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BMGR EARLY EXPLORATION|
Printable Fact Sheet
Early Exploration: 1550 - 1850
The early exploration period began with the expeditions of Father Eusebio Kino, Captain Juan Manje and others in the mid-1500s. These expeditions were the first explorations of Europeans in northern Sonora, Mexico, and southeast Arizona.
The diaries of these early explorers provide historic glimpses into the lives of the hunter-gatherers of these times, as Captain Manje's description attests:
They live on the roots and wild fruits which the region produces at various seasons of the year. They also eat shellfish, worms, lizards, iguanas, and other animals considered repugnant by us, and with bow and arrow hunt for wild sheep. The men go about naked, and the women are scantily clothed in a few tatters of antelope skin extending from the waist to mid-calf.
El Camino del Diablo, the Road of the Devil, is a rough, unpaved route that crosses southwestern Arizona, dipping at one point into northwestern Sonora. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it begins in the east at Altar and Caborca, Mexico, continues northwest to Sonoyta, then ends at Yuma, Arizona. The route was undoubtedly used for millennia by prehistoric peoples. Pottery sherds and shell fragments are scattered along its length. The only records of individual travelers are, however, from historic times. El Camino del Diablo is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first known historic trip was that of Melchior Diaz, a Spanish soldier in 1540. He was ordered by his commander, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, to go from a location near Ures, Mexico to the mouth of the Colorado River near Yuma. While on horseback on the return trip, Diaz threw his lance at a dog which was bothering some sheep. The lance stuck in the ground, and his horse overran it. The butt end of the lance pierced Diaz in the lower abdomen. Diaz had to be carried back along the Camino in a litter by his men. He died before reaching Ures, and was buried near Cabala, Mexico.
In 1699 Father Eusebio Kino, Father Adamo Gilg, and Lt. Juan Manje traveled the Camino from Sonoyta to the Gila River west of Wellton. They mapped and named several of the watering places, including the natural tinajas now known as Tinajas Altas, Heart Tank in the Sierra Pintas, and Cabeza Prieta Tank. They also found water among the rocks of an arroyo 15 miles southwest of Wellton, now known as Dripping Springs.
After Father Kino's death in 1711, Jesuit work in the region slowed, few trips were made into the area, and some missions were all but abandoned. The Spanish military presence increased, and the mission's position of Indian sovereignty gave way to the military's need for Indian labor. The Pima Indians' dissatisfaction culminate in an uprising in 1751 in which several missions were attacked., killing the priests. The Pimans fled north to the Santa Catalina Mountains (north of Tucson), and the Spanish military followed, establishing a presidio at Tubac (Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac in 1753.
Following the Pima revolt, the Sobaipuri O'odham people were resettled and concentrated in the Santa Cruz valley near San Cosme de Tucson. Increased Apache raids in the 1770s may also have resulted in additional Sobaipuri settlement in the Santa Cruz. In 1776 the Tubac presidio was relocated to Tucson, a more strategic location along the route to Alta California, which also had a plentiful supply of water and pasturage. Tucson continued to grow, and a mission was constructed there between 1771 and 1773 by Father Francisco Garces.
In 1779, Father Garces and an escort of two soldiers crossed the length of the Camino from Sonoyta to Yuma in August (a feat not easily accomplished today with modern equipment and plenty of water). Garces then established a mission on the California side of the Colorado River.
In 1781, Ensign Santiago de Islas led a small group of Spanish families across the Camino to Yuma, where they founded two short-lived and ill-fated settlements on the Colorado River. These colonies and the Spanish soldiers and horses that accompanied them were not self-sufficient. They bought and apparently expropriated food from the Indians. The Indians were becoming disenchanted with this arrangement and when, in June of 1781, another large party of colonists arrived, they had had enough. The Quechan attacked the colonies, killing the priests, all the soldiers, and the male settlers.
Apache attacks and Spanish counter-campaigns continued until 1786, when the new Viceroy of Spain initiated a pacification policy to resettle friendly Apaches. More than 100 Apaches were settled at Tucson in 1793, followed by a relatively peaceful period which allowed for increased Spanish migration into the area.
Luke Air Force Range Natural Resources Management Plan, University of Arizona, 1986.
An Archeological Survey in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Southwestern Arizona, 1989-1991, Western Archeological & Conservation Center, National Park Service, 1995.
Southern Arizona The Last 12,000 Years: A Cultural-Historic Overview for the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, Statistical Research Inc., Tucson, 1994.