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. download here
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
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) 2007-2014, 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 understood.
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 25 years,which has focused specifically on the Sobaipuri and related
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. 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 and so
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.
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
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
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 have traveled.
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 other ends.
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.