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RIO SAN PEDRO
SONORA: EXPLORATION ROUTES AND THE OPATA
CORONADO'S ROUTE AT THE HEAD OF THE SAN PEDRO
The San Pedro is composed of two forks near its head where it crosses the
highway east of Canenea. These are at Zone 12, UTM E579462 N3434576 and
Canenea is shown in the lower right of this image, showing the relation of this town
to where the San pedro crosses the road. To the north of the road farmers are
growing crops in the shallow depression that forms the bed of the San Pedro.
To the south of the road a shallow swale marks the San Pedro's course as it gradually rises to its
The problem points here are as follows. Historic maps and presumably archaeological site distributions indicate that O'odham groups were to the west
and south of the Sonora Valley and the Puerta del Sol divide/pass. The problem is that the archaeology may be focusing on an incorrect signature and
the presumed early historical distributions for Opata may be too far west for the expedition period or terminal prehistoric. The Opata are noted as pushing
west into O'odham territory. The problem is the Opata may not have occupied the Rio Sonora valley at earliest contact. Problem is it is assumed that
O'odham settlements would not match the complexity described for the Rio Sonora so the occupants at first European contact are assumed to be Opata
and in turn Opata are assumed to be Trincheras. Perhaps not. Dolittle is making this assumption but he is not necessarily familiar with the O'odham
signature. What is the Opata signature, is it really Trincheras?
Another problem is that the accounts of different expeditions have been mixed. These expeditions may occur in different geographical areas and at
different times. Given the noted westward push of the Opata it is possible that even if they were referring to the same valley the nature of settlement had
changed. Obregon who was with Ibarra mentions two-storied adobe structures in the Rio Sonora but also mentions mat-covered domed structures and
adobe-walled structures. The latter are not necessarily the same as the two-storied ones. These petate-covered domed structures and adobe-walled
structures are consistent with the Sobaipuri on the San Pedro where most of the settlement is composed on petate-covered domed structures and there
is one specialized adobe-walled structure per settlement. The latter were likely rain houses or ceremonial houses which Russell in the 1930s notes a
speaker stood on and proclaimed to the village in the morning. This is consistent with the documentary record of.... for the Rio Sonora.
As it stands now, people think that Ures was an O'odham settlement as were occupants of the valleys to the west of the Sonora Valley. It is thought that
those to the north of Puerta del Sol are Opata. This is important because people think that most if not all of these key expeditions (Cabeza de Vaca
included) went through this pass. Some think Corazones is Ures while others think it may be Mazocahui, north of the pass. If all the assumptions above
are incorporated unchanged, this would make Corazones either O'odham if at Ures or Opata if at Mazocahui.
Problem is, this pass does not match the descriptions, as this is not somewhat of a pass it is a prominent unmistakable pass through the mountains.
Puerta del Sol is the pass that many think
separated the O'odham from Opata during the
earliest expeditions. Some think Corazones is to
the south while others think it to the north. This is
a key decision point for expedition researchers. It
is important also from the standpoint of using eye
witness accounts of natives in that most think the
O'odham were to the south and Opata to the north
of this divide, as they were in later historic times.
This assumption is not necessarily correct. The
assumption that this is the pass used by some or
all of the expeditions also needs careful
consideration because it does not necessarily
match the descriptions of de Niza and Coronado.
It is currently thought that Coronado traveled up the Sonora Valley and then shifted over to the San Pedro at this point. The Rio Bacamuchi that flows into
the Rio Sonora at Arizpe would have been a more direct route to Cananea but the Rio Sonora heads very near where the San Pedro head. The divide here
means that rivers to the north, such as the San Pedro, flow to the north, while rivers to the south, like the Sonora, flow to the south.
From this point the explorers traveled north across what is now the international boundary (demarcated as the yellow line).
This image shows the mountain ranges that they slipped between, one on the east before crossing the modern border and then, once
north of this modern line, they would have seen the Huachuca Mountains on the west and the Mule Mountains on the east.
EXPLORATION ROUTES FARTHER SOUTH ON THE RIO SONORA
The Relación of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked in 1528 in Florida, and traveled west along the Gulf Coast, Texas and southwest from there back toNew Spain. He
lived among America's native peoples for the next eight years, first as a slave and then as a widely recognized spiritual leader. Cabeza de Vaca was the first
European to explore what is now Texas and the American Southwest, potentially including a portion of New Mexico, but certainly parts of Sonora. His account,
La Relación, offers a brief historical portrait of the native peoples he encountered. This was written after his adventures ended and he was safely resettled in New
Spain. Estaban, the black Moorish slave, who traveled with him was an important player in the Marcos de Niza exploration of 1539.
A portion of his Relación that discusses native encounters is included here. This is one of many translations.
Corazones is mentioned as the place called "Village of Hearts" because they were given 600 deer hearts. The mountains at Puerta del Sol are apparently rich in
deer leading many to suggest that this settlement is north or south of this mountain pass.
They say of this town: "Through it (Corazones and presumably the pass referred to by some as Puerta del Sol) one enters many provinces that are on the South
Sea. Anyone who does not set out for the sea through this place will perish because there is no corn along the coast." This elevates the importance of Corazones
as an important gateway settlement, suggesting that almost anyone coming through the area would go through here, hence the suggestion that all of the Spanish
exploration routes went through here, following native trails. Yet, this does not mean that there were not other gateway sites and other key passes in adjacent
valleys that served the same function. This is an unfortunate assumption of exploration researchers.
How We Followed the Corn Route
After spending two days there, we decided to go look for corn. We did not want to follow the buffalo trails towards the North and go out of our way, since we were
always sure that by heading west we would find what we wanted. So we made our way and crossed the entire country until we came to the South Sea. Their
stories of great hunger were not enough to frighten us and keep us from doing this, although we did suffer greatly from hunger for seventeen days, as they had
said we would. All along the way upriver people gave us many buffalo-skin blankets. We did not eat that fruit [chacan]; our only food each day was a handful of
deer fat which we always tried to keep for such times of need. And so we journeyed for seventeen days, at the end of which we crossed the river and traveled for
At sunset, on plains between some very tall mountains, we found some people who eat nothing but powdered straw for a third of the year. Since it was that
season of the year, we had to eat it too. At the end of our journey we found a permanent settlement where there was abundant com. The people gave us a large
quantity of it and of cornmeal, squash, beans and cotton blankets. We loaded the people who had led us there with everything and they departed the happiest
people in the world. We gave great thanks to God our Lord for having led us there where we had found so much food. Some of these dwellings were made of earth
and the others made of reed mats.
From here we traveled over a hundred leagues, always finding permanent settlements and much corn and beans to eat. The people gave us many deer and cotton
blankets better than the ones from New Spain. They also gave us many beads and a kind of coral from the South Sea, along with many very fine turquoises from
the North. In sum, they gave us everything they had. They gave me five emeralds made into arrowheads. They use these arrows for their areítos and dances.
Since they seemed very fine to me, I asked them where they had gotten them. They told me that they brought them from some very high mountains to the North,
where they traded them for plumes and parrot feathers. They said that there were large towns and very large dwellings there. [probably the Cerritos Mines,
Among these people we saw women treated more decently than in any other place we had seen in the Indies. They wear knee-length cotton shirts with short
sleeves and over this, floor-length skirts of scraped deerskin. They keep them looking very nice by washing them with soap made from certain roots, which cleans
them very well. They are open in the front and tied with straps. They also wear shoes.
All these people came to us to be touched and blessed. They were so insistent that it was very difficult for us to deal with this. Everyone, sick or healthy, wanted
to be blessed. It often happened that women who were traveling with us gave birth along the way. Once the child was born they would bring it to us to be touched
and blessed. They always accompanied us until they turned us over to other people. All these people were certain that we had come from heaven. While we were
with these people, we would travel all day without eating until nighttime. They were astonished to see how little we ate. They never saw us get tired, and really we
were so used to hardship that we did not feel tired. We enjoyed a great deal of authority and dignity among them, and to maintain this we spoke very little to
them. The black man always spoke to them, ascertaining which way to go and what villages we would find and all the other things we wanted to know. We
encountered a great number and variety of languages; God Our Lord favored us in all these cases, because we were able to communicate always. We would ask
in sign language and be answered the same way, as if we spoke their language and they spoke ours. We knew six languages, but they were not useful
everywhere, since we found more than a thousand differences.
Throughout these lands those who were at war with one another made peace to come to greet us and give us all they owned. In this way we left the whole country
in peace. We told them in sign language which they understood that in heaven there was a man whom we called God, who had created heaven and earth, and
that we worshipped him and considered him our Lord and did everything that he commanded. We said that all good things came from his hand and that if they did
the same, things would go very well for them. We found that they were so well disposed for it that, if we could have communicated perfectly in a common
language, we could have converted them all to Christianity. We tried to communicate these things to them the best we could. From then on at sunrise, with a
great shout they would stretch their hands towards heaven and run them over their entire bodies. They did the same thing at sunset. They are affable and
resourceful people and capable of pursuing anything.
How They Gave Us the Deer Hearts
In the village where they gave us the emeralds, they gave Dorantes more than six hundred opened deer hearts which they store in abundance for food. For this
reason we called the place the Village of Hearts [[[Corazones]]]. Through it one enters many provinces that are on the South Sea. Anyone who does not set out
for the sea through this place will perish because there is no corn along the coast. There the people eat ground rushes, straw and fish caught in the sea in rafts,
for they have no canoes. The women cover their private parts with grass and straw. These people are very shy and sad. We believe that near the coast on the way
that we took to those villages there are more than a thousand leagues of inhabited land, with a great deal of food because they plant beans and corn three times a
There are three kinds of deer there; one kind is as large as the yearling steers of Castile. They have permanent dwellings called buhios and poison from a tree the
size of an apple tree. All that is necessary is to pick the fruit and rub it on an arrow. If there is no fruit, they break a branch and do the same with the milky sap.
There are many of these trees, which are so poisonous that if the leaves are crushed and washed in water, any deer or other animals that drink the water later
burst. We stayed in this village three days. A day's Journey from there was another village. There it rained so much that we could not cross a river that had risen
very much; so we had to wait two weeks.
At this time Castillo saw a buckle from a sword belt around an Indian's neck, with a horseshoe nail sewn to it. Castillo took it away from him and we asked the
Indian what it was. They replied that it had come from heaven. We questioned them further, asking them who had brought it from there. They told us that some
bearded men like us, with horses, lances and swords, had come there from heaven and gone to that river and had speared two Indians. Trying very hard to act
disinterested, we asked them what had happened to those men. They replied that the men went down to the sea, put their lances underwater and then went
under the water themselves. Then they saw them go over the water towards the sunset. We gave great thanks to God our Lord when we heard this, since we
doubted we would ever have news of Christians. On the other hand, we felt sad and bewildered, thinking that those men might have been only explorers who
arrived by sea. But since we had such sure evidence about them, we finally decided to go faster on our way, where we heard more news about Christians. We
told the people we were looking for the Christians so that we could tell them not to kill them or take them as slaves
or remove them from their lands or harm them in any other way. This pleased them very much.
We traveled far and found the entire country empty because the people who lived there were fleeing into the mountains, not daring to work the fields or plant crops
for fear of the Christians. It was very pitiful for us to see such a fertile and beautiful land, filled with water and rivers, with abandoned and burned villages, and to
see that the people, who were weakened and sick, all had to flee and hide. Since they could not plant crops, they were very hungry and had to survive by eating
tree bark and roots. We too had to endure this hunger all along this route, since they were so miserable that they looked as though they were about to die and
could hardly be expected to provide much for us. They brought us blankets that they had hidden from the Christians and gave them to us. They told us how on
different occasions the Christians had raided their land and had destroyed and burned villages and carried off half the men and all the women and children. Those
who had been able to escape from their clutches were fleeing. We saw that they were so terrorized that they did not dare to stay in one place. They could not
plant or cultivate their fields. They were determined to die and thought this would be better than to wait for such cruel treatment as they had already received.
They were very pleased to see us, but we feared that when we reached the Indians who lived on the border with Christians and were at war with them, those
people would mistreat us and make us pay for what the Christians were doing to them. But since God our Lord was pleased to bring us to them, they began to be
in awe of us and revere us as the previous people had done, and even more so, which amazed us. By this, one can clearly recognize that all these people, in
order to be attracted to becoming Christians and subjects of your Imperial Majesty, need to be treated well; this is a very sure way to accomplish this; indeed,
there is no other way.
These people took us to a village on the crest of a mountain range, which is reached by a very difficult ascent. There we found many people gathered together for
fear of the Christians. They received us very well and gave us everything they had. They gave us two thousand loads of com, which we gave to those miserable,
hungry people who had taken us there. The following day we dispatched four messengers from there, as was our custom, to call and convene all the people they
could to a village three days' journey from there. After doing this, we set out the following day with all the people there. Along the way we found signs and traces
of the places where Christians had spent the night. At midday we came upon our messengers, who told us they had found no people because they were all hiding
in the mountains, fleeing so that the Christians would not kill them or enslave them. They said that the previous night they had seen Christians. The Indians had
hidden behind some trees to see what the Christians were doing and they saw that they were taking many Indians in chains. The Indians who had come with us
were greatly upset by this, and some of them turned back to give the warning throughout the land that Christians were coming. Many more would have done the
same if we had not told them not to do it and not to be afraid. They were greatly reassured and relieved by this.
Indians who lived one hundred leagues away then came with us there since we could not persuade them to return to their homes. To reassure them we slept
there that night. The next day we traveled on and slept on the way. The following day, the Indians we had sent ahead as messengers led us to where they had
seen the Christians. We arrived there at the hour of vespers and clearly saw that they had told the truth. We noticed that horsemen had been there because we
saw the stakes where the horses had been tethered.
From this place, called the Petutan River, to the river reached by Diego de Guzmán, where we first heard of Christians, there may be eighty leagues; from there to
the village where we were caught in the rains, twelve leagues; and from that village to the South Sea, twelve leagues. Throughout the mountainous areas of this
entire land we saw many signs of gold and antimony, iron, copper and other metals. The area in which the permanent settlements are located is hot, so much so
that even in January the weather is very hot. From there towards the south of that land- which is uninhabited all the way to the North Sea-the country is very
wretched and poor, and we suffered from incredibly great hunger. The people who live there are terribly cruel and of very evil inclinations and customs. The Indians
in the permanent settlements and the ones further back pay no attention at all to gold and silver, nor do they find them useful.
How We Saw Traces of Christians
After we clearly saw traces of Christians and realized that we were so near them, we gave great thanks to God our Lord for willing that we should be brought out
of our sad and wretched captivity. Anyone considering the length of time we spent in that land and the dangers and afflictions we suffered can imagine the delight
we felt. That night I asked one of my companions to go after the Christians, who were going to the area of the country where we had assured the people of
protection, which was a three- day journey. They reacted negatively to this idea, excusing themselves because it would be difficult and they were tired, although
any one of them could have done it more easily because they were younger and stronger. When I saw their unwillingness, the following morning I took the black
man and eleven Indians and, following the trail of the Christians, went by three places where they had slept. That day I traveled ten leagues. The following morning
I caught up with four Christians on horseback who were quite perturbed to see me so strangely dressed and in the company of Indians.
They looked at me for a long time, so astonished that they were not able to speak or ask me questions. I told them to take me to their captain. So we went to a
place half a league from there, where Diego de Alcaraz, their captain, was. After I spoke to him, he told me that he had quite a problem because he had not been
able to capture Indians for many days. He did not know where to turn, because he and his men were beginning to suffer want and hunger. I told him that I had left
Dorantes and Castillo behind, ten leagues from there, with many people who had brought us there. Then he sent three horsemen and fifty of the Indians they were
bringing along, and the black man returned with them to guide them. I remained there and asked them to witness the month, day and year that I had arrived there,
and the manner in which I arrived, and they did so. There are thirty leagues from this river to the Christian town called San Miguel, under the jurisdiction of the
province called New Galicia.
How I Sent for the Christians
Five days later Andrés Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo arrived with those who had gone for them. They brought along more than six hundred persons from that
village, whom the Christians had forced to go up the mountain, where they were hiding. Those who had accompanied us to that place had taken the people out of
the mountains and had handed them over to the Christians, and had sent away all the other people they had brought to that point. They came to where I was and
Alcaraz asked me to send for the people from the villages on the riverbanks, who were hiding in the mountains in that area. He wanted me to ask them to bring us
food, although this was not necessary since they always took care to bring us everything they could. We sent messengers to call them, and six hundred people
came, bringing all the corn they had in pots sealed with clay, in which they had buried it to hide it. They also brought us everything else they had. We took only
the food and gave the rest to the Christians to divide among themselves.
After this we had many great quarrels with the Christians because they wanted to enslave the Indians we had brought with us. We were so angry that when we
departed we left many Turkish-style bows that we were carrying, as well as many pouches and arrows, among them the five with the emeralds, which we lost
because we forgot about them. We gave the Christians many buffalo-hide blankets and other things we had. We had great difficulty in persuading the Indians to
return to their homes, to feel secure and to plant com. They wanted only to accompany us until they handed us over to other Indians, as was their custom. They
feared that if they returned without doing this they would die, but they did not fear the Christians or their lances when they were with us. The Christians did not
like this and had their interpreter tell them that we were the same kind of people they were, who had gotten lost a long time before, and that we were people of
little luck and valor. They said that they were the lords of that land, and that the Indians should obey and serve them, but the Indians believed very little or nothing
of what they were saying. Speaking among themselves, they said instead that the Christians were lying, because we had come from the East and they had come
from the West; that we healed the sick and they killed the healthy; that we were naked and barefooted and they were dressed and on horseback, with lances;
that we coveted nothing but instead gave away everything that was given to us and kept none of it, while the sole purpose of the others was to steal everything
they found, never giving anything to anybody. In this manner they talked about us, praising everything about us and saying the contrary about the others. They
replied this way to the Christians' interpreter and told the others through an interpreter they had among themselves, whom we understood. We properly call the
people who speak that language the Primahaitu, which is like saying the Basques. We found that this language was used among them and no other was used in
the 400-league stretch that we traveled.
The Indians could not be persuaded to believe that we were the same as the other Christians. We had great difficulty and had to insist in order to persuade the
Indians to return to their homes. We ordered them to make themselves secure and settle their villages and plant and till the soil, which was already overgrown
because it had been abandoned. This land is without a doubt the best in all the Indies, the most fertile and abundant in food. They plant crops three times a year.
They have many fruits and beautiful rivers and many other very good bodies of water. There is great evidence and signs of gold and silver deposits. The people are
very congenial: they serve Christians-the ones who are friendly-quite willingly. They are well built, much more so than the Indians of Mexico. This truly is a land
that lacks nothing to be very good.
When the Indians departed they told us that they would do what we said and would settle their villages if the Christians would allow them. I want to make it quite
clear and certain that if they should not do so, the Christians will be to blame. After we sent the Indians away in peace, thanking them for the trouble they had
taken with us, the Christians sent us under guard to a certain Justice named Cebreros and two other men with him, who took us through wilderness and
uninhabited areas to keep us from talking to Indians and so that we could not see or understand what they really did to the Indians. From this, one can see how
easily the ideas of men are thwarted, for we wanted freedom for the Indians, and when we thought we had secured it, quite the opposite happened, since the
Christians had planned to attack the Indians whom we had reassured and sent in peace. They carried out their plan. They took us through the wilderness for two
days without water, lost and without a trail. We thought we would all die of thirst and, in fact, seven men did. Many of the Indian allies accompanying the
Christians could not reach the place where we found water that night until the following day at noon. We traveled with them for twenty-five leagues, more or less,
and arrived at a pacified Indian village. The Justice who was taking us left us there and went ahead three leagues to a town called Culiacán, where Melchor Díaz,
the Mayor and Captain of that province, lived.
CORONADO'S JOURNEY THROUGH SONORA AND SOUTHERN ARIZONA
Eye-witness accounts of the natives and geography of northern New Spain begin with Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's unintended journey through Sonora in 1536.
Guzman's subsequent efforts are not generally considered relevant to the ethnohistory and archaeology of the American Southwest because his ventures were too far
to the south, but just a few years later there were two key journeys that loom large in the imagination of the American public and that also have relevance to
archaeological research. In 1539 the Viceroy sent Fray Marcos de Niza north with the black slave Esteban who had been with Cabeza de Vaca on the trip from the
shipwreck back to the population centers of New Spain. Esteban served as a guide and translator for de Niza. This expedition is considered an advance guard for the
trip by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado that was initiated the following year (1540-1542) that went in search of the Cities of Gold and Quivira.
Many exploration researchers think that all of these expeditions went through the Sonora Valley. The problem is, no evidence of Coronado or any of the others has
been found here, even though there were substantial Spanish settlements established that were occupied for some time. Moreover, it is clear from Cabeza de Vaca's
account that slave traders had already penetrated this region (or the region he traversed), suggesting not only that the indigenous lifeway had been disrupted but also
that unsanctioned activity to the north was already well underway and stretched far beyond the bounds of European civilization and view.
The natives these Spaniards encountered are thought to be both the Opata and the O'odham, but interpretations seem to be based upon incorrect assumptions about
what the archaeology should look like and the nature of each of these groups at the time of contact.
The Account Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación
THE OPATA AND THE SPANISH COLONIAL FRONTIER
The preceding discussion is relevant to Opata and O'odham culture history, the trajectory of population movements and reorganizations through time, and the
process of using historical documents to inform on the social and political aspects of indigenous groups as they are eventually found in the archaeological record.
Relative little archaeological work has been conducted on the Opata by Americans. Two of the key players in the archaeology of this valley are primarily
geographers (William Doolittle and Carl Sauer, although the former has a minor in archaeology). Ethnohistorians (such as Daniel Reff) and a long list of historians
have also focused on this valley. Mexican archaeologists and American archaeologists publishing primarily in Spanish have produced a number of volumes on the
Sonora Valley and the Opata, including summarizing the work already completed and listing and describing sites known for the area (see bibliographic list below).
The Opata are now considered to have disappeared as a cultural entity even though many of their traditions survive. This suggests that the negative association
with "indio" heritage in Mexico has resulted in the disappearance as the Opata as a political group but that some of the traditions live on in families in the area. By
the time Father Kino was on the scene in the 1680s the Opata had already been converted; they were docile and obedient converts. Their settlements in this area
and their people therefore play a relatively small role in the known history of southern Arizona or the northern portion of the Pimeria Alta. Yet, the Opata were in fact
very important to the history of events in southern Arizona. For example, Opata as individuals were important in the development of events in southern Arizona.
They served as assistants at the mission sites, illustrating proper behavior to the local O'odham and assisting the missionaries. They served as scouts and
auxiliaries in the military, playing important roles in the history of presido Santa Cruz de Terrenate. The Opata as a group were also powerful militarily or at least
were excellent warriors and it is thought that much earlier they gradually moved west, pressuring the O'odham of adjacent valleys and causing the O'odham to
relocate. In fact, some think this may be why the O'odham moved north at the end of Hohokam prehistory in the 1300s or 1400s. The Soba to the west of the main
body of Upper Pima in the San Miguel Valley were being pressured from their hostile Seri neighbors. With the Seris on one side and the Opata on the other a
portion of Chief Soba's O'odham may have splintered and moved to the north, into a niche that either had just opened or that showed less formidable resistance.
But this is just a suggestion.
One problem is that archaeologists have not definitively identified the material culture that goes with Opata. Another problem is that several observers (Cabeza de
Vaca, Marcos de Niza, Coronado, Ibarra) from the Spanish historic period commented on the natives, their residences, and their way of life but there is absolutely
no indication that each was referring to the same natives. One issue is that investigators are assuming that there was one main trail through Sonora and this is
probably not the case. A trail probably went up each of the key valleys. Moreover, it is assumed that each explorer-observer encountered the same people or that
they encountered the same people in the same valley. There is no basis for this. In fact, based upon the descriptions given it is likely that Ibarra encountered
different people in a more eastern valley than some of the other early observers. Another assumption is that the complexity described in the documents should be
correlated to Mesoamerican-like complexity. In fact, the Sobaipuri on the San Pedro, as described by Marcos de Niza, sound complex with well-organized
settlements and productive and extensive irrigation systems, very much like some of the groups described for this portion of modern Mexico. Yet, the archaeology
is relatively unobtrusive and difficult to research and there does not seem to be a high level of development in the sense archaeologists like to attribute to groups as
statelets or chiefdoms.
When Obregon of the Francisco de Ibarra expedtion encountered the Opata at Cumupa he stated: "The villages of the Optata were small, their houses detached,
and only for one family. A slight foundation of coble-stone supported a framework of posts standing in a thin wall of rough stones and mud and a slanting roof of
yucca leaves covered the whole" (Mecham 1926:169).
These descriptions have led a number of authors (Braniff, Johnson) to state that the Opata constructed a number of different types of structures. One problem here
is that in some instances assumptions are being made about the Opata cultural affiliation of groups that were not necessarily identified as such by the original
observers. If geographical assumptions are wrong then people encountered are incorrect and so are the archaeological correlates of their lifeways.
This figure is Bolton's compilation of historical data relating
to the advance of the colonial frontier. The line (the ends of
which I have highlighted with red) shows the northern
extent of "Frontier of settlement when Kino arrived in 1687."
Banámichi is also underlined in red, showing that it was an
important site in the 1600s, during the Jesuit
missionization period of the Opateria.
The paste is exposed in an eroded portion of the vessel, showing the
presence of variously sized sand inclusions and black voids where organic
material burned out.
The base is relatively flat, but insufficiently so; the slight
convexity means that it cannot rest stably by itself on a flat
surface. This is not the flat base commonly seen in post-1680
vessels in the El Paso area.
The exterior neck of the vessel shows considerable variation in treatment, including wiping or shallow incisions limited to a small
area, red slip and polishing, and an eroded surface that is granular showing the sand inclusions and so looks unfinished or poorly
finished. Each of these might appear to be from a different vessel in sherd form.
Banámichi is a historic town, one of the original noted on
early Jesuit maps owing to the conversion of its residents
and the establishment of this settlement as a visita or
visiting station. The Sonora Valley was Opata territory at
the time of European contact, and it it thought that from
here they expanded west and southwest into O'odham
territory. The Opata were well organized in warfare, much
moreso than the O'odham, explaining Spanish use of
Optata as auxilaries and scouts and also potentially
explaining the migration of O'odham out of the area where
they were also being pressured from the west by the Seri.
See these links:
Banámichi: Route of the Rio Sonora
La Posada del Rio Sonora
MUNICIPIO DE BANÁMICHI
In the mid 1690s Kino prepared a
map of Sonora which shows this
area. The figure above shows the
entire map whereas this one to the
left show an enlargement of the
These sherds were noticed on two different sites visited during this trip. They were photo documented because some have affinities to sherds found on Sobaipuri
sites I have recorded on the upper San Pedro. I have long wondered if some of the sherds encountered on these Sobaipuri sites were from the south, obtained
through trade with these southern neighbors. There are also similarities to some of the pottery at the presidio of Santa Cruz de Terrenate. From the historic
record we know that in the 1776-1780 period Opata scouts and auxiliaries were present at Terrenate and their families probably were as well. Not until this point
have we been able to distinguish their pottery. Until now many have thought that the Opata of the historic period used the same pottery as the Trincheras culture
(purple-on-red, purple-on-brown, and incised plain brownwares), because these two groups have been equated (the Trincheras archaeology is he Opata historic
and ethnographic tribe). I do not think this is the case and it will be realtively straightforward to discern if these inferences are correct or not. I think there is a
later, more unobtrusive Opata presence over the (or later than) the Trincheras.
It is seeming that a distinction can be made in the pottery during the historic period. This begs two questions: 1. Are the Opata and Trincheras cultures really
the same in the 1500s and 1600s? 2. Does Opata pottery change dramatically after sustained contact and conversion as it seems to here in the north? 3. Were
the Opata making the pots found at Terrenate or were they responsible for heavily influencing the Terrenate population in the production of pots using this new
technology? 4. Is this change or difference a result of Spanish influence, the melding of technologies much like Colono pottery, or is this an indigenous
transformation that happened for some other reason? 5.What is the difference between Opata and Tarahumaran pottery both early and late?
Extract from: Nentvig, Juan Rudo 1980, Ensayo: A Description of Sonora and Arizona in 1764. Translated, Clarified, and Annotated by Alberto Francisco
Pradeau and Robert R. Rasmussen. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
6.1. Opatas, Eudebes, and Jovas
Because they are village dwellers, the Opatas and some of the Eudebes are regarded as more advanced than those who remain in isolated huts. These village
dwellers, while retaining their status as Indians, are more amenable to reason. They are the best Christians and the most loyal vassals of the king, having never
rebelled against him or the missionaries. They are the truest and bravest in war, aiding the royal troops when they are campaigning against the common enemy.
Moreover, they are more inclined to till the soil and breed livestock.
They obtain good crops of wheat, maize, beans, pumpkins, melons, etc., but because they do not value their labor, they sell their produce for a trifle. They are so fond
of trading that when their customers1 ask for something they do not have, they will beg it from the missionary using one excuse or another in order to complete the
trade and usually they end up with less.
While the Opata women join the men in everyday labors, when pregnant they are treated with more consideration than in other provinces. They cease doing heavy work
and devote themselves to cooking pozole,2 roasting or popping corn,3 grinding it to make pinole, spinning cotton, and weaving.
Thus, to the Opata women has come the gift that the Vulgate calls “the instinct of the cock,”4 and the Septuagint5 interprets “Quis dedit mulieribus texturae
sapientiam aut variegativam scientiam?”6 They are happy in the knowledge that while their sisters with the Pimas Altos and Apaches are compelled to slave in the
fields, they perform more feminine duties. Although their equipment is rudimentary, the Opata women weave so expertly that no one can surpass them. If permitted to
unravel a sample, they could imitate German tablecloths and napkins, the only difference being the coarseness of the Indian material. The high quality of craftsmanship
is the reason their finished pieces are called alemaniscos.7 They can imitate any texture, even tent cloth.
Their weaving is done in the following manner: First they drive four stakes into the ground far enough apart to accommodate the length and width of the work planned.
Next they tie a slender twig horizontally half a yard above the ground to each of the sides thus limiting the width. Then with a woman on each of the width sides facing
each other, they begin the warping, passing a skein of thread around the horizontal twigs as many times as necessary to block out the work. This done, and with the
sample before them, they begin counting the threads, catching two at a time by means of a wooden rod. They mark the divisions of the texture and make them secure
by means of wooden slats. Then a stick serves as a woof and carries the transverse strand which is tightened by small wooden picks. Thus by constant repetition the
work proceeds slowly and tediously regardless of entreaties to use a loom to simplify and expedite their ways. It is useless to struggle to make the natives change
their methods. Their patience can tire the world. They refuse to try anything that is different, and this unwillingness applies to other tasks as well, such as turning and
clearing the soil, etc.
In this respect the newly converted Pimas are more cooperative than the Opatas. The Opatas are quite sure they have nothing more to learn, and they continue their
crude, primitive ways. But the Pimas recognize their limitations and obediently submit to our teachings. The backward state of affairs prevails among those not in
contact with the missionaries, and when I asked an old man why the corn fields of the nonconverted had not been weeded, he replied, “They still have their eyes
closed.” Generally speaking this is true of all the Sonoran Indians. Quite naturally there are exceptions. Along certain lines the Indian's application and natural ability
make him proficient, for example in playing musical instruments, carpentering, blacksmithing, stone-cutting, and even house-building.
I know of a few Opatas and Eudebes who are proficient in as many as nine crafts. They do not learn by taking lessons and practicing the rules of the art, but rather
they learn by taking a liking to a trade and seeing it done once or twice. Then they go forth and do it themselves. We often say that they are capable of learning by
seeing plus the application of their natural ability to use their hands. The Opatas built the flour mills of Don Juan Terán at Pivipa as well as the mills of Father José
Cabrera Roldán, S.J., at Arivechi and Father Javier Villaroya at Banámichi. What has been said of the Opatas is applicable to the Eudebes except that the latter have
to try harder to abandon their old ways.
The Jovas as a tribe are wilder, more ignorant, and less disposed to live in townsites, preferring the mountain ravines where they were born to the good treatment and
comforts they could enjoy in the pueblos. This was proven by Father Manuel Aguirre, S.J., of Bacadéhuachi when he attempted to move them from their rancherías at
Sátechi, Pónida, Teópari, and Mochopa where they are sustaining themselves with roots, herbs, wild fruits, and an occasional harvest of corn, and occupying
themselves by making mats from the fronds of the many palm trees that grow in that area. These they sell or exchange for the little clothing they wear. And the women
manage to weave wool from the few sheep they raise to make blankets, capes, jackets, and breaches for the men and shawls, skirts, chemises, and waistcoats for
They pose no threat to their fellow tribesmen who have submitted to the more normal life. At the same time they are fearless against the Apaches, and in 1760 one of
them named Salvador defended his wife and three children against seven enemies from daybreak to sundown. He killed four Apaches. Finally, sapped by hunger and
exhaustion, he surrendered and perished at the hands of the surviving three savages.
The substance used by the Jovas to poison arrows is so deadly that it kills the wounded as well as those who attempt to suck the poison from the lesion. Years ago in
an encounter of nine Apaches against three Jovas, three Apaches were wounded and the remaining six, wishing to help, sucked the wounds, and all died. An Opata
woman who was their prisoner escaped and told what had happened.
The Opatas, Pimas, and Jovas inhabit the greater part of Sonora. They are found on the south at Nátora, Arivechi, Bacanora, Tónichi, Soyopa, Nácori, and [Los]
Alamos; on the west they live at Ures, Nacameri, Opodepe, and Cucurpe; on the north from Cucurpe through Arizpe, Chinapa, Bacoachi, Cuquiárachi to Bavispe, and
on the cast from Bavispe through the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental down to Nátora. May it please God that some way be found to bring the Indians
down from their craggy, mountain strongholds to the plains where there are tillable lands and where their souls can better be instructed in our Holy Faith.
Partial List of Relevant References
(Thanks to David Phillips for providing some of these) Extended bibliogrpahy of northern Mexico
1928 Southwest Museum Paper, Number 1. An Archaeological Reconnaissance in Sonora. Southwest Museum, Los Angeles.
Bandelier, Adolph F.
1890 The ruins of Casas Grandes. The Nation 51 (1313):166-168, 51(1314):185-187.
1892 Final Report of Investigations Among the Indians of the South-western United States, Carried on Mainly in the Years from 1880 to 1885. Papers of the
Archaeological Institute of America, American Series 4 (Part 2). Cambridge, Mass.
1974 Oscilación de la frontera septentrional mesoamericana. In The Archaeology of West Mexico, ed. by Betty Bell, pp. 40-50. Sociedad de Estudios Advanzados
del Occidente de México, Ajijic, Jalisco. [Southwest-Mesoamerican frontier through time]
1975 Arqueología del norte de México. In: Los Pueblos y Señoríos Teocráticos, el Período de las Ciudades Urbanas, Primera Parte. Instituto Nacional de
Antropología e Historia, Mexico.
1976 Notas para la arqueología de Sonora. Cuadernos de los Centros 25. Centro Regional del Noroeste, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Hermosillo.
1977 La posibilidad de comercio y colonización en el noroeste de México, vista desde Mesoamérica. Revista Mexicana de Estudios Antropológicos 23(2):229-246.
1978 Preliminary interpretations regarding the role of the San Miguel River, Sonora, Mexico. In Across the Chichimec Sea: Papers in Honor of J. Charles Kelley, ed.
by C. L. Riley and B. C. Hedrick, pp. 67-82. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. [Describes sites and settlement patterns along the Rio San Miguel]
1982 II Catalogo de sitios arqueologicos de Sonora, a Diciembre de 1980. In Noroeste de México 6:51-70. Centro Regional del Noroeste, Instituto Nacional de
Antropología, Hermosillo. [Update, to December 1980, of Braniff and Quijada 1978]
1984 Proyecto Río San Miguel, Sonora. In Boletin del Consejo de Arqueología, ed. by Joaquín Garcia-Barcena, pp. 9-21. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e
1985 La Frontera Protohistorica Pima-Opata en Sonora, México. Ph.D. dissertation, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico. [Sonoran prehistory with a
focus on fieldwork along the Rio San Miguel]
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Southwestern-Mesoamerican Interactions, ed. by F. J. Mathien and R. H. McGuire, pp. 70-80. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.
1986 Observations on the elites of the Pimeria and Opateria in Prehispanic times. Paper read at the Southwest Symposium, Tempe.
198_ A proposito de el ulama en el norte de México. Arqueología 3:47-94.
Braniff, Beatriz, and Richard S. Felger, Assemblers.
1976 Sonora: Antropología del Desierto. (Proceedings of) Primera Reunión de Antropología e Historia del Noroeste. Colección Científica 27. Instituto Nacional de
Antropología e Historia, Mexico. [The first anthology of Sonora archaeology]
Braniff, Beatriz, and Cesar Quijada
1978 Catalogo de Sitios Arqueológicos de Sonora a Enero de 1977. Noroeste de México 2. Centro Regional del Noroeste, Instituto Nacional de Antropología,
Hermosillo. [Catalogue of sites in Sonora, up to January 1977]
Doolittle, William E.
1979a La población serrana de Sonora en tiempos prehispánicos: la evidencia de los asentamientos antiguos. In J. A. Rubial C., coordinador, Memoria IV Simposio
de Historia de Sonora, pp. 1-16. Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Hermosillo.
1979b Pre-Hispanic Occupance in the Middle Rio Sonora Valley: From an Ecological to a Socioeconomic Focus. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Oklahoma,
Norman. [Based on fieldwork done in 1977 and 1978 as part of Pailes' project in the Sonora River valley]
1980 Aboriginal agricultural development in the Valley of Sonora, Mexico. Geographical Review 70(3):328-342.
1981 Obsidian hydration dating in eastern Sonora, Mexico. In Obisidian Dates III, ed. by Clement W. Meighan and Glenn S. Russell, pp. 155-159. University of
California, Los Angeles, Institute of Archeology Monograph 16. University of California Press, Los Angeles.
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Similar variability is apparent in surface treatment on the exterior of the vessel with matte, polished, and red-slipping visible.
Some fire clouding is also apparent or perhaps inconsistent suface darkening from use. Dribbling is also apparent on the surface,
but could be from later activity. The circular and linear voids are places where organic material has burned out, but are only visible
occasionally on the surface.
This vessel shows traces of its intermediate life at the house of the person who found it. Water staining is visible along one side of the
vessel, suggesting it was sitting at the margin of the roof's dripline. Either gray mud (or mortar or concrete) adheres to the interior rim. A
plaster-like substance has been dropped onto the exterior surface.