A Brief History of the Yaqui and their Land
By Linda
Zoontjens and Yaomi Glenlivet,


The recorded history of the Yaqui people consists of their struggle for land throughout their contact with colonists eager to exploit the rich fertile valley which bordered the Yaqui River, their homeland. This struggle was marked by several bloody conflicts with the military of Spain then later the regional authorities of Sonora and the federal authority of the Republic of Mexico. Most of the Yaqui rebel leaders had differing experiences with the world outside their own, which may have led to their early successes, but in the long run, each of their rebellions failed. These failures did not extinguish the desire to retain their lands, however and much of their struggle became long, drawn-out affairs, especially during the Porfiriato. Until the deportations to the Yucatán hennequen plantations, guerilla warfare managed to prevent the successful exploitation of their land. It was this "final solution" which broke the back of the Yaqui rebellion and was also one of the contributing factors which instigated the overthrow of the Porfirian dictator ship.

The Yaquis Before The Porfiriato (A Brief History)

The geography of the land belonging to the Yaqui people contributed to their sense of independence. The Yaqui River cut through the Sonoran desert and the people lived along its banks, surviving mostly on subsistence agriculture which depended on annual floods which came in Spring. Their other needs for food were met from foraging and hunting in the desert itself. This isolation and lifestyle is what may have made them instigate overtures towards Jesuit priests who had set up successful developments along the Sinaloa River to the south.

Relationship Between Jesuits and Yaquis (1617-1767)

An understanding of the significance of the Yaqui rebellions during the Porfiriato can best be described as an ongoing struggle for autonomy and land rights which began as a result of the contact of the Yaqui and Jesuit missionaries in 1617. After at least three unsuccessful military attempts to bring the Yaquis under Spanish domination, a mutually agreed upon working relationship was instigated by the Yaqui with the missionaries. Religious conversion (with indigenous adaptations) came rapidly with a development program geared towards consolidating the population in eight small towns surrounding churches.

Peace was maintained for approximately 125 years with about 1 Jesuit priest assigned to approximately 4,000 Yaquis. Secular organizations were set up by the Spanish military who initially appointed governors who were later elected by the Yaqui people. An economic program developed with the advent of agricultural products such as wheat, oxen and other domestic animals. Increased surplus production resulted with a systematic schedule of a six-day work week. During the last half of the 17th century, so much surplus was available that storehouses needed to be built. These surpluses were used by the missionaries to extend their activities northward into the California and Pima missions. Women began to use the European vertical loom instead of their traditional horizontal loom and would work in the Spanish towns to the east to obtain cash for dress goods. Men also worked in these towns in order to buy horses.

Calixto, Muni and The Yaqui Revolt of 1740

The peace established by the cooperative efforts of some Jesuit priests and the Yaquis began to disintegrate in the 1730s. In 1733, a governor was appointed to Northwest New Spain and announced he would take full political control of all Spaniards, mestizos and Indians whether they were in missions or other types of communities. By this time, all surplus agricultural products were disposed entirely by the missionaries and fields claimed by the Yaquis were regularly appropriated for church use. The Yaquis employed on those lands were not being paid consistently. The right of the labor levy of mine owners to obtain laborers in Indian communities was also thwarted by the Jesuits. The new governor felt that the lack of tribute to the king by the missionaries as well as their rigging of local elections was not in the best interest of the Spanish Empire. Jesuit leaders contested the new policies, insisting that Yaqui sorcerers would influence free elections and that the governor’s proposal for common farmlands was unnecessary because Indians had access to church land produce.

Conflicts between secular and church authorities gave an impetus for a sudden growth in the political process among Yaquis. An articulate leader emerged known as El Muni who had experiences with the Spanish military; his collaborator was known as Bernab? They took the Yaquis?grievances to local civil authorities. This undermined Jesuit authority and laid the groundwork for secularization. This was one of the first illustrations where the Yaquis took advantage of the conflicts of two opposing sides to protect their own interests.

The response of the Jesuit authorities was to have Muni and Bernab?arrested with the aid of a corrupt Yaqui magistrate. This action caused a spontaneous outcry and two thousand armed men gathered to demand and get the release of Muni and others. Instead of attending to the grievances, the Jesuits simply installed an even tougher Father. He promptly removed Muni and Bernab?from their offices. The governor, who after hearing the complaints of both sides, recommended that the Yaqui leaders go to Mexico City to testify personally before the viceroy and Archbishop Vizrón. In February 1740, the Archbishop approved all of the Yaqui demands for free elections, respect for land boundaries, that Yaquis be paid for work, and that they not be required to work in mines among a host of other demands intended to grant the Yaquis more independence from Jesuit control.

Unfortunately, while Muni and his colleagues were negotiating benefits in Mexico City, outbreaks were spreading through the Yaqui territory as floods reduced the population to famine. This desperation led to the raiding of missionary granaries because the Jesuits decided to send the surplus to California as usual. When grain was sold, it was at an exorbitant price which few could afford. Rumors fueled by the Jesuit Father ran rampant that Muni was either dead or insane. The rebel bands were led by various short-lived Yaqui chieftains, most notably Calixto from the eastern section of the Yaqui country. Most of the violence occurred while Muni and Bernab?were in Mexico City. Upon their return, they helped consolidate the peace process, but were executed when a new governor was installed. The fear of their political power by the Jesuits was a prime reason for their execution.

Acquisition of Yaqui Lands Begin (1768-1877)

After the 1740 rebellion, the new governor began a program of secularization by posting garrisons in the Yaqui Valley as well as encouraging vecinos and mineros to return to the rebel torn area to restore their enterprises. By 1767, all Jesuits were ordered to be removed from New Spain. The Yaqui lands became widely known as the most fertile in all of Sonora. The Yaquis began to go of their own accord to work in mines and in diving for pearls. Industrial developments included a stocking factory, a hat-making operation as well as blacksmithing and carpentry. The Viceroy ordered the partition of Yaqui land in 1778 in a "prudent manner". The Yaquis had obtained a reputation for being warriors during the rebellion of 1740 and the Spanish handled them quite gingerly during the late 1700s. As a result, the effort to partition the land was not realized until twenty years later and then only a few places in Mayo country were subjected. In 1824, the government attempted to survey Yaqui land for taxation and were met with resistance.

Juan de la Cruz Banderas (Revolutionary Visionary)

This was the beginning of the almost continuous struggle in the 19th century. This entailed the Yaquis having an independent view of themselves as a separate political entity; following the ideology of the Mexican War for Independence, but separate from that war. Juan Ignacio Jusacamea later known as Juan de la Cruz Banderas took part in the resistance against the land surveyors in 1824 and was thrown in jail. This experience caused him to have visions from which he felt that it was his mission to establish an Indian military confederation. He immediately gathered a force of more than 2,000 and began to organize a military rebellion. He extended his invitation to all Indian nations in the northwest of Sonora to join him in the rebellion against the Spanish. Bandera was successful for more than two years and his messianism had a high significance to thousands of Indians in his area. The rebellion forced the state capital southward. At the end of 1832 he and a leader of the Opata were defeated and executed in January of 1833 along with 11 other Yaqui, Mayo and Opata leaders of the rebellion.

Gandara (1838-1856)

After the death of Bandera, the Yaquis from 1838 - 1868 formed alliances with anyone who promised them land and autonomy. They would align themselves with the Centralists or Conservatives as long as those groups protected their lands from being encroached upon. These alliances helped create and perpetuate the Northern Mexican system of caudillismo. Gándara, a wealthy landowner in Ures district of Sonora obtained political power by staging a coup in 1838 against the newly elected General Jos?Urrea. He obtained military support of the Yaquis and for a number of years involved them in his own struggle for political power. When Urrea regained power in 1841, he oversaw the division of Yaqui lands from communal plots into private plots. This was exactly what the Yaquis did not want. Agents working for Gándara fanned fears that Urrea would sell the Yaqui people into slavery and sell their land to outsiders. It was during this time that bloody and bitter struggles were waged by the Yaquis against Urrea. After their pacification, stringent laws were passed on where they would be allowed to live and that they would not be permitted to leave their pueblos without passports.

Upon the departure of Urrea to the national Congress as an elected official of Durango, Gándara and his brother held on to the governor’s seat until 1849. He immediately tried to placate the Yaquis and granted amnesty to all rebels and restored some of their political power by appointing Yaquis he trusted to local government posts. In 1852, the state Congress placed land titles with proper authorities in order to compel the Yaquis to accept them. After another successful coup, Gándara was faced with the threat of foreign invasions by William Walker and the French count Raousset Boulbon as well as being responsible for dealing with the Apaches. The Gadsden Purchase, part of the disastrous Treaty of Mesilla signed by Santa Ana with the United States caused Sonora to lose over 200,000 square kilometers of its territory. In the face of these problems, he deferred authority to the federal government’s agent, General Jos?Maria Yáñez.

Yáñez brought more political reorganization and encouraged by the relative calm in a period of years, colonists began to move into the Yaqui and Mayo river territories to take advantage of the rich land and abundant water supply. An industrialist gained possession of two large pieces of land. The Yaquis living on these sites refused to move and took their case to court. Both the primary and appeal court ruled in favor of the industrialist. This was the beginning of another revolt, which was suppressed by Ignacio Pesqueira.

Pesqueira Attempts to Pacify The Yaquis (1857-1876)

Pesqueira attempted to promote colonization of the Yaqui and Mayo rivers as a method of assimilating the rebels into Mexican society. This caused both Yaquis and Mayos to ally themselves with every anti-governmental movement to oppose him and the Liberal regime. This included French Imperialists who came to Sonora in March of 1865. Jesús Gándara became active in the Yaqui rebellion which ensued and was later killed in battle. His death did not spell the end of the hostilities, however and two Opata brothers made a pronouncement against Pesqueira in favor of Manuel María Gándara and the Conservatives. When Pesqueira returned to Sonora he made a list of preventative measures against the Yaquis, Opatas and their allies to be implemented by the prefects. An order was given to execute rebel leaders and for hacienda owners to make up lists of all employees, including a notation for those who were suspected in taking part in hostilities against the civil authorities. These measures were ineffective in dealing with the growing unrest among the Yaqui and Opatas.

More incredulously, in the middle of this unrest, Pesqueira decided to encourage colonization in Yaqui and Mayo country. Part of an "Exploratory Company of the Lands of the Yaqui River" included two military commanders and a prefect of Guaymas who were also in charge of suppressing the rebels. A scheme was dreamed up where financing for a reservoir for irrigation was to be solicited in shares of 100 pesos each to be solicited from both Mexicans and foreigners interested in acquiring land in the Yaqui area. Immediately after the public announcement of this plan, one of the military commanders marched to the Yaqui Territory with 550 men to begin pacification which was responded to by resistance. This was short-lived. After one of the general’s more merciless campaigns he granted a general amnesty to the Yaquis, "According to the dictates of my conscience and for humanity."

Several years earlier, the federal government had granted a concession to survey the wastelands of Sonora to a company which had large North American interests. Pesqueira declared the contract illegal and evicted the head of the team of engineers responsible for the survey, despite threats of the Americans to blockade the port at Guaymas. The United States eventually backed off with no confrontation.

Following this incident, the Yaquis again resumed their fight against the state. The nearly bankrupt state was not financially able to conduct yet another campaign against the rebels and Pesqueira appealed to the citizens of Sonora for a loan of thirty to forty thousand pesos to do so. He received only six hundred pesos in federal aid and auctioned off the consficated land of Manuel María Gándara to raise funds as well collecting forced loans from the citizenry. Afterwards, a campaign was instigated to rout Yaquis from the captured town of Hermosillo. The Yaquis then began a concerted effort to change their tactics from attacking in one large group to disperse themselves in small bands. They terrorized small communities, haciendas and open roads. Pesqueira personally attended to subduing these rebels and posted National Guardsmen which included local Yaquis. Within a few months the Yaquis allied themselves with yet another political alliance, the pronunciados from Sinaloa who revived the Conservative Plan de Tacubaya. Pesqueira quickly crushed this alliance.

For a number of years following this latest victory, large scale economic development was initiated including a contract to build a railroad from Guaymas to Ciudad Juarez as well as the construction of a telegraph line. Both of these contracts were with American companies. Guaymas prospered as a port with established steamship services to San Francisco, California. The cultivation of cotton was encouraged on both Yaqui and Mayo land by the Sonora Industrial Company who wanted to manufacture cotton thread and material. Mining by foreign investors increased when the federal government loosened restrictions.

The French Intervention of 1863 spread to Sonora in 1865 and Pesqueira who was outnumbered, fled inland. The French landed in Guaymas with Manuel María Gándara who recommended to the local Yaqui leader to obey the "jefe francés" in all matters. This was seen by the Yaqui and Mayos to be an opportunity to retain their land and autonomy. The French suffered some defeats in Sonora and this coupled with political problems in Europe as well as pressure from Americans to withdraw led to the evacuation from Guaymas. After the Liberals regained control, they offered peace to the Yaquis and Mayos, asking them to help restore the state. A military campaign effectively defeated this latest effort of resistance and the Yaqui leaders signed capitulation papers agreeing to live under the orders of the government.

As before, the Yaquis regained their strength and attacked garrisons installed in their territory. Punitive measures against these rebellions included distributing the defeated rebels to local haciendas and mines to perform forced labor. In retaliation, the Yaquis employed sophisticated military maneuvers learned from the French Imperialists to defeat their enemies. The state responded ruthlessly by burning 120 captives alive imprisoned in a church who were trying to escape. Afterwards, the Yaquis again capitulated to the government’s repression. Terrible floods augmented the defeats they had suffered at the hands of the troops and they did not take up arms again for another decade.

Pesqueira attempted to revitalize the economy after this last victory over the Yaquis. He emphasized that a "careful, very careful colonization of the magnificent lands of the Yaqui and Mayo rivers, without causing disorders among the tribes which inhabit them." The economic progress had slowed considerably with mining stagnating and railroads remaining unbuilt. In fact, many Sonorans left the state to work in the mines in Arizona. His popularity declined and a new leader in the form of Porfirista general Luis E. Torres was elected governor in 1879.

The Porfiriato (1876-1910)

Cajeme (Rebellion of Jos?María Leyva)

The most extraordinary leader in Yaqui history was known as Cajeme which meant "He who does not drink". He was born Jos?María Leyva and educated to read and write in Spanish, later serving in the military, involved in many battles, including those against his own people. His service was so exemplary that he was given the post of alcalde mayor of the Yaqui River. After obtaining this position, he abruptly announced he would not recognize the government unless his people were able to govern themselves. Taking advantage of political intrigues in Sonora resulting from a hotly contested election, Cajeme ordered a town burned to the ground in which the most colonists had settled. Even the Mayos joined in the rebellion, burning Santa Cruz, an important port. He was able to remain undisturbed for about three years as the Mexicans fought among themselves for political control over Sonora.

Even though most outsiders to the Yaqui lands fled, Cajeme maintained trading with the outside world along the Yaqui River. He instituted a tax system, including duties on goods and tolls. Also, guns and ammunition were required as part of the bargaining process. Individual travelers through the Yaqui lands were required to give up their arms. Community plots were planted and the excesses stored. Another source of income was the demand for ransoms from hacendados who wanted their stolen cattle back.

Political organization consisted of the gobernadores, captains of war and that of the temastian or sacristan. Cajeme was the captain general but placed a popular council into the forefront as the major decision making body and agreed to abide by its consensus. Every Yaqui man and woman had equal participation. Some of the Mayos also swore allegiance to the leader, but since the Mexicans had obtained control over much of the Mayo territory, converting villages into municipalities, only four of the traditional pueblos joined.

Meanwhile, Mexico was becoming more centralized and powerful. National economic development, with the aid of foreigners who wished to invest capital into the country was the primary concern of Porfirio Diaz. That meant the end of the regional caudillo. For Sonora, this meant halting the invasions of the Apaches, mine revitalization, construction of railroads, and the stimulation of industry and agriculture. Colonization of the Yaqui and Mayo lands was at the forefront of this exploitation scheme.

As soon as the Porfirian governor Luis Torres took office, he began implementing a development program for Sonora. Construction of the railroad began and a boom in gold and silver mining took place with American capital and technology taking a prominent role. The establishment of the Bank of the State of Sonora was a joint American-Mexican affair. As the Apaches were neutralized, the usefulness of the Northern Sonoran tribes who had fought against them diminished and their pueblos were broken up to be developed for agriculture.

The plans for Yaquis included diverting half of the Yaqui River to a valley north of Guaymas for irrigation and any displaced from their lands would be available to work in mines or on the railroads. The Yaquis responded by not allowing engineers into their lands to survey. The appeals to the federal government for supplies and soldiers to conduct a military campaign went unheeded for three years.

The election of a new governor precipitated a crisis which provoked the Yaquis into battle. Carlos Ortiz, the new governor was concerned about state sovereignty and recalled his state’s troops from the border where they were fighting the Apaches with federal troops saying that a coup was immanent. When this appeared ridiculous, he said a rebellion by the Yaquis and Mayos was on the verge of taking place. His brother took troops into the Mayo territory and were met with Cajeme and over two thousand Yaquis. Carlos Ortiz tried to tie his political rivals with the Yaqui attacks and his accusations had so little credibility that the citizens and the state troops began to disavow his authority. They saw behind his facade and accused him of provoking the Indians into a defensive war. This was the end of his political career and federal troops escorted him to exile in the United States.

Luis Torres returned as governor of Sonora in 1883 and Cajeme retained uncontested control of the Yaqui area for a period of two years. Rumors of fabulously rich silver mines in the Bacatete Mountains encouraged the state to renew its appeal to the federal government for conducting a pacification campaign. A report by a federal commander named Carb?noted that Cajeme did not attempt to expand his territory but rather to conserve its independence. The state secretary Ramón Corral encouraged the prefect of Guaymas to encourage political divisions. This was done by persuading an ousted Yaqui captain to attempt to assassinate Cajeme. Not finding him at his house, they burned it down and terrorized his family. In retaliation, Cajeme detained all ships docked in Yaqui territory as hostages and demanded fines of fifty to two hundred pesos each. Upon learning of the conspiracy between the renegade Yaqui and the government, he demanded all the Yaqui conspirators to be given to him for punishment. When Torres promised justice but not to the Cajeme’s specifications, Cajeme began massive assaults on haciendas, ranches and stations of the Sonora Railroad in the Guaymas and Alamos districts. He burned the twenty one ships held in the Yaqui River port of El Médano.

The rebellion had begun. Porfirio Díaz authorized his Secretary of War to begin a campaign against the rebels. In 1885, General Carb?led a force which included a Yaqui auxiliary force led by the Yaqui renegade who knew the territory well. Cajeme had built a fort named El Añil between Pótam and Vícum, in one of the most impenetrable sections of a forest which stretched from the Yaqui towards the Mayo. These constructions illustrated that Cajeme was familiar with the Mexican or European art of warfare. Attacks on this fort met with no success and the Mexicans tried to negotiate a peace settlement, offering the Yaquis life and property in exchange for submission to the government. The Yaquis refused this but did offer to end the rebellion if the military would leave the River, but the government would not consider this acceptable. The military retreated downriver until the seasonal rains were over.

This victory was short-lived for the Yaquis. Their food supplies in the fort were depleted and the yellow fever epidemic was taking its toll. Many exhausted Yaqui and Mayos wished to make peace or leave the river lands. To assert his authority in the Mayo, Cajeme executed a leader of the peace movement and closed some roads from the River, allowing only those he trusted to leave to buy weapons and ammunition. Cajeme did call a meeting to negotiate peace and agreed that it was the will of the people to surrender, but he refused to sign anything, maintaining that his word was good and that "the people have always made peace without signing any piece of paper." The campaign was reopened in 1886 and El Añil was valiantly but unsuccessfully defended. The rebels fled towards a fort in Butachive, high in the Sierra de Bacatete thought to be impenetrable. The government laid siege to this last stronghold with all their troops and captured the fort, but all of the fighting men, estimated to be about two thousand, managed to escape.

This spelled the end of the rebellion. Cajeme made one last attempt to regain control but was defeated and was reduced to dividing his men into small bands and engaging troops in small skirmishes. Cajeme again offered peace under the condition that government troops were withdrawn, but the reply of the military leader indicated that the Yaqui lands were part of the Mexican territory and it had a right to send forces wherever it felt necessary. Increased search expeditions led to the surrender of more than four thousand even though only 140 firearms were taken. The Yaquis and Mayos had not been able to plant crops and their animals had been consumed or consficated. The government sent in food and clothing. The campaign against the Yaquis was formally terminated, with the state government spending more than one hundred and fifty thousand pesos to conduct pacification of the Yaquis and Mayos. This did not include the amount sent by the federal government.

When the search for Cajeme began, a proposal was made that that all Yaqui prisoners be deported to the Yucatán. Díaz did not want to do this because it would "initiate a war of extermination" and that "The Indian prefers death to exile, and before the prospect of being removed from his home, he would fight until he perishes." Diaz proposed that leaders of the rebellion be remitted to Mexico to be drafted into the military. After peace was assured, Mexicans rushed into the Yaqui territory to establish permanent colonies. Permanent garrisons were posted and the search for Cajeme was resumed. He was finally apprehended in a house near Guaymas and taken to Cócorit where he was executed before a firing squad in 1887. The Yaquis buried him in a solemn ceremony.

Tetabiate - Guerilla Warfare of Juan Maldonado (1887-1900)

It was generally considered that the Yaquis were hardworking and that they would be valuable laborers for the Sonoran economy. The Díaz regime was to try to find a way to change their attitudes towards integration into Mexican society. Cajeme’s defeat forced the Yaquis to reassess their position but not to capitulate. They learned the value of the effectiveness of small guerilla groups to harass large contingents of regular troops. The thousands of Yaquis, who rather than taking part in the colonization effort scheme of the Mexican government had exiled themselves from the Yaqui area and provided support for bands of guerilla fighters. The government distinguished between the broncos (guerillas) and the pacíficos (laborers) but was faced with the prospect of having to deal with alienating the Sonoran and foreign entrepreneurs who depended upon the pacíficos?labor.

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

The declaration of peace did not prevent more than four hundred Yaquis and their families to go into the Bacatete Mountains to defy the government. They were led by the previously unknown leader Tetabiate, or "Rolling Stone" and sustained themselves by raiding haciendas near Guaymas. Soldiers sent to pacify the rebels were thwarted by the difficult terrain and the guerillas took to raiding by night. The government again began to survey the Yaqui lands for distribution among the Yaqui and colonists. The army engineers were constantly harassed by the rebels and often required protection from the troops.

The government could not understand the Yaqui refusal to divide their land and become individual property owners. Their insistence of communal ownership based on traditional indigenous values also supported their objection to having soldiers in their territory. The Scientific Commission of Sonora, created by the Díaz Ministry of Development issued land titles, but most remained in the hands of the prefect of Guaymas. Those who did come into the Yaqui lands were mostly traders who were happy to conduct business with anyone, including the rebels.

Plans for the routing of the guerillas included burning the Bacatete Mountains, but was vetoed by the Secretary of War. Small detachments of soldiers were sent out to strategic locations to prevent the rebels from getting to the Yaqui River and the Guaymas Valley, but they found ways to slip past the soldiers. A comprehensive search for the rebels in their hideouts forced the rebels into the Guaymas Valley where they mingled with Yaqui laborers on haciendas and in railroad companies.

This was the beginning of a new problem. Soon, owners of haciendas, mining and railroad companies were accused of shielding criminal Yaqui fugitives. Circulars were issued which requested the owners to be on the alert for rebels and to forbid the pacíficos from giving them money or provisions as well as to prevent them from joining. Another circular prohibited the sale of arms to the rebels. Inventories in cities were to be updated twice per month and all transactions had to be approved by local authorities. Yaquis began slipping into Arizona to work in mines and brought guns, ammunition and other goods back to the sierra. The prefect in charge of maintaining guard over the border was not capable of doing so over such a long stretch of frontier. An appeal made to the "good senses of the Yaqui rebels to live quietly and peacefully, to accept the Mexican land allotments and abandon this errant life or suffer the consequences" was ignored.

The campaign intensified. The Secretary of War ordered the recruitment of Opatas and Pimas to hunt down the guerillas and state authorities recruited agents from Yaqui pacíficos to gather intelligence information. Hacendados and mine owners who did not cooperate in turning over rebels were arrested and some, including the prominent Maytorena were jailed. Governor Izábel was reluctant to take violent action against the hacendados because he knew that the Yaquis provided valuable cheap labor. They were an asset to the development of Sonora’s economy. In 1894-95, Luis Torres instituted a secret police system and carried out a meticulous survey of the entire Sierra de Bacatete, noting locations of wells supplying fresh water as well as all possible entrances and exits as well as inaccessible peaks. Comprehensive plans to pursue the rebels was a failure due to the Yaquis superior knowledge of the terrain resulting from hundreds of years of experience. During the campaign of 1895-97, captured rebels were deported to southern Mexico to be drafted into the army. In 1896, the government at the request of Díaz, sent Josephite missionaries into the Yaqui lands but they were met with distrust.

In 1897, the commander of the campaign forces, General Torres initiated negotiations with Tetabiate, offering them repatriation into their homeland. After a number of months of correspondence between the guerilla leader and a colonel in one of the regiments, a place was set for a peace agreement to be signed. On May 15, 1897, Tetabiate and civilian, military and missionary representatives signed an unconditional peace agreement.

Yaquis finally returned to their homeland. Massive repatriation of the Yaquis back onto their lands had a drastic consequence on the state economy because it was so dependent upon their labor. However, they did not want the military or white colonists in their midst, whom they had mistakenly thought would no longer be a factor in their lives. In 1899, the colonies of Bácum and Vícam took up arms. Large detachments of rebel Yaqui forces confronted troops on the Yaqui River and suffered large casualties. Afterwards, a force of three thousand fled to the sierras and barricaded themselves on a plateau called Mazocoba where they were defeated by government troops.

Tetabiate again resumed his leadership role of the rebels who fled to the sierras. The government sent out its largest contingent to date with almost five thousand federal and state troops to crush this latest rebellion. Laws restricting the sale of firearms were reenacted and captured rebels were deported from the state. By the end of 1900, there were only an estimated 300 rebels holding out in the Bacatete Mountains. Six months later, Tetabiate was betrayed and murdered by one of his lieutenants and the Secretary of War called off the campaign in August of 1901.

Yaqui Diaspora (Dispersal To The U.S. And Deportation To The Yucatán)

The years between 1904 to 1907 witnessed an intensification of guerilla activities and corresponding government persecution. The state government issued passports to Yaquis and those not having them were arrested and jailed. The new governor of Sonora, Rafael Izábel was so intent on pacifying the Yaquis that he conducted his own arrests. These arrests included women, children as well as sympathizers. Those who informed on who were Yaquis were freed and were given the name Tocoyori by other Yaquis. A sort of terrorism was instituted with Izábel selecting three lines of Yaquis, one to be killed, another to be deported and one left to work another week. The Yaquis called him el díos segundo because of this.

The bulk of the Yaquis were sent to work on hennequen plantations in the Yucatán and some were sent to work in the sugar cane fields in Oaxaca. Sonoran hacendados protested the persecution and deportation of the Yaquis because without their labor, their crops could not be cultivated or harvested. One American hacendado, Carlos Johnson carried his case to the U.S. State Department. The hacendados also lost workers who fled to Arizona and the sierras. Izábel took care to maintain sufficient Yaquis on his own haciendas. Once in the Yucatán, the Yaqui were acclaimed as being superior workers in relation to the Mayan peasants. Secretary of Development, Colonization and Industry, Olegario Molina was the biggest henequen hacendado of Yucatán and he connived with the Secretary of War to have Yaquis shipped to henequen plantations.

Arizona deported a few Yaquis but many remained in Arizona to work and buy arms. In 1907, orders were given to clean out all Yaquis living north of Hermosillo. It was only at this time that Yaquis were forbidden to work on railroads and in mines, perhaps the economic slowdown of 1907 kept the American companies from voicing protests. The few remaining rebels raided the company stores of haciendas, mines and railroads because the pacífico base was diminished with deportation. Negotiations with rebel leaders failed. In 1908, an order was given to round up all rebels and pacíficos.

Because the U.S. was in the midst of a banking crises, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and Labor intervened in Arizona to deport and detain all illegally entered Yaquis. The economic crisis affected the prices of hennequen in the Yucatán and the massive deportation of the Yaqui people was discontinued. Protests directly addressed to Díaz could have also led to this partial concession. Díaz made special arrangements with elite hacendados to contract Yaquis from Guaymas and Hermosillo to work as wage laborers. Between 1902 -1908, between eight and possibly as many as fifteen thousand of the estimated population of thirty thousand Yaquis were deported. The deportations broke the back of the Yaqui rebellion and their land was appropriated and sold off to the highest bidder to exploit for agricultural purposes.

Railroads And Land Issues

The ability of capital and technology from foreign sources caused assaults on the liberty of peasants as well as the stripping away of their property rights. Technology in the form of railroads helped bring about drastic changes in rural socio-economic life within a short period of time. This change caused landowning to be increasingly profitable by reducing transportation costs. Assaults on property rights of communal Indian villages was intensified during the Porfiriato with the help of the reform laws passed during the 1850’s. Vacant lands in the "public domain" called terrenos baldios were also bought at fixed low prices.

Railroads In Sonora

Before railroads were built, stagecoaches took days to make the 60 mile trip from Guaymas to Hermosillo and the route from Hermosillo to Tuscan was full of bandits. The absence of roads stunted mining growth and fears in Mexico City that Sonora would be lost to the U.S. kept expansion plans on hold. In 1882 a train linked Hermosillo to Guaymas and later to Nogales. Yankee markets and manufacturers were now available and by 1910, Sonora became the world’s richest mining area.

Most of the capital to build the railroads came from the U.S. as well as the equipment and rails. Even ties were imported from Oregon. This interest from the U.S. was related to their desire to reduce U.S. tariffs and keep European goods away from Mexican markets. Americans had the best jobs on the railroads. Architects, engineers, construction companies, surveyors and labor bosses were all American. Some laborers were American as well. By 1910, Sonora had the highest rate of foreign commerce in Mexico. A full one third of all commerce in Mexico was controlled by the Northwest.

The success of the railroad spelled the end of the small amount of autonomy the Yaquis had claimed for themselves. Traditional crops such as corn and wheat which the Yaquis had grown gave way to export crops of tomatoes, oranges, melons, cucumbers and garbanzos. Small farms were hurt, especially the small plots "given" to the Yaquis and Mayos after 1886. The rich valley lands increased in value from 1 dollar to 10-15 dollars per acre after the Yaquis were beaten. Public lands were sold in Sonora at a rate which surpassed that of any other state in Mexico. Speculators such as the notorious Richardson brothers from Los Angeles obtained more than 100,000 acres and dug fifty miles of irrigation canals. A competitor obtained 4.5 million acres. Thus the Yaqui and Mayo valleys became export agricultural centers for California markets and the produce was shipped via rail by way of Nogales to L.A. and San Francisco. By 1910, about one thousand Americans had settled along the West Coast of Mexico, the majority in the Yaqui Valley.

One advantage of the railroad was that it provided cheap transportation to other areas of Sonora. Displaced small farmers were able to travel to cities to find work. The Yaquis soon found employment in distant mining areas and on the railroads. The construction companies of the railroads antagonized southern planters by paying higher wages and leaving the hacendados without workers. One of the things the Yaquis did was give their paycheck to guerillas to fight the hated yoris. The Yaquis were so highly valued that when the deportations began, the railroads were allowed to keep their workers. It was not until 1907 when the Yaqui deportation program began in earnest did the railroads and mines lose their Yaquis. When the supply of cheap Yaquis were low, Chinese coolies were imported.

Labor Conditions

Yaqui Laborers, Hacendados, Mining And Railroad Building

Relationships between the Indian majority and the white minority were based on the geography of the land of the northern frontier. Since most of the land was more suited to cattle-raising than agricultural development, large numbers of livestock were kept without necessitating the large numbers of peon laborers as in the central and southern regions of the country. The mission communities helped the Indians retain tribal identities in a few areas of the Yaqui and Fuerte Valley, thus little absorption manifested on the scale of that which occurred in other sections of Mexico. The hacienda did develop as a feudal regime however, and was dependent upon Yaqui labor.

The hacienda owner became an individual with limitless virtue of land ownership. "Gentlemen" hacendados or absentee landlords lived the good life on the backs of their laborers. The communal use of land by the Indians maintained since pre-colonial times seemed aimless to the power hungry hacendado culture eager to become the frontier’s new elite. Interspersed with ethnic prejudice of the Yaquis, expressed with accounts of drunkenness, theft, licentiousness and gambling were the attributes that almost all labor was performed by them and that it was done with skill and intelligence. Ramón Corral, a member of the Torres family, wrote in 1885 that even though the Yaquis lived outside the law and were involved in banditry, they were a true working people.

Debt peonage was resisted by the Yaquis because they were well informed of other opportunities to obtain wages in mines, railroads and the differences in pay from one hacienda to another. The non-infiltration of their towns by whites helped their communities from decaying and Yaquis often went from working on a hacienda to living in their town and participating in its unique activities. They knew well the consequences of the takeover of the lands by the Mexicans by watching the disintegration of the towns of their Mayo neighbors and the subsequent disregard of the Indian governments. So the choice to keep whites out of their territory seemed to be the only viable alternative. Even the científicos admitted that "independence rather than civilization" was the root of the Yaqui struggle.

Yaquis also provided a cheap pool of labor for the building of railroads and mines in Sonora as well as becoming masons, carpenters, tanners, weavers and cobblers when they went to live in towns. They were also the best sailors and pearl divers. The scarcity of labor meant that Yaquis were among the largest group of laborers working on grading roadbeds and laying track as well as responsible for maintaining it. The copper mines at Nacozari and Cananea included Yaquis pushed from their homeland by the encroachment of Mexicans and Yankees. They were also brought in as scab workers when workers went on strike in the silver mines of La Trinidad. One Yankee foreman claimed that one Yaqui was worth two Americans and three Mexicans. Most of these accolades rested on the ability to obtain their labor so cheaply. The deportations to the Yucatán ended this supply of cheap labor, however as discussed earlier, by 1907, the economic downturn in the mining and railroad areas kept those companies from protesting the lack of laborers. The haciendos were a different matter and the expropriation of Yaquis for labor on the henequen plantations caused prominent Sonorenses such as the Maytorenas and the Morales to turn against the Díaz regime.

The Yaqui resistance can be seen as a result of their realization that the alternative to living as peons on their lands was not acceptable. The ability of their leaders to galvanize rebellions had to do with their people’s experience of working in other areas of employment and witnessing the effect of "civilization" upon the settled towns of the neighboring Mayos. It was clearly illustrated that the breakup of their communal lands meant the end of their autonomy and the imposition of a government which was openly hostile to their needs. It is no small wonder that whenever there were disputes between ruling factions, that they would take the side with whoever promised them the right to retain their land. This hope for victory was what spurred them on to becoming such skilled workers in areas outside of their Yaqui River valley. They were not just working for their own personal survival, they were working for the freedom of their homeland. It was only through the intervention of the state in the form of deportation that their struggle was broken and their land expropriated to exploited by capitalist interests.

These cases of exploitation gave way to the unrest which led to the Revolution of 1910. The disastrous policy of deporting the Yaquis not only served to highlight the genocidal tendencies of the Díaz regime in the eyes of the world, but it also alienated hacendados in Sonora who needed the Yaqui labor to prosper. The reality of a depression in world market prices for henequen and poor harvests in the Northern section of the country added to the volatile combination which was instrumental in bringing about the downfall of the Porfiriato.