about table of contents home

CHAPTER VIII:
THE ROYAL FORT OF ST. RAFAEL AT TUBAC

C. The Pima Company at Tubac

The year following its transfer to Tubac to participate in the offensive against the Apaches, the Pima Company took part in the Great Offensive of 1788. Ugarte y Loyola's military build-up apparently reached its peak in that year as to the east, and strong parties were almost constantly in the field against the Apaches. The operational units on the Sonoran frontier generally included detachments of Indians from the Tubac Company.

438In January of 1788 twenty-nine Pimas and one officer of the new Tubac garrison joined the opening campaign of the Great Offensive in Sonora. The Tubac ensign and his men left the rendezvous at Santa Cruz fort on January 7. The second night out three of the Tubac Pimas took French leave, however (Echeagaray Feb. 12, 1788:368). On the 18th the Tubac officer took four men in to attack an Apache camp, killing one man and three women and capturing five, this being the total number of Apaches in the camp (ibid., f. 369v-370). This officer died on January 28 (ibid., f. 371v), but who he was is unknown. The only ensign of record of the Pima Company at that time was Nicolás de la Errán, and he survived for many years.

In October the Commandant of Arms of Sonora suggested to the Commandant-General of the Frontier Provinces that the commander of the Altar garrison be sent to scout the Santa Rita Mountains with reinforcements from Tucson and Tubac (Anza Oct. 13, 1788:518v).

1. Opening the New Mexico Road

The new Apache policy of Viceroy Galvez had succeeded so well in a few years that southern Athapascan bands were surrendering all over the frontier to settle in peace at the border military posts, and by 1795 Spanish authorities considered the Apache country well enough pacified to attempt to reopen direct trade relations between Sonora and New Mexico which had been cut off by the Apaches for more than a century.

439The commander of the Tucson company, Captain José de Zúñiga, was selected to lead an expedition from the Sonoran frontier northeast to New Mexico. One of the junior officers who accompanied him was none other than First Ensign Juan Phelipe Beldarrain, the original captain's darling of the St. Ignatius Company at old Tubac! Also part of Zúñiga's force was a contingent of twenty-six riflemen from new Tubac, the St. Rafael Pima Company. Zúñiga had sixteen men from his own company and from Santa Cruz, twenty-one from Fronteras, twenty-five Opatas from Bacuachi, the Tubac Pimas and eight friendly Apache scouts (Hammond 1931:52). The various contingents from other posts assembled at Tucson and Captain Zúñiga set out on April 9, 1795 (ibid., p. 53). On May 1 Ensign Antonio Narbona led an advance party into the Pueblo of Zuñi (ibid., p. 57-58) to complete the first direct march of Spaniards from Sonora to that Indian village since the last reinforcement reached Vasquez de Coronado there in 1542! By May 27 Zúñiga had reached Tres Alamos on the San Pedro River on his return journey, and the next morning released the Tubac contingent to return to its post (ibid., p. 62) reaching Tucson himself May 29th.

2. Military Characteristics of the St. Rafael Company

Although the Company of St. Rafael had originally been recruited entirely from northern Piman Indians, at Tubac it began to enlist Yuman-speaking and Opata-speaking men as well.

440The troops in this company were necessarily among the most acculturated Indians living in Sonora. For one thing, they had to speak enough Spanish to communicate with their superior officers, and understand that language sufficiently well to obey commands efficiently even under stress of battle. As early as 1796, however, there is record that recruits came to this company from as far north as Mission St. Francis Xavier at Bac (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Bautismos, f. 30). Yet the northern Pimans proved to be insufficient in numbers of such acculturated recruits, either because of lack of actually acculturated men or lack of interest in serving in the company. As a result Indians from other tribes were enlisted in the garrison and the warlike and very pro-Spanish Opatas furnished the largest number of additional troopers (ibid., f. 30). The multi-tribal composition of the company undoubtedly operated to improve the facility in spoken Spanish of all the men.

The St. Rafael company was led by Spanish officers who generally were sent to Tubac from other frontier posts. Once in a great while the St. Rafael company would produce an officer for promotion to one of the other commands. Sergeant Benito Espinosa, for example, was promoted from the Pima Company of St. Rafael to Ensign of the Altar garrison in 1795 (King July 19, 1795). He was then forty-one years old, a native of the Terrenate post but of Spanish ancestry. He entered the Santa Cruz company on September 27, 1774, and served with his home town outfit until transferred to the 441new St. Rafael Pima Company on July 1, 1782, as corporal and then sergeant on the sixteenth (Errán 1794c). There he remained for thirteen years, eight of them at Tubac, before he was commissioned. One of his handicaps was illiteracy (ibid.).

The other veteran sergeant of the company for some time was Bernardino Camargo. He had joined Espinosa at least as early as the 1785 sojourn at the fort of Buenavista (Medina Nov. 26, 1785), and he became a baptismal godfather to a little nine year old Yuma girl at Tubutama on April 12, 1789 (Libro de Bautismos, f. 13, San Pedro y San Pablo de Tubutama).

After the success of the great offensive mounted in the Frontier Provinces under Commandant-General Jacobo Ugarte y Loyola, and the resulting surrender of southern Athapascan bands, the offensive and defensive power of the frontier military posts steadily declined from non-use. This deterioration reached such a point that on June 5 and 6 of 1801 hostile Apaches were able to invest Mission Tumacácori three miles from the royal fort at Tubac for two days before troops and citizens from the post relieved the mission at 6 p.m. on the 6th and enabled the defenders there to recover the bodies of their early casualties for interment (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Entierros, f. 157v).

a. The Peaceful Apaches. Meanwhile the vigorous sustained offensive had yielded results very satisfactory to the Spaniards. Large numbers of Apaches had been persuaded 442by the military harassment they sustained to seek peace and reside at the various frontier posts. While there is very little evidence of the extent to which Apache bands settled down at the royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac to receive their rations of food, liquor and infectious disease, and their indoctrination into the mysteries of gambling, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that some Apaches did surrender and live there. For example, an Apache boy of about five years of age died in the fort on June 25, 1798, who was identified as an immigrant living at the Mission of Tumacácori (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Entierros, f. 154v)-not a captive slave as in earlier years. The term "agregado" used to indicate adhesion to the mission community was customarily used to refer to friendly Indians who voluntarily joined a mission, and not to war captives converted into slaves. This lad's parents were agregados- some recently-pacified Apaches.

On May 19, 1799, Fray Narciso Gutierrez baptized in danger of death another Apache boy who was brought to the mission by his parents from the fort where a citizen woman had already baptized him because of his grave illness (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Bautismos, f. 33). Again this is evidence of a resident friendly Apache contingent at the royal fort.

b. Garrison Strength. The authorized strength of the St. Rafael Company of Pimas would seem to have been eighty-four 443officers and men. When the Pima company was holding the fort at Buenavista in 1785, its force was one commanding lieutenant, one ensign, two veteran sergeants and eighty men, which was its full complement (Medina Nov. 26, 1785). This sum total of eighty-four officers and men was the complement recognized in the presidial legislation of independent Mexico in 1826 (Gomez Pedraza Mar. 20, 1826, Estado 2), so it evidently remained stable throughout the colonial period.

It appears therefore that the intelligence of United States Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike (Coues 1895:II:773) was somewhat faulty when he ascribed 100 dragoons to Tubac. Since the North American officer obtained his information in the capital or in eastern New Spain, his information about Tubac was worse than secondhand, and may have been fed him in a deliberate attempt to make the frontier forces seem stronger than in actuality they were.

c. Wall Fortification. The St. Rafael Company of Pimas evidently constructed the first defensive wall at the royal fort at Tubac. This conclusion is based on presently available evidence and may well prove wrong if further documentation is discovered.

There certainly was a high adobe wall around the Mexican fort at Tubac (Couts 1848:67). Its deterioration during the early years of United States sovereignty suggests that it was in poor condition and already old by that time. On the other hand no documentary evidence for the construction of an exterior 444defensive wall at the Royal Fort of St. Ignatius at Tubac has been found. Indeed, the only document providing direct evidence proves that there was no wall at the post at least as late as 1766 and probably somewhat later (Urrutia 1766). The notable lack of speed Lt. Oliva and Ensign Beldarrain showed in erecting an adobe defensive wall at the new Tucson post (Medina May 3, 1779) suggests that they had lived happily at Tubac without one and saw no great urgency in building one at the new location.

The best evidence so far discovered for the origin of an exterior defensive wall at Tubac is a statement of the Commandant-General of the Frontier Provinces of New Spain in a report to the court dated August 6, 1794. A royal order on the subject of fortifications called forth this comment: "The walls of the forts are of adobe and in their interior square or precinct are the small houses of the troops and their families" (Nava Aug. 6, 1794).

This was, of course, a general comment, and does not necessarily prove that a wall had been built at Tubac by that time.

It does, however, suggest that the Pima Company had erected an adobe wall at the Tubac post after its arrival in 1787 so the fortification there took on the appearance of the rest of the frontier posts and Nava had no reason to note it as an exception to his generalization.

d. Armament. While the Pima Company started out fighting with its native bows and arrows and war clubs, rifles 445eventually reached the frontier with which it was armed.  Then the Tubac post acquired an armorer to keep the firearms in repair. Actually he probably was a gunsmith who plied his trade at the post for personal profit while undertaking less skilled smithing to make a living. This artisan of unknown name began functioning at least as early as May of 1795 (Armorer's Account 1804:82). His accounts provide some clues as to the weaknesses of the rifles used by the Pima Company. The firing mechanisms were characteristically the frailest part of these arms. Their firelocks frequently required replacement. The whole gunlock assembly was made up of weak parts of variable weakness. The barrel screw had to be replaced as well as the trigger spring. Sometimes gun barrels required reboring and carrying straps often needed renewal, as might be expected (ibid., f. 82-82v).

CONTINUE
TABLE OF CONTENTS