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CHAPTER III:
DETERIORATION OF NORTHERN PIMAN SOCIETY FROM 1520 TO 1729

C. The Aboriginal "Epidemic Region"

Before the expansion of the Spanish epidemic region to include northern Piman territory around 1600, the northern Pimans were probably cut off from the older Spanish-controlled area sufficiently to escape some or all of the effects of infectious epidemics there. Earlier, however, the northern Pimans had been part of a large pre-Spanish epidemic area dating from aboriginal times.

The existence of such an aboriginal epidemic region cannot be proved with the certainty that the later Spanish region can, yet available evidence argues very strongly it did exist. 22That the Santa Cruz River Valley Pimans maintained close intersettlement contacts has already been stated. This intimacy of inter-settlement contact and the speed with which infection could be spread through northern Piman society and beyond at the end of the aboriginal period can actually be documented to some extent. Two Spanish expeditions which left surviving records penetrated the eastern and western edges of northern Piman country in the year 1540. Fernando Alarcón was charged with shipping supplies for the land expedition under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, sailing north along the Gulf of California coast. Reaching the mouth of the great Colorado River, Alarcón took twenty men in two boats to explore upstream. He found native southwestern Indian society in a peasant stage of very close inter-settlement communication providing ideal conditions for rapid diffusion of infection.

On the one hand, Alarcón discovered individuals of two language groups in the same riverain settlements. Specifically he found western Piman-speaking Indians residing or visiting in riverain Yuman settlements with freedom and amity. This conclusion is based on his experience in attempting to communicate with the Indians he encountered along the river. Alarcón carried with him an Indian interpreter brought from central Mexico. He had sailed from Navidad (Winship 1896:478) a port on the coast of Colima. Given the area of Spanish sovereignty in 1540, this Indian was almost certainly 23 a Nahuatl speaking Indian. On the Colorado River he could not understand the language of the bulk of the natives (Alarcón 1904:IX:286, 289, 293, 295) who were Yuman-speaking in later times and evidently were in 1540. Every now and again Alarcón's interpreter encountered a native whose language he could understand, and with these individuals Alarcón conversed through him (ibid., p. 289, 298, 301, 306-307). These intelligible individuals were evidently northern Pimans, whose Uto-Aztecan tongue is sufficiently close to Nahuatl to allow at least some mutual intelligibility. One of the terms Alarcón recorded as designating a native group, Quicoma (ibid., IX:300) was surely his rendition of his interpreter's pronunciation of the northern Piman term for non-Piman speaking Indians for whom no other group designation is known. In modern Pápago this "strangers" term is Kikimai.

Mutual intelligibility between Nahuatl and northern Piman is not as far-fetched as might appear at first blush. A Pápago tribal chairman who visited the City of Mexico to participate in an Inter-American Indian Institute in 1940 claimed that he could understand some words of Nahuatl as still spoken on the streets of the city, and mutual intelligibility must have been considerably greater four hundred years earlier, especially since occasional direct contacts between Piman and Nahuatl speakers may well have occurred during aboriginal times. Wagner (1924:384) reached essentially the same conclusion, inferring that Alarcón's interpreter "probably spoke the Sobaipura dialect." 24 Since only Esteban, who was dead, and Fray Marcos had seen Sobaipuris by the time Alarcón sailed, he manifestly could not have found a Sobaipuri speaker. Wagner was certainly correct if he meant that Alarcón's interpreter was able to understand northern Piman and make himself intelligible to northern Pimans.

One of the Indians to whom Alarcón's interpreter could talk departed from the Spaniards for several days, reappearing as Alarcón ascended the river on his second voyage to present the Spanish leader

with what the native obviously regarded as a very precious gift-some parrot feathers (Alarcón 1904:IX:312). The practice of growing caged macaws for their feathers for ceremonial use and trade survived among the desert Pá pagos as late as the early 1700's (Wyllys 1931:129) but there is no evidence known to the author that the riverain Yumans ever engaged in this practice. Thus the conclusion that the Indians Alarcón's interpreter could speak with were northern Pimans is strengthened by several bits of supporting evidence.

If the western groups of northern Pimans had intimate social intercourse with the Yuman tribes, peoples of a different language and culture, there is every reason to suppose that in aboriginal times the eastern groups of northern Pimans engaged in even more visiting and migration between their own settlements. That the eastern riverain Pimans were equally or more cosmopolitan is suggested by Fray Marcos' meeting 25with a political refugee from Zuñi among the Sobaipuris in 1539 (Bandelier 1904:218). This supposition gains support from the fact that the eastern northern Pimans prehistorically allowed western Pueblos to settle in their territory for a time (Winship 1896:516; DiPeso 1958:19-21). Alarcón not only encountered one Piman-speaker on the Colorado River who had visited Zuñi (Alarcón 1904:IX:299) himself, but he also heard of two northern Pimans who lived eight days farther east who had started for Zuñi but turned back on the advice of still other northern Pimans from that area who were returning (ibid., IX:307).

This pattern of inter-village visiting and population exchange, extending not only throughout the northern Piman settlements but even to neighboring tribes of very different language and customs, combined with frequent trading expeditions evidenced by the widespread use of shell, copper tinklers, macaw and parrot feathers, salt, and so on, provide good indication that northern Piman society in aboriginal times and as late as 1540 was a surplus-producing, socially-energetic peasant type sedentary agricultural society. As such, its settlement patterns and communications patterns made it a fertile field for infectious epidemics.

The speed with which infection could spread through this society is indicated in another experience of Alarcón's which amplifies the picture of northern Piman society in 1540. Alarcón heard the news of Vásquez de Coronado's arrival at 26Zuñi Pueblo only a few days over two months after the event. Alarcón heard clear news of Vásquez at Zuñi on September 8 (ibid., IX:306-307) and the latter's advance reached there on July 7 (Winship 1896:564). That news had to be carried back from Zuñi across a long unpopulated stretch of territory to the Sobaipuri settlements on the lower San Pedro River and then transmitted through the Gila River Pima villages and/or the desert Pápago rancherías to the Colorado River settlements in order to reach Alarcon's ears. It had to travel across a distance of several hundred miles, but if news could move that fast, so could contagion, for most of the trails between Zuñi and the Colorado River delta country in 1540 led through settled territory. One old Piman Alarcón met who claimed to have visited Zuñi out of curiosity told the Spaniard Zuñi lay forty days away (Alarcón 1904:IX:299) and another Piman counted only ten days because that was all the unpopulated territory to be crossed-the rest was all inhabited (ibid., IX:308).

This being the situation among the northern Pimans, the question arises as to how closely this tightly knit peasant society was tied to similar societies over a larger region. The answer is that while barbaric tribes with a harvesting-hunting economy ranged the uplands north of the northern Pimans and western Pueblos, southward stretched society after society of ever more sedentary and complex and civilized Indians until the Aztec and Mayan centres of civilization.

27There is no point in here belaboring the question of central Mexican influences on northern Piman society. The presence of material of Mexican origin such as copper tinklers and ceremonially buried military macaws in south western pre-Spanish sites, to cite only two more elegant examples, leaves no doubt of the direction in which cultural influences were moving. Even the most conservative archaeologist must needs admit this since the Arizona State Museum has uncovered a Mexican-style platform mound during its excavations for the National Park Service near Gila Bend (New York Times, February 9, 1959).

Southwestern Indians, northern Pimans included, were clearly undergoing steady and cumulative transculturation, from the centres of more complex society and civilization in central Mexico either directly or through intermediate societies. It is significant that Nuño de Guzmán was headed northwest toward northern Piman territory when circumstances stopped him at about central Sinaloa in 1531 (Bancroft 1884:I:365), lured on by tales he heard of gold and silver in the north. These stories were told Guzmán by a son of an Aztectrader who formerly bartered fine southern bird feathers for precious metals (Winship 1896:472). If Guzmán was not heading for the northern Pimans, he was seeking some people near them.

The large scale interchange of population between settlements either permanently or in the form of visiting, and 28very rapid communication across very long distances which existed at the northern Piman frontiers of barbarism became progressively more pronounced nearer the centres of civilization to the south. These conditions in 1540 can represent nothing save survival of pre-Spanish social practices which originated during prehistoric times.

One additional characteristic of aboriginal north American Indian society already implied in the previous discussion merits further explication. Peasant societies of the sort just outlined are characterized by large numbers of petty traders. North American Indians were no exception.

Whether the northern Pimans were affected by direct proselytizing by Aztec missionaries, they were certainly affected by the emissaries of commercial interests in the Aztec or neighboring Empires. Peripatetic traders formed an important occupational class in the society of the Aztec Empire, and traders could become wealthy men-probably at the expense of rustics like the northern Pimans "taken" in sharp deals for precious commodities such as macaws, parrot and macaw feathers, and tinklers. Master traders warned the beginner to expect hunger, thirst, exposure and exhaustion (Sahagun 1955: I:365), "great cold and insufferable heat" (ibid., I:366).

Some idea of the distance peripatetic Aztec traders traveled from Tenochtitlan may be gained from the family rituals observed by their families. While the trader was absent, his relatives forbore to wash their heads except at eighty day 29intervals (ibid., 1:369). If a trader took the northern trails, he could cover much of the distance between the Aztec capital and northern Piman country between head washings: The trader's son whose tales of silver and gold Guzmán followed to Culiacán claimed to have accompanied his sire once or twice on trading trips to the north which required forty days travel to reach the rich northern settlements (Winship 1896:473).

As a matter of fact, the political structure of the Aztec Empire constantly pushed Aztec traders farther and farther from the capital. Traders were utilized for political ends, being employed in the business of conquest because of their knowledge of geography, and the languages and cultures of unconquered Indians. To gain honors from the government, therefore, the trader had to keep pushing out beyond the conquered areas to discover new fields for profit and knowledge.  Moreover, once an area was annexed to the Empire, the tribute collected by the government tended to curtail opportunities for profitable trade so much that traders were forced to seek new markets beyond the political frontiers (Sahagún 1955:1: 111).

While no Aztec trader from Tenochtitlan or any other lake town may have ever actually set foot in Tchoowaka, other traders from urban centres nearer northern Piman country did. Perhaps Tarascan traders from the great independent Tarascan Empire reached the upper Santa Cruz River Valley. The large 30native towns at Autlan, Tama-zula, Tuxpan and Zapotlan in southern Jalisco sent numerous traders out over the trails.  They formed the greatest trading centre west of the Valley of Mexico prior to the Conquest (Sauer 1943:95-96).

The basic importance of bird feathers in this aboriginal commerce in which the northern Pimans periodically participated may be judged from the legendary origins of central Mexican trading and a commercial social class in the macaw and parrot plume trade (Sahagún 1955:II:103). The suitability of bird feathers for profitable commerce is readily apparent: what lighter burden could the peripatetic peddler sweating the brow-strap of his backpack dream of? According to Aztec legend, heavier trade-items such as turquoise, jadeite and cotton blankets were added to the trader's stock after feathers, and gold came even later.

What the northern Pimans could offer in exchange for the peripatetic traders treasures is problematical. They lacked the turquoise mines of the Pueblo Indians who traded turquoise ceremonial arrow points for macaw and parrot feathers (Bandelier 1904:156-157). Cotton probably sold cheaper farther south although the northern Pimans wove very good fabrics to trade. Their tanned trade hides (Bolton 1948:II: 257) were too heavy to attract the southern foot trader. Their macaw feathers probably had to move north to compete in the market. Possibly placer gold was their answer, or it may have been medicinal herbs such as jojoba (Piman hauhauwai) 31and contrayerba or other folk remedies such as deer stomach stones (ibid.). The tales of Nuño de Guzmán's trader's son about his father obtaining gold and silver in northern towns supports the idea the northern Pimans may have known how to find gold nuggets to finance their feather trade.

Under aboriginal conditions, then, ideal social situations for the spread of epidemic infections existed from the farther reaches of Mayan territory to the northern limits of northern Piman country. Sedentary agricultural settlements provided hot-house breeding conditions for contagion, and intersettlement visiting, population exchanges, and trading over long distances provided ideal conditions for rapid dissemination of infection. There can be little doubt that the northern Pimans were part and parcel-if the northwesternmost outpost-of an aboriginal epidemic region.

What the northern Pimans could offer in exchange for the peripatetic traders treasures is problematical. They lacked the turquoise mines of the Pueblo Indians who traded turquoise ceremonial arrow points for macaw and parrot feathers (Bandelier 1904:156-157). Cotton probably sold cheaper farther south although the northern Pimans wove very good fabrics to trade. Their tanned trade hides (Bolton 1948:II: 257) were too heavy to attract the southern foot trader. Their macaw feathers probably had to move north to compete in the market. Possibly placer gold was their answer, or it may have been medicinal herbs such as jojoba (Piman hauhauwai) 31and contrayerba or other folk remedies such as deer stomach stones (ibid.). The tales of Nuño de Guzmán's trader's son about his father obtaining gold and silver in northern towns supports the idea the northern Pimans may have known how to find gold nuggets to finance their feather trade.

Under aboriginal conditions, then, ideal social situations for the spread of epidemic infections existed from the farther reaches of Mayan territory to the northern limits of northern Piman country. Sedentary agricultural settlements provided hot-house breeding conditions for contagion, and intersettlement visiting, population exchanges, and trading over long distances provided ideal conditions for rapid dissemination of infection. There can be little doubt that the northern Pimans were part and parcel-if the northwesternmost outpost-of an aboriginal epidemic region.

That having been the case, it becomes important to know how long this aboriginal epidemic region endured. As the Alarcón, Vásquez de Coronado, and associated evidence prove, the northern Piman share of the system survived in 1540.  But the northwestern frontier saw a survival even at this period of conditions which no longer obtained at the former centres. The aboriginal epidemic region disintegrated during the decade prior to Vásquez' retreat, and the Alarcón-Vásquez contacts were too transitory either to maintain the aboriginal or to establish a new Spanish epidemic region as far north as northern Piman territory.

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