about table of contents home

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

E. Epidemics in the Enlarged Spanish Epidemic Region

With the colonization of New Mexico and other approaches of Spanish outposts to northern Piman territory the Spanish epidemic region neared its pre-conquest geographic extent and epidemics which originated in central Mexico began once again to affect the northern Pimans. These were the epidemics 46which materially altered northern Piman attitudes toward death, settlement pattern, house type and social organization.

1. The Smallpox Epidemic of 1607-1608

In the latter part of 1607 the Indians from at least Guatemala City to the Nahuatl region north of the City of Mexico were afflicted by a devastating epidemic. An Aztec town where scarcely 300 people lived in the 1760's had a mortality of 900 during this epidemic, and they were a small part of the population (Alegre 1953:II:145). This contagion was so widespread that it might have reached northern Piman country by way of the New Mexico road recently established. It certainly spread north beyond the Jesuit mission frontier at Parras in 1608, decimating the yet unconverted natives in the mountains of the Cordillera (Dunne 1944:109-115) and the Mapimi Basin.

2. The Epidemic of 1641

There was in 1641 a serious epidemic recorded by the missionaries working among the Tepehuanes, Sinaloa Indians and the Yaquis (Alegre 1841:II:235). Since these tribes were all on the borders of Sonora where Spanish officials were already operating and the former close to the New Mexican communication lines, the probability is high that this epidemic struck the northern Pimans.

473. The Epidemic of 1646

The contagion of 1641 was still fresh in the minds of the Indians when another struck the tribes athwart the long trail to New Mexico five years later (ibid., II:268). Still there is no way of knowing with certainty whether this particular epidemic spread into northern Piman territory, but it is even more likely that it did so than that the 1641 contagion did.

4. The Epidemic of 1662

Another epidemic struck the Indian tribes living along the New Mexico supply line in 1662 (ibid., II:427), and once again there is no certainty that it spread westward to the northern Pimans, but chances that it did so are very high.

5. The Smallpox Epidemic of 1710

Half a century later-and the gap in time is probably due more to incomplete historical records rather than any absence of epidemics-there is no doubt that epidemics were wrecking havoc among the northern Piman Indians. By that time Jesuit missionaries had established their beachhead among these Indians, and missions were operating over the watershed divide from the upper Santa Cruz River Valley people in the headwaters of the San Miguel and Magdalena Rivers.  Missionaries had occasionally traveled along the Santa Cruz River Valley itself off and on since 1691 (Bolton 1948:I:119).

48Toward the end of 1709 a smallpox epidemic began in Lower California which became serious there during the early days of 1710 (Alegre 1841:III:154). At San Ignacio de Caburica mission on the Magdalena River in Sonora, the resident Jesuit missionary recorded twenty-three deaths during 1710, seventy per cent of them during January and twenty-six percent in February-only four percent during the rest of the year (Libro de Entierros deste Pueblo de San Ygnacio desde 1697). While the missionary did not state any cause of death this mortality pattern clearly designates epidemic mortality conditions, and smallpox is the obvious candidate for indictment as the killer since it was present in Lower California at the same period. With an epidemic of this magnitude raging less than seventy miles away, the Indians of Tchoowaka and the rest of the upper Santa Cruz River Valley could hardly have escaped contagion in 1710.

6. The Smallpox Epidemic of 1724

Smallpox revisited the northern Piman Indians again early in 1724, and there can be no doubt that the residents of the upper Santa Cruz River Valley including Tchoowaka were infected and suffered heavy mortality from this contagion. Father Joseph Agustín de Campos recorded in his baptismal register "having departed from here-San Ygnacio- the twenty-fourth day of February to visit my children of the North because of the illnesses which are current and the smallpox 49which now comes-a journey in which I traveled 160 leagues" (Libro de Bautismos del Parito de San Ygnacio de Caburica). Father Campos traveled over the divide to the Santa Cruz River, and then downstream past Tchoowaka at least as far as San Francisco Xavier del Bac, cutting over to the San Pedro River for his return southward.

It was on the heels of this epidemic that measles struck in 1728-1729, and there is satisfactory direct historical documentation of the existence of the Spanish epidemic region including the northern Pimans. Since Tchoowaka had been identified by name for the first time by Father Campos on one of his northern trips in 1728 (ibid., p. 60), the particular history of Tchoowaka may be traced from that time onward.

CONTINUE
TABLE OF CONTENTS