The Sobaipuris:

Defenders Of The San Pedro Valley Frontier

Charles C. Di Peso

by Charles C. Di Peso, former Director, The AMERIND Foundation, Inc.

The unfortunate Apache confrontation that dominated Anglo Phase contact history in the American Southwest certainly did not begin with the Gadsden Purchase, but rather some 150 years prior to Emory's survey (Emory 1857). This tumultuous colonial conflict between an alien donor and various indigenous recipient cultures gave rise not only to the strategic placement of an American line of fortresses, which included Fort Huachuca, but to one which was inaugurated by the Spanish as an aftermath of the Great Southwestern Revolt in the 1680s (Forbes 1960: 200-224). To understand the Anglo problems on this frontier, the competent historian must delve into the subject of this earlier Iberian colonization program, for it was then that the animosities of the native American populations that occupied this portion of the Gran Chichimeca were first formulated in defiance of their common enemy--the alien colonist. Actually, this native revolt had its seed in the heart of New Spain and spread northward from there like an all-consuming fire into Pimeria Alta, keeping pace with the spread of Spanish colonialism. Overtly, it began with the Mixton rebellion of 1540 and then was carried northward from tribe to tribe until it affected all of the late 17th-century occupants of this borderland region. The rebellion came to involve not only the peaceful pueblo farmers of the Rio Grande Valley and their Western Puebloan brothers, but a multitude of other tribes such as the Suma, Jocome, Manso, Jano, and Chinarra, along with the host of other native frontiersmen who called Chihuahua, Sonora, New Mexico, and Arizona home.

For the most part, these folk had a long and honorable history in these parts, and some could trace their ancestry back not only to the proud prehistoric kingdoms of Casas Grandes, Marata, Totonteac, Cibola, and Tusayan, but much farther into the distant past, to the time when the great Pleistocene megafauna ranged in these lands. But, at the turning of the 17th century, their world was coming to an end. These thousands of victims of colonial circumstance were being forced out of their homelands or were placed in bondage by the onslaught of the Iberian herdsmen, the miners, and the rough-and ready frontiersmen who came to take their lands by virtue of the possessive strength of a foreign king. The last decade of this century became one of stark decision, for it remained for these ancient occupants to resolve whether or not they would remain on their lands and become slaves and suffer the yoke of a foreign government, with its strange language and new lifeway, or whether they would resist the alien invasion by tearing their roots from the land and running. The latter choice meant that they would become wandering guerrillas in their own land and would have to retreat into the hidden recesses of their mountain terrain in the eastern sector of the Pimeria Alta, where the Iberians had not yet penetrated.

The socio-political circumstances created a great surge of malignant hatred fostered by fear among both factions. The situation forced many native groups to become bedfellows of their own neighboring enemies, while the Spanish were compelled to take unwanted measures to keep their toehold in this foreign land. In this determination they feared not only the local native but also the French and English, who were challenging their New World colonial rights. In the face of world politics, they engendered a native policy of pitting one local group against another and, by so doing, conquering them all. It was an old formula and so successful was it that the Iberians often bragged that their soldiers did not win the New World, as the natives conquered it for them.

In 1688 and shortly after the Suma and Janos had put the Spanish settlements of Casas Grandes, Carretas, and Janos (Di Peso 1974, Vol. 3) to the torch, Captain Nicolas Higuera moved into the Sobaipuri mining village of Mototicachi and put the entire native population to the sword (Di Peso 1956:35). In the following year, Captain Pacheco Zevallos tried unsuccessfully, as one can imagine, to draw these same Sobaipuri of the San Pedro River into a Spanish alliance against their Jocome neighbors (Di Peso 1956:35-36). In 1691, the hard-pressed frontier military force of Casas Grandes, under the leadership of Captain Francisco Ramirez de Salazar, rode over the crest of the Continental Divide from Chihuahua to the San Pedro Valley with a peace offering for the Sobaipuri (Ramirez de Salazar 1692; Manje 1954:78-80). They asked that:these-natives become enemies of all those rebels who had retreated to the Jocome homeland located to the east of them, in the Chiricahua Mountains. The Ramirez peace talks were not successful, as after he left the valley reports came back to him telling that the Sobaipuri were still consorting with the enemy.

Consequently, in 1693, the King and his advisors decided to protect their colonial holdings along this far-flung frontier by establishing the Compania Volantee--the flying cavalry column. In this year, the viceroy, the Conde de Galvez, was ordered by King Don Carlos II to place General Domingo Jironza Petris de Cruzat in the position of governor of New Mexico, an office he had previously held, unless Don Diego Vargas was already installed in this position, in which case he was to be made governor of Sonora, where he would form a new Flying Company consisting of 50 cavalry soldiers. With these royal orders, he was admonished to protect this war-torn province--its ranches, farms, mines, towns, and missions--from the paralyzing attacks of the barbarous guerrillas who were individually named in various official decrees as the Apache, Jocome, Janos, Suma, Chinarra, and Manso (Manje 1954:6). After March 2, 1693, when the order was issued, the general raised the necessary troops and barracked them strategically in various of the frontier presidios. Their job as a unit was to search out and destroy the enemy in his mountain lair.

At the war councils the troop leaders held every evening, they discussed the impossibility of their incredible royal commission. How could they, 50-strong, subdue an untold number of enemy that existed as mere wisps of smoke in the uncharted mountains? How did one communicate with this polyglot of many tribes that could move quietly and quickly for long distances from one hidden mountain camp to another, leaving no trail save the burning embers of some hapless Iberian settlement? Who were the enemy? How many fighting men did they have? Where and how did they hide? At best, Spanish intelligence was confused, and their sorties were always made along a back track from the point of a native revenge strike marked with animal and human corpses left beside mountain trails.

Faulty intelligence indicated that the Sobaipuri were part of this confusion and were still in league with the rebels who had left their strongholds in the Sierra Madres, the Carretas, the En Medio, and the Sarampion mountains and were gathering in a great force in the Chiricahuas. In March of 1694, Captain Antonio Solis, while on the trail of some of these rebels, mistakenly identified some venison in a Sobaipuri camp as being stolen horse meat and wantonly killed and flogged a number of the natives. This action made it imperative to the frontier peace that the Sobaipuri be appeased so that their alliance with the other rebels could be broken (Di Peso 1956:39).

The Flying Company determined to stop the guerrilla flood by sending a hurried request to other presidios for additional support troops in the form of allied native Opata and Concho, as well as Iberians. They gathered together some 250-strong at Janos in June of 1695. Captains Juan Fernandez de la Fuente and Domingo Teran de los Rios were put in charge and were ordered by General Jironza to define and destroy the enemy in their new Chiricahua stronghold (Fernandez de la Fuente 1695; Polzer in Kino 1971:257-330). Their spies came in with reports that the en-emy consisted of malcontents from the tribes of the Suma who had once lived near Casas Grandes and Carretas, in Chihuahua; the Mansos from the Rio Grande Valley below El Paso; the Chinarra from San Buenaventura and Torreon, in Chihuahua; the Janos from the presidio of that name, in Chihuahua; the Jocome from the Chiricahuas and the Fronteras Valley, in northeastern Sonora; as well as the Apache from the Gila River, who then lived in the Graham Mountains. The troops needed native scouts and interpreters to assist them, but finding them proved a difficult task, for the multilingual enemy spoke many different languages. However, it was assumed that the rebels used the Suma language among themselves as a common form of communication (Fernandez de la Fuenta 1695:Frame 74), and so certain Iberians from Chihuahua and Casas Grandes were ordered to join the attack force.

Intelligence reports further indicated that the enemy, while being led by innumerable tribal chiefs, had, on July 2, 1695, one general leader in the person of a powerful Jano (Ibid.: Frame 81). Further, it was known that the rebels gathered in the Mountain of the Turkey were negotiating with the Apache de Gila to join them in raiding deep into Sonora. One such Apachean group was thought to be living near some springs, called the Sinaloas (Ibid.: Frame 43), located in the Graham Mountains, which the Indians called the "Mountain of the Snow" and which the Spaniards knew as the "Sierra de Santa Rosa de la Florida" because of the beautiful stands of aspen which grew on its slopes (Polzer in Kino 1971:316). Some of these Apache were known to have come to the aid of the Janos in the 1686 rebellion (Rudo Ensayo 1951:139), and it was imperative that they did not join forces again. But how could this be done when no one knew who these Apache were? There was little information concerning these feared warriors other than the scant report left by Manje in 1698 which described these newcomers to the Graham Mountains as recent migrants from the plains located east of the Rio Grande, whose houses and encampments are large tepees which, when they move from place to place, they pack with all their other belongings on their droves of large dogs that are used in place of mules… They do not go about barefooted but make for themselves curious shoes. Their suits consist of a soft deerskin coat with many edgings; the trousers and leggings are all one piece like a long boot. They cover their heads with feathers of various colors which are interwoven with such skill that a perfect crown is formed. Their complexion is lighter than the other Indians'. and most of them have a reddish tinge to their hair (Manje 1954:285-286).

These Athapascan plainsmen living on the Gila had been displaced by the Great Southwestern Revolt and shunted westward by the French then living in Texas (Folmer 1953:277).

The Spanish war captains knew full well that these alliance negotiations had to be stopped, for the Iberian frontier forces could not hold against such a concerted rebel body led by the Apache, who were fully organized for war and, according to Manje, had "the same order in fighting as the ancient Romans" (Manje 1954: 285). The scouts returned to the nightly war councils to report that the Apache de Gila had not yet committed themselves to the Suma, Janos, Mansos, and Chinarras, who were at this moment gathering wild foods in the Dos Cabezas and were building their rancherias in the more southerly Chiricahuas, near the permanent settlements of the Jocome. It is important to remember that in each of these military reports the observers were very careful to designate the tribal affiliations of the rebel groups.

On June 18, 1695, the combined Iberian troops moved out from Janos. They combed the mountains located north of the Carretas Pass for traces of the enemy and had an encounter with them in the San Bernardino Valley at that point where the Guadalupe Canyon joins this stream. It was a hit and run attack which left the Spanish field force no alternative but to track the enemy to the east slopes of the Chiricahuas. Here they hoped to confront the various native chiefs, such as the captain of the Chinarras, Augustine Ladino, with an either/or peace proposition. They took their position in the Canyon of Peace, which is located on the east-central side of the Chiricahuas. The two forces met, but the conference did not lead to peace as in the midst of their negotiations the Spanish forces were called away to put down the Soba Pima Revolt of 1695. It was not until September of that year that they were able to return to their primary task of driving their avowed enemy out of the Chiricahuas. In the return march down the San Pedro to the Dragoons, the Sobaipuris were a great aid as trail guides and interpreters. During this military jaunt, many became ill because of bad water and again the Spanish were forced to leave the field without negotiating a peace. They left the Chiricahuas defeated and carried the body of one of their war captains, Teran de los Rios, back to Janos for formal burial.

In this last decade of the 17th century, the Jesuit missionaries who worked on this frontier fared much better than did the Flying Company. Padre Kino, that hardy champion of the Pima, worked diligently to counter the numerous military rumors which insisted that the Sobaipuri and Pima were still in league with the rebel forces. He fought for these natives and argued with the military by demonstrating more than once that the Pima were friendly allies of the Spaniards. On one such occasion, which occurred in November of 1697, he and his stirrup companion, Lt. Manje, convinced Juan's uncle, General Jironza, to send troops from the Flying Company to the Sobaipuri Valley of the San Pedro to inspect native conditions so that they could assure themselves that these people were indeed the avowed enemy of those rebels who lived along the far eastern border of Pimeria Alta. He argued that "Benevolence is the only thing with which you can attract those Indians" (Manje 1954:75), and consequently the General ordered an inspection to be led by Captain Cristobal Martin Bernal and 22 others. They moved in a great circle, leaving Cocospera on the 2nd of November, travelling to the Babocomari, then down the San Pedro to its junction with the Gila, down that stream to the ruins of Casa Grande, located near present-day Coolidge, and finally southward up the Santa Cruz Valley and back to their Sonoran starting point (Manie 1954:74-98; Bernal et al. 1697). The consensus of their joint observations proved to be a vindication for the Sobaipuri.

However, it was not until March 30th of 1608 that these natives overtly proved their alliance to the Iberians. On this date, they became involved in the Battle of Gaybanipitea. Just prior to this date, the rebel forces, 300-strong, had boldly attacked Father Ruiz de Contreras at his Cocospera mission and destroyed the priest's house (Manje 1954:96-97). While en route back to their Chiricahua Mountain stronghold, they stopped to attack the little village of Santa Cruz de Gaybanipitea, which Father Alegre (1960:140) called "The Holy Cross of the Horn." Kino (1948, Vol. 1:178) reported that on this occasion the Hocomes, Sumas, Mansos, and Apaches, who between great and small numbered about six hundred, [attacked] the rancheria at daybreak on the morning of March 30. They killed its captain [El Bajon-or Bassoon (Bolton 1936:380, Fn. 3)] and two or three others, and forced [the remainder of the villagers] to retreat to their fortification, which consisted of a house of adobe and earth with embrasures.

This structure, which was excavated by The AMERIND Foundation in 1952 (Di Peso 1953:61-62), consisted of a rectangular adobe brick structure located on the north side of the Babocomari River, just west of that point where it debouches into the San Pedro, in the vicinity of present-day Fairbank.

The venerable Father continued with his report (Kino 1948, Vol. 1:178-179), stating that these enemy, defending themselves and covering themselves with many buckskins, approached the fortification, climbed upon its roof, destroying and burning it, and with a shot killed one man, for they had one of the arquebuses which on other occasions they had taken from the soldiers.

The reason they made the effort to gain the roof was that this fortress had but a single entry and this was on the roof. In addition, the building had 40 loopholes (Manje 1954:97) from which the Sobaipuri archers could fire upon the enemy. Father Kino (1948, Vol. 1:179) went on to say that the rebels sacked and burned the rancheria, killed three cattle and three mares of the ranch which I had here, and began to roast and stew meat and beans, and to parch and grind maize for their pinole, both the men and women, who had all fought as equals, considering themselves as already quite victorious.

The archaeology indicated that this rancheria consisted of some 21 dome-shaped thatched huts randomly clustered around the centrally located adobe brick fortress, built in 1696 at Father Eusebio's request. Actually, these were quite small temporary hovels which often were blown away by high winds (Pfefferkorn 1949:192-193), and their archaeological remnants consisted of little more than a shallow, lozenge-shaped floor area. Their grass and branch superstructures made them highly flammable, and only their ashes remained as proof that the rebels had put the entire village to the torch.

While the rebel guerrillas feasted, the smoke that issued from the burned village was observed at nearby Quiburi, the home of Captain Coro, or "The Crane," as he was called by the Opata (Molina Molina 1972:26). This important Sobaipuri village site and the later constructed Spanish fort called Terrenate were also excavated by The AMERIND Foundation in order to reconstruct the history of these people (Di Peso 1953). At the time of the attack, Coro's people were entertaining some Pima corn traders who lived to the west of them in the Santa Cruz Valley. When it became obvious that their Gaybanipitea neighbors were in serious trouble, the Sobaipuri warriors and their visitors went to help. Coro searched out the rebel Chief Capotcari, who was feasting amidst the smoldering remains of the village and directing the siege of the small adobe brick citadel. He confronted the guerrilla leader with a unique but common war game. In this, each group would choose ten of their best warriors and these would stand face to face against ten chosen enemy in mortal combat. Capotcari singled out five Apache, a Suma, a Jano, a Manso, a Chinarra, and finally a Jocome to represent his group, while Coro selected ten of his best. Upon a signal, they fought one another until, one after another fell, each from mortal arrow wounds. The Sobaipuri, famous for their ability at parrying arrows in combat, were victorious, and on that day Captain Capotcari died of a blow to the head. The remaining rebels, angered by the outcome.of the deadly game, broke the rules of the game and attacked the onlooking Sobaipuri. This blatant breach of gamesmanship so aroused the victors that they shot their poisoned arrows randomly and with great rapidity into the rebel ranks. In the face of these deadly missiles, the guerrillas turned tail and raced away in the direction of the Chiricahuas. In hot pursuit, the Sobaipuri killed an additional 50 or 60 outright and wounded hundreds of others who later would grievously die horrible deaths (Kino 1948, Vol, 1:30-181) as their flesh rotted from their bodies.

News of this decisive'victory was sent immediately to the Spanish military headquarters, then located at San Juan Baptista where General Jir6nza resided. He ordered Lts. Manje and Juan de Escalante with 20 soldiers to the site of the battle so that they could count the dead. Officially, the rolls amounted to 31 dead males and 23 females, and a larger number of wounded who were certain to die. (Bolton 1936:382-383) Within the week, the general received word from El Paso which was comforting, for as a result of this battle the Janos had surrendered themselves, saying that 168 of their people had died in agony because of the poisoned arrows used against them (Manje 1954:98).

Coro sent a notched death tally stick to Father Kino, and elatedly he spread the word of victory. Every colonist in northern Sonora celebrated. The people of San Juan Nacozari and Matape sent presents to the natives of Quiburi; the padres said special masses and dedicated a solemn feast in honor of the victory; and the frontier church bells were rung for days in honor of the friendly Pima Sobaipuri. Evidence of this battle--an arquebus used against the Sobaipuri of Gaybanipitea, a military leather jacket, enemy bows and arrows, and their scalps--were sent around from town to town as proof of victory. All told, the Sobaipuri had suffered only five dead and nine wounded, and they received for this loss a thousand-dollar reward which was given in the form of clothing and other goods (Bolton 1936:382-383).

Unfortunately, the glorious aftermath of victory did not last long. The remaining rebels recouped their strength and within the month (Di Peso 1953:32) stole out of their mountain stronghold to furiously attack Quiburi. The archaeological evidence of this reprisal indicated that the Sobaipuri were taken by surprise, their homes were burned, and they were forced to flee, leaving the rewarding tokens of their recent victory, such as brass buttons, bolts of cloth, and other objects, in the burning embers of their homes. The Sobaipuri were thus routed and were forced forever from their San Pedro River valley home to the valley of the Sonoita. As a result, the entire eastern border of Pimeri"a Alta was left open to the rebel power. The Sobaipuri alliance was enforced only by the ringing of church bells and not by military support. The Sobaipuri were doomed to extinction in the sandy deserts of Papagueria.

The rebel forces grew in strength and were able to amalgamate other marauders, all of whom came to be known by the term "Apache," or "Enemy People." These rebels from many tribes continued to lurk through the Spanish and later Mexican epochs and stealthily crept into American borderland history to give battle to those Anglo settlers who chose to pick up the gauntlet of frontier colonization in this southwestern portion of the United States.


1960 Historia de la Ptovincia de la Compania de Jesus de Nueva Espana. Vol. 4. Edited by Ernest J. Burrus and Felix Zubillaga. Nueva Edicion. Jesuit Historical Institute. Rome.

1697 Relacion del esta de la Pimeria que remite el Pe. Visitador Horacio Polici por el ano de 1697. Original Spanish manuscript in the Archivo General y Publico, Mexico, Misiones, Tomo 26. Printed in Documentos para la Historia de Mexico… Serie 3, T6mo-4 (Mexico, 1856), pp. 797-799. Translated copy in English by Dan Matson in AMERIND Foundation Library, Dragoon, Arizona.

1936 Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific Coast Pioneer. Macmillan Co. New York.

1953 The Sobaipuri Indians of the Upper San Pedro River Valley, Southeastern Arizona. AMERIND Foundation, Publications. No. 6. Dragoon, Arizona.
1956 The Upper Pima of San Cayetano del Tumacacori: An Archaeohistorical Reconstruction of the Ootam of Pimeria Alta. AMERIND Foundation, Publications, No. 7. Dragoon, Arizona.
1974 Casas Grandes: A Fallen Trading Center of the Gran Chichimeca. Vols. 1-3. AMERIND Foundation, Publication, No. 9. Northland Press. Flagstaff, Arizona.

1857 Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, made under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior. U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. House of Representatives, Ex. Doc., No. 135, Washington.

1696 Autos de querra fechos por los capitanes Juan Fernandez de la Fuente, Don Domingo Teran de los-Rios, y Don Domingo Jironza Petris de Cruzat. sobre las guerras de
las nasiones Janos, Jocomes Sumas, Chinarras, Mansos y Apaches, y la pacificacion de los Pimas. Manuscript in El Archivo de Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico.
All notations refer to the microfilms as numbered in the AMERIND Foundation Library, 1695A, Frames 3-209.

1953 Franco-Spanish Rivalry in North American, 1524-1763.
Spain in the West, No. 7. Arthur H. Clark Co. Glendale, California.

1960 Apache, Navaho and Spaniard. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman.

1948 Kino's Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta. Translated and edited by Herbert E. Bolton. 2 volsl. in 1. University of California Press. Berkeley.
1971 Kino's Biography of Francisco Javier Saeta, S.J. Translated, with an epilogue, by Charles W. Polzer. Original Spanish text edited by Ernest J. Burrus. Jesuit Historical Institute. Rome.

1954 Unknown Arizona and Sonora, 1693-1721. From the Francisco Fernandez del Castillo version of Luz de Tierra Incognita. English translation of Part 2 by Harry J. Karns et al. Arizona Silhouettes. Tucson.

1972 Nombres Indigenas de Sonora y Su Traduccion al Espanol. Flavio Molina Molina. Hermosillo, Sonora.

1949 Sonora: A Description of the Province, Translated and annotated by Theodore E. Treutlein. Coronado Cuarto Centennial Publications, 1540-1940, Vol. 12. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque.

1692 Auto de 1692. Testimonio de Autos que se Remite al Gubernador y Capitan de guerra del Parral para que con su visita y del Despacho con resultos de junta que el execute las dichos que se le ordenan. Manuscript in El Archivo de Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico. All notations refer to the microfilms as numbered in The AMERIND Foundation Library, 1692A, Frames 168B-ISIB.

1951 By an unknown Jesuit Padre, 1763. [Juan Nentwig] First published by Buckingham Smith (1863). Translated in English in Records of the American Catholic Historical Society, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Philadelphia, 1804). Republished by Arizona Silhouettes. Tucson.

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