Rancho El Sópori, Part 2

by Mary Kasulaitis

Story continued from last month’s Connection:

When the Jesuits established themselves at Guevavi Mission in the 1730s they went forth to the rancherias where native people were living. Preaching and teaching, they baptized and married the local folk and tried to get them to move closer to the mission headquarters or cabecera. At Sópori in 1743, Father Torres Perea found that several had died and were buried without confession or Church services because they didn’t tell him until it was too late, and “finding out for myself hit or miss requires real effort.” He noted the diseases of which they had died, such as “yellow vomit.” As far as I can tell, there was only a village, no actual visita or mission station at Sópori, since it never seems to have a saint name associated with it. It is just referred to as Sópori or Sóporic. Harry Winter, an expert in the O’Odham language, translated Sópori as more like Shopolik or shopol, which can mean short hill or short ridge. This was corroborated by Ellie Kurtz who consulted O’Odham speakers at the San Xavier Mission.

The commonly-traveled route to Arivaca from the missions in the Santa Cruz valley went up the Sópori Creek, possibly to Papalote Wash and then across to Arivaca. After 1736, miners and settlers began moving north. A Spanish ranch was established at Arivaca, where Antonio de Rivera and the Guevavi mission ranches ran cattle and had a number of vaqueros.

Sópori and Arivaca are mentioned again in Pima Rebellion documents. In 1751, the Pimas* rebelled against the Spanish and their heavy handed controlling ways in a coordinated effort that extended from the San Xavier Mission south to the Altar Valley in Sonora. On November 20, 1751, all the communities were attacked and many of the Spanish or their workers were killed or wounded. Right after the massacre, Antonio de Rivera and some others had headed out from Tubac to see what had happened at his Arivaca ranch, using the route through Sópori, near which they encountered Pimas, had a small skirmish, and after which they retreated to Tubac. Alferez Joseph Fontes and Antonio Olguin and their troop of men were sent from San Ignacio by Governor Ortiz Parilla to reconnoiter the situation in Arivaca. They went through Sópori, which they found destroyed, the people gone and the livestock dead. When the soldiers under Fontes arrived at Arivaca on December 28, 1751, they found the bodies of nine dead. The buildings had been destroyed by fire and the village of about 15 people had been massacred. They troops decided to set up headquarters here and await orders from the Governor. He responded by sending twenty-five men, under the command of Bernardo de Urrea (founder of Altar, Sonora and justicia mayor of the Pimeria Alta, who was then living at Opodepe) and Lt. Salazar. Native ambassadors went along in a attempt to settle things peacefully. Travelling up the (Sonoran) Altar Valley via Sáric and Tres Bellotas , the troops arrived in Arivaca on January 2, 1752. They met with Fontes’ troops and made an encampment, probably a few miles west of Arivaca. After an unsuccessful meeting with the native ambassadors, the rebellious Pimas under the leadership of Luis Oacpicagigua came down from the Baboquivaris and attacked the Spanish on the morning of the 5th. Two Spanish soldiers were injured but apparently 43 of the natives were killed after which the Pimas retreated, eventually to the Catalina Mountains. The ranch at Arivaca was reportedly abandoned for several decades after this, by Spanish, if not by natives, however, in mid 1754 there were some 27 families of O’Odham living there. This may have been because they tended to move around seasonally, but there may have been no permanent population, or at least no one there regularly when Spanish soldiers went through.

In 1752 a presidio was established at Tubac, in response to the Pima rebellion. Governor Arce y Arroyo and Father Visitor Roxas toured the Pimeria Alta in mid 1754, a year after the uprising had been put down, and noted that the people of Sopori had gone to lived at Guevavi. In other records of that same year, Father Pauer noted that six children from Sópori had been baptized, but perhaps their families were the ones who went to Guevavi. By this time, Lt. Bernardo de Urrea (1710-77), apparently had the cattle ranch at Sópori. He may have acquired it from Doña Maria de Anza after her husband, Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza the elder, was killed in 1740. Perhaps Urrea ran cattle on her property. Ownership of the property is not mentioned by the priests. No one leaves a fertile valley with natural water for very long, nor any country with minerals to be found. Chances are, mission and presidio cattle ranged through the valley. South of the Sópori valley are hills in which the Spanish had already begun to mine silver. Originally the whole range was called the Atascosas, after the Spanish word for barrier, “atasco.” The northern part of the range is now referred to as the Tumacacoris, after the mission. In the northernmost foothills of the Tumacacoris there were mines that carried the name of Sópori, to which in later years was added the word “Lost.” More later about the mines, lost or not.

In 1762, Fr Juan Nentvig, the author of Rudo Ensayo, a description of Sonora and Arizona in 1764, mentioned that the Sopori ranch was depopulated. It was close to Tubac but not close enough for safety. Apaches were a problem from this time on, so it is understandable if occupation of the area was sporadic, depending on the kind of protection available.

Captain Juan de Anza the younger was the next European to ranch in the Sópori valley during the time he was commandant of the Tubac Presidio (1760-75). Brian Kroll wrote that the Spanish crown granted a title of land to him in 1751, called the Ojo del Agua de Sopori (spring). There were 80 families living there in 1771. It was through Sópori and Arivaca that Anza’s first expedition traveled on the way to settle northern California in 1774, along what he called the highway to the Pimas of the West, but what later was called the Camino del Diablo. The next year he took a group of settlers from Tubac and the Santa Cruz Valley north through Tucson and then Yuma to settle San Francisco. Anza went on to become even more famous as the Governor of New Mexico in 1777. He returned to Sonora early in 1788 to be commandante de armas for Sonora and captain of the Tucson presidio, but he died suddenly on December 19, 1788 in Arizpe.
In 1780, on May 12, Geronimo de la Rocha mentioned “Zopori” as he spelled it, in his diary of the expedition he and Brigadier Jacobo Ugarte undertook to search for possible presidio sites. He said, “the spring of Zopori has a very large pool, however, it seems to lack any sign of having a current.” This was the year in which no water at all was found at Arivaca. Rocha does not mention any occupants in the Sopori valley at that time. At that time the Presidio was in Tucson, not Tubac, so it was probably not safe to live there any more, although a few settlers still lived in Tubac. Any cattle they may have had were constantly at risk from Apaches. This situation remained for quite some time and depended, for the most part, on what was happening at Tubac.

More about Sopori next month.

Reference: Garate, Donald T. Juan Bautista de Anza: Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2–3.

Kessell, John L. Friars, soldiers and reformers: Hispanic Arizona and the Sonora Mission Frontier, 1767-1856. Tucson, Az: The University of Arizona Press, 1976.

Kroll, Brian. Unpublished manuscript entitled “A history of Rancho El Sopori, November 2003.”
Winters, Harry J. O’odham Place Names: Meanings, Origins and Histories, Arizona and Sonora, Second Edition, 2020.

*Prior to the time that the O’Odham publicly reclaimed their own name, they were known as Pimas by the Spanish but it was not by their choice.

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