. As a result, the government acquisition of Yaqui lands did not begin began until 1768.

Pima Rebellion of 1751-1752

The Pima Indians have lived for many centuries in scattered locations that are now located in the western two-thirds of southern Arizona and northern Sonora. While the Pimas Altos (Upper Pima Indians) lived in the north, their linguistic brethren, the Pima Bajo (Lower Pima) lived farther south in the vicinity of Ures, Sahuaripa and San Ignacio, all of which are located in the far north of Sonora, a short distance from the U.S. border.

During the 1740s, the Pima Indians had begun to feel agitated by the intrusion of the Spaniards onto their territory. In November 1751, under the leadership of a Pima leader, Captain-General Lu?ˇs Oacpicagigua, the Pima rose in revolt. Within a few days more than a hundred settlers, miners, and ranchers were killed. Churches were burned, and two priests were also killed. However, on January 4, 1752, approximately 2,000 northern Pimans attacked less than one hundred Spaniards, only to be repulsed with a loss of forty-three dead. The Pima Revolt lasted only four months, ending with the surrender of Lu?ˇs Oacpicagigua, who offered himself in sacrifice and atonement for his whole people, endeavoring to spare them the consequences of their uprising.

Apache Offensives in Sonora and Chihuahua

During the Seventeenth Century, the Apache Indians first made their appearance in some parts of Chihuahua and Sonora. Cynthia Radding, the author of "The Colonial Pact and Changing Ethnic Frontiers in Highland Sonora, 1740-1840," described the Apaches as "diverse bands" of hunter-gatherers "related linguistically to the Athapaskan speakers of Alaska and western Canada." One of the six regional groups of Apaches, the Chiricahua ranged at various times through parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and the mountainous frontier regions of Chihuahua and Sonora.

The first Apache raids on Sonora appear to have taken place during the early part of the late Seventeenth Century. The Apache depredations continued into the Eighteenth Century and prompted Captain Juan Mateo Mange in 1737 to report that "many mines have been destroyed, 15 large estancias along the frontier have been totally destroyed, having lost two hundred head of cattle, mules, and horses; several missions have been burned and two hundred Christians have lost their lives to the Apache enemy, who sustains himself only with the bow and arrow, killing and stealing livestock." Between 1751 and 1760, the Sonorans mounted several punitive campaigns against the Chiricahua, sometimes with success.

A State of Constant Warfare

The pressure of constant warfare waged against these nomads led the Spanish military to adopt a policy of maintaining armed garrisons of paid soldiers (presidios) in the problem areas. By 1760, Spain boasted a total of twenty-three presidios in the frontier regions. But the Apaches were highly skilled horsemen whose mobility helped them elude presidio troops. Professor Robert Salmon, the author of "Indian Revolts in Northern New Spain: A Synthesis of Resistance (1680-1786)" writes that the continuing Indian attacks eventually "broke the chain of ineffective presidios established to control them."

As the end of the Eighteenth Century approached, the Apaches represented a major threat to the continued Spanish occupation of both Sonora and Chihuahua. And, as Professor Salmon concludes, "Indian warriors exacted high tolls in commerce, livestock, and lives." The damage caused by Apache raids was calculated in hundreds of thousands of pesos, and many ranches, farms and mining centers throughout Chihuahua had to be abandoned.

Establecimientos de Paz

In 1786, the Viceroy of Nueva Espa??a, Bernardo de Galvez, called for the formation of "peace establishments" (establecimientos de paz) for Apaches willing to settle down and become peaceful. Oscar J. Mart?ˇnez, the author of "Troublesome Border," described Spain's new policy of "pacification by dependency" toward the indigenous peoples. "Henceforth," writes Mr. Mart?ˇnez, "Spaniards would endeavor to make treaties with individual bands, persuade them to settle near military stations where they would receive food rations, give them low-quality weapons for hunting, encourage trade, and use 'divide and conquer' tactics where appropriate."

Soon, several Apache bands were induced to forgo their raiding and warfare habits in exchange for farmlands, food, clothing, agricultural implements and obsolete hunting arms. Mr. Mart?ˇnez concludes: "The Spaniards hoped that these measures would result in the establishment of a dependency relationship, which is precisely what materialized, and for nearly twenty-five years peaceful relations came to exist between the two groups."

Seri Offensives (1757-1766)

At the time of contact, the Seri Indians lived along the arid central coast of Sonora and shared boundaries with the Yaqui on the south and the Pima and P?ípago on the east and north. The first known battle between the Seris and the Spaniards took place in 1662. A century later, on November 3, 1757, a war party of Seris and rebel northern Pimans struck the settlement of San Lorenzo (Sonora), killing thirty-two persons. This brazen affront called for military reprisal, and the Spaniards collected troops to chase the offenders back to the coastal area.

In 1760, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza took over command of the Tubac Presidio in Southern Arizona and embarked into Seri country near the Gulf of California. In 1761, presidios were denuded of troops in order to supply personnel and materials for the offensive. A force of 184 Spanish soldiers, 217 allied Indians and twenty citizens went on the offensive against the Seris. They succeeded in slaying forty-nine Seris and capturing sixty-three, while recovering 322 horses.

The Jesuits are Banished (1767)

In 1767 King Carlos III, for political reasons, abruptly banished the Jesuits from all his realms. Hundreds of mission establishments, schools and colleges had to be turned over to other missionary orders or converted to other uses. The Franciscans who took over the missionary effort in Sonora inherited all the woes that had frustrated the Jesuits: restless neophytes, Apache hostility, disease, encroaching settlers, and lack of government support.

Yaqui, Mayo and Opata Rebellions of 1825-1833

After Mexico gained independence in 1822, the Yaquis became citizens of the new Mexican Republic. During this time, there appeared a new Yaqui leader. Ms. Linda Zoontjens, the author of "A Brief History of the Yaqui and Their Land," referred to Juan de la Cruz Banderas as a "revolutionary visionary" whose mission was to establish an Indian military confederation. Once again, the Mayo Indians joined their Yaqui neighbors in opposing the central authorities. With a following of 2,000 warriors, Banderas carried out several raids. But eventually, Banderas made an arrangement with the Government of Sonora. In exchange for his "surrender," Banderas was made the Captain-General of the Yaqui Militia.

By early 1832, Banderas had formed an alliance with the Opatas. Together, the Opatas and Yaquis were able to field an army of almost 2,500 warriors, staging repeated raids against haciendas, mines and towns in Sonora. However, the Mexican army continued to meet the indigenous forces in battle, gradually reducing their numbers. Finally, in December 1832, volunteers tracked down and captured Banderas. The captive was turned over to the authorities and put on trial. A month later, in January 1833, Banderas was executed, along with eleven other Yaqui, Mayo and Opata leaders who had helped foment rebellion in Sonora.

Yaqui Insurgencies - Sonora (1868-1875)

During these years, the Yaquis regained their strength and periodically attacked Mexican garrisons in their territory. In March 1868, six hundred Yaquis arrived near the town of Bacum in the eastern Yaqui country to ask the local field commander for peace terms. However, the Mexican officer, Colonel Bustamante, arrested the whole group, including women and children. When the Yaquis gave up forty-eight weapons, Bustamante released 150 people but continued to hold the other 450 people. Taking his captives to a Yaqui church in Bacum as prisoners of war, he was able to identify ten of the captives as leaders. All ten of these men were shot without a trial.

Four hundred and forty people were left languishing in the church overnight, with Bustamante's artillery trained on the church door to discourage an escape attempt. However, during the night a fire was started in the church. The situation inside the church turned to chaos and confusion, as some captives desperately tried to break down the door. As the Yaquis fled the church, several salvos fired from the field pieces killed up to 120 people.

In 1875, the Mexican government suspected that a Yaqui insurrection was brewing. In an attempt to pacify the Yaquis, Governor Jose J. Pesqueira ordered a new campaign, sending five hundred troops from the west into the Yaqui country. A force of 1,500 Yaquis met the Mexican troops at Pitahaya. In the subsequent battle, the Yaquis are believed to have lost some sixty men.

Continuing Yaqui Rebellions (1876-1900)

During the reign of Porfirio D?ˇaz, the ongoing struggle for autonomy and land rights dominated Yaqui-Mexican relations. An extraordinary leader named Cajeme soon took center stage in the Yaquis' struggle for autonomy and galvanized a new generation of Yaquis and Mayos, leading his forces in attacks on haciendas, ranches and stations of the Sonora Railroad in the Guaymas and Alamos districts.

With rebel forces causing so much trouble, General Luis Torres, the Governor of Sonora, petitioned the Federal Government for military aid. Recognizing the seriousness of this rebellion, Mexican President Porfirio D?ˇaz authorized his Secretary of War to begin a campaign against the Sonoran rebels. In 1885, 1,400 federal troops arrived in Sonora to help the Sonoran government put down the insurrection. Together with 800 state troops, the federal forces were organized into an expedition, with the intention of meeting the Yaquis in battle.

During 1886, the Yaquis continued to fortify more of their positions. Once again, Mexican federal and state forces collaborated by making forays into Yaqui country. This expedition confiscated more than 20,000 head of livestock and, in April 1886, occupied the Yaqui town of C??corit. On May 5, the fortified site of Anil was captured after a pitched battle. After suffering several serious military reverses, the Yaqui forces fell back to another fortified site at Buatachive, high in the Sierra de Bacatet, to make a last stand against the Mexican forces.

Putting together a fighting force of 4,000 Yaquis, along with thousands of Yaqui civilians, the Yaqui leader Cajeme prepared to resist. On May 12, after a four-day siege, Mexican troops under General Angel Martinez, attacked Buatachive. In a three-hour battle, the Mexican forces killed 200 Yaqui soldiers, while capturing hundreds of women and children. Cajeme and a couple thousand Yaquis managed to escape the siege.

After this staggering blow, Cajeme divided his forces into small bands of armed men and engaged government troops in small skirmishes. Eventually, however, Mexican forces were able to occupy all of the Yaqui territory, and on April 12, 1887, Cajeme was apprehended near Guaymas and taken to C??corit where he was to be executed before a firing squad. After being interviewed and photographed by Ramon Corral, he was taken by steamboat to Medano but was shot while trying to escape from the soldiers.

Even with the death of Cajeme, the Yaquis continued their resistance, mainly in the Guaymas Valley. During this time, some Yaquis were able to slip across the border into Arizona to work in mines and purchase guns and ammunition. The Mexican border guards were unable to stop the steady supply of arms and provisions coming across the border from Arizona. Eventually, Mexico's Secretary of War ordered the recruitment of Opatas and Pimas to hunt down the Yaqui guerillas.

However, renegade bands of Yaquis, familiar with the terrain of their own territory, were able to avoid capture by the government forces and carry on their resistance. In 1897, the commander of the campaign forces, General Torres initiated negotiations with the Yaqui leader Tetabiate, offering the Yaquis repatriation into their homeland. After a number of months of correspondence between the guerilla leader and a colonel in one of the regiments, a place was set for a peace agreement to be signed. On May 15, 1897, Sonora state officials and the Tetabiate signed the Peace of Ortiz. The Yaqui leader, Juan Maldonado, with 390 Yaquis, consisting of 74 families, arrived from the mountains for the signing of the peace treaty.

In the six years following the signing of peace, Lorenzo Torres, the Governor of Sonora, made efforts to complete the Mexican occupation of Yaqui territory. Ignoring the terms of the peace treaty, four hundred Yaquis and their families defied the government and assembled in the Bacatete Mountains. Under the command of their leader Tetabiate, the Yaquis sustained themselves by making nighttime raids on the haciendas near Guaymas. But gradually, Mexican troops made progress against the insurgents, and, by the end of 1900, there were only an estimated 300 rebels still holding out in the Bacatete Mountains. Six months later, Tetabiate was betrayed and murdered by one of his lieutenants and the Secretary of War called off the campaign in August 1901.

Deportation of Yaqui Indians (1902-1910)

Following the killing of Tetabiate, Mexican forces continued to patrol the Bacatetes. The Mexicans pursued Yaqui rebels wherever there were alleged to be. The government also put pressure on Seri Indians to kill and cut off the hands of Yaquis who had sought refuge on Tiburon Island.

Meanwhile the federal government had decided on a course of action for clearing Yaquis out of the state of Sonora. Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky was placed in charge of Federal Rural Police in the state with orders to round up all Yaquis and deport them southward. Between 1902 -1908, between eight and possibly as many as fifteen thousand of the estimated population of thirty thousand Yaquis were deported.

The years 1904 through 1907 witnessed an intensification of guerilla activities and corresponding government persecution. The state government issued passports to Yaquis and those not having them were arrested and jailed. The Sonoran Governor Rafael Iz?íbel was so intent on pacifying the Yaquis that he conducted his own arrests. These arrests included women, children as well as sympathizers. "When Yaqui rebellion threatened Sonora's mining interests," writes Dr. Hatfield, "Governor Rafael Iz?íbel deported Yaquis, considered superior workers by all accounts, to work on Yucat?ín's henequen plantations."

In analyzing the Mexican Government's policy of deportation, Dr. Hatfield observed that deportation of the Yaquis resulted from "the Yaquis' determination to keep their lands. Yaqui refusal to submit to government laws conflicted with the Mexican government's attempts to end all regional hegemony. The regime hoped to take Yaqui lands peacefully, but this the Yaquis prevented."

The bulk of the Yaquis were sent to work on henequen plantations in the Yucat?ín and some were sent to work in the sugar cane fields in Oaxaca. Sonoran hacendados protested the persecution and deportation of the Yaquis because without their labor, their crops could not be cultivated or harvested. In the early Nineteenth Century, many Yaqui men emigrated to Arizona in order to escape subjugation and deportation to southern Mexico. Today, some 10,000 Yaqui Indians live in the United States, many of them descended from the refugees of a century ago.

270 Instances of Warfare between 1529 and 1902

Dr. Hatfield, in looking back on the long struggle of the Yaqui against the federal government, writes "A government study published in 1905 cited 270 instances of Yaqui and Mayo warfare between 1529 and 1902, excluding eighty-five years of relative peace between 1740 and 1825." But from 1825 to 1902, the Yaqui Nation waged war on the government almost continuously.

The Yaquis from 1910 to the 1920s

By 1910, countless Yaquis had removed from their homeland and the Yaquis who remained in Sonora had ceased hostilities for the most part. In 1920, the Mexican government estimated that the 6,000 Yaquis were living in the main tribal towns of C??corit, Vicam, Turin, Potum and Bacum, and they were being joined by some Yaquis who were returning from exile in the United States.

In September 1920, Governor Berquez of Sonora complained that the Yaquis had "been a thorn in the side of the Sonoran and the Mexican governments for forty-eight years," but recently, he had received assurances that the Yaquis were "completely pacified and ready to settle down" and return to peaceful agricultural pursuits on their reservation lands. However, the peace was short-lived and new outbreaks took place during the next year.

The Last Major Battle (1927)

Historians agree that the Yaquis fought their last major battle at Cerro del Gallo (Hill of the Rooster) in 1927. On April 28, 1927, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mexican Federal Troops had captured 415 Yaquis, including 214 women and 175 children. By October of that year, the Yaquis chieftain, Luis Matius, surrendered, after holding out in the Bacatete Mountains for more than a year. By the end of 1927, Mexican garrisons were established in all Yaqui pueblos and villages.

Making Peace

During the 1930s many Yaquis settled down to a peaceful existence in their Sonoran homeland. Although some small outbreaks took place, major hostilities had come to an end and Yaquis worked hard to live in peace with their neighbors and the authorities. In 1934, the Yaquis found a new and important ally in the person of President L?ízaro C?írdenas, a mestizo from Jiquilpan, Michoac?ín.

President C?írdenas opened up negotiations with the Yaquis to ensure that peace would continue. The Los Angeles Times of May 22, 1936 reported that "President C?írdenas, proud of his Indian blood," had served notice that his government would provide extensive benefits for the Yaquis. These plans included:

ÔÇó Construction and improvement of irrigation canals in Yaqui territory
ÔÇó Construction of a dam along the Yaqui River
ÔÇó Establishment of agricultural and industrial schools at Vicam
ÔÇó A comprehensive program of cultural uplift for Yaquis

During the next year, President C?írdenas signed a treaty with the Yaquis. This treaty created the Yaqui Zona Ind?ˇgena, which included approximately half of the territory that the Yaquis had claimed as their traditional homeland. Although the Yaquis lost two of their traditional towns (C??corit and B?ícum), two new towns (Loma de Guam??chil and Loma de B?ícum) were established to compensate the tribe for their loss.

The 1921 Mexican Census

In the unique 1921 Mexican census, residents of each state were asked to classify themselves in several categories, including "ind?ˇgena pura" (pure indigenous), "ind?ˇgena mezclada con blanca" (indigenous mixed with white) and "blanca" (white). Out of a total state population of 275,127,

ÔÇó 37,914 persons (or 13.8%) claimed to be of pure indigenous background
ÔÇó 111,089 persons (or 40.4%) classified themselves as being mixed (mezclada)
ÔÇó 115,151 persons (or 41.9%) claimed to be white (blanca)

In the 1921 census, only 6,765 residents of Sonora admitted to speaking an indigenous language. The most commonly spoken indigenous language was the Mayo language, which 5,941 individuals used. The Yaqui language was spoken by only 562 persons. This meager showing may have been the result of the deportations, but may also indicate that many Yaqui speakers were fearful of admitting their linguistic and cultural identity, for fear of government reprisal. By the time of the 1930 census, 6,024 residents of Sonora claimed to speak indigenous languages, and another 18,873 were bilingual, speaking Spanish and an indigenous language.

2000 Census

During the Twentieth Century, the Yaquis managed to obtain a form of autonomy within the Mexican nation. In the 2000 Mexican census, Sonora had a total of 55,694 persons who were classified as speakers of indigenous languages five years of age and over. This group represented only 2.85% of the entire population of Sonora. The population of persons speaking the Yaqui language, however, was only 12,467. The number of persons speaking the Mayo language was 25,879, representing almost half of all the indigenous speakers. Several thousand Zapotecos and Mixtecos - migrant laborers from the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca - also resided in the state.

The 2010 Census

In the 2010 census, it was revealed that 60,310 residents of Sonora five years of age and older spoke an indigenous language, representing about 2.5% of the state's population. About 47,000 of those indigenous speakers belonged to Sonora's seven primary indigenous groups: the Kickapoo, Tohono O'odham (or P?ípago), Seri, Pima, Kickapoo, Guarij?ˇo, Yaqui and Mayo. Together, these ethnic groups comprised about 150,000 individuals (some of whom did not speak indigenous languages). In addition, over the last 30 years, ethnic Triqui, Mixtec and Zapotec speakers have migrated to Sonora and now represent indigenous languages that are actually native to other parts of Mexico (primarily Oaxaca). Sonora's four most commonly spoken languages in 2010 census were:

1. Mayo: 28,063 inhabitants
2. Yaqui: 16,508 inhabitants
3. N?íhuatl: 2,004 inhabitants
4. Triqui: 1,843 inhabitants

The indigenous group Cucuap?í had the smallest amount of speakers: 43. But most of the Sonoran languages ÔÇô in particular the Mayo, Yaqui, Pima, Cucuap?í and P?ípago ÔÇô are endangered because the older generation is not passing its language to the younger generation. Only the Seri and Guarij?ˇo languages are not in immediate danger.

Sonora's Status within the Mexican Republic

In the 2010 census, Sonora ÔÇô with its 60,310 indigenous speaking inhabitants ÔÇô ranked Number 17 among the Mexican states and Distrito Federal for its percentage of indigenous speakers. The Mayo language was the 25th most common language in Mexico, with 39,616 indigenous speakers in the entire Republic (primarily in Sonora and Sinaloa).

The Yaqui language was the 29th most common language in Mexico, with 17,116 individuals speaking that language, the vast majority of them living in Sonora.

Mexicans Considered Indigenous

The 2010 census also included a question that asked people if they considered themselves indigenous, whether or not an indigenous language was spoken. In all, 11.9% of Sonora's inhabitants three years of age or more were considered indigenous, giving Sonora a 16th place ranking among the Mexican states and Distrito Federal.

The Yaqui Legacy

After five centuries, the Yaqui identity has been successfully preserved but is in danger of cultural extinction. "They are threatened continually by the expansion of the Mexican population, as landless Mexicans invade their territory or intermarry with Yaquis and start to take over some of the lands," explained Joe Wilder, Director of the University of Arizona's Southwest Center. "The Yaquis are at once deeply admired by Sonorans and deeply despised," said Wilder, noting that the Yaqui deer dancer is the official state symbol. To many Americans, the Yaqui Indians represent an enduring legacy of the pre-Hispanic era. Because the mestizaje and assimilation of many Mexican states was so complete and widespread, the Yaqui Indians are seen as a rare vestige of the old Mexico.

The following article discusses the Yaqui conflict of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century from the viewpoint of articles:

The following article discusses genealogical research into indigenous Sonora roots:

Copyright ?® 2014, by John P. Schmal.

Primary Sources:

Cynthia Radding, "The Colonial Pact and Changing Ethnic Frontiers in Highland Sonora, 1740-1840," in Donna J. Guy and Thomas E. Sheridan (eds.), "Contested Ground: Comparative Frontiers on the Northern and Southern Edges of the Spanish Empire," pp. 52-66. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1998.

Daniel T. Reff, "Disease, Depopulation and Culture Change in Northwestern New Spain, 1518-1764." Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1991.

Departamento de la Estad?ˇsticas Nacional. "Annuario de 1930." Tacubaya, D.F., 1932.

Edward H. Spicer, "Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960." Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Instituto Nacional de Estad?ˇstica Geograf?ˇa e Inform?ítica (INEGI). "Censos de Poblaci??n y Vivienda, 2000 y 2010."

Jack D. Forbes, "Apache, Navajo, and Spaniard." Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994 (2nd ed.).

Los Angeles Times Articles

Nuestro Sonora, "Etnias de Sonora: Ind?ˇgenas de Sonora"[/url]

Oscar J. Mart?ˇnez, "Troublesome Border." Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1988.

Peter Gerhard, "The North Frontier of New Spain." Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Philip Wayne Powell, "Soldiers Indians and Silver: North America's First Frontier War." Tempe, Arizona: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona State University, 1975.

Robert Mario Salmon, "Indian Revolts in Northern New Spain: A Synthesis of Resistance (1680-1786)." Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1991.

Shelley Bowen Hatfield, "Chasing Shadows: Indians Along the United States-Mexico Border 1876-1911." Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Susan M. Deeds, "Indigenous Rebellions on the Northern Mexican Mission Frontier: From First-Generation to Later Colonial Responses," in Susan Schroeder, "Native Resistance and the Pax Colonial in New Spain." Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1998, pp. 1-29.

T. R. Fehrenbach,"Comanches: The Destruction of a People." New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.

About John P. Schmal:
John Schmal is a market analyst, genealogical researcher and writer.

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