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CHAPTER IX:
THE MEXICAN PRESIDIO AT TUBAC

533Mexico's achievement of political independence from Spain altered the military situation on the northern frontier not at all. The southern Athapascans remained the primary problem of all the frontier provinces. The policy initiated by Viceroy Galvez some thirty-five years before independence had been startlingly successful and the Frontier Provinces had enjoyed their thirty most peaceful and profitable years immediately prior to independence. Yet hostile Apaches remained undefeated, living beyond the frontier forts and posing a threat to the peace of the frontier. Even the bands settled in peace at the military posts still required overawing by the garrison troops, as, well as subsidizing with food, liquor, and clothing rations.

The newly independent Mexicans worried over the threat of geographic expansion by the United States. The Spanish empire had already lost the Floridas to that new nation, and Napoleon had sold the great Louisiana Purchase to it, thus bringing its western boundary into conjunction with the northeastern boundary of New Spain, now Mexico. Mexican officials were aware that the bulk of the area under nominal 534Mexican sovereignty in the direction of the United States was thinly settled by Mexicans if at all, most of it being still the de facto domain of a number of hard-fighting Indian tribes. Therefore frontier officers worried about the possibility of United States attack through this hostile hinterland and infiltration by United States citizens pursuing economic ends such as trapping or trading. The colonial system of frontier forts was hardly altered by independent Mexico, therefore, since the need for border garrisons continued as great as ever.

A. The Period of Grace: 1821 to 1833

The military situation in the Frontier Provinces, particularly in the northwest, remained as stable and relatively peaceful as it had been at the end of colonial times for approximately a decade after independence was achieved. For a few years more the Mexicans retained control of the situation and then the balance of power tilted against them and a long period of defeat and retreat, attrition and contrition set in.

At the beginning the military situation looked very good, indeed, especially by comparison with the high cost of revolution paid by the United States and France. The frontier posts came through the change of sovereignty unscathed by fighting. The process of revolution by nearly unanimous treason described 535in the last chapter insured that the presidial garrisons came to Mexico practically intact. They were trained, experienced units-in-being, though somewhat deteriorated through lack of active campaigning which had merely to carry on as they had been for many years. They did not have to be created from the ground up as in the United States nor largely reconstituted as in France.

The officer corps, since its members led the coup d'etat which achieved independence, came over to Mexico virtually in a body, so the professional, experienced leadership the frontier troops required to be effective stayed right on the spot. Officers did not have to train themselves from scratch by making errors in battle as did the revolutionary army officers of the United States; the professional officer class was not decimated as in revolutionary France. It remained very nearly intact, with very high esprit de corps because of its successful role in making the revolution, commanding it, and receiving its major rewards.

1. Colonel Arvizu's Proposals

One index of the high morale and optimism of the newly independent Mexican nation in the period immediately after 1821 was a series of proposals made by Colonel Ignacio Arvizu to the national government in 1823.

The general tenor of the Arvizu proposals was that the Sonoran frontier military posts should be relocated in new 536positions in advance of their existing locations. He suggested, for example, that the fort at Altar be moved to the town of Sonoita where the short-lived Jesuit mission founded in 1750 had been destroyed by the Pima Revolt in November of 1751. The aim of such a move would be to push Mexican civilization closer to the desert dwelling Pápago Indians, the Gila River Pimas and the tribes living on the Colorado River (Escudero 1849:73).

2. The Colorado River Expedition of 1825

One of the operational indices of the continued excellence of the frontier forces was a large-scale military expedition undertaken by General José Figueroa with over 300 men in the year 1825 (Figueroa October 22, 1825) which at least laid the preliminary groundwork for implementing the Arvizu proposals. Part of the Figueroa force seems to have come from Tubac, which was left with only a standby garrison.

Although the Yaqui Indians were on the brink of rebellion in the middle of the long, unwieldy State of the West (modern Sinaloa and Sonora), General Figueroa led his troops on a northern jaunt through Tubac and Tucson to the Gila River Pima villages and down that stream to the Colorado River where he expected to meet a contingent coming east from coastal California (Figueroa November 5) 1825).

The fact that this expedition could be mounted at all indicates the relatively high level of military efficiency 537maintained in Sonora up to the end of 1825, and the very high morale among the troops of the newly independent nation. A comparable undertaking had not occurred in northern Sonora since the Zúñiga expedition to New Mexico in 1795.

On the other hand, the early indications of military deterioration were already apparent in this expedition. In the first place, the contingent which had been ordered assembled in Upper California to come to the Colorado River to join up with the Figueroa expedition failed to effect a junction at the appointed time. It is doubtful whether such a failure would have occurred in colonial times: discipline was not such as to encourage such evasion of responsibility. In the second place, General Figueroa declined to cross the Colorado River to seek the California contingent when it did not show up (ibid.). Colonial expeditionary commanders such as Juan Bautista de Anza or Pedro Fages would have pushed across the river to find out what had happened to the California force. The quality of field commanders was not as high as it had been.

3. Federal Frontier Fort Policy

Early in the spring of 1826 the Mexican national congress formally recognized the system of frontier military posts inherited from the Spanish colonial army. The presidial companies were officially adopted as the defensive units for the State of the East, State of the West (including Sonora), and 538the Territory of New Mexico (Gomez Pedraza March 21, 1826: Art. 1). The State of the West which had been organized out of the Western Frontier Provinces was allotted nine presidial companies by the federal congress, compared to three in New Mexico, five in Chihuahua, seven in Coahuila-Texas and two in Tamaulipas (ibid., Art. 2). An additional militia force of fifteen companies also received the congressional stamp of approval (ibid., Art. 3), Sonora and Sinaloa rating three of these like Tamaulipas and Chihuahua, whereas Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Texas, and the New Mexico Territory were allowed only two each (ibid., Art. 4). The militia companies were ordered organized on the basis of one captain, one lieutenant, two ensigns, one first sergeant and two second sergeants, a trumpeter, six corporals and ninety enlisted men (ibid., Art. 5).

Six of the regular Sonora-Sinaloa companies remained "white" units, and three were frozen as Indian companies as during colonial times. The half dozen white-mestizo outfits garrisoned Fronteras, Santa Cruz, Tucson, Altar, Buenavista and Pitic (shortly to become Hermosillo), the first four with an authorized strength of ninety-four men and six officers, the last two with sixty-four men and six officers. The three Indian companies recognized were the Opata units at Bacuachi and Babispe and the Pima Company stationed at Tubac. Each of these Indian outfits was authorized one veteran lieutenant commanding, one veteran ensign, one captain of Indians, two 539veteran sergeants, one veteran drummer, four veteran corporals, and seventy-four Indians. The national congress authorized expenditure of part of the payroll to recompense a missionary for serving these units as acting military chaplain (ibid., Estado 2).

The Sonora-Sinaloa Indian-fighting companies were placed under the command of an InspectorGeneral Commanding with headquarters at Arispe (ibid., Art. 9), and an annual pay of 4,,000 pesos (ibid., Art. 10). This commander was given one Adjutant Inspector with the rank of lieutenant colonel and annual pay of 3,000 pesos (ibid., Art. 11).

What the national Mexican congress proposed circumstances on the frontier frequently disposed of. The difficulty of the State of the West in maintaining the authorized strength of the presidial and militia companies may be inferred from the twelfth law of the legislature of that northwestern province in 1826, close on the heels of the federal act of recognition of frontier forts and militia. Faced with a rebellion by the Yaqui and Mayo Indians whose lands divided the Sonoran and Sinaloan parts of the State of the West, its legislators decided to draft into the permanent militia recalcitrants who refused in any way to aid the state government in its Indian war (Elías June 18, 1826, Art. 1). This measure undoubtedly had the social affect of branding many if not all militiamen as criminals, and probably quite seriously dried up the source of recruits among socially aspiring lower 540class men to whom the colonial army had been a means to social mobility. This law was published even in far-off Tubac.

4. The Great Land Rush in the Santa Cruz Valley

Another index of the continuance of peaceful conditions and efficient military operations on the Sonoran frontier immediately after independence was the large-scale land rush which occurred in the Santa Cruz River Valley and adjoining areas-even the San Pedro River Valley which had been abandoned because of the proximity of hostile Apaches since 1762.

The unsettled conditions of the royal colonial government during the Napoleonic Wars and the years of change leading up to independence combined with successful pacification of the Apaches had already led to a significant increase in the number of applications for grants of land on the Sonoran frontier and the number of grants made (Mattison 1946:294-295; 299; Britton & Gray 1884:29-30). After 1821 the number of applications and grants jumped as ambitious Mexicans saw opportunities for profiting from the grazing and farming lands in the Santa Cruz River Valley, the San Pedro River Valley, and intervalley montane areas.

These frontier land grants would not have been eagerly sought had the frontier military posts not been carrying out their protection and pacification mission very successfully.  This index dates the end of the period of grace very accurately, for the deterioration of the frontier military situation 541destroyed the desirability of frontier land grants and only one grant was made after the year 1833 (Mattison 1946:288-9).

By about 1833 the period of grace was over and it became apparent that the problems which had to be solved by newly independent Mexico in order to continue the era of peace on the frontier had not been solved, and the situation deteriorated into open warfare with the Apaches once again, and a long marked decline set in.

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