The First Civil War, 1830-1842

The Mission Coasts

Real War 
   Grounded Networks 
      The Plains   
      Custom, & the Ports    
      Nat Turner, & Others   
      The Islands   
      The Southern Slopes   
      The Mission Coasts  
  Control Networks 
      Mills & Planters  
      Silver & opium  
      Alamán & Calhoun  
      Rancheros & Pilots  
      The War of the South  
      Siege & Contagion 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
   Conservative Demagogues 
   Fight Scenes  
  Grounded Reaction 
Outcomes, and Vision 
Juan Banderas acted for more than his own Yaqui people in 1825, and hoped to act for even more. In the name of the Virgin, he summoned soldiers from many indigenous peoples of Sonora, to win for him the crown of Moctezuma.  Though the Apaches did not join his fight for a new indigenous nation, their own raids against "civilized" communities drew off strength from the Mexicans he fought. 

The peoples in the Mexican northwest -- Sonora, and California -- lived in a special border space, between their old independence and a kind of security that they had been offered by Christian missions. 

When those of Sonora fought the Jesuits in 1740, they were rejecting compulsory labor, insisting on their own, autonomous right to produce and trade. When they later defended their pueblos against intrusions by ranchers and miners, these "pueblos" were communities into which Jesuit missionaries had gathered them. 

When some in California fled from the more recently established Franciscan missions, they were uniting with "wild" Indians in the interior to create what amounted to new tribes. 

These resistance groups were reaching out, in their different ways: 
  • to the nomadic peoples of the Sierra, who dealt on their own hard terms with the Hispanic peoples of the valleys.
  • to trade routes that would extend across and around the mountains, through the California and Chihuahua interiors, to the networks of New Mexico and the Great Plains
All these actions together, barely summarized in Banderas' ideas about an indigenous crown, projected a vision of their own world, toward which energies were always gathering. 

Banderas lost.  That did not stop the Yaquis, or the Opatas, or the Apaches. 


During the War of Independence, the northwestern parts of Mexico -- California, New Mexico, Sonora -- saw little armed criollo resistance against Spain. After all, settlers there had received subsidies for their military expenses, and they had not been descended on by swarms of office-holders from Europe.  (Only later would it occur to some criollos that missionaries were "Spaniards" to be expelled.)  The frontier presidios fought against nomads like the Apaches.  They also provided centers at which Apaches could settle, at times when Spain was paying them to keep the peace.

But the ranchers and traders and missionaries wanted to prosper.  In California and Sonora, they depended on an Indian labor force that they had recruited only within recent generations, and had hardly "tamed."

The Sonora Story --

The Yaquis had lived there for centuries, in the valleys that flowed down from the Sierra Madre into the Gulf of California, along with peoples like the Mayos and  the Opatas.  When Spanish power entered the region, it used armed force, but relied on the Society of Jesus to establish a presence. The Jesuits set up missions, and gathered Indians into pueblos under a paternalistic discipline. While the indigenous workers in these communities owed no obedience to the Spanish ranchers and miners who began entering the region, they were expected to contribute resources to the Jesuit enterprise, as it moved north and west.

This enterprise was prophetic -- and premature.  The Society  was like some international corporation of a later age -- and also like a parallel charitable foundation into which the officers of the corporation might funnel some of their profits.  It accumulated capital out of the work of indigenous communities, and devoted that capital to expanding the enterprise.

Other powerful interests wanted to get into this business of making the world more rational .  The Spanish crown wanted to systematize the administration of the empire.  Individual operators in the New World, including some in northwestern Mexico, shared in this impulse to modernize.   The effort was up-to-date.  It was supposed to be humane. It was certainly supposed to bring material gains.

In 1767, the King expelled the Society of Jesus from his dominions.  Franciscans took over the missions in northwestern Mexico.  Then, during the first quarter of the 19th century, regional leaders throughout Spanish America expelled the Spanish Crown.

In northwestern Mexico, the pull-back of central authority left open and visible the way that indigenous people lived.  In the Yaqui country, the "pueblos" still existed as a recognized form. These communities insisted on their autonomy from the ranches and mines coming into the area.  If the new operators offered employment, on terms acceptable to the Yaquis, some Yaquis were willing to work for outsiders.  But the group insisted on keeping their own land as a fall-back, and on their ties to kin-groups back in the mountains, away from white settlement.

After 1821, these peoples found themselves in "Mexico," where all races supposedly enjoyed equality under the Plan de Iguala. Yaquis could be called on by the local military commander, to fight the Apaches.  If they responded, their numbers would shore up the defense system that had fallen into disrepair with the decay and departure of Spanish force.

But not all Yaquis thought of themselves as Mexicans, or as mercenaries ready to fight other Indians.  Many lived by indigenous subsistence methods, though within the larger territory that belonged to their pueblos.  They, called broncos in Spanish, had visibly much in common with other, "uncivilized" groups in Sonora and Apachería.  But the distinction between tame and bronco was an abstraction:  Yaqui families maintained their unity across this line, and provided mutual support for all their members.  Those employed in the settlements had goods and information for their bronco kinfolk, while these "bárbaros" could give refuge to Yaquis who wanted to get away from Mexican authority and European culture.
When the army commander in the area ordered up Yaqui militia to move against the Apaches, the Yaquis resisted, and many began raiding non-Yaqui settlements.  As a price for peace, they demanded that Mexicans stay out of the area and leave the land to them.  A new Yaqui leader appeared:  Juan de la Cruz Banderas,. summoning all the native peoples of Sonora, against the intruder Mexicans whom he called by the term that Mexicans applied to Spaniards: gachupines.

The peoples in the back-country of Sonora were not obliged to accept Banderas as leader.  He was not waiting for them, in any case.  With some 2,000 followers, he turned the raids into a more formal operation, acting as an alternative government for the area, but gathering information and recruits from those Yaquis who were living within Mexican society.  The military operation, though, was destructive:  crop devastation left inadequate local food for any group.  The following year, Banderas came to an arrangement with the government.  He "surrendered," and was made captain-general of the Yaqui militia.  The government then encouraged settlers to come in from outside, called for dividing tribal community lands into private property, and insisted that Yaquis should come down from the hills.  Yaquis' territorial claims would be restricted to their pueblos, even while individual Yaquis would be encouraged to leave the pueblos to work for planters and miners.

Over the next few years, Mexican authorities worked to replace Banderas with a more tractable kind of local "democracy."  The local priest, popular with the Yaquis, was to be replaced by a new man, sent in from the outside.  The state government, conceding a Yaqui demand to name their own officers, made even the captain general elective, but ordered that all the office-holders be put under a "director," named by the state.  When the elections were held, Banderas did not get his old military post.

Banderas would have none of it.  Proclaiming himself as the continuing leader of his people, he denounced his opponents as witches who were conspiring with the whites to inflict disease on the Yaquis.  Those judged guilty he hanged.  He extended his military operations northward, forming an alliance with the Opatas.  By early 1832, the two groups together were fielding up to 2500 warriors at a time.  He and his allies staged repeated raids against haciendas, mines, and towns in Sonora, and were trying to work out some kind of alliance with the pro-Santa-Anna faction in state politics.  They were said to plan a war of "extermination" against the whites -- not what Santa Anna would have intended.

Army units kept fighting back against the rebels, usually dispersing them and reducing their numbers.  In December of 1832, local white volunteers tracked down and captured Banderas.  He was turned over to the authorities, tried, and quickly executed.
The Yaqui people, after the Banderas capture, subsided into an uneasy tension.  Some, during periods of food shortage, would take up "peaceful" residence outside the presidios, to ask for rations.  Others undertook low-level raiding.  An old rival to Banderas was now elected captain general, but commanded little support from the people.

Initiative passed to the Apaches, who dominated a mountain refuge area between Sonora and Chihuahua, raiding into whichever state was safest and most profitable in any particular season.  Political control in the "Mexican" sector of these states fell into a local version of the nation-wide competition between conservative and liberal.

-- and the California Variant

The Franciscan missions, established in California after 1769, differed from the earlier Jesuit missions of Sonora.  While both followed the old policy of "reducing" scattered Indian populations into compact pueblos, the resemblance stopped there.  The Jesuit pueblos had been actual villages.  When the Jesuits left, Opatas and Mayos and Yaquis could use and defend those villages. treating them as traditional political units of their own. These villages continued to be part of a network where clergy and laity competed for access to indigenous labor.

In California, Hispanic law assumed that all land belonged to the criollo state: non-Christian Indians were simply creatures wandering over the land, and valid titles came only by grant, either to white settlers, or to missions in trust for Christian Indians.  Any land not granted was considered vacant, no matter how many people were living on it.

The Franciscans, given this mission field as part of the "modernizing" policies of the Crown, gathered California Indians into barracks-like settlements, under conditions that disrupted family life, promoted the kinds of disease that go with urban crowding, and precipitated population decline.  And the "neophytes" worked.  They were expected to raise enough food for themselves and the missionaries -- and for the soldiers who supported the system.

Hispanic ranchers were also entering California, introducing herds of cattle and horses -- visible proof that the resources of the area could be exploited by settlers not subject to mission discipline.  Some Indians worked on the ranches, and in small towns like Los Angeles.

For a century and a half, in New Mexico and other parts of New Spain, Church and Army (or Church and laity) had been condemning each other's particular methods of using Indian labor.  Each side implied that Indians got along well with its own form of Hispanic society.  Neither believed that their society could survive without native labor.

In theory, the mission system was only transitory.  As soon as the Indians in one area had been Christianized and civilized, they would be emancipated to live in proper villages, and the missionaries would move on to a new frontier.  Some commentators imagined that ten years would suffice for this cycle.

When a Spanish law of 1813 provided that the missions should be "secularized," it was only pushing to enforce the process already envisioned in the plans of the missionaries themselves.  Later, all parties in Mexican politics agreed on secularization in some form.  They disagreed, though, on how the missionaries might be made to yield, or when, and on what groups in white society might pick up some of the mission property.  (Hardly anyone in politics took seriously the prospect that all that land should be given to the Indians who were its nominal owners.)

Much of the running dispute over how much secularization, and when, was a dispute between two "management" sectors in the economy.  This competition reflected -- in a "slant" way -- the liberal/conservative conflict that broke open in the Civil War of the early 1830s.

Through all this, there were differences among Indians, in almost any area, in whether they accommodated "better" to missionaries, or to soldiers, or to ranchers.  But whites tried to ignore the fact that mission Indians and non-mission Indians communicated with each other -- and with those other peoples "out there," who served neither mission nor presidio.  The people in this non-Hispanic network knew that they could make their own contacts with the networked life of the continent.
One result was a series of rebellions, notably that of the Chumash in 1824 at La Purísima Mission, near Santa Barbara. By the early 1830s, Indians who fled the missions or ranches were often joining the Yokuts and other tribes, in the backcountry or the interior valleys.  From there, these new composite groups began raiding the coastal area, taking livestock that they could trade to groups yet deeper in the interior.  Though the missions sent out patrols to recapture fugitives, the interior groups grew, selling horses southeast into the New Mexico trade -- which fed in turn into the large-scale movement of horses from northwestern Mexico, across the Plains and toward the Great Lakes.

Within California, the fugitives were becoming a new kind of tribe, just as the Cheyennes had become a "new" people in the High Plains east of the mountains. In somewhat the same way, too, Indian communities as widely separated as New Mexico, Jalisco, and the Veracruz upcountry were pulling away from strict obedience to the Church hierarchy, producing a folk Catholicism that was partly new even while it defended its "old" processions.


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