2. On the Rivers and Brooks of Sonora

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2.1. The Yaqui River and Its Tributaries

The Yaqui is the first and most copious of Sonora's rivers. Its origin is in the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental, emerging at the abandoned estancia1 of Tamichopa. A league and a half to the west it receives the waters of the Guachinera Brook, and two leagues beyond it receives the water of the Bavispe Brook. It then makes a sharp turn northward, flowing between mountains. Eighteen leagues northwest of Bavispe it is joined by two streams which unite to form one. One stream has its origin at three marshy springs near Teuricachi and Cuchuta. The waters from these three springs join with the flows from a spring east of Cuquiarachi and a fifth spring near Fronteras.

After receiving the waters from these streams, the river flows northward then turns east, making a long curve, and at about eight or nine leagues beyond, it is joined by the Cabullona and San Bernardino streams in the Batepito Valley. The enlarged river then takes a southern course, curving along the way through the depopulated mining settlements of Teras, San Juan del Río and Nori, watering the lands of Oputo and Huásabas.

For twenty-eight leagues south of Batepito Valley the river receives no tributaries except small drainings from the mountains it skirts, and most of the year even these are nonexistent. The result is that from May through July the river known as Río Grande is usually

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dry except for a few potholes until six or seven leagues south of Huásabas. There it is joined by a creek that rises in the vicinity of Bacadéhuachi. The flow continues southward for about twenty leagues, narrowing because of its proximity to the mountains.

Near the ruined town of San Mateo the Mulatos River discharges its waters into the Grande. The Mulatos has its origin in the Sierra Madre Mountains in the land of Tarahumara between Maicoba and Moris, and after numerous bends on its westward course, it is joined by the Aros and other creeks. It merges into open country between Satechi and Chamada, irrigating a few corn patches which are frequently lost because of flood or drought. At this juncture the river can be forded if it is not swollen. Otherwise it is necessary to use rafts which the San Mateo natives make and handle skillfully. At the ford the river is joined by a small brook coming from the slopes of Plomosa Hill some fourteen leagues to the east. Farther south it receives a larger stream arising around Taraichi, fourteen leagues southeast. This stream irrigates the areas of Onapa, Pónida, and Sahuaripa.

The Grande then assumes a slight westward course between mountain ranges to Todos Santos where it is joined by a river variously named according to the townships it supplies. This river arises north of Cumpas and is augmented by streams from springs at Jamaica, Jécori, Oposura, and Terapa and by a rivulet from Tepache. It winds southward through canyons to Batuc, and three leagues farther it merges with the Grande which continues without any tributaries for eighteen leagues, running between mountain ranges with fording places at Soyopa, San Francisco, and San Antonio, each but a short distance from the other. All these are on the right bank. The river then makes a slight turn to the southeast, the town of Tónichi being on the left bank. Close by, the river receives water from a creek that arises in the Milpillas Mountains, twelve leagues to the east.

Five leagues farther south, the Grande has Onabas on its left, and eight leagues farther south it receives the waters of the Río Chico Stream which has its beginning at the mining settlement of Santísima Trinidad. The stream flows southwest of Nuri. It follows a westward course, irrigating the fields of Movas and the mining settlement of Río Chico. Four leagues farther west it empties into the Grande which at this point turns southwest, having Cumuripa on its right bank.

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On the same bank it receives the waters of the Tecoripa Brook that sprouts north of the town of the same name, irrigates its land and also that of the Suaqui and some of Cumuripa; then it joins the Grande. Twelve leagues southwest it reaches the Buenavista presidio, and from there the river is called Yaqui and assumes a more westerly course to water eight of the Yaqui settlements, seven being on its left bank.2

As in the case of the Nile, the Yaqui River irrigates the lands through which it runs from January to July. The Yaqui empties into the Gulf of California where now and then ships wait to transport much needed supplies to Lower California and to carry travelers to its pearl fisheries.

2.2. Of Other Rivers and Creeks

Many of the so-called rivers of this province are actually mediocre streams. While all have their courses directed toward the Gulf of California, none reaches it, and their waters disappear in the sand long before coming within sight of the coast. From east to west the first river after the Yaqui is the Matape [29 degrees latitude, 265 degrees longitude] arising a short distance north of the mission of that name. Its volume is very scant, barely irrigating an orchard and plot of ten to twelve fanegas3 of wheat and scarcely providing drinking water to the town, particularly during dry years. At Nacori, two leagues west, it is necessary to sink wells to obtain drinking water with little or none left for irrigation. The underground current of the Matape reappears at Mazatan three leagues west, flows for a stretch, disappears, reappears at Cobaichi Springs only to vanish a short distance away. It surfaces again at San Jose de los Pimas in sufficient quantity to irrigate a plot planted with three or four fanegas of wheat, and then vanishes entirely. At the village of Alamos northwest of Mátape a thin trickle arises which disappears a short distance away. Another rivulet arises twelve leagues to the northeast, runs past the deserted farms of

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Batasaqui and Topisco, and after watering some fields to the west of the latter, it also disappears.

Next is the Sonora River, originating in the mining district of Cananca. Augmented by springs around the abandoned village of Mototicachi and drainings from the Mababi Mountains, it passes Bacoachi, Chinapa, and Guepaverachi and enters the Sonora Valley. There it is joined by a creek arising from several springs near the mining settlement of Bacanuchi and follows a southern course irrigating Arizpe, the deserted real4 of Tetoachi, Sinoquipe, Motepore, Banamichi, Huepac, the mining settlement of Sonora, Aconchi, Baviacora, the Concepción puesto5 and the Núñez. All of these are on the left bank of the Sonora River which then turns west and irrigates Ures, the depopulated real of Gavilan, San Jose de Gracia, and the deserted village of San Francisco. Thirteen leagues farther west the Sonora is joined by the Opodepe River and waters the fields and vineyards of Pitic where it ends in dry years. But when the rains are excessive, it reaches Siete Cerritos and disappears in the sandy soil of Tenuage, not a drop reaching the Gulf of California.

The Opodepe is another small river and has its beginning at Saracachi [31 degrees latitude, 264 degrees longitude]. It is augmented by the marshy springs of Pueblo Viejo, at present a community of Spaniards, formerly the Dolores Mission. After receiving trickles from creeks at San Bruno and Chupi Sonora, it flows through a canyon five or six leagues long to Cucurpe then flows south to Toape. Still flowing south, it passes the real of San Jose on its right bank six

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leagues distant. Opodepe is a league beyond, and Nacameri is seven leagues still further.

The river then turns slightly to the west supplying the Antunez farm and two leagues beyond, Pópulo, formerly a Seri settlement. A league away it enters the royal presidio of San Miguel de Horcasitas6 with the pueblo of Angeles immediately after. Four leagues farther on, the Opodepe reaches the good lands of Cerro Pelón,7 and twelve leagues beyond, it joins the Sonora River.

The fourth river is the Cocóspera which has its origin in a spring near the mission of that name [32 degrees latitude, 264 degrees longitude]. It flow south and within a distance of three leagues receives the waters of a small creek arising at the depopulated Remedios settlement. It irrigates Imuris where its volume is increased by a small brook that rises at Sucurisutac, an abandoned ranch five leagues north of Imuris. Following a slightly southwesterly course, it proceeds to San Ignacio four leagues away and irrigates Santa María Magdalena two leagues farther south. It continues three leagues beyond through the deserted mining settlement of San Lorenzo and reaches Santa Ana five leagues farther on. All these settlements are on the left or eastern bank.

A short distance farther south the river makes a sharp turn to the west, and its waters disappear in the plains of Santa Rosa only to burst forth forty leagues away in the vicinity of Pitiquito8 where it joins the Tubutama River which arises from a spring in Arizona [32 degrees, 14 minutes latitude, 263 degrees longitude]. Its waters run directly south through the real of Agua Caliente where the waters from its spring augment the Tubutama which continues to Aquimuri and beyond some three leagues further south where it is joined by a brook which descends from the marshes of Busani and irrigates Saric two leagues away just before it joins the Aquimuri. About a league and a half

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before it reaches the town of Tubutama, the river receives the waters of a spring and on its southwesterly course supplies Santa Teresa, Atí, and Oquitoa, each about two leagues from the other. All are on the right bank. About two leagues farther, it passes the Altar presidio, and just before reaching Pitiquito it receives the waters of the resurgent Cocóspera. Then it irrigates the fields of Caborca. From there its meager waters waste away, disappearing near Busani some twenty-two leagues from the gulf.

The fifth river9 emerges about a league northeast of Santa María Soamca [32 degrees, 30 minutes latitude, 264 degrees longitude] and flows south to San Lazaro then turns west to San Luis and Buenavista. From there it turns northwest to Guebavi, Calabazas, and Tumacacori, finally reaching the Tubac presidio where it ordinarily ends except when the rains are abundant. Then it flows farther north, skirting the Santa Rita Mountains, to San Xavier del Bac.

2.3. The Gila and the San Pedro Rivers

The San Pedro or Sobahipuris River has its origin about two leagues southeast of Terrenate. It flows northwest and is joined in about two leagues by a creek that rises north of Terrenate presidio, proceeds through the San Pedro Valley and the pleasant Sobahipuri Valley, irrigating their fields until it merges with the Gila at 33 degrees latitude [263 degrees, 30 minutes longitude].10

The Gila, this large river arising about 36 degrees latitude and 268 degrees longitude in the southern slopes of the Mogollon Mountains in Apache land, emerges from the straits of a long canyon at Todos Santos11 and flows through the Santa Lucia Valley where it receives

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the waters from two brooks,12 one from the north and another from the south. In some places throughout its length of over one hundred leagues it turns to circumvent mountain ranges, but the westerly direction prevails. It flows through the whole Apache land, and for more than twenty leagues it irrigates the fertile Florida Valley. Forty-six leagues from its point of origin, it is joined by the San Francisco River, the source of which is in the northern slopes of the Mogollon Mountains near the granaries of the Apaches. The granaries were discovered by Spanish troops on their way to Acome during the campaign of 1737. These storage places resembled wells carved in the rocky slopes and were well stocked with grain. The San Francisco flows in a southwesterly direction between rugged mountain ranges and joins the Gila at the start of the Florida Valley, about six leagues north of the salty marshes [Ciénega Salada]. Farther west and about ten leagues to the south of the Gila at the western tip of the Florida Mountains, the range which parallels the river throughout the Florida Valley, are the marshy springs named Ojos de Agua Cenagosa. Upon leaving the Florida Valley and Apache land, the Gila breaks through the mountains and is joined by the San Pedro. Twenty leagues farther west of this junction and one league south of its left bank is the Casa Grande,13 named after Moctezuma. There is a tradition current among the Indians and the Spaniards that the Mexicas, on their long transmigration, rested there. The building is four stories high with the roof supported by cedar or tlascal14 beams. Its walls are of a very solid material, seemingly of the best mortar. It has many rooms and living compartments of sufficient capacity to lodge a traveling court. Three leagues from this house there is another Casas Grandes on the north bank of the Gila, much dismantled, and from the ruins one can surmise that this house was larger than the first one. For some leagues around these houses, wherever one digs, one finds shards of fine

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pottery of various colors, and from a large irrigating canal two leagues farther up that is still visible, one deduces that the dwellers were not at these places merely in transit. The channel could supply a large community with water and irrigate many leagues of those fruitful and beautiful plains.

About half a league from the first house on the same side of the Gila there is a lagoon that empties into a river. This lagoon, although small in size, has a depth greater than has been possible to determine by means of several ropes tied end to end.

The Pimas tell of another house of odd design and unusual construction that is to be found much farther up the river which, as drawn in the sand by the natives, is a kind of labyrinth similar to the sketch that follows: This seems more like a house of amusement than the residence of a grandee.

I have heard Father Ignacio Javier Keller, S.J., tell of other edifices, more spacious with better symmetry and finer art, which he had seen on his apostolic travels, although I do not remember where they were. He spoke of one that measures half a league in length on a straight line and nearly as much in depth. Divided into blocks, the remaining walls are three and four stories high but greatly dilapidated and collapsed in many places. It was a massive structure that resembled a castle. One corner is still standing. An irrigation canal was built in front of the building and was cleaved by many furrows and trenches through which water could drain into all streets, perhaps to clean them of filth as is done in Turin and other European cities and formerly in the city of Mexico. Doubtless Father Keller was referring to the Casas Grandes on the north bank of the Gila because those who have been there agree that the ruins are not of a single building but a large community.

The land between these houses on both banks of the Gila for a distance of ten leagues is inhabited by Pimas Altos called Gileños.

The mainland, as well as some islands within the river itself, is

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delightfully fruitful in wheat, corn, etc., and so much cotton that after the harvest, because of the apathy of the natives, more remains in the field, a fact recorded by a missionary in 1757.

Their irrigating canals, which bring the water from the river and some springs, were well constructed, the Indians having learned how to build them, no doubt, from Father Kino and other Jesuit missionaries who visited them from 1694 to 1751.

During the latter year the already converted Pimas rose in revolt, and by their bad example destroyed the well-founded hope that others could be brought into the fold. It is especially distressing, too, that the recently arrived missionaries had not applied the royal edict of December 4, 1747,15 as the viceroy of New Spain instructed them to do.

The principal settlements along the Gila were, on the south side, Tucsonimó; on the north bank, Sudacson or Encarnación, which is the residence of Javanimó, their head chief; and farther west, the Santa Teresa hamlet with its abundant spring.

Ten or twelve leagues beyond these rancherías the Gila is joined by the Asunción River which, according to Father Jacobo Sedelmayr, S.J., is formed by the confluence of the Verde, so-called because of the verdant groves of poplars along its banks, and the Salado, so salty that for some distance after the Asunción joins the Gila the water remains undrinkable.

Ten leagues farther west of this junction the much enlarged Gila curves northwest and enters the land of the Opas and Cocomaricopas then resumes its westerly course. The Indian nations of the Opas and Cocomaricopas dwell on both sides of the river for a distance of 36 leagues. The hamlet of Tucsassic16 is on the north side, while on the south side are Stucabitic, Ojia-taibues, Uparch, Tuquisán, and Sutac Sassaba, all with very rich soil.

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Near the western end of this river and a short distance from the north bank there is an abundant hot water spring17 where, according to a corporal in Father Sedelmayr's escort during the father's entry into the land of the Yumas in 1748, an Indian gave the missionary nuggets of pure silver as large as acorns, and when asked where they were found, the native pointed to a hill not far from Tumac, the last hamlet of the tribe.

From Tumac to the junction of the Colorado, a distance of forty leagues, there are no settlements along the course of the Gila. The Gila River ends where it joins the Colorado, some 250 leagues from its point of origin.

2.4. The Colorado River

The Colorado River is the largest of the known rivers of North America discovered up till now. Nothing certain is known of its place of origin, but from its grandeur, breadth and depth, capable of admitting vessels of no mean dimensions, one deduces that its source must be far. Its course being from north to south has suggested to some that its origin is in the Canadian latitudes far to the west. If this is true, it would seem likely that it begins in the lakes on the banks of which the Mosemlec nation dwells as I remember having read in Andrés González Barcia's Ensayo cronológico para historia general de la Florida18 where the author gives an account of a journey by Baron Lahontan, a Frenchman, to the Río Muerto where the Baron obtained information about New Mexico as well as the nation which he calls Mozeemlekes. Its locality, government and customs are similar to those of other civilized nations.19 His account does not differ from that of Torquemada dealing with General Vázquez Coronado's entry of 1539.20

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Forty leagues north of the junction of the Gila and the Colorado the latter receives the waters of the Río Azul, not a large stream, that arises in the Moqui province three to four days march to the east, according to the natives. The left bank of the Colorado between these confluences has fertile soil and abundant springs. Furthermore, it is inhabited by the populous Hud-Coadan nation.

Just below the Colorado-Gila junction the former curves to the northwest and divides into branches leaving a portion of the land in the middle that may have prompted some geographers, even modern ones such as Monsieur [Nicolás Bras-de-Fer], to record the existence of a good-sized island. Even Father Kino refers to it as information given him by natives although he does not say he has seen it.21

The Yuma nation lives south of the Colorado-Gila junction for a distance of twelve leagues. In this I am in complete agreement with Fathers Kino and Sedelmayr.

The Cuhana nation makes its home with comfort on the left bank of a peninsula formed by the curving of the Colorado. The Quiquimas, the most numerous nation of all, dwell where the river resumes its southward course. This nation occupies a most fertile valley on the left bank for a distance of ten to twelve leagues extending to the very mouth of the Colorado where it enters the Gulf of California.

Father Sedelmayr affirms that the Pimas of the Gila, the Opas, the Cocomaricopas, the Hud-Coadans, Yumas, Cuhanas, and Quiquimas add up to 30,000 souls, and all speak the Pima language with only slight differences in dialect.22

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Nothing definite is known of the nations living on the west bank of the Colorado, only that there are many of them, and those nations are large. Father Kino, who crossed the river23 at the urging of the natives, makes special mention of this in his diary. There the Quiquimas live, as do the Cuhanas, Coanopas, Ojiopas, etc., and they came to greet him at the residence of the Quiquima chieftain three leagues beyond the river. Father Kino describes their land as having rich soil which is well plowed, followed, sown, and planted with many beautiful trees. Furthermore, he said that the river had a width of two hundred rods at the fording place and was of immeasurable depth except at its banks at a point six to eight leagues from the gulf.

The Colorado abounds with fish of many varieties not identified by Father Kino although he tells of having been presented with so many that he and Father Manuel González,24 now dead, did not know what to do with them.

The rivers and creeks of this province abound in catfish [Bagrepanamensis] and a variety of white fish called matelote25 [Percafluviatus], savory but with so many tiny spines that it cannot be eaten without running the risk of having one of the spines wedge in one's throat.

In some streams there is also a kind of trout similar in color and markings to the trout found in Europe but not so savory.

Water turtles are not lacking, but neither the Indians nor the Spaniards eat them because they are judged ugly and wretched creatures. Some crabs and shrimp may be found, particularly in the Rio Grande south of Soyopa. Also there are many mullets. The Yaqui River is even more abundant in these and other varieties of more

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delicate fish, such as róbalos [bream or black-snook, Centropomus nigrescens which in some places is called matelote], dorados [gilt-head, Sparus aureatus or dolphin, Coriphaena hippurus], salmon, etc., that occasionally come into the rivers from the sea because they like fresh water, especially at points where there is no menace of fierce alligators or crocodiles, for these play havoc with them.


1. Originally meaning cattle ranch, estancia later meant an overnight shelter for travelers, synonymous with puesto.

2. The eight Yaqui settlements are Cócorit, Bacum, Torim, Vicam, Potam, Rahum, Güíribis, and Belem.

3. A measure equal to 1.6 bushels.

4. This is Tercachi on Nentvig's map. Real as used here stands for real deminas, which means royal mining settlement, signifying that a small garrison of royal troops was stationed there for the protection of the site, not that it was the property of the Crown. Ecclesiastically all reales de minas were administered by diocesan ministers. Occasionally, and by request of the priest, members of the Jesuit order performed the rites, turning over the revenues or tithes to the diocesan minister. About 1664 the twenty-fifth vice-roy of New Spain, Antonio Alvaro Sebastian de Toledo, Marquis of Mancera, decreed that reales de minas must be administered by the regular or secular priests. This meant that Jesuits in Sonora could not attend to them except by request as stated above.

5. Puesto or estancia is usually a farm that served as an overnight shelter for travelers.

6. Having San Miguel as patron saint, the presidio was named in honor of Viceroy Juan Francisco Güemes y Horcasitas. The presidio was founded and named by Visitor Judge with Executive Powers Don Jose Rafael Rodríguez Gallardo in 1749.

7. This is Cuervo on Nentvig's map.

8. This is Pitic on Nentvig's map.

9. The Santa Cruz River, not named in the manuscript or shown on the map.

10. Nentvig's map shows a tributary originating at the Sauz Springs. The tributary is not mentioned in the manuscript.

11. This is not shown on Nentvig's map.

12. The two brooks are the Ojo de los Alamos and the Aguaje de Santa Lucía.

13. This is plural on Nentvig's map.

14. Tlascal is the Aztec word for white cedar.

15. The royal edict of December 4, 1747, issued by Ferdinand VI, reiterated the edict of November 13, 1744, in which more adequate financial support for the missions and larger stipends for the missionaries were granted (cited in Bancroft's North Mexican States, p. 465, and Dunne's Black Robes in Lower California, pp. 316, 488). However, this was never put into effect in the northwest.

16. This is Tucrapit on Nentvig's map.

17. Ojo de Agua Caliente.

18. Madrid, 1723.

19. Baron Lahontan was the king's lieutenant in Newfoundland. In 1690 he made a trip west of the Mississippi and sailed up a river that may have been the Missouri.

20. Monarquía Indiana, I, book v, chapter xl, pp. 678–81.

21. Father Kino did see Presentación Island. A letter from Father Kino to Father Leal dated April 8, 1702, and quoted by Bolton in his Kino's Historical Memoir …, I, p. 350, states: “Also we learned and saw that the very large volumed Colorado River, a few leagues below the Río Grande or Hila, divided again into very large branches and with them makes a great island more than fifty leagues around with very fertile lands and very good plains.”

22. Apparently both Nentvig and Sedelmayr are mistaken here. Father Kino, in Las Misiones, p. 106, writes of visiting the Ranchería Grande on the Colorado River on February 22–23, 1699, and preaching to the three hundred inhabitants in Pima dialect as well as in the Yuma or Cocomaricopa tongue. Mange in Luz de tierra incógnita, p. 264, states that the Pimas and Yumas speak different languages. Corroborating this, Spicer in Cycles of Conquest, p. 263, classifies the Pima and Yuma dialects as two different tribal languages.

23. November 21, 1701.

24. Father Manuel Gonzalez, S.J., superior at Oposura and Cumpas, became ill on the trip along the Colorado and succumbed at Tubutama shortly after April 6, 1702. In January, 1712, his remains were removed and reinterred under the main altar at the San Francisco Javier chapel [Magdalena] by the side of Kino, his friend and companion.

25. This fresh water fish may be the dardo or raño which Velázquez de la Cadena in his dictionary describes as full of spines. In some areas, in Cuchuvérachi for example (see note 41 in chapter ix), matelote is the regional name for róbalo.

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