Health Conditions at Tubac


The garrison of the royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac enjoyed rather better health than the first royal garrison at that post in the period 1752-1776. During the period the St. Rafael Indian Company garrisoned Tubac from 1787 to Mexican independence in 1821, only two serious epidemics swept Sonora and the post apparently escaped the first of these.

Epidemic diseases continued, of course, to be a problem, but the death rate was fairly low for the times, it seems. The lack of any census data for Tubac during the early years of the century prohibits any precise estimation of death rates.

501Some of the characteristic patterns of mortality can be computed from surviving burial records of the post. The highest mortality occurred among infants and children aged five years or less, and among married persons (which, of course, includes a much longer span of years). The following tables for non-epidemic years will illustrate the fluctuation of endemic illnesses with fatal results between the very young and the middle aged groups.

The women of late colonial Tubac were a very hardy group. While one might expect mortality among woman of child bearing age to be much higher than among men of the same age, at Tubac such women died very little faster than men of like age. Apparently complications of pregnancy and parturition were not common among the Tubac female population.



  Men Women
  1814   66.7%   33.3%
  1815   80.0   20.0
  1817   36.4   36.6
  1818   42.9   57.1
  1819   60.0   40.0
  1820   28.6   71.4
  1821   0.0   100.0
  Total:   42.9%   57.1%




  Per Cent of Total Mortality in Age-Group

























































1. The Smallpox Epidemic in 1799

In 1799 New Spain was struck by one of the most severe epidemics of smallpox that epidemic-swept kingdom had yet suffered. Theviceroy wrote worried reports back to Spain. This epidemic moved the crown to dispatch army surgeons to New Spain with the new vaccination technique and serum.

The severity of this epidemic may be gauged from the fact that the epidemic mortality period at the small lower Magdalena River town of Pitiquito lasted from July 25 to 510September 14th. During this period 63.6 per cent of the deaths for the year occurred (San Diego de Pitiquito, Libro de Entierros).

At the visitation station of Magdalena the epidemic mortality period lasted only from August 22 to September 17-apparently Magdalena became infected later than Pitiquito to the west. But during that period of less than a month occurred 46.2 per cent of the total deaths during 1799. Actually these deaths are only those identified in church records as smallpox deaths-several others were probably caused by smallpox directly or indirectly through complications.  The epidemic death rate alone at Magdalena was three times as large as the total death rate the previous year 1798 and six times that for the following year 1800 (Libro de Entierros de Santa María Magdalena de 1702).

Despite the ferocity of this epidemic elsewhere in northern Sonora, there is no evidence that it struck the royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac! Since Tumacácori Mission and the military post were so near each other and visiting was so frequent, if the epidemic had affected one it would inevitably have struck the other. While there are no records available for Tubac in 1799, there are good mortality records for Tumacácori and there simply was no epidemic at all during 1799! The total mortality at Tumacácori Mission during 1799 was only 75 percent of that during the preceding year 1798 and it was only 50 per cent of that during the following 511year 1800. There were no deaths at all during the epidemic months of July and August and only one during September (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Entierros). If Tumacácori-and Tubac- were infected by the smallpox epidemic of 1799 at all, the disease followed a very mild course in those communities, and there was either no mortality at all or only one case in the mission.

2. The Smallpox Epidemic of 1816

If the Tubac-Tumacácori settlement complex luckily escaped epidemic mortalities during the vicious smallpox epidemic in New Spain during 1799, it was far from as lucky during the epidemic of the same malady which spread in 1816. Although the book of church records begun for the fort populace in 1806 survives, unfortunately most of the pages where burial entries for the year 1816 were made have since been torn out of the volume, so the precise impact of this epidemic on the royal fort of St. Rafael at Tubac must again be largely inferred from evidence from surrounding communities.

a. San Lorenzo. It is fairly clear that the 1816 epidemic began in the south and spread northward through Sonora. This can be shown from the periods of epidemic fatalities at a few of the northern communities. San Lorenzo is a farming village a few miles south of Magdalena on the river of that name. It had been heavily colonized by Yaqui Indians since the 1799 epidemic. In 1816 smallpox mortalities began on August 18 and ended on October 5th, during which time 70.3512per cent of the total fatalities recorded during the year occurred (Libro de Entierros de Santa María Magdalena). A third of the fatalities occurred among children aged less than five years, and another third among individuals in the six to fifteen age group.

Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1814 (incomplete record) 13K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1814 (incomplete record) 13K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1815 12K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1815 12K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1817 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1817 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1818 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1818 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1819 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1819 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1820 12K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1820 12K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1821 12K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Royal Fort at Tubac: 1821 12K

b. Magdalena. At Magdalena itself, the first smallpox fatality occurred on August 30 and the last on October 4th. Recorded smallpox deaths made up 37.2 per cent of all the deaths recorded during 1816. Just 50 per cent of the epidemic fatalities were children aged eight years or less.  Unidentified smallpox deaths due to complications were undoubtedly high, especially during September within the epidemic mortality period. The total fatalities during the epidemic mortality period of just over one month formed 62.8 per cent of the 1816 total (ibid.).

c. Pitiquito. The first smallpox fatality at Pitiquito occurred on October 8 after the mortality period at San Lorenzo and Magdalena had ended, showing the direction in which the infection was spreading. The last smallpox fatality came on November 10. Smallpox fatalities constituted 42.9 per cent of the total deaths during the year at Pitiquito. These epidemic deaths alone exceeded the total mortality for the previous year 1815 by 20 per cent and equalled the entire mortality for the next year 1817 (Libro de Entierros de San Diego del Pitiquito).

d. Tumacácori. Fray Narciso Gutierrez at Tumacácori Mission did not keep such full records as the Franciscans at 513Magdalena and Pitiquito, so it is impossible to define the period of epidemic mortality at Tumacácori (and Tubac) as precisely as the other missions. Quite clearly November was the month of highest epidemic mortality with 47.8 per cent of the deaths recorded during 1816, but October and December had higher death rates than normal and some smallpox epidemic fatalities almost certainly occurred during one or both of those months (San José de R, Libro de Entierros).

e. Guebavi. Guebavi was by 1816 repopulated by Yaqui Indian and Spanish or mestizo immigrants but this small farming community had no recorded epidemic mortality in the fall of 1816, suggesting that its relatively small population happened to be one with previously acquired immunity to smallpox.

f. Calabazas. By 1816 Calabazas was about the same as Guebavi in population make-up, but two deaths occurred there during November of 1816- the local epidemic peak-whereas none occurred the rest of that year, nor in 1815 or 1817 (ibid.). it appears, therefore, that the small Calabazas population was not entirely immune to smallpox and suffered a couple of epidemic fatalities.

g. Tubac. The scanty data available on mortality during the year 1816 at the post of St. Rafael at Tubac unfortunately do not permit comparison even with the other communities to illuminate the effects of 1816 epidemic smallpox. Available records do permit the conclusion that this contagion 515struck the military post with devastating impact. The burial records for Tubac now extant begin in 1814 a few months after Lt. Ignacio Sotelo is known to have been post commandant, but there is no record of his burial although he was referred to as deceased when one of his daughters married in 1818 (Libro de las Tubac, f. 6v). It appears highly probable that the Tubac commanding officer was among those carried off in the epidemic of 1816 and that the record of his burial was on one of the pages torn from the book.

The total mortality at Tubac during the epidemic year of 1816 can be computed despite the loss of most of the pages bearing burial entries for that year because the beginning and terminal entries for the year survive and were numbered consecutively. Fifty-four persons died at Tubac during 1816. That was a very high mortality for the frontier settlement. It represented an increase of 237.5 per cent over the total mortality during the previous year 1815 when sixteen persons died. (The 1815 death rate was very close to the five-year average for 1817-1821 inclusive which was 16.4 deaths per year, evidently the "normal" death rate.)

If the total population of Tubac was approximately 400 persons at the beginning of 1816, the epidemic mortality shot the death rate up to about 135 deaths per 1,000 population compared to a crude death rate of about 40 per 1,000 the previous year!

Mortality Pattern by Months at the Presidio of Tubac in 1816 11K
Mortality Pattern by Months at the Presidio of Tubac in 1816 11K