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CHAPTER IV:
CHRISTIAN CONVERSION

B. Forms of Indian Labor On the Sonoran Frontier of New Spain

The frontier of New Spain in Sonora, particularly in northern Piman territory where the effective military frontier arrived in 1752 and remained stalled until United States 66sovereignty in 1854, had in many respects a different social milieu than the earlier frontiers farther south in Mexico. The original frontier was characterized by a very small European population, almost entirely male, holding in subjugation millions of civilized Indians in what amounted to a substitution of Spanish for Aztec, Zapotec, Tarascan or other native overlords. The commonality of Indians was just as blatantly exploited by its Spanish conquerors as it had been before. The difference lay merely in the goals of exploitation. Aztecs required tribute in foodstuffs, cloth, bright feathers, gold and such, plus bodies suitable for sacrifice to the gods (Simpson 1950:viii), while the Spaniards continued the extraction of food, cloth and handicrafts while substituting human sacrifices to the secular god of gold for the more direct Indian practices. Ambitious Spaniards achieved upward social mobility in a dying feudal system at home by seizing control of a metallically richer feudal system overseas.

In order to regularize and legalize conqueror-subject relations in the New World, the Spanish crown and conquerors evolved a number of special social institutions. These ranged from the identical "peculiar institution" of the pre-War of the Rebellion South in the United States through a considerable spectrum of less overt forms of forced labor and involuntary servitude.

The fundamental social institution devised for regulating the relationship between a specific conqueror and subjugated 67Indians was known as encomienda. This consisted originally of a crown delegation of its power to collect tribute and use personal services of vassals (ibid., xiii), often a recognition of conquest after the fact. A more severe form of apportioning out Indian labor was repartimiento or mita. This was impressment of a number of Indians for labor for public purposes or in the mines (ibid., p. 10). For the Spaniards cared not one whit about working hours, wages (which is to say an adequate or inadequate food intake to maintain life), mine safety regulations and such-like later inventions of north Europeans. They were interested in one variable only: the amount of saleable metal produced by the miners.

These institutions actually represented attempts by higher authority to at least formalize existing conqueror-conquered relationships, and to ameliorate to some extent the worst abuses to which Indians were subjected (ibid., p. 14). They were in fact thin disguises for outright human slavery (ibid., p. 37), which also existed.

Human slavery was a Spanish institution inherited from Roman and perhaps earlier times, and kept very much alive by seven hundred years of constant warfare with the Moors which lasted into the period of exploding Spanish colonialism in the New World. The last Islamic stronghold in Peninsular Spain did not surrender until the same year Columbus discovered the Western Hemisphere. It had taken the Spaniards over seven hundred years just to win back their homeland from 68Islamic invaders. It was a war as bitter as long, both sides enthusiastically taking prisoners throughout the struggle. Since such captives were believers in a different and antithetical religious faith, the obvious thing to do them was to make them into slaves-chattels without any rights whatsoever and the duty of working their heads off for their masters.

Seven hundred years of habit is not easily discarded, so when the Spaniards reached the New World they continued to make slaves of captives taken in "legitimate" warfare, or "rebel" Indians (Simpson 1950:3) such as Admiral Christopher Columbus consigned to Spain for sale as slaves in 1495. At the same time the Spaniards continued making slaves of Moors captured in campaigns which were launched in North Africa once the Spanish Peninsula was firmly in Christian hands.

To some extent the encomienda and repartimiento systems in the Indian Hemisphere represented malaise of Spanish conscience after the decimation of the Caribbean Island populations, and the ethic pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church since the bulk of the Mexican Indians had not been captured in open, "legitimate" warfare. Having been subjugated by conquest of previous overlords or having voluntarily joined the Spanish cause, they could not in good conscience be treated simply as slaves.

On the other hand, the constant expansion of the area of Spanish sovereignty in New Spain afforded significant 6 9opportunities for taking slaves in open and legitimate warfare when frontier tribes resisted conquest. The overt slave raiding expedition of Nuño de Guzman and his followers in 1529-1531 could be rationalized if not condoned.

How much experience with this sort of extra-legal slave-raiding the northern Pimans had had by the time Jesuit missionaries reached their territory cannot be told in the absence of documentation. Slave-raiders, aside from being frequently illiterate and incapable of producing records, were sufficiently aware of their untenable ethical and moral position that they very carefully kept no records.

That the Northern Piman Indians had had some experience with slave raiding and forced labor in the mines is indicated in their behavior toward Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, the founder of the first northern Piman mission. When he tried to interest some Indians north of his mission in forming a visitation station, they refused. They as much as accused the Jesuit of being an advance-man for the mine operators seeking new labor. They had heard, they told him, that he carried a cedula from the king exempting the northern Piman converts from repartimiento. They did not believe him, they said, because if he had one he would have shown it to the civil officer in charge of the mine camp nearest them, Bacanuche (Bolton 1948:I:114).

This behavior on the part of the Indians is reasonable only in terms of their having been subjected to forced labor 70by the officials at Bacanuche, which was north of Kino's mission station and to the east. Moreover, it implies that the Indians had had considerable contact with Spaniards long before Kino arrived in order for them to have gained a clear grasp of the governmental structure in the mining settlements, the relative ineffectiveness of missionaries in opposing greedy miners backed by equally greedy poor officials after their fortunes, and the overriding authority of a royal edict.

As a matter of fact, Father Kino did carry the king's cedula exempting Indians newly reduced to mission life from forced labor for twenty years (ibid., I:107-109). So Kino hastened to Bacanuche with the royal edict to display it before the top official there and secure his ceremonial obedience to the sovereign resolution of His Majesty (ibid., I:114).

This royal protection over newly missionized Indians without a doubt played a very important part in the rapid acceptance of missions by the northern Pimans and their whole-hearted cooperation with Spanish frontier officials and even settlers.

After Kino's arrival with the royal edict in 1687 the energies of Spanish slave-hunters on the Sonoran frontier had to be directed elsewhere than against the northern Pimans yet the frontier was effectively stalled in the southern reaches of northern Piman country. In this situation, Spaniards 71were still able to find a source of Indian slaves to perform domestic and mine labor. In fact, they found two major sources. One was the cutting edge of the southern Athapascan advance into the population vacuum in southern New Mexico and northeastern Sonora. The Spaniards maintained a state of conflict with the Apaches for a century on this frontier, ensuring that "legitimate" warfare was usually going on somewhere on the frontier so war captives could be taken for conversion into slaves after the battle. The other source of Indian slaves was the number of Yuman-speaking tribes beyond Piman territory to the west and north who were aligned together in opposition to a Piman-Yuman military alliance friendly to the Spaniards. The enemy Yumans periodically suffered raids by the friendly Yumans who took captives-especially young women and children-whom they sold to the Pimans who then sold them to the Spaniards (Dobyns, Ezell, Jones & Ezell 1957). Since these captives had been taken in legitimate warfare, they were bonafide slaves, even though the Spaniards merely purchased them.

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