HISTORY OF MEXICO
An educational project of the
Houston Institute for Culture
SONORA: FOUR CENTURIES OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE, 2
By John P. Schmal
Continued from History of Sonora
Yaqui, Mayo and Opata Rebellions of 1825-1833. After Mexico gained independence in 1822, the Yaquis became citizens of a new nation. 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.
The Yaqui people, after the capture and execution of Banderas, subsided into a tense, uneasy existence. Some, during periods of food shortage, would take up "peaceful" residence outside the presidios, to ask for rations. Others undertook low-level raiding.
Confrontations with Comanches - Sonora, Chihuahua and Durango (1834-1853). In 1834, Mexico signed its third peace treaty with the Comanches of Texas. However, almost immediately Mexico violated the peace treaty and the Comanches resumed their raids in Texas and Chihuahua. In the following year, Sonora, Chihuahua and Durango reestablished bounties for Comanche scalps. Between 1848 and 1853, Mexico filed 366 separate claims for Comanche and Apache raids originating from north of the American border.
A government report from 1849 claimed that twenty-six mines, thirty haciendas, and ninety ranches in Sonora had been abandoned or depopulated between 1831 and 1849 because of Apache depredations. In 1852, the Comanches made daring raids into Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Durango and even Tepic in Jalisco, some 700 miles south of the United States-Mexican border.
The Yaqui Indians (1838-1868). After the death of Banderas, the Yaqui Indians attempted to forge alliances with anyone who promised them land and autonomy. They would align themselves with the Centralists or Conservatives as long as those groups protected their lands from being encroached upon. But when General José Urrea took power in 1841, he oversaw the division of Yaqui lands from communal plots into private plots.
Governor Ignacio Pesqueira of Sonora drew up a list of preventative measures to be used against the Yaquis, Opatas and their allies. These orders called for the execution of rebel leaders. In addition, hacienda owners were required to make up lists of all employees, including a notation for those who were suspected of taking part in rebellious activity against the civil government. These measures were ineffective in dealing with the growing unrest among the Yaqui and Opatas.
In 1867 Governor Pesqueira of Sonora organized two military expeditions against the Yaquis under the command of General Jesus Garcia Morales. The expeditions marched on Guaymas and Cócorit, both of which lay in the heart of Yaqui territory. These expeditions met at Medano on the Gulf Coast near the Jesuit-founded Yaqui town of Potam. The two expeditions, totaling about 900 men, did not meet with any organized resistance. Instead, small parties of Yaquis resisted their advance. By the end of the year, the Mexican forces had killed many Yaquis. The troops confiscated much livestock, destroyed food supplies, and shot most of the prisoners captured.
Apache Depredations - Chihuahua and Sonora (1836-1852). In 1836, the famous Chiricahua leader, Cochise, took part in the signing of a peace treaty at Arizpe, Sonora. The peace did not last for too many years. From 1847 into the 1850s, Sonora was laid to waste by the Chiricahuas, whose leader was Miguel Narbona, who died in 1856.
Geronimo, the legendary Bedonkohe Apache leader of the Chiricahua Apaches, led his people in raids against the United States military and Mexican federal forces. Born sometime around 1823, Geronimo's real name was Goyahkla ("He Who Yawns"). In 1851, Geronimo was leading a party from the Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico into Mexico to trade at Casas Grandes in Chihuahua. His mother, wife, and three children were with him. His band set up a village on the outskirts of Casas Grandes.
One day he and some others were returning from town and found that their village had been attacked by Mexican troops. The sentinels had been killed, the ponies stolen, weapons taken, supplies destroyed, and many women and children had been killed. Among the murdered were his mother, wife, and children. From this day forward, Geronimo was a changed person. He is said to have become bitter and quarrelsome and determined to oppose the nations he saw as his enemies.
Over the next few months he met with other Apache leaders, including Cochise, the leader of the Chiricahuas. Within four months of the massacre, Geronimo and the other leaders prepared for revenge. In January 1852, near Arizpe, Sonora, Geronimo battled about a hundred Mexican irregular soldiers.
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.
Cajeme and the Yaqui Rebellions During the Porfiriato (1876-1887). During the reign of Porfirio Díaz, the ongoing struggle for autonomy and land rights dominated Yaqui-Mexican relations. An extraordinary leader named Cajeme now took center stage in the Yaquis' struggle for autonomy. Cajeme, whose name meant "He who does not drink," was born José María Leyva. He learned Spanish and served in the Mexican army. Although Cajeme's parents were Yaqui Indians, he had become very Mexicanized. Cajeme's military service with the Mexican army was so exemplary that he was given the post of Alcalde Mayor of the Yaqui River area. Soon after receiving this promotion, however, Cajeme announced his intention to withdraw recognition of the Mexican Government if they did not grant the Yaquis self-government. Cajeme galvanized a new generation of Yaquis and Mayos and led his forces against selected towns in Yaqui Country.
Mexican Offensives Against the Yaquis (1885-1901). Dr. Hatfield, in studying the struggle over Indian lands, wrote, "Rich Yaqui and Mayo valley lands possessed a soil and climate capable of growing almost any crop. Therefore, it was considered in the best national interest to open these lands to commercial development and foreign investors." During the 1880s, the Governor of Sonora, Carlos Ortiz, became concerned about his state's sovereignty over Indian lands. In the hopes of seizing Indian Territory, Ortiz withdrew his state troopers from the border region where they had been fighting the Apache Indians. In the meantime, Cajeme's forces began attacking 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 Díaz 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 Cócorit. 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, 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. From this point on, the smaller units tried to engage government troops in small skirmishes. Although Cajeme asked the Federal authorities for a truce, the military leaders indicated that all Yaqui territory was part of the nation of Mexico. After a few months, expeditions into the war zone led to the capture of four thousand people. With the end of the rebellion in sight, General Luis Torres commenced with the military occupation of the entire Yaqui Nation.
With the end of hostilities, Mexican citizens began filtering into Yaqui territory to establish permanent colonies. On April 12, 1887, nearly a year after the Battle of Buatachive, Cajeme was apprehended near Guaymas and taken to Cócorit where he was to be executed before a firing squad in 1887. 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.
Government forces, searching for and confronting armed Yaquis, killed 356 Yaqui men and women over a period of two years. A comprehensive search for the Yaqui holdouts in their hiding places forced the rebels into the Guaymas Valley where they mingled with Yaqui laborers on haciendas and in railroad companies. As a result, the Mexican Government accused owners of haciendas, mining and railroad companies of shielding criminal Yaqui fugitives. Circulars were issued which forbade the owners from giving money, provisions, or arms to the rebels. 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.
In 1894-95, Luis Torres instituted a secret police system and carried out a meticulous survey of the entire Sierra de Bacatete, noting locations of wells supplying fresh water as well as all possible entrances and exits to the region. Renegade bands of Yaquis, familiar with the terrain of their own territory, were able to avoid capture by the government forces. During the campaign of 1895-97, captured rebels were deported to southern Mexico to be drafted into the army.
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.
In the meantime, Federal troops and army engineers, trying to survey the Yaqui lands for distribution, found the terrain to be very difficult and were constantly harassed by defiant rebel forces. The government could not understand the Yaqui refusal to divide their land and become individual property owners. Their insistence of communal ownership based on traditional indigenous values also supported their objection to having soldiers in their territory. However, resentful of the continuing military occupation of their territory, the Yaqui colonies of Bácum and Vícam took up arms in 1899. Large detachments of rebel Yaqui forces confronted troops on the Yaqui River and suffered large casualties. Afterwards, a force of three thousand fled to the sierras and barricaded themselves on a plateau called Mazocoba where they were defeated by government troops.
When Tetabiate and the rebel forces fled to the Sierras, the government sent out its largest contingent to date with almost five thousand federal and state troops to crush this latest rebellion. Laws restricting the sale of firearms were reenacted and captured rebels were deported from the state. On January 18,1900, three columns of his Government forces encountered a party of Yaquis at Mazocoba in the heart of the Bacatete Mountains. The Yaquis, mostly on foot, were pursued into a box canyon in a rugged portion of the mountains.
After a daylong battle, the Yaquis ceased fighting. The soldiers had killed 397 men, women, and some children, while many others had committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs. Roughly a thousand women and children were taken prisoner. By the end of 1900, there were only an estimated 300 rebels 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 Battle of Mazocoba and 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 Izábel 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 Izábel deported Yaquis, considered superior workers by all accounts, to work on Yacatán'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 hennequen plantations in the Yucatán 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.
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 was waging war on the government almost continuously.
By 1910, the Yaquis had been almost entirely eliminated from their homeland. The Yaquis fought their last major battle with Mexican forces in 1927. However, in 1939, Mexican President Cardenas granted the Yaqui tribe official recognition and title to roughly one-third of their traditional tribal lands.
Indigenous Groups Past and Present. In the 1895 census, Sonora was reported to have 27,790 persons aged 5 years or more who spoke an indigenous language, compared to a Spanish-speaking population of 162,236. But this figure dropped steadily, in the 1900 census to 25,894 indigenous speakers and in 1910 to 14,554.
In the unique 1921 Mexican census, residents of each state were asked to classify themselves in several categories, including "indígena pura" (pure indigenous), "indígena mezclada con blanca" (indigenous mixed with white) and "blanca" (white). Out of a total state population of 275,127, 37,914 persons (or 13.8%) claimed to be of pure indigenous background. A much larger number - 111,089, or 40.4% - classified themselves as being mixed, while 115,151 (41.9%) claimed to be white.
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.
In the present day, the Yaquis have managed to maintain 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.
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.
Return to History of Sonora
Copyright © 2004 by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved. Read more articles by John Schmal.
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.
Departamento de la Estadísticas Nacional. Annuario de 1930. Tacubaya, D.F., 1932.
Dr. Henry F. Dobyns, Tubac Through Four Centuries: An Historical Resume and Analysis. Online: http://www.library.arizona.edu/images/dobyns/welcome.html. September 8, 2001.
T. R. Fehrenbach, Comanches: The Destruction of a People. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.
Jack D. Forbes, Apache, Navajo, and Spaniard. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994 (2nd ed.).
Shelley Bowen Hatfield, Chasing Shadows: Indians Along the United States-Mexico Border 1876-1911. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
Oscar J. Martínez, Troublesome Border. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1988.
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.
Robert Mario Salmon, Indian Revolts in Northern New Spain: A Synthesis of Resistance (1680-1786). Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1991.
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.
Edward H. Spicer, The Military History Of The Yaquis From 1867 To 1910: Three Points Of View. Online: http://usaic.hua.army.mil/History/Html/spicer.html. September 12, 2001.
Linda Zoontjens, Brief History of the Yaqui and their Land. Online: http://sustainedaction.org/Explorations/history_of_the_yaqui.htm. July 8, 2001
John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend Donna Morales, he coauthored "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002) and "The Dominguez Family: A Mexican-American Journey" (Heritage Books, 2004). He has degrees in History (Loyola-Marymount University) and Geography (St. Cloud State University) and is a board member of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research (SHHAR). He is an associate editor of SHHAR's online monthly newsletter, www.somosprimos.com. John is presently collaborating with illustrator Eddie Martinez on a manuscript entitled "Indigenous Mexico: Past and Present."
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