Indian Givers

Indian Givers: Interpreting the Friendship and Betrayal of the Yumas from the Journal Accounts of the 1774 and 1775-1776 Anza Expeditions and Personal Experience of the Anza Trail

Recently I completed a 1340 mile month-long biking and running trek from Nogales Arizona to San Francisco California with five of my Williams Cross Country teammates following Spanish Commander Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1775-1776 expedition route. In my travels, I experienced first hand many of the same environments and landscapes that Anza confronted on his journey with nearly 240 colonists and a small military escort.

During our pioneering trek of the Anza trails and auto routs, I spent early evenings in the Sonoran Desert fighting off exhaustion to read Friar Pedro Font’s journal accounts of his experience on Anza’s expedition in 1775-1776, and I had the privilege to see what remains of many missions, presidios, and pueblos that are mentioned in that journal. The history that I learned from Font’s Journal was supplemented with information displayed by the National Park Service and local conservation groups at interest points along the trail. I also learned a great deal in conversations with people who volunteered to host my teammates and me after reading about our proposed trek in an Anza Trail newsletter.

As I read Friar Pedro Font’s journal on our trek, I was particularly struck by the exceptional displays of friendship and hospitality performed by the Yuma Indians native to the lower Colorado River in what is today southwestern Arizona and northeastern Baja California. The Yumas, according to Font, gave Anza and his colonists an overwhelmingly warm and enthusiastic welcome upon their arrival to the desert region where the Gila River meets the Colorado.

Captain Salvador Palma himself and another captain, whom we named Pablo, came to see us, accompanied by several Yuma Indians. They saluted us with many demonstrations of pleasure, especially Captain Palma, who embraced all of us and gave the commander a few orimuni beans. In the afternoon the commander [Anza] took him through the camp that he might visit the people, and he went about saluting everybody, giving an embrace to each, men, women, and children alike, as a sign of good will. (Font Ex, 11/27/76) … The Yumas entertained us in an arbor which Captain Palma had ordered erected here as soon as he learned of our coming, and many Indians of both sexes assembled to visit us, very festive and joyful and very much painted in various modes and colors. (Font Ex, 11/28/75)

And, when members of Anza’s expedition needed to ford the Colorado River both on the way to Monterey California and on the return trip, the aid of the Yumas was indispensable according to Font.

Certainly these Indians [the Yumas] are great swimmers and are very friendly with Spaniards. And they are most worthy of appreciation for their love and loyalty, for all our lives and all the baggage were in their hands. (Font Ex, 5/14/1776)

Chief Salvador Palma with the support of his tribe, according to Font’s account, not only enjoyed aiding and entertaining the Spanish but also expressed a desire to become more like the Spanish.

I took Captain Palma and an interpreter, and in the arbor I had with him a long conversation as to whether he wished that I and other fathers should come to live there with his people. To this he replied that he would be very much pleased by it, and all his people likewise. I continued by telling him that for this it was necessary that he should learn the doctrine in order that they might be Christians; likewise that they would have also to learn masonry and carpentry, and to till the soil, etc., and that they must live together in a pueblo, which would have to be formed by the people, in order that they might live close together in their houses and not scattered out as now; and that they would have to make a house for the father and a church. To all this Palma replied that they would do these things with great pleasure … (Font Ex, 11/25/75)

In recognition of Palma’s desire to accommodate the Fathers and agreement to support the establishment of what would become two mission settlements, Father Fray Eixarch and Father Francisco Garces were left behind on November 30th of 1775 to live with the Yuma while the rest of the colonists continued their journey to Monterey and upon Font’s return to the Yuma settlements on May 11th of 1776, he was greatly impressed by the enduring hospitality of the Yuma and their attachment to the Spaniards.

Reciprocal and great was the joy which I felt on seeing Father Fray Thomás Eixarch, so contented and safe in this place, living with such satisfaction among so many heathen, who are very much attached to the Spaniards and deserving of appreciation and esteem, especially Captain Palma. (Font Ex, 5/11/76)

And, the following day, Yuma Chief Salvador Palma requested to leave his tribe and travel to Mexico, now present day Mexico City with Anza.

Captain Palma, as I noted yesterday, said that he wished to come with us and go to Mexico to pay his respects to the viceroy, and to tell him that he and his Yumas greatly wished and would be very happy if Spaniards and fathers would come to their lands to live with them. (Font Ex, 5/12/76)

After reading these journal entries on my trip it was difficult to ascertain why the Yumas were so welcoming and helpful to the Spanish colonists. On our recent trek, my teammates and I learned that the Apache successfully stole horses from both Anza’s 1774 and 1775-76 expeditions despite the protection of mounted soldiers armed with spears. We hauled water for as long as three days on our bikes through the desert along stretches of the historic trail because no other water was available and we experienced the desolation of the sandy, dry, sparsely vegetated Sonoran Desert as we traveled from sun up to sun down camping out the nights in between. These experiences ingrained in me an appreciation for the vulnerability of the Spanish colonists and encouraged me to question why the Yuma Indians chose to aid rather than raid Anza’s expeditions. I also questioned why the Yumas weren’t more suspicious of the Spanish after I learned about The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in what is now the US state of New Mexico, read Font’s mention of the uprising at the mission of San Diego, and observed the cave paintings of the Kawaii, who, according to Font, were greatly distressed by the passage of the Spanish colonists.

So savage and wild are the Indians [ the Kawaii] of these sierras that last night they left their huts and climbed up in the rocks, perhaps fearful at seeing that we had stopped and did not go forward as they signaled us to do. Although they have seen that nobody has done them the least harm, yet very rarely have they come down to the floor of the canyon; but some have permitted themselves to be seen on the tops of the hills among the rocks. (Font Ex 12/25/75)

Overall, the relationship between the members of the Anza expedition in 1775-1776 and the Yumas seemed odd to me as documented in Font’s journal, and I was inspired to conduct further research on the Yumas when our trek was over.

When I began my research on the Yumas I was shocked to learn the following:

In 1780, the Spanish established two missions in Yuma territory. Instead of founding a presidio with a garrison 10 soldiers were stationed at each. Within a year, the missions ran short of supplies and gifts for the Indians, who decided to reclaim control of their lands. On July 17 and 18, 1781, Chief Palma and his brother Ygnacio Palma led their warriors and allies in attacks on the missions, killing perhaps as many as 95 priests, soldiers, and settlers, and capturing some 75 women and children. That year and the next, the Spanish launched unsuccessful expeditions against the Yuma, who, along with other area tribes, retained control of the Colorado for years to come. (Waldman, 2000)

This incident is referred to by historians as the Quechan Revolt and Carl Waldman suggests that the Yumas under the leadership of Chief Palma were motivated to aid the Spanish and comply with their wishes at least in part if not primarily for material gain. Mark Santiago goes a step further, and posits that the missions founded in 1780 proved to be a burden rather than a source of wealth for Palma and the Yumas igniting the frustrations that eventually triggered the revolt. According to Santiago, once the missions were established, the Spanish live stalk trampled the fields of the Yuma; gifts of clothing, tools and weapons failed to arrive; and the Spaniards began to meddle in the internal politics of the tribe. Santiago also speaks of Chief Palma’s desire to demonstrate his, icama, or dream power, and bring wealth to his community, a desire which Santiago claims motivated both Palma’s journey to Mexico City with Anza, and his leadership of the Quechan revolt. (Santiago, 1998)

Below is a firsthand account of the massacre written by Maria Ana Montielo a pioneer at Yuma and wife of Ensign Santiago Islas the Commander of the Colorado Settlements who was killed by the Yuma while she looked on.

December 21, 1786.
In your much appreciated letter, Your Reverence asked me to comment on, as you phrased it, "the events surrounding the death of the missionaries on the Colorado River."
Father Juan Barreneche celebrated the first mass that morning [July 17, 1781], which I myself attended. Father Francisco Garcés had the second mass. His mass-server was Ensign Santiago Islas, my deceased husband. As my husband was moving the missal from one side of the altar to the other for the gospel of the mass, the war whoops of the Indians began.
Corporal Pascual Baylón was the first to fall into their hands. As they were putting him to death with their war clubs, Father Juan Barreneche rushed out just in time to force his way through the yelling Indians and witness the corporal's last act of life as he squeezed the good padre's hand. Though battered by war clubs, Father Barreneche was able to regain the sanctuary of the church. My husband had observed a few armed Indians arriving in the village before he left for the service. As commander of the Colorado settlements, he took the precaution of placing Baylón on temporary guard, never dreaming that a full rebellion of the Yuma nation was about to break out. Though the mass was already begun, Father Garcés cut it short when the battle started.
Realizing that the whole Yuma nation had risen up against us, I gathered the women together and we fled for our lives to the church. There we found more refugee Spaniards arguing with Father Garcés about who should be blamed for the uprising. "Let's forget now whose fault it is," Father Garcés replied, "and simply consider it God's punishment for our sins." His voice was compassionate, though his face was an ashen gray.
That night the Yumas began to burn our houses and belongings and kill as many of our people as they could. That was the night my heart was broken, when my beloved husband was clubbed to death before my very eyes.
As day dawned on the 1 8th of July, Father Barreneche encouraged those of us who were still alive with the words: "The devil is on the side of the enemy, but God is on ours. Let us sing a hymn to Mary, most holy, that she favor us with her help, and let us praise God for sending us these trials." With great fervor of spirit, he intoned the hymn, "Arise, arise!" All during the night, he and Father Garcés had moved stealthily about the village, administering the sacraments to the wounded and dying, consoling them in their hour of death.
When the hymn was finished, Father Barreneche offered mass for all of us, as we awaited death at any moment. After mass, he occupied himself by pulling out arrows and spears from the walls of the church and the houses and climbing up onto the roofs to review the movements of the enemy.
About three o'clock in the afternoon, when the Indians had finished killing Captain Rivera and his party on the other side of the river, Father Barreneche arrived from ministering to the last of the dying and told us that each of us should try to escape as best we could. He picked up his breviary and crucifix and, together with Father Garcés, the women, and the rest of the people, started out of the settlement, leaving behind forever the new mission of La Purisima Concepcion and its property and possessions. He asked Father Garcés if they should perhaps try to reach our other settlement. Father Garcés assured him that it was completely destroyed and its inhabitants killed.
Father Barreneche was following the trail of blood of a wounded man named Pedro Burgues, who had sent for him to come and hear his confession. The trail led across a seemingly shallow lagoon. The priest waded in, armed with crucifix and breviary. Before he knew it, he was in over his head. Though he did not know how to swim, he thrashed about till he was able to grasp a log and some roots. By pulling himself along the roots, he was able to reach the other bank. Though he miraculously escaped drowning, he lost his breviary and crucifix.
From here, the two fathers went on alone. We women stayed beside the lagoon. Father Garcés warned us: "Stay together, do not resist capture, and the Yumas will not harm you." With this, he plunged into the lagoon to join Father Barreneche on the other side. This was the last we saw of the two fathers as we sat huddled together awaiting death at any moment.
Through another Spanish woman captive, who was not with my group, I later learned that Fathers Garcés and Barreneche were not killed until three days later [July 21, 1781]. After leaving the lagoon, the fathers were discovered by a friendly Yuma whose wife was a fervent Christian. He hurried the fathers to his own rancheria, where his wife was waiting.
The enemy fell upon them as they sat in the Yuma's dwelling, drinking chocolate. The rebel leader shouted: "Stop drinking that and come outside. We're going to kill you."
"We'd like to finish our chocolate first," Father Garcés replied.
"Just leave it!" the leader shouted. The two fathers obediently stood up and followed him.
The Indians tell the story that at the first attack of the executioners, Father Garcés disappeared from their sight, and they were left clubbing the air. Word had spread among the Yuma nation that he was more powerful than their own witch-doctors. Time and again I heard that many of the Yumas did not want to see the fathers killed. Nevertheless, their blood was spilled, and the woman who told me of this was close enough to hear their pitiful moans as they lay dying. The husband of the pious woman recovered their lifeless bodies and buried them.
The woman who told me this was Gertrudis Cantud, wife of the wounded man that Father Barreneche was following to hear his confession when the fathers crossed the lagoon.
This is all I can remember to tell Your Reverence concerning the ill-fated settlement of the Colorado River, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, and the rest of the territory we traveled until the fathers left us beside the lagoon. (from McCarty, 1976)

I ‘m particularly struck by the reluctance of the Indians to kill the Padres. The Indian legend that Father Garces disappeared when they first tried to club him and the fears that Father Garces was more powerful than the witch doctors of the Yumas seems to suggest that the Yumas believed the Padres had access to spiritual powers greater than their own. Perhaps the Yumas were partially motivated in their early actions towards Anza’s expeditions by a desire to encounter and understand the spiritual powers of the Padres.

Ideally, I would have found a written account of the interactions between the Yumas and the Spanish settlers described in Font’s journal from the perspective of the natives, but I learned on a stop at Casa Grande that the Native Americans of the Southwest keep oral histories and maintain no written records. Unfortunately the oral histories of the Native Americans can be very unreliable as I learned from a dinner conversation with Dick Carey and Reena Deutsch. Dick maintains a family ranch north of Coyote Canyon on what was once a Kawaii settlement and Reena Deutsch, a Statistics Professor at a medical school in San Diego, has been working to identify, preserve, and record, the Kawaii artifacts on Dicks family property with a group called the La Puerta Foundation. Both Dick and Reena were recently invited to a Kawaii tribal council where each was told separately that Dick’s family ranch was rightfully theirs. Dick, however, was told that the chief who originally sold the property was not actually a chief and therefore had no authority to sell the property while Reena was told that the Kawaii were pressured to sell the property under threats of violence. These conflicting reports came from members of the same tribe living on the same reservation.

Without native histories to explain the motivations underlying the exceptional flattery of the Yumas I looked to the 1774 and 1775-1776 expedition journals of Anza and Garces along with some secondary resources on the expeditions and their influence.
Anza’s journal from his scouting expedition in 1774 reveals a great deal about some of the motives that might have inspired the exuberance of the Yumas described in Font’s journal.

Here at this place we found a Pápago, a native of the pueblo of San Marcelo de Sonóitac, with his family. He was a Christian called Luís, and was returning to San Marcelo from the rivers Gila and Colorado. Having already learned of my coming to the rivers, [Footnote 56] he had set out from there the day before to warn me that I should advance to them with caution, saying that part of the people, and especially those living some distance above the junction of the two rivers, had decided to prevent me from crossing the streams, intending to kill me, the fathers, and others who were with me, in order to possess our horses and other things which I brought. He added that the captain of the Yumas whom we call Palma (I saw him last month at the presidio of E1 Altar, and told him of my coming) had not been able to dissuade these people from their intention; but that he had declared that he was always favorable to me, as were all of his nation and his allies down the river, and that his friendly attitude was being supported by two other chiefs or head men. The Pápago said that these two and Palma were checking the disturbers, chiding them for their bad conduct, and warning them of their peril, saying that the soldiers were sufficient with their valor and their weapons to cope with many more if they should provoke us, but that if they did not do so we were so well disposed that without any pressure we would make them presents of whatever we were bringing and they might desire, as we had done with Palma himself when he went to our settlements, where he and those who accompanied him were treated kindly. (Anza, 2/4/74)

This excerpt provides nice backing for Santiago and Waldman’s claims that the Yuma were motivated by material gain, and explains how Chief Palma gained an appreciation for the wealth, power, and resources of the Spanish empire even before Anza arrived at the settlement of the Yuma on the Colorado River. Had the Yuma encountered the colonists led by Anza in 1775-1776 without Palma’s prior knowledge of the Spanish and their methods of gift distribution, the Yumas might have raided the colonists on the assumption that it was the surest way of increasing their wealth and prosperity just as their neighbors had planned to do.

Anza’s account of a gift giving ceremony three days later also highlights the motives that help to explain the surprising behavior Font witnessed and recorded in his journal a year later.

At five in the afternoon Captain Palma arrived at our camp with more than sixty persons in his company. As soon as he dismounted he begged me to embrace him, which I did. With every sign of affection, I had him sit down and given some refreshments, after which he spoke as follows:
He was sorry not to be at his village when I arrived, in order that I might have come to it at once today; he had already reprimanded his people because they had not invited us; the reason why he had not come out to receive me sooner was that when he arrived at his house my messenger had departed and was already several leagues away. The disturbances due to some opposition to us, of which he supposed I already knew, had not succeeded. Those who had caused it did not dare to do anything; they were not his people, but lived a long way from his house up the river. As soon as the rumor went forth he expelled them from his jurisdiction, therefore I must not pay any attention to it. Indeed, he and all of his people were rejoiced at our passage by his residence, to which, as he had promised me at the presidio of E1 Altar, he had notified his people to come to see me, giving orders that they must not steal anything or molest us in any other way. I must let them look at me and touch my belongings without being offended, for they wished it, especially those who never had seen us, who were the majority, so that they might know what we were like and might serve us with the things with which we clothed ourselves and used.
While he was making this speech the captain noticed that the soldiers were going around with swords in their belts, keeping the horses ready, with other signs of vigilance on the part of the troops. He begged me that they all should be put at rest and break ranks, with confidence in their friendship, because there was no danger to fear. I replied that such a disposition of the soldiers was indispensable to us wherever we might be, entirely apart from any risk, which was lacking within the presidios where, as he knew, guards were established daily, just as if they were in front of the enemy. With this he was satisfied. I then answered his first speech, eulogizing him warmly for his friendship and fidelity, saying to him that with full confidence he must tell his people to come and see me freely and whenever they might wish, and that they would be humored in everything just like my children and my friends, for such they were, since he was.
In view of the fidelity which this Indian professed for us, and realizing how important it was at all times and for all events to keep his friendship, I thought it well to confer upon him some honor to distinguish him from the rest, and to give him a present to correspond with his good conduct. I therefore told him to assemble all his people near my tent. When they had come I asked them if they recognized him as their chief and superior, to which they all answered "Yes." I then told them that in the name of the king, who was lord of everybody, I was confirming him in his office, in order that he might rule legally and with greater authority, and be recognized even by the Spaniards, who would respect his rights; that I was decorating him, as I did, with a red ribbon bearing a coin of his Majesty, of whom that image seen on it was a likeness, an honor which I was conferring upon him as a sign of the obedience which he must render to the king. He promised to comply, and after I had hung the coin around his neck I embraced him. With both the medal and the embrace he was pleased, and the hundreds of his people marveled at the gift, and at my demonstration of affection, manifesting theirs with unbounded joy.
Noting the appreciation which the chief showed for his insignia (for he had not eyes enough with which to look at it or words in which to express to me his gratitude, though he did manage to say I was his master), I took the opportunity to tell him, in the presence of two of his subalterns, that there was only one God; that He was the one who created us, the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything there is on earth, including a master, the king, who was subject to God, and that all the Spaniards, who were more numerous than he could imagine, were subject to both; that God had given to the king all these lands and many more, in extent unknown, full of Spaniards, and that he therefore ruled all of us; that we not only obeyed him but revered his orders; that it is because the king loves us so much that we have plenty of horses, clothing, iron, knives, and all we possess; that for all this they thanked him sincerely, for indeed he had provided his realm with much more, so that like them, with our labor we might acquire maize, wheat and other crops, for he who does not work does not have them; but that even without labor the king provides many things free of cost, as he had seen in the pueblos of the Pimas, for he supports the fathers, the churches, and other things.
I told him that the king, who is liberal with all, is so in greater measure with them and all other Indians, from whom he asks nothing and takes nothing; that he had commanded all the Spaniards to call them brothers, and because he loved them all he had sent me through this region, enduring toils, in order to visit them and give them peace in his name, without injuring anybody, and in order through my report to learn about them; that if they should suffer any damage in the smallest trifle from the men in my command I should deal with them severely; that in the name of the king I should go on regaling them as I passed through their villages; that the king does not ask from them any other thing than that they return the love which he feels for them, by rendering him vassalage and obedience, and living without killing one another; that God also commands this; and since we are all children of both God and the king, and just as none of them like to have their children killed, and if any of them should die the father would grieve, just so it is with God and the king. I told him that I was saying all this to him so that he might tell it to his people. To everything he listened attentively, saying that he had never heard any words more welcome, and that he would make them known to all who were under his rule.
Soon after this speech the captain asked me for my cane. Taking it in his hands he called to his people, and in their midst commenced an harangue which lasted more than an hour. From time to time we observed that those assembled very frequently covered their mouths, in sign of surprise. Having finished, he ordered them all to go to their huts, but very few of them did so. Indeed, most of them remained to spend the night with us, with as much confidence as if they had dealt with us for years. Palma came to tell me that he had repeated to his people what I had told him; that they had all listened with pleasure; and that he would do the same in other villages as we passed through them, as far as he went with me, and of these matters he would speak also to other tribes, his allies. (Anza, 2/7/74)

When coupled with the personal accounts of Font and Maria Ana Montielo and the insights of Waldman and Santiago, this passage from Font’s journal comes alive. Palma must remind those in his command to give the Spaniards a warm welcome and he must remind them not to steal. Palma knows that the Yuma will be better served if they befriend the Spanish since even a successful raid might provoke the retaliation of a powerful Spanish empire and a show of hospitality towards the Spanish still promises gifts in return. Palma is confirmed in his role as provider for the tribe when Anza awards him with the medal but this ceremony presents a very mixed message. The coin is said to represent both Spain’s recognition of Palma as commander of the Yuma and his subservience to the crown. The Yuma admire Palma for his acquisition of wealth through favorable relations with Anza, and Palma later envisions both the establishment of the missions and his visit to Mexico City as means to the end of providing wealth to his tribe. In 1781, when the missions stopped providing the Yumas with gifts and the Spaniards began to meddle in the tribe’s internal politics, Palma must have felt that his role as leader and provider for the tribe needed to be substantiated and supposed that this could best be accomplished through revolt. Additionally, Palma must have been intrigued by the spiritual claims of the Spanish, and thus, sought to improve his own spiritual powers by improving his understanding of “The One True Faith”. This attitude helps to explain Palma’s eagerness to travel to Mexico City where he is told he will be baptized. It also provides a rationale for the reluctance of the Yumas to kill the Padres during the revolt of 1781.

In the end, the Spanish failed to consider the materialistic motives of the Yuma and ultimately this error in judgment lead to the Quechan massacre and cost Spain her overland communication route between northwestern Mexico and the new colonies of Alta California.

Soon I will be traveling to Mongolia for a semester of study abroad and the lessons learned from my study of Anza’s expedition and his interactions with the Yumas have already given me a new perspective on how I, a traveler from a powerful western culture, might be perceived by the indigenous peoples of Mongolia. In conversations with a friend, I was told that many Mongolians associate Christianity with western culture, which they also associate with material wealth. Assuming this is true, Christian ministry organizations in Mongolia risk misinterpreting Mongolian conversions to Christianity. I would assume that most Mongolian converts are motivated by genuine faith, but some may be motivated by materialistic concerns and if these alternative motives are not recognized by Christian organizations the history of the Yumas and the Spanish will be repeated. Greed and ambition will be mistaken for piety and subservience, and in the end, the established relationships between visitor and host, minister and convert, will be fractured by misunderstanding.

Works Cited/ Bibliography

Brooks, James F. Violence, Exchange, and Renewal in the American Southwest. Ethnohistory 2002 49(1): ISSN: 0014-1801

Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco from the Expedition of Anza, 1774 to the City charter of April 15, 1850. New York: John C. Rankin Company. 1912.

McCarty, Kieran, O. F. M. Desert Documentary: The Spanish Years, 1767-1821. Tucson, Arizona: Arizona Historical Society, 1976. 150 pages.

Santiago, Mark. Massacre at Yuma Crossing: Spanish Relations with the Quechans, 1779-1782.Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1998. 220 pages.

Waldman, Carl. “Palma.” Biographical Dictionary of American Indian History to 1900, Revised Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2000. Facts On File, Inc. American History & Culture.

Translations of the Journals of Font, Garces, and Anza were found at Web de Anza at funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support comes from the National Park Service, the Arizona Historical Society, the California Historical Society, and the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE) at the University of Oregon