1. A Description of Sonora

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1.1. Its Name, Location, and Boundaries

It appears that this region was named Sonora from the beginning. The name was first given to either the principal valley or the old mining district of San Juan Bautista de Sonora, seat of the curacy, abandoned at present, not because its rich ores have been exhausted, but partly because the shafts were flooded and partly because of the incessant hostilities of the Apaches.

Although I know nothing of the etymology or origin of the name Sonora, I do not believe I am deceiving myself in being inclined to think it may have been suggested by her great wealth, the news of which swept sonorously across New Spain and into Europe. Perhaps the name might have been given accidentally as has been the case with other provinces of the New World. Still, Sonora, in spite of being assailed by the Apaches, has not failed, nor is she now failing, to conform to the prophecy of the poet who wrote Conveniunt rebus nomina saepe suis.1 And as the sound waves of gold and silver spread, so has the fame of Sonora, for there is no portion of this province that does not offer these precious metals, almost on the surface, to those who have the patience to dig and separate the ore from the dirt, or, as it were, the wheat from the chaff. There is an inexhaustible source of these and other metals.

Sonora is located in North America, in the vice-royalty of New

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Spain, under the judicial administration of the royal court of Guadalajara, New Galicia. Ecclesiastically it is dependent upon the Durango diocese and it is under the governorship of Sinaloa, an administrative region divided into six provinces: Chametla, Copala, Culiacan, Sinaloa, Ostimuri, and Sonora. Though Sonora is the last in the order of conquest and farthest in location, it is definitely foremost, not only of the provinces named but possibly of all the others in this vast Mexican empire because of the fertility of the soil, its rich mines and placers, and the docility of the natives—chiefly the Opata and Eudebe tribes whose languages differ but slightly. These tribes compete with one another to show their affection for Christianity and their fidelity to our monarchs to whose rule they have submitted voluntarily as related by Father Andrés Pérez Ribas, S.J., in his work Historia de los triunfos de Nuestra Santa Fe entre las gentes mas bárbaras y fieras del Nuevo Orbe.2

Its boundaries are as follows: on the east, a 30-league-wide range of mountains, the Sierra Madre Occidental, separating it from the Tarahumara country; on the west, the Gulf of California from the mouth of the Yaqui River on the south to that of the Colorado River on the north; the correct boundary on the south would be the right bank of the Yaqui River except the portion northeast of Cumuripa where it takes a portion of the province of Ostimuri in order to cover the four Jesuit missions of Movas, Nuri, Onavas, and Tónichi that are on the left bank; on the north its boundary begins on the east from Bacerac and extends for seventy leagues west through the presidios of Fronteras to Terrenate, but in order to include the Pimería Alta the line must be extended north from Fronteras to the junction of the San Pedro and Gila rivers. From this point the boundary follows the course of the Gila River for a distance of 130 leagues westward to where it joins the Colorado River, thus separating the Pimería Alta from innumerable heathen nations inhabiting the vast unknown land to the north, and according to the writings of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino who crossed that great river at the urgings of those nations, their tribesmen were affable, docile, and humane.3

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The northern boundary has been placed at those rivers even though there are many heathens among the Papagos, Gila, Pimas, Cocomaricopas, Yumas, etc. who live on the southern bank to whom the Gospel has been preached by the Jesuit missionaries fathers Kino, Ignacio Javier Keller, and Jacobo Sedelmayr who have visited the valleys along those rivers many times with much industry and without assistance from the Royal Treasury except their salaries.4 Thus they have won for the Church and the Monarchy from Culiacan to San Xavier del Bac and Tucson in the Pimería Alta more than two hundred leagues. This does not include the land they conquered under similar circumstances in Lower California and other provinces.

1.2. Its Latitude and Longitude

Concerning the geographical location of Sonora, we do not have the necessary instruments nor the tranquility needed to take exact observations because of the incessant Apache raids. Therefore it has been advisable to avail ourselves of information gathered by missionaries in different parts of the province. Their data and the known distances between places permitted the figuring of approximate geographical locations. We hope that our predicament may serve as an incentive to others to obtain more accurate ones. So, assuming our computations to be correct, we place the mouth of the Yaqui River at 26 degrees, 24 minutes northern latitude and having no ships to explore the western boundary we prefer to omit the variations of longitude rather than to err. The mouth of the Colorado River is placed at 33 degrees, 30 minutes, and if we advance northward another degree we reach the junction of the Gila and the Colorado, which fixes the outermost point beyond which there is nothing more, at 34 degrees, 30 minutes northern latitude. There is a distance of 8 degrees, 6 minutes, or 162 leagues from north to south.

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The computation of longitudes is a more arduous task which we have not been able to determine by correspondence. The few instruments we had, obtained from Europe to record the lunar eclipse forecast by a Jesuit for 1751, were lost during the Pima uprising of 1751. The computation of longitudes is so important in a geographical description, and our aim in this short essay is limited to and by available material. Therefore we hope that the benevolent reader will not denounce our effort as presumptuous but instead magnanimously praise our daring. We shall not count from the first meridian to ours through the continents of Europe, Asia, and the intervening seas to the American Continent, but instead deduct from the 360-degree meridian proportionately by leagues, and by this method I have determined from Tenerife to the mouth of the Colorado River is more or less 258 degrees longitude, and the Yaqui River is 263 degrees, 42 minutes. The mountain range from Yécora through Taraichi, Chamada, Satechi, and Tamichopa to the Carretas slopes is 268 degrees longitude, giving us 10 degrees difference in longitude from the mouth of the Colorado River to Taraichi, not in a straight line west to east but from northwest to southeast according to the direction of the coastline of the Gulf of California.


1. “Names oftentimes fit their objects.”

2. Madrid, 1645. A more recent edition in three volumes: Mexico, 1944.

3. Father Kino crossed the river on October 2, 1700, as recorded in Bolton's Kino's Historical Memoir of Pimería Alta, I:246.

4. Before 1608 the salaries were 250 pesos yearly per individual. In 1608 they were raised to 300 pesos a year. This varied, however, with the more inaccessible areas getting larger salaries. Furthermore, each mission received a yearly allowance of 129 pesos for general expenses. When a missionary visited his district or was transferred to another rectorship, he was reimbursed for his traveling expenses.

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