Citizen Staff Writer
O’odham’s 1751 revolt still sparks controversy
By PAUL L. ALLEN
Citizen Staff Writer
It was a bloody day in Arivaca 250 years ago today, when a group of O’odham men attacked the Spanish settlement there and killed 13 people.
The Nov. 21, 1751, attack snuffed out the lives of nine adults and four children and ended the trust the Spanish had in the support of their O’odham neighbors.
It was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger campaign, the so-called Piman Revolt, fueled by personal vendettas, a religious-political tug of war and general resentment among the O’odham about the invasion by Spanish settlers of the Altar Valley.
The revolt is viewed in decidedly different fashion today, described as a “terrorist attack” by a Jesuit priest and as an attempt to “break out of ‘concentration camps’ – missions,” by a Tohono O’odham historian.
Coordinated attacks were launched in many Sonoran communities from Nov. 20 to 22, including Caborca, Oquitoa mines, Atil, Agua Caliente, Baboquivari, Busanic, Saric, Tubutama, Sopori and Sonoyta, claiming the lives of nearly 100 Spaniards, mestizos and American Indian allies.
The subsequent counter-attack a month and a half later by Spanish troops sent from San Ignacio, Son., cost the lives of 43 O’odham, including that of the son of the principal leader of the attacks, Luis Oacpicagigua of Saric.
Bernard L. Fontana, a retired University of Arizona field historian, wrote of the uprising in the introduction to his book, “Before Rebellion: Letters and Reports of Jacobo Sedelmayr, S.J.”
He indicated general discontent among the O’odham had grown during 64 years of Jesuit and Spanish presence that had eroded native social, political and religious practices, altered settlement patterns, brought devastating diseases such as smallpox and measles, and left the O’odham at the bottom of the social order.
Of specific concern, he added, were restraints on their traditional dances, festivals and curing practices, and discouragement of their centuries-old tradition of polygamy.
They also were unhappy about reports of alleged mistreatment at the hands of missionaries and acquisition of choice farmlands by the missions.
And some of the reasons were strictly personal, according to Don Garate, a ranger at Tumacacori National Historical Park. He is a historian and scholar of the Spanish Colonial period.
Garate said Oacpicagigua and about 100 of his followers a year earlier had aided Sonoran Gov. Diego Ortiz Parrilla in a campaign against the Seris on Tiburon Island – a service that Ortiz Parilla repaid by appointing Oacpicagigua captain-general of the Northern O’odham.
The Jesuits objected to Oacpicagigua’s appointment, and he and Father Ignacio Keller met at the mission of Soamca a week or two before the attacks – during which time the O’odham leader said he was insulted by the priest.
Charles W. Polzer, a Jesuit priest and retired curator of ethnohistory at Arizona State Museum, described the situation as a “terrorist attack,” calling those involved “a typical disgruntled group of traditionalists,” and noted that “quite a number of those killed were Indians – all Christians.”
Vivian Juan Saunders, a Tohono O’odham tribal member and tribal history faculty member at Tohono O’odham Community College at Sells, disagrees with Polzer’s assessment, countering that tribal oral tradition indicates there was justification for the attacks.
“If it wasn’t for Father (Eusebio Francisco) Kino and his compassion and the way he brought Christianity to the O’odham, we would not have embraced it and accepted it as we have today.
“There was only one Kino, and many of the others mistreated the natives, the O’odham. After years of being forced to live in what we call concentration camps – known as ‘missions’ – the natives, in my opinion, couldn’t take any more of that mistreatment and revolted.”
She said there was physical mistreatment. “Many were used as slaves to work the mines, and they were mistreated even at the missions.
“If they didn’t convert, give up their customs and traditions, they were physically punished.
“Some managed to escape and made attempts to run away from the missions. If they were captured, they were brought back and beaten – this is what happens if you attempt to flee. You don’t hear that side of the story.”
Polzer speculated that the bodies of the Arivaca victims were taken to a mission, probably Guevavi, near Nogales, for “a proper Christian burial,” but Garate doubts that.
“By the time the troops got there, they would have been deteriorated. They were there quite a while. I’m sure they were buried at Arivaca, but I couldn’t tell you where.”
Among the slain were Father Tomas Tello at Caborca on Nov. 20 and Father Heinrich Ruhen at San Marcelo de Sonoyta on Nov. 22.
Father Sedelmayr, at Tubutama, got wind of the impending attack and informed Father Juan Nentvig at Saric. Nentvig went to Tubutama, and the two were besieged for three days before finally retreating by cover of night and making their way to Magdalena. The attack had claimed four lives.
Father Francisco Paver at San Xavier del Bac also was warned of the attack and retreated to the south.
Buildings were ransacked and torched after all the attacks.
The first troops to arrive at Arivaca, commanded by 2nd Lts. Joseph Fontes and Antonio Olguin, found Guevavi plundered, Sopori abandoned and Arivaca in ruins. They sent for reinforcements.
A second force, under command of Lt. Bernardo de Urrea and 2nd Lt. Joseph Ignacio de Salazar, arrived on Jan. 2, 1752.
The Spanish troops expected the O’odham to attack and settled in to wait.
Urrea had orders to try to restore peace and sent three native ambassadors to an O’odham stronghold in the vicinity of Baboquivari.
Two were taken prisoner and the third killed. One of the two survivors managed to escape and returned to Arivaca to warn of an impending attack.
That attack came on the morning of Jan. 5, 1752.
Though Spanish records, written some time later, indicate there may have been as many as 2,000 O’odham involved, Garate said the actual number likely is about a tenth that number. Saunders agreed that 2,000 was an unrealistic figure.
After a brief battle with the 86 Spanish soldiers, 43 O’odham – including Oacpicagigua’s son – were killed, while the Spanish had only two injured.
The deaths demoralized the attackers, and they retreated, first to the Baboquivari area and later into the Santa Catalina Mountains.
The Spanish troops, considering their duty accomplished, returned to the presidio at San Ignacio.
The Jesuits later agreed to transfer Keller, Sedelmayr and Father Joseph Garrucho out of Pimeria Alta (upper land of the Pimans), after which Oacpicagigua turned himself in at Tubac, again swearing obedience to God and the king of Spain.
He was not punished, the Jesuits were exonerated of blame by the viceroy, and O’odham who had retreated to the mountains gradually returned to their villages.
Arivaca, however, was destined to remain abandoned for several decades, partly because of malaria that plagued the area and because of recurring Apache raids.
Though there were two subsequent small uprisings at San Xavier del Bac in 1756 and 1757, no major organized revolt occurred thereafter.
About the only lasting result of the Piman Revolt was the establishment of a military presidio at Tubac in late 1752, with 50 men stationed there.
Descendants of some of those soldiers still live in the Santa Cruz Valley.
ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by RANDY HARRIS/Tucson Citizen