The Sobaipuri (soh-BY-per-ee or soh-by-poorh-ee) Indians were an Upper Piman group who occupied
southern Arizona and northern Sonora (the Pimería Alta) in the 1400-1800s. They were a subgroup of
the O'odham or Pima, surviving members of which include the Tohono O'odham, the Akimel O'odham,
and the Wa:k O'odham. They were one of several O'odham groups present and the O'odham were one
of several indigenous groups present.
Debate still surrounds whether the Sobaipuri and other O'odham groups are related to the prehistoric Hohokam (ho-ho-KAHM) who occupied a portion of the same
geographic area and were present until about the 1400s. This question is sometimes phrased as the Hohokam-Pima or Salado-Pima continuum, phraseology that
questions whether there is a connection between the prehistoric Hohokam and the first historic groups cited in the area. A key piece of the puzzle has recently been found
when it was discovered that there were O'odham/Sobaipuri present in the 1400s (Seymour 2004, 2007a). Chronometric dates from multiple sites on the San Pedro and
Santa Cruz rivers have produced evidence of Sobaipuri occupation in the 1400s, while a few are producing dates as early as the A.D. 1100 and 1200s. The position is no
longer defensible that no one was present after 1400 and that there was a substantial population decline in the prehistoric period (Seymour 2007c,d). Hohokam
populations may have been displaced by the intruding O'odham or they may have transformed into them, but there is no substantial time gap between prehistoric and the
arrival of the O'odham. Two other groups were present at this time as well:
The ancestral Apache and non-Apachean mobile groups.
Further Reading on the Hohokam-Pima Continuum:
Seymour, Deni J., 2007, An Archaeological Perspective on the Hohokam-Pima Continuum. Old Pueblo Archaeology Bulletin No. 51 (December 2007):1-7.
For an unpdated perspective also see:
Seymour, Deni J., 2011 Where the Earth and Sky are Sewn Together: Sobaípuri-O’odham Contexts of Contact and Colonialism. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
== Sobaipuri Archaeology and Sobaipuri History==
For years it has been thought that the Sobaipuri were recent arrivals into the American Southwest. Yet we now know that the Sobaipuri were present when the first Europeans
visited the area in the middle 1500s, thereby playing an important role in European contact and later the European colonization of Arizona. Marcos de Niza probably
encountered this group along the San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona in 1539, although when Francisco Vázquez de Coronado followed less than a year later his party
of explorers seems to have turned northeast before reaching the Sobaipuri settlements (Seymour 2007, 2008c). As chronometric dates are obtained they will be plotted on
the map below that shows what the Sobaipuri landscape would have looked like on the San Pedro at the time of Marcos de Niza. Some of the dates are available now.
SOBAIPURI INDIANS (INTRODUCTION)
When Father Eusebio Kino first arrived in the area in 1691 he was greeted by leaders of this
group. Headmen from San Cayetano del Tumacacori and perhaps other villages had come to
Saric (now in Mexico) from the north to ask that Kino visit them...so the story goes. Jesuit
protocol was for them to be welcomed into a village rather than coming unannounced and
uninvited and therefore it seems that this part of the record is important for Kino to establish that
the Jesuits were following procedure.
Kino traveled north along the Santa Cruz River to San Cayetano del Tumacacori (later moved to
the modern location of Tumacácori National Historical Park and renamed). Here he found three
native-made structures that had been constructed specially for him: a house, a kitchen, and one
for saying mass (Bolton 1948).
A Sobaipuri House Outline on the Upper San Pedro on a Site Dating to the Historic Period.
THE MATERIAL ON THIS PAGE IS COPYRIGHTED AND SHOULD BE APPROPRIATELY CITED (C) 2007-2017, Deni Seymour
The natives welcomed him with ceremonies, suggesting that earlier missionaries and native converts from Sonora had prepared the way. If nothing else, the colorful gifts of
ribbons and beads, and functionality of the metal knives made visitation from these strangers attractive, at least initially. At least the Sobaipuri were consummate diplomats and
gracious hosts, showing appropriate levels of courtesy and celebration--as was common throughout the region during this period.
This visit to this first of the Spanish missions in the Sonoran Desert north of the current international border made this native Sobaipuri settlement the first mission in southern
Arizona, or the first Jesuit mission in Arizona, but, contrary to popular notions, not the first mission in Arizona--a role that goes to the Hopi pueblo of Awatovi. This original native
Sobaipuri settlement of San Cayetano del Tumacacori has been located archaeologically on the east side of the river (as shown on Kino's historic maps and noted in historic
journals), providing evidence of a densely packed, well-planned, long-occupied village (Seymour 2007a).
Kino then stopped by Guevavi (later referred to as Mission Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi), which is located to the south along the Santa Cruz River. Here he later (1701)
established a "neat little house and church" which he ordered whitewashed. The location of this native settlement and this formal church has been identified and excavated
(Seymour 1993, 1997, 2008b, 2009). This native settlement later became the cabecera or head mission for this region. Its occupation survived there until the 1770s. The
church, however, was catastrophically destroyed by fire (before 1716), probably as part of a native uprising, and was rebuilt in nearby locations two more times.
Contrary to popular belief, the Sobaipuris and Apache were not traditional enemies. The Sobaipuri were initially friendly with their neighbors, including the Apache and the
Jocome and Jano (Seymour 2007b, 2008a). They traded with one another and they were cited sometimes raiding together. They even intermarried, probably creating the
unique character of the Sobaipuri or Soba Jipuri, sometimes referred to as Soba y Puri or Soba y Jipuri. Later many of them sided with the Europeans which stressed and
compromised their relationship with the unconverted tribes because they then went into battle against them.
The last person who self identified as Sobaipuri died in 1932 (Hoover 1935). Others who retained Sobaipuri blood had intermixed with other O'odham groups and the Apache
(Seymour 2007b, 2008a). But this is not the end of the story. Many of the people at San Xavier and Tucson were Sobaipuri and so were distinguishable from their brethern
farther west. They lived along the rivers and farmed which was an entirely differently way of life than the more moble western O'odham. Even their language is a bit different.
When Sobaipuri from other areas moved in at San Xavier del Bac the Sobaipuri element became even more dominant (although groups from the west did move into this area as
well, at the bidding of the missionaries). Despite the dominance of Sobaipuri or river (Akimel) O'odham in the Santa Cruz Valley (which included some of those from the San
Pedro), San Xavier is considered nowadays to be Tohono (desert, south) O'odham.
Yet, it is the colonial and government authorities who decided that all the southern O'odham would be part of a single political entity and therefore all would be considered part of
the Tohono O'odham Nation, overseen by a body in Sells. In reality San Xavier is very different, is composed of people of a different origin and with a different history. Take
away this imposed political construct and a very different image of the San Xavier District can emerge, one of the southern river people whose origins lie in the proud,
prosperous, gracious, and diplomatic Sobaipuri, rather than the docile and obediant converts and servants of the missionary legacy.
Deni Seymour has been documenting sites in the San Pedro Basin for almost three decades. These
30 sites were recorded by Seymour in the 1980s, as reported in several publications and reports (see
references). She has recorded several more while conducting continued research in this area, as new
ones are exposed through erosion and as Sobaipuri site structure and landscape use is better
Survey was conducted on both sides of the river but 99 percent of the sites are on the west side. One
reason for this seems to be the channel of the river, which dictated where the fields and canals were
placed. This image shows the upper San Pedro. A similar distribution of sites are present on the lower
San Pedro where Seymour has documented dozens more. It seems too that the threat of hostile
neighbors was also a factor.
These sites on the upper San Pedro and those Seymour has recorded on the lower San Pedro and the
Santa Cruz River and adjacent drainages represent more than 4-times the number of sites recorded by
all other Sobaipuri researchers combined. This results from a focused research plan over 30
years,which has focused specifically on the Sobaipuri and related groups.
Those sites or loci of sites underlined in red have been chronometrically dated to the Marcos de Niza
period. More samples have been submitted and all sites will eventually be dated.
All of these sites have been carefully mapped and chronometric samples extracted from specific
features. This way it is possible to discern if specific parts of sites date to different periods than others.
Samples are also being collected for sourcing so that inferences can be made about where some of
the pots on these sites came from, as it seems many are not locally made.
Additional Sobaipuri sites are being remapped on the lower San Pedro River, where dates and
sourcing samples will provide information supplimental to this southern district.
The ethnographically documented O'odham peoples of the 1930s were already very
different from those who were present two and three hundred years earlier. For this reason,
direct analogies are inappropriate. A fundamental change occured in the post-Revolt
period, meaning after 1751. In addition, some of the O'odham were more mobile than the
river-dwelling irrigating Sobaipuri so their houses were built differently, their sites used and
distributed in different ways, and their subsistence strategies differed. For example, the
Sobaipuri occupied a single village year round, while many of the more mobile Tohono
O'odham occupied two villages to accommodate seasonal changes.
Even those Sobaipuri documented by Kino and Manje were very different than those
occupying southern Arizona's rivers in the mid 1500s.
DESPELLING SOME MYTHS ABOUT THE SOBAIPURI
All material collected is being curated at a registered museum, as arranged two decades ago. This means it will be available in the future for additional research.
Many O'odham who are descended from the Sobaipuri support research into their heritage. Archaeological research provides an alternative view point to that presented in the
Spanish documentary record. Also their heritage has been blended by the policies of outsiders with that of the Tohono O'odham. Archaeology allows them to reassert and
understand their distinctiveness. A balance must be struck between preservation of these limited resources and study in a way that assists descendant populations.
While some universities and research organizations highlight their own work, its important not to ignore the work of others. There is a considerable amount of research on the
Sobaipuri that has occurred over the last couple of decades. My research into the Sobaipuri spans over 30 years. I began by looking at Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino's
diaries, reports, and maps and those of his military companions and attempting to find the locations on the ground. Make sure you read the most recent publications, rather than
focusing just on the old ones. My ideas have changed signficantly over the years as new data are available. I have corrected my own opinions as new facts have arisen. So read
the most recent publications first, and perhaps begin with my book: Where the Earth and Sky are Sewn Together. This will establish a new baseline to begin your understanding
of these people. Anything written before about 10 years ago or so is likely to be in need of revision.
Remarkably, it is still possible to read documents prepared by archaeologists that state that "Archaeologists do not currently know much about the people living in southern
Arizona during this period [A.D. 1450 and the 1690s], because very few sites have been identified or investigated." Let me assure you however, that just because a few
uninformed people are unaware of or chose not to incorporate the new data there is a lot of new information available. For almost 30 years I have been studying the O'odham
and Apache occupations in southern Arizona (and surrounding areas). I have conducted numerous thematic surveys focused on these groups and have identified, visited, and
recorded something like 80 Sobaipuri-O'odham sites, and around the same number of Apache sites. My excavations at the Kino period Guevavi and San Cayetano mission
sites, as well as at several sites related to, and earlier and later than, the Kino period on the San Pedro have revealed a considerable amount of new data regarding the
O'odham. Work in the adjacent mountains and along these rivers has also revealed important new information about the Apache.
With respect to the native settlement at Guevavi Mission, William Robinson (2004:9) recently commented that "I am convinced that no concentrated "village" ever, in fact,
existed." This is contrary to recent research by Seymour which shows that the native settlement near the 1751 mission was in fact the most concentrated of all known Sobaípuri
villages. Some houses are spaced no more than 50 cm apart, which violates earlier Sobaípuri notions of appropriate spacing. This layout seems to have been for defense,
although the Franciscans probably believed their efforts had been successful at civilizing the occupants and creating a town-like plan. Occupation seems to have begun in the
Kino period and extended through, perhaps intermittently, to the end of occupation there, perhaps even into the early nineteenth century.
According to Bourke "the Apaches have among them the Tze-kinne, or Stone-house people, descendants of the cliff-dwelling Sòbaypuris, whom they drove out of Aravypa
cañon and forced to flee to the Pimas for refuge about a century ago" (Jour. Am. Folklore, 114, April - June 1890). This has been repeated in newspaper articles from the
1930s. The Sobaipuri did not occupy cliff dwellings. As a matter of cultural practice they occupied riverside settlements. During hunting trips or to hide out from enemies they
may have temporarily used rockshelters or abandoned cliff dwellings built by prehistoric peoples, but this was not their traditional pattern. This is a misleading statement. The
Sobaipuri were not "stone-house people" either, unless this is a reference to the stone-and-adobe ceremonial house that was built in each of the larger principal settlements.
They did not build masonry pueblos.
Bandelier (Arch. Inst. Papers, iii, 102, 1890) states that "the Apaches caused the Sobaypuris to give up their homes on the San Pedro and to merge into the Pápagos." This is
only partially true. Because of Apache pressure they did leave the San Pedro, and then they returned there. Then they left again...at least some of them.They ultimately merged
into few larger Sobaipuri settlements. Some Tohono O'odham had also come to live in these riverside settlements. Eventually, owing to political factors imposed from the
outside, all officially became Papago and then Tohono O'odham or Akimel O'odham and lived near the Gila.
Contrary to Swanton's suggestion, the Sobaipuri did not seek refuge among the Tohono O'odham (aka Papago). Most Sobaipuri ended up at San Xavier del Bac or Wa:k (a
Sobaipuri settlement) and a few other river O'odham (Akimel O'odham) settlements. Through intermarriage the Tohono O'odham have become mixed with the Sobaipuri, and
the Tohono O'odham came to live with the Sobaipuri in riverside settlements (such as Guevavi, Tumacacori, San Xavier de Bac), especially in the mid to late 1700s. For larger
political reasons the Sobaipuri were subsumed into the Tohono O'odham Nation, when that nation was formed, owing to dwindling numbers and to the perceived need for a
unified political body. Mexicans and later Americans were trespassing onto their land, and the method chosen to protect the indigneous inhabitants was to form a reservation
with clearly defined boundaries and a single voice. Most Sobaipuri lost their distinct identity for these reasons by the 1930s.
In 1918 Thomas Edwin Farish suggested that "The Sobaipuri, also a Piman tribe, was probably a part of the Papagos..." Contrary to Farish's statement the Sobaipuri were not
part of the Tohono O'odham (aka Papago). The remnant of the tribe contracted into few larger settlements and then through time they have been partially subsumed biologically
and politically into the Tohono O'odham Nation, but many cultural aspects of the Sobaipuri survive.
Farish also stated: "At the time of the occupation of Arizona, and its settlement in the latter part of the 18th century by the Spaniards, the Sobaipuris, as a tribe, were extinct, if,
indeed, they ever existed." The Sobaipuri did indeed exist.
Farish also noted: "When Coronado made his journey from Ures through the Wilderness to the headwaters of the San Pedro, he found there the first Indians, who were
supposed to be the Papagos, whose original home was the territory south and southeast of the Gila river, especially south of Tucson, Arizona, in the main and tributary valleys of
the Rio Santa Cruz, and extending west..." In fact, the Indians encountered by Coronado were probably mobile non-O'odham groups: Jano or Jocome. Moreover, the Papago or
Tohono O'odham territory was not "south of Tucson, Arizona, in the main and tributary valleys of the Rio Santa Cruz..." This was part of Sobaipuri territory. Sobaipuri territory did
not end just south of Casa Grande as some suggest. Their sites extended into Sonora.
Mooney' s (1928) estimate of the number of Sobaipuri (600) in 1680 is seemingly low. At least a couple thousand Sobaipuri were present on each of the Santa Cruz and San
Pedro rivers during Kino's time. Certainly this mission-period density was diminished as a result of epidemics; the population was much higher in the 1540s.
The pottery Charles Di Peso called Sobaipuri Plain and Sobaipuri Red are not Sobaipuri-made. They may not even have originated among the O'odham, although wares such
as these were later made by the O'odham. The pottery diagnostic of the Sobaipuri is Whetstone Plain, as are some types referred to as early O'odham wares. Plain and
decorated trade wares seem to occur on Sobaipuri sites as well.
Tumacacori National Monument, Calabasas, and San Augustin are not the sites of Kino-period missions. This is a fabrication designed to draw tourists to these locations, to
make those Colonial period edifaces relevant to the history of the indigneous occupants, and to substitute for the perceived lack of data regarding the real native settlements
and first missions. Reasonable suggestions have been made for the actual Kino-period Sobaipuri settlements and these are located in different places than those overseen by
the National Park Service and being studied by various agencies and companies.
While one web site inaccurately claims that "Few sites have been documented and reported on since the work of Charles Di Peso of the Amerind Foundation during the 1950s,"
there has been a considerable amount of archaeological work. This research has been focused specifically on the Sobaipuri, for almost three decades of sustained work and
the result can be found in the references section. Contrary to that intentional mistatement, much archaeological work on the Sobaipuri has been done since Di Peso and so most
of the ideas advanced by him are outmoded. One of the best known examples relates to Quiburi. If he had not followed Bolton in referring to Santa Cruz de Terrenate Presidio
no one today would have made that error. Our research indicates that the presidio was said to have been built at Santa Cruz not Quiburi. Quiburi was never prefaced by the
saint's name Santa Cruz. When "Santa Cruz de Quiburi" is used it is referring to Santa Cruz which is of the Quiburi Valley, Quiburi River, or as the subordinate settlement to
Quiburi. We have found legitimate evidence of both of these settlements,
Similarly if Di Peso had not erred and suggested his Sobaipuri site (AZ EE:8:15) was Santa Cruz de Gaybanipitea no reasonable researcher would call it such today. Di Peso's
site is located on the wrong side of a tributary creek and is located on the wrong landform type according to both maps and journal entries. He thought there was only one site to
choose from for the historically documented location. But in reality there are 25 other sites, including one in the vicinity that is of the right size, on the correct landform, on the
correct side of the river, which chronometrically dates to the correct time period, and has produced glass and metal historical European artifacts. Logic dictates that Di Peso's
antiquated ideas be dismissed and the new data accepted owing to its concordance with the documentary record. Afterall, if one is going to claim to have found a historically
referenced site, it is essential that the references to the occupied settlement match the topographic and other physical and material descriptions of the archaeological site.
Otherwise it is just a site, important in its own right, but just a site, not a historically referenced place. Archaeologists are held to higher standards of correspondence with
on-the-ground evidence than are historians and Native American Studies scholars.
The Sobaipuri did not live in rectangular adobe-walled houses. They lived in dome-shaped elogate and oval houses, some of which tended toward rectangular with rounded
corners. These were covered by bent-poles and then with mats that were sometimes covered with dirt or mud, or they were covered by brush. Only in the late 1800s or early
1900s did they make the switch from these dome-shaped houses to the rectangular adobe-walled houses, although the transition probably occurred over a long period.
Arrow points used by the Sobaipuri do not include the full range of point types presented in Noel Justice's projectile point descriptions. It is an unfortunate use of the label
"Sobaipuri" for these points because many of the illustrated points are actually those made by contemporaneous mobile groups, such as the Jano, Jocome, Manso, and Suma.
These groups collectively are lumped into the archaeological Canutillo complex. This is one reason it is inappropriate to use ethnic identifers in labels of artifact types.
Conventional nomenclature for designating types dictates that geographic or similar non-cultural labels be used. Points used by the Sobaipuri are designated Huachuca points,
after a nearby mountain range.
These are Huachuca points, the type made by the Sobaipuri and many other groups. The simple small A-shaped design, with or without serration, and deeply indented
base are the attributes that characterize these points.
Many contemporaneous groups made points like these and so they do not seem to be indicative of cultural identity but rather are a reasonable time marker. See similar
points used by mobile groups under the Jano and Jocome discussion. These are found hundreds of miles outside Sobaipuri territory and far beyond where they would
These are unusual in that it is possible to see how they were hafted to the arrow shaft. Sinew or a sap-like substance (lac, pitch, or mesquite gum) was probably used to
adhere the point to the foreshaft, setting the notches into one another.
Ethnohistoric documents tell us that the short, wood foreshafts were inserted into the ends of hollow reed main shafts that were fletched with feathers and notches at their
Contrary to what has been written, these specific specimens were not still attached to their foreshafts with the adhesive.
--Points are on display at Colossal Cave Mountain Park, access allowed by JJ Lamb.
This is what the Pimeria Alta looked like to the Spanish in the late 1600s and early 1700s.