Luis María Belderrain, author of this record, was asked to compare and contrast conditions in Sonora at the middle and near the end of the eighteenth century. Few were better qualified to report on the part of Spanish Sonora which is now Arizona. At mid-century his father, Captain Juan Tomás Belderrain, had founded the Tubac presidio where the author spent much of his early life. Contact with his father gave him a wide knowledge of mid-century Sonora. He may have gained authoritative information of even earlier periods from his maternal grandfather Gabriel Muxica, Baron of Heider, who had been one of the first governors of Spanish Sonora.

The reporter's own career was a varied one. In 1782 he petitioned the king for disability retirement as lieutenant of cavalry at the Fronteras presidio. He had been bitten by a rattlesnake while going for the company's payroll at Alamos. We do not know the details of the accident, but as a result Luis María lost his left hand. Evidently he stayed at Alamos, where a decade later he wrote the recollections published here. Despite minor errors in dates and places, Belderrain's historical analysis of the Apache problem in the latter half of the eighteenth century provides information found in no other source.

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March 31, 1792.


In keeping with the order of the viceroy, the Count of Revillagigedo, dated February 14 of the current year, I herewith send you my report on the condition of Pimería Alta and the Sonora province in 1750, the changes that have occurred in the meantime, and an analysis of the causes that have brought about these changes.


Three major rivers water the Pimería Alta. The first has its origin near Suamca [Santa Cruz River]. The second has its origin near Cocóspera [Magdalene River]. The third has its origin near Búsani [Altar River].

Santa Cruz River

This is the northernmost river. It has its origin near Santa María Suamca, an Indian village which together with its two satellite villages, Cocóspera and Remedios, counted over 200 families in 1750. Of the three villages, only Cocóspera remains and it has only forty families today. Santa María Suamca was attacked by the Apaches in 1769. Most of its inhabitants were killed and its church and houses were burned to the ground. Remedios disappeared even earlier.

Downriver there lived some 100 Spanish settlers in haciendas and ranches at Los Divisaderos, Santa Barbara, San Luis, El Ranchito, and Buenavista. These haciendas and ranches were thriving in 1750. Due to repeated Apache attack, they were impoverished to the point that

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all of the settlers were forced to move to the protection of the Terrenate and Tubac presidios.

Moving further downriver, the Indian village of Guevavi, with its three satellite villages at Calabazas, Tumacácori, and Sonoita, counted over 300 families in 1750. Today two of these villages are left, with barely fifty families in all. Sonoita was destroyed by the Apaches in 1768 and over half the population died within the walls of the burning church. This so frightened the people of the district that they abandoned Guevavi too and concentrated the population at Tumacácori and Calabazas.

In the same general area lay the Sopori ranch, the Arivaca ranch, and the mining settlements at Agua Caliente and Arizona. These four settlements together boasted a total population of over 150 Spanish families around mid-century. Today they are all abandoned, once again due to Apache pressure.

Farther north lay the Indian village of San Xavier del Bac with its satellite village at Tucson. In 1750 over 400 Indian families peopled these two villages. Today they are reduced to less than 100 families, despite the fact that they have been protected by a presidio founded at Tucson in 1775. This is the northern limit of the Pimería Alta.

We should also include here the San Pedro River, which has its origin near the ancient village of Mututicachi. Along this river there were some 400 Indian families at San Pedro Babocómari, Santa Cruz, Tres Alamos, Los Sobaípuris, Acequias Hondas, and La Junta, the juncture of this river with the Gila River. Since this San Pedro River was the closest river to the Apacheria, it was always the first to feel the shock of Apache attack. For this reason,

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some thirty families were moved to the San Xavier and Tucson villages in 1768 [1762].

Magdalena River

The Indian villages of San Ignacio, Imuris, and Magdalena comprise yet another mission district of the Pimería Alta and are situated along the river which starts near Cocóspera. They counted over 300 Indian families in 1 750. Now they are reduced to a little over fifty families in the two villages of San Ignacio and Magdalena. Imuris has been abandoned because of repeated Apache attacks.

Downriver from Magdalena there were three Spanish settlements: the San Lorenzo ranch, the Santa Marta ranch, and the hacienda of Santa Anal Over 200 families of settlers of Spanish and mixed blood lived there in 1750. Santa Ana was so populous and wealthy at that time that it was referred to as a town. San Lorenzo and Santa Marta are now completely abandoned and Santa Ana is reduced to some thirty settlers.

Altar River

The third and last river has its origin near the Indian village of Búsani and it waters what might be called the western Pimería Alta. Búsani was a satellite of the central Indian village of Sáric. These two Indian villages had a population of over 200 families in 1750. Some fifty families may be found at Sáric today. Búsani has been abandoned entirely, not only because of Apache attack but also because so many of the Indians of this district rebelled, joined the Seris in attacking other villages, and have been killed in the process.

The Indian village of Tubutama, farther down the

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river, with its satellite villages at Santa Teresa, Atil, and Oquitoa, was one of the wealthiest villages of the Pimería Alta. Tubutama alone boasted over 300 families, and some 200 families lived in its satellite villages. Today the population of the four villages together has been reduced to barely 100 families. This mission district has had much the same history as that of Sáric.

The third mission district of this river is comprised of the three villages of Pitiquito, Caborca, and Bísani. In 1750, their total population was over 400 families. Today they have a little over 150 families.

Sonoita was the last of the villages of the western Pimería Alta, with a population of over 100 families. Most of them have been killed running with the Seris, and their village is now abandoned.


In the year 1750, 750, Spanish Sonora, including the Pimería Alta, was enjoying great prosperity. Then came the Pima Revolt with its heavy toll of some 1000 lives. Viceroy Juan Francisco Guemes y Horcasitas, Count of Revillagigedo, came to its aid, founding presidios at Altar and Tubac. These two presidios restored order to such an extent that by 1768 even the Pimería Alta enjoyed a prosperity comparable to that of 1750 Its villages, haciendas and ranches were repopulated and restocked and peace and quiet prevailed.

The rest of Sonora too was restored in great part to its former opulence as a result of the Cerro Prieto expedition. Regular troops, including dragoons and light artillery, were brought in from Mexico City. Presidial troops from the Apache frontier were also used in this southern

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offensive with the pretext of turning the entire force of regulars and presidials against the Apache, once the Cerro Prieto was conquered. In the meantime, however, the already inadequate force of fifty men at each presidio was reduced to twenty, a force barely sufficient to protect the presidio itself, its vital horseherd, and the pack animals that brought in the supplies, without which the outpost could not exist. Offensive campaigns into Apacheria were out of the question. The troops could not leave the presidio to chase raiding Apaches even a short way.

This impossible situation continued for over three years. After the first year, word spread among the Indians that they could steal with impunity throughout northern Sonora, even in the vicinity of the presidios. Heretofore, the Indians had divided into small groups of six to eight warriors and operated with stealth in fringe areas. It now occurred to them to test the force of the presidios themselves.

They struck first at Terrenate with over 200 warriors at a time when only a corporal and six men were at the post. The rest were either sick or away guarding the packtrain bringing supplies. Four of our soldiers were killed and two were seriously wounded. The Apaches escaped with the entire horseherd.

Not only was there no retaliation for this unheard of boldness but no attempt was made to recover the stolen property. More Apache bands united and in unprecedented numbers they completely destroyed the Sonoita village, as has already been related. This was just two months after the Terrenate attack. Three months later, around the beginning of the year 1769, a band surprised the horseherd of the Fronteras presidio at a moment when

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only a corporal and eight men guarded the fort. Despite a valiant defense, three of our troops were killed, one taken captive, and all badly wounded. The entire horseherd was stolen.

From this point on, Apache boldness knew no limits. They must have concluded that Spanish power was a thing of the past. It was the beginning of the decline described in detail in the statistical section of our report. Whole settlements were destroyed, such as Sonoita, Santa María Suamca, Remedios, Teopari, the entire valley of Buenavista in the Pimería Alta, and all of the other locations already mentioned. Their inhabitants gave up all hope of repopulating them, since Apache power was increasing at an alarming rate and the entire Pimería Alta was already almost completely impoverished, so that by the year 1771, when the Cerro Prieto campaign was finally finished and thirty presidials were returned to each of the depleted presidios, no number of valiant campaigns were able to make up adequately for lost ground.

The self-confidence built up in the Apache nation was not to be thwarted by the return of the presidials. As late as 1775, two attacks on Terrenate took the lives of two presidia! captains, Francisco Tovar and Francisco Ignacio Trespalacios, and the majority of the presidia! troops. In the same year the Apaches carried off the Fronteras horseherd and pack animals a number of times at the cost of forty Apache lives. As a result, the location of both presidios was changed.

The Indian villages of Turicachi and Cuchuta in the same valley as the Fronteras presidio, together with their satellite village of Cuquiarachi, counted more than 150 families in 1768 Today Cuquiarachi alone survives with barely thirty families.

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The ancient mining town of Nacozari in the same sierra, fifteen leagues to the south, boasted over fifty families of settlers and Indians. This population was so depleted by Apache depredation in 1779 that it had to take refuge in other towns along the Oposura River.

I hope that you will forgive my prolixity in these matters, since much more could and should be said about each detail. May God protect you during the important years ahead.


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Desert Documentary by Kieran McCarty - Chapter 16
Tucson, Arizona: Arizona Historical Society, 1976.

© 1976 The Arizona Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.

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