3. Mountains, Climate, and Fertility of the Soil
Sonora is mountainous, rugged, and uncultivated except for some small valleys, most of which are no more than glens measuring here and there from half a league to one or more in width. These valleys in nearly all instances extend from north to south, paralleling the mountain ranges that form them, as do the brooks or rivulets that irrigate them as described in the preceding chapter.
There are six mountain ranges extending from north to south. If a line were drawn from Nácori Chico on the east [30 degrees, 40 minutes latitude, 267 degrees, 20 minutes longitude] to San Miguel de Horcasitas on the west [30 degrees latitude, 263 degrees, 30 minutes longitude], all six ranges would cross it. As they approach the coast their height and mass decrease except in a few places, forming an imaginary stairway starting at the eastern boundary—the Sierra Madre Occidental—and ending at the western boundary—the Gulf of California.
The most prominent peaks along the coast of the Gulf of California are the Cerro Prieto [28 degrees, 10 minutes latitude, 263 degrees, 20 minutes longitude] and Picú [in the Carrizal Range at 30 degrees latitude, 261 degrees longitude], Las Espuelas and Bacoachi el Grande [30 degrees, 5 minutes latitude, 272 degrees, 20 minutes longitude], all in Seri land. The Santa Clara volcano—inactive—and some others are in the Pimería Alta.1
The first range of mountains is the Nácori. Between the village of that name and Bacadéhuachi it forms a very limited dale which for want of irrigation is used only for seasonal planting. From this the Opatas of Nácori Chico and the Jovas of Mochopa eke out an existence.
The second range is that of Bacadéhuachi which, with six or seven leagues of rugged slopes and precipices, forms with the preceding range the little valley of Bacadé huachi, three to four leagues long with a few bits of watered land and a small flour mill half a league from Bacadéhuachi powered by the small brook of the same name.
The third range unites with the second to enclose the Huáasabas Valley with the Río Grande flowing through. This vale, though narrow, is fifty leagues in length extending from Batepito on the north to five leagues below Huásabas with no towns in between except Oputo, its dependent mission.2 Because the population of this area is small and the Apache harassment great, one-tenth of the food-producing lands which the valley has to offer cannot be cultivated. These ranges extend on the north far into the region of the Apaches, and it is said by those who have been there that they reach the Chiguicagui Mountains3 [34 degrees, 30 minutes latitude, 264 degrees longitude] and beyond to the Florida Range that skirts the Gila and reaches the San Pedro River. All that area is where the wild, reckless, and uncontrolled activities of the enemy, the Apaches, take place. The Florida Range and the fourth range form the Oposura Valley,4 which is not so narrow as the ones described, affords much more comfort, allowing its inhabitants to breathe and enjoy more air and sunlight. While limited in length, it offers many bountiful fields to its tillers so that this valley alone, so well watered by a constantly running stream,
The fourth range is less rugged and of lower height than the preceding ones. It forms a valley thirty leagues long and less than half a league wide which, along with another valley formed by a range, the fifth, rising on its west flank, has three missions,5 eight Indian villages,6 four active reales de minas,7 two small settlements of Spaniards,8 and an abandoned real.9 These two valleys are more thickly populated, and their planted fields outnumber those of the Oposura Valley.
The sixth range begins in the Pimería Alta, descends toward the south to Nacameri, where it is cut by the brook of that valley, and continues to San José de Gracia, Santa Rosalía, etc. Some of its ridges reach the mountain of Las Animas and almost join hands with the famous Cerro Prieto, running down its slopes to Guaymas near the Yaqui River. There are other ranges and hills farther to the west, but as they are much smaller than those described and the plains much larger, I find it advisable not to detail them. A long description would only exhaust the patience of the reader.
The upper and lower lands of the Pimas, as well as a portion of the land of the Eudebes, are not guarded by so many rugged mountains as are those of the Opatas, most of the Eudebes, and Jovas, though they10 of corn, 500 fanegas had been harvested.
Although they reward well the labor of the worker, the returns in the rest of the province are not so great, rendering 25 to 50 fanegas from one of wheat and yielding 100 to 300 fanegas of corn from one fanega of seed.
Similarly, the lands of the Opatas and the Pimas give abundant returns of lentil beans and other legumes, but garbanzos, vetches,11 peas, etc., do not come up to expectations except in a few areas. Beans, in some soils as those of Batuc, Mátape and Tecoripa, after two or three plantings, degenerate into a type that the natives call tépari.12 It is of inferior quality, lesser in nourishment and smaller in size. The same thing happens with white cabbage. After two or three plantings, especially in warmer areas, it becomes a less desirable vegetable.13 In colder climates, as in Bacerac, Cuquiárachi, Arizpe, and Pimería Alta, it retains its original quality longer.
Sugarcane grows in most of the province, more abundantly in the hotter sections. Syrup is extracted from it and panocha14 is made.
Sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, radishes, lettuce, and whatever else grows in truck gardens might be sown and abundant yields obtained were it not for the scarcity of workers, for neither Indians nor whites are willing to apply themselves to such a task.
Millet, called sagui in Opata, is sown in small quantities, and pinole15 is made from its seeds. The Jovas have another variety they call coguet, which is ex Mexicani tzoalli.16 It has seeds which are similar to those of quelites17 but yellow in color. The Jovas first gather the leaves, then pick the seeds, which are prepared in the following manner: Six bushels of seed, or as much as desired, are placed in a palm-leaf basket and taken to the river where they are immersed in the running water. The grain is then beaten, usually by stomping with one foot, until the grain bursts and makes a frothy mixture as it combines with the water. The grain is then roasted and ground. The resulting flour when mixed with cold water makes a refreshing drink.
All the fruit trees of Spain could be grown here, particularly peaches, apricots, figs, pomegranates, and quinces. Apples, pears, and Castilian nuts do better in the colder regions. Bananas grow well in some places while sweet or sour oranges, lemons, and even citron do well in the whole province.
With the coming of the rainy season, called quipatas, during January and February the cold at night is severe. The peaks of the Sierras remain covered with snow while on the plains at lower elevations it melts as soon as it falls except in Bacerac, Fronteras, Cuquiárachi, Terrenate, and Santa María Soamca. Father Ignacio Javier Keller, founder and missionary of Soamca for over 30 years, used to say that on St. John's Day18 summer sets in at 11 o'clock before noon and lasts until three in the afternoon of the same day. His long stay at Soamca makes his statement authoritative.
Epidemics—Sonora does not have regional diseases. Smallpox, usually fatal, fortunately strikes infrequently. Sonora's climate in general is healthful, not only for Creoles19 but for natives as well. It is not unusual to find individuals from faraway countries such as Germany and Spain, Gachupines,20 or people from the central plateau of New Spain, Mexicans21 and Poblanos22 of 68, 77, or more years of age. Of the native-born Sonorans, there are several close to 100 years of age. The most deadly misfortune, which will be taken up later, has been the arrow of the Seri and the lance of the Apache, scourges which have existed for quite some time as can be proven by the burial records.23 for this purpose might be added before boiling.
There is an ailment, almost regional, particularly among the Pimas, presumably affecting those from both the upper and lower regions, which they call saguaidodo, or yellow vomit,24 that causes several deaths each year. For the treatment of the disease Father José Och25 devised two remedies so efficacious that, as his reverence assured me, no one who took one or the other perished. On the contrary, all got well in two or three days.
The first treatment26 consists of burning a handful of dry sage [estafiate], mixing the ashes in atole27 and drinking it. The sage used is called cupiso28 in Opata and not the other specie they call túparo29 which has no known virtue except that of driving away bedbugs. The herb is spread under the mattress if one can stand the offensive odor.30
Concerning the nations living along the Gila and Colorado rivers, the most convincing proof of the healthful qualities of the climate is found in the great numbers of people in the villages and their robust natures. According to accounts of priests who have visited them for the last sixty years, neither has decreased. The only decline noted is in their desire to become Christians. It is regrettable that for lack of missionaries so many thousands of souls have been and are being lost.
Mexico City is well aware that Sonora does not lack the capacity to raise all breeds of stock, as during peaceful epochs, large consignments were sent there from Mátape. The fame of our mules was well known there, although at present even in this province there is a shortage of cattle which includes cows, oxen, mules, and horses. The shortage is so acute that residents do not have enough beef to slaughter or saddle animals to ride in quest of sustenance for their families. The shortage should not be attributed to the climate because there is none better suited for breeding purposes, but to the prowling of the Apaches and the Seris. One needs only to look at the nearly 300 abandoned ranches and estancias that have lost more than 4,000 mules, mares, and horses in the last seven years to realize this is true. Not many years ago, a former governor of New Mexico drove a considerable number of mules of all brands32 without the appropriate markings through Chihuahua. The stolen animals, even if found, are never returned to Sonora.
The truth is that many have been stripped of their animals by the enemy, and it is necessary for them, if they are desirous to start anew, to obtain stock from outside the province. The little that remained33
Asses thrive and multiply in Sonora in spite of the frequent and repeated thefts by the Apaches, and because these animals maintain themselves on little and can find food in the refuse heaps of the settlements, those living in the province utilize them as the principal beasts of burden.
Sheep do not reproduce so well as cattle. One of the reasons for this, in my opinion, lies in the density and thorniness of the brambles in some places, for in more open terrain the sheep increase in number at a better rate. Another reason could be that the breeders never separate the rams from the ewes, and through the seasons, hot or cold, they mate twice yearly. Because of the strain of being pregnant and nursing at the same time, the ewes age rapidly, grow lean, wander off, and die early. For the same reason, not half or even a fourth of the young survive. Finally, because of the fear of enemy raids, the sheepfolds are kept within the village. If they were in suitable locations, no province could be better provided with sheep than Sonora.
The quadruped called lion [cougar or mountain lion] here—naidoguat in Opata—is not the king of beasts he is in other countries. Almost as large as a yearling calf, this animal is so passive and cowardly that it does not fight when cornered but whines and cries instead. It is true that because of its size and strength it does damage and kills domestic animals, but it has neither the mane, color, nor claws of the real lion. Some call it leopard, also a misnomer.
Wolf in Opata is teona; coyote is go, and fox is cao. There seems to be a third species which is unnamed, a mixture of dog, wolf, and fox. Wolves attack the larger cattle, while coyotes and foxes prey on sheep and poultry.
The raccoon [Nasua nasica], batepi in Opata, does much damage, gathering ears of corn all night long and carrying them off to its burrow. A similar animal is the badger [Procyon lotor], churei in Opata, which does the same thing.
There are also deer, which the Opatas call massot, a kind of stag but only half the size. There is a larger animal of the same species we call bura,34 and the Opatas call xua. These roam the plains of both Pimerías and the Seri country. The males grow antlers, those of the massot being much smaller than those of the bura. In the entrails of the deer, especially those of Seri land, one finds bezoar stones,35 thought to be a coagulum caused by the great thirst they suffer on account of the scarcity of water. The bura has them also, but they are not held in such high esteem. The antlers when dried, broken into pieces, powdered or scraped, and applied to the skin act as an antidote for the bites of poisonous reptiles. [Broken into pieces, the antlers resembled rocks and were known as piedra de la ponzoña, poison stone, in Sonora.]
There are many wild pigs, called mutza in Opata, in the mountains, not so large as the European boar but as black and with less dense bristling. In all respects these are similar to the domestic hog except that the navel is up in the loin.36 In order to use its meat, hunters must carry a reed or hollow cane to insert in the navel the
Many wild sheep [Cameros cimarrones], teteso in Opata, are found in the Pimería Alta; there are fewer in the rest of the province. These wild sheep are larger with longer and bulkier horns by far than the tame ones.
Wild goats,37 called cubida by the Opatas, roam in herds in open country, and when not grazing they move one behind the other in single file regardless of their number, making a path so narrow that it is hardly wide enough for a man's foot.
Sonora has an abundance of hares, called paro in Opata, so many that a garbanzo field sown in October is devastated by winter. Unless they are continually driven off, the whole crop is lost. The way of hunting them or scaring them off is for the natives to form a line beyond the planted patch, the natives standing as close together as their numbers will allow. Then they advance toward the village making as much noise as possible and herding the hares out of the field. Often they are chased into the huts in the village. It is not a bad amusement.
Squirrels, ardillas or arditas, hore in Opata, are so numerous that they often devastate some crops while the crops are still young and tender, such as garbanzos, vetches and the like, if these crops are located near the area where they have their burrows. There are also flying squirrels, called Sciurus volucella in Latin and tusas in Opata. They live in pine trees in the mountains.
There are three small animals similar in appearance to the squirrel with black and white markings and a bushy tail. They are called [skunks in English], zorillos in Spanish and hupas in Opata [zoologically they are Mustelidos of the genus Mephitis americana]. The animal is usually black with white stripes. Another type is called vacahupa in
There is no lack of small, fierce, red ants, arit in Opata. Their bite hurts more than the sting of the scorpion, tomevego in Opata, which is not deadly in Sonora although a few people have gotten lockjaw from its sting. If this occurs, it can be cured easily by taking the gum jua, with which we will deal later.
Black ants are plentiful in all the province and do much damage to gardens, for they cut the buds and tender sprouts as soon as they appear and carry them off to their anthills. The Opatas call them mocho, and the Spaniards call them mochomos.38
Sonora has three types of vipers: The rattlesnake [Crotalus atrox], co in Opata, the bite of which is fatal to man or beast unless it can be attended to immediately; the black-tailed snake [Crotalus molossus], sadaco in Opata; and the teveco [Bothrops atrox].39 This last viper is feared more than the others because it strikes without warning when one is not even aware of its nearness.
The most common and efficacious remedy consists of securing the head of the snake between two sticks, keeping the head in such a position that the snake cannot bite. Then the tail is held firmly and stretched out so that the snake cannot coil. The victim of the snakebite then bites the snake. At this point something truly remarkable happens. The patient does not swell, but the snake does, monstrously so, until it bursts.
Other treatments consist of burning the bitten spot with a hot iron or piercing it with a knife and applying powdered, parched antler. However, when none of these remedies work, a few swallows of human excrement dissolved in water are taken by the injured one whose love of life makes this imperative. Father José Och of the Society tells me of having experimented successfully with ginger. It is first chewed and mixed with saliva then applied to the wound.
There is a four-footed kind of lizard called escorpión [Gila Monster, Heloderma suspectum], sacara in Opata, which is very poisonous and has a stumpy tail and markings of various colors. It is claimed that there is no other cure for its bite than to cut away the affected part immediately. It runs fast after its prey and seems to draw its victim to it with its deadly breath, swallowing it whole as does the buyo [boa constrictor], according to Father Gumilla. Someone once told me he had seen an escorpión with half a rabbit in its mouth, having already swallowed the other half.
The Opatas speak of a large, bulky, dark-colored snake called coro [black king snake, Lampropeltis nigritus] which is harmless to humans but draws small animals and even deer with its breath and swallows them whole. They are excellent rat hunters; therefore the natives use them instead of cats.
Another snake, called macapsino40 by the Opatas, is frequently found in roof tops. It is red and black and resembles the coral snake. They claim it is venomous. Also it is said that if it falls from any height it breaks into pieces.
The whip snake [Masticophis flagelum], called setagui by the Opatas, is a nonpoisonous reptile. However, it lashes with its tail, thus making the bare-legged Indian leap briskly when he accidentally treads upon one.
There is a large black spider with a few yellowish hairs on its back: the tarantula [Lycosa or Mygale tarantula], mariguasoco in Opata. Its sting is said to be fatal. Yet as many as there are here, I have not known of anyone who has died from its venom, although a soldier from the Fronteras presidio assured me that the steed he was riding, having stepped upon one, stopped suddenly. Upon looking for the cause, he found the trampled tarantula dead and his horse's hoof fallen off.
We have here a poisonous spider, the sting of which is deadly to children. It is called ubari in Spanish, guitoc in Opata [probably the black widow, Lactrodectus mactans]. The treatment for its sting consists of slicing the area, making it bleed, and applying poison stones41 to draw the venom out, although the pain and itching persist. I was stung, and upon applying a stone, it jumped and broke in two.
Bedbugs [Cimex lectolaria] are also found here and are called chinches de Compostela in Spanish. They are small, wingless, nocturnal parasites that sting. And their sting causes more suffering than does the bite of a scorpion because it is followed by a tormenting distress throughout the whole body. The pain is relieved by drinking Sonora gum42 dissolved in warm water, but the burning sensation persists for many hours.
A larger black beetle, called pinacate [stink bug], teura in Opata, is found here. Its poisonous sting causes great pain, and what is worse, one cannot harm it or drive it away without great discomfort to one's sense of smell, for the beetle pollutes the atmosphere with its stench.
Let us enjoy the sweet songs and behold the harmonious varieties of the colorful plumage of the countless birds that fly through this air. Foremost, let us consider the double-headed eagle, scipipiraigue in Opata, which was seen in these lands long ago, according to tradition.43 There are two other kinds of eagles, both with single heads. One is called pague by the Opatas, and the other is called pichuchu.
There are three types of owls, [classified under the generic term of] tecolote:44 one is called muhu45 by the Opatas; another, the lechuza [Strix passerina], they call nacamu, and the third they call teramut.
Moreover, there is a bird called guegue [Phainopepla nitus] in Opata, guerrero in Spanish. It has a song which is taken as an omen of war. Because of its ominous portent, it is also known as sumagua [war bird or warrior].
More than a few domestic chickens are raised in Sonora, and in some sections there are ducks, turkeys, red-billed pigeons [Columba flavirostris], called cui in Opata; mourning doves [Zenaidura macroura], tórtolas in Spanish and ococoi in Opata; and mockingbirds, zenzontle in Spanish and tzepa in Opata, the bird with a hundred voices. There is also an abundance of quail of various kinds, some with tufts. There is one kind called coitzi, gambel or desert quail [Lophortix gambelli]. There is another known as cocco that has a larger tuft. [This is probably the Douglas quail, Lophortix douglasii.]
Furthermore, wild turkeys [Meleagris gallopava] still exist in the extreme northeastern portion of Sonora and are called chiqui in Opata. There are also cranes, gray and white geese with black feathers in the wings, herons, ducks, and many other kinds of fowl, so many that it would require a whole lifetime to learn their names.
One I certainly do not wish to omit is the world's tiniest bird, the hummingbird, chuparosa in Spanish and semu in Opata [rose-sucker]. At first glance it appears to be a butterfly, but when one looks closely, one sees that it is a perfectly formed bird in full plumage. At one time it was believed that this bird bore its young expultrix as do humans. But now we know that it builds a nest, lays eggs, and hatches them as do all birds.
1. These are not on Nentvig's map. They are located southwest of Sonoitac, ca. 32 degrees, 5 minutes latitude, 261 degrees, 5 minutes longitude.
2. Nori and San Juan del Rio are not mentioned although they are in this area.
3. In Opata, Chiguicagui means mountain of the guajolotes, or wild turkeys. It is spelled Chiguicagui on Nentvig's map, but the most commonly accepted spelling is Chiricahua. Other variants include Chihuicagui and Chiricahui.
4. Actually, the valley is formed with just the northern portion of the fourth range joining the third one from Térapa to Cumpas.
5. Cumpas, Oposura, and Térapa.
6. Teonadepa, Tamayoa, Técora, Toi-Serobabi, Tonibabi, Pivipa, Tepache, and Badéhuachi.
7. Three of the reales were Todos Santos, Carrizal, and Carrizal de Abajo. The fourth one might have been either Basura or El Mortero.
8. La Junta and El Salto.
9. San Juan Bautista.
10. A dry measure equal to half a bushel.
11. Alberjas or chícharos. Pisum sativum, vetches.
12. Tépari or técari is mentioned in Bolton's Anza's California Expedition, 4, p. 99; also in Velarde's “Relación,” p. 128.
13. Nentvig makes no distinction between repollo, interpreted here as white cabbage, and col, presumably colored cabbage.
14. Panochas are conical or rectangular dark-colored cakes made of the unrefined syrup.
15. A nutritious beverage made of finely ground parched grain mixed with water or milk and sometimes sweetened.
16. A detailed description of this is found in Trens' Mexico de antaño, page 108.
17. Quelites is a familiar weed [Chenopodium album or Amaranthus powelli] commonly known as pigweed or pot greens. It is eaten by the people of Sonora either cooked or raw in salads. L.S.M. Curtin in Healing Herbs, page 168, claims that the Moors had this vegetable under the name qligl, and that it is similar to the Aztec quilitl.
18. June 24th.
19. Full-blooded Spaniards born on the American Continent.
20. Derisive nickname for Spaniards.
21. People from Mexico City.
22. People from Puebla.
23. Joseph Gumilla, S.J., author of Orinoco ilustrado.
24. Very likely yellow fever.
25. Father Och, S.J., a native of Franconia, Würzburg, Germany, was stationed in Sonora from 1756 to 1765. In his reports he mentions and describes the sickness mentioned here and also others not touched upon by Father Nentvig, such as measles, tuberculosis, and lues venerea. Cf. Missionary in Sonora, Treutlein's translation, 1965.
26. The second treatment, not given in the Mexican manuscripts, consisted of dried, ground orange peeling dissolved in atole. Ibid., page 171.
27. A gruel made of boiled maize ground to a pulp and dissolved in water or milk.
28. Salvus, a plant of the mint family.
30. The good father may have confused the words. Túparo is considered to be Artemisia absinthius, known as a tonic and vermifuge; the odoriferous one is probably any one of the various mugwort Artemisiai.
31. In Spanish, cattle (ganado) is a generic word applicable to all animals and subdivided into large (mayor), such as bovines, horses, mules and donkeys, and small (menor), such as sheep, goats, and hogs.
32. This is Father Nentvig's first reference to the branding of cattle. It was customary for the seller to brand the animal a second time. Then the new owner would place his brand below this. The double-brand showed that the animal had been legally sold, and the brand below signified the new owner.
33. Residents along the banks of the Babaroco River on the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Occidental, county of Chínipas, state of Chihuahua.
34. Mule deer.
35. Acosta in his Historia natural y moral de las indias, book IV, chapter 42, discusses bezoar stones and their use among the aborigines.
36. In chapter 38 of Historia …, Acosta reports that this animal has the anatomical deviation cited by Nentvig. Oviedo, in De la natural historia de indias, chapter xix, agrees. However, Clavijero in his Historia antigua de México, II, p. 204, explains that the odoriferous substance was secreted by a gland located in the middle of the back which was erroneously taken to be the navel. These animals are musk-hogs and were called peccari by the Opatas.
37. In Spanish, berrendos. They have a chestnut colored body and a white belly. Pfefferkorn's Description of Sonora refers to them as roe deer, which is also correct.
38. The ant called mochomo in Spanish is actually dark red.
39. This is probably the vívora sorda referred to by Pfefferkorn in Description …, p. 126, as “the silent snake.”
40. This might be the glass snake, Ophisaurus ventralis, except that the Ophisaurus ventralis is harmless.
41. Bezoar stones, especially from the entrails of a deer as mentioned in section five, were thought to have great curative powers. Nentvig uses the term piedra de la ponzoña when he refers to powdered antlers. The words mean stone of poison.
42. Sonora gum, gomilla de Sonora, Coursalia glandulosa, is a transparent, reddish-yellow resin exuded by a bush called samota, Heliocarpus attenuatos or Pouzolia nivea. The bush is indigenous to southwest Sonora, and the exudate is the result of the action of the insect Coccus lacca.
43. A specimen was sent to King Philip V in 1723, but one must assume it was a biological abnormality rather than a bird of a separate specie.
44. This is from the Aztec tecolotl.
45. The name is probably derived from the sound the bird makes. This is probably true of many of the other Opata names for birds as well.