SAN XAVIER DEL BAC, WA:K O'ODHAM, AND WA:K GE'ECHU
Is it possible that on the second day of searching we have found evidence of this original Wa:k settlement?
Sobaipuri house outlines are unmistakable. They are easy to miss and they are difficult to see but their shape and character
are distinctive. The house outline shown below is fairly clear because this house is on a slight slope and so sediment has
eroded exposing almost the entire outline of the structure.
A close-up of the west wall shows the typical
alignment of cobbles of Sobaipuri houses. Space
between the rocks allowed branches to be set in
place that formed the superstructure over which
thatching or mats and mud were placed.
Tony examines the feature that may have been
occupied by one of his direct ancestors. Truely a
THE MATERIAL ON THIS PAGE IS COPYRIGHTED AND SHOULD BE APPROPRIATELY CITED (C) 2008, Deni Seymour
Visitors to Tucson are drawn to the White Dove of the Desert: the Franciscan mission built on O'odham lands at the important village of
Wa:k. The pastel image above imparts one of the many attractive faces of this structure. The mission of San Xavier del Bac was established
and named in 1692 when Father Eusebio Kino ventured north to visit its inhabitants with the hope of converting them. Touristic literature
and historical accounts cite the visitation of Father Kino at this place as the beginning of settlement in Tucson. Yet, when Europeans first
arrived in the Santa Cruz River Valley it was already inhabited by people with a rich cultural legacy. The indigenous inhabitants of Wac
and S-cuk Son (Schook-schon; now known as Tucson) welcomed these visitors; practicing gracious hospitality as they had for centuries
before and as people do around the world when friendly strangers approach their home.
Although this beautiful white religious edifice provides a draw of tourists to a corner of this modern community it is no more than a late
capstone over a rich history of this place called Wa:k. Little is known of the original settlement where 900 people lived in three barrios or
neighborhoods that were arranged in a triangle. This principle village was bordered by rich gardens, with fields irrigated by extensive
canal systems that were said to rival those in Mexico City. The houses were dome-shaped and made of branches covered with mats and
mud, while their ceremonial house was rectangular and made of adobe set on a rock and adobe foundation. Many attribute these cultural
elaborations and settlement aggregations to the cultural offerings and organization bestowed by Kino and his successors. Yet, recent
archaeological research indicates that these attributes and organizational systems were indigenous to the River Pima or Akimel O'odham,
and were in place centuries before the missionary period. Wac was a flourishing settlement when first visited by Europeans, so grand that
it was described with clear awe by these mission-period visitors of the 1690s.
Wac, now known as San Xavier del Bac, is the O'odham word for "where it goes" in or "to submerge" (wachkk), referring to the place on
the Santa Cruz where the river water submerges into the ground: "where the water goes in." S-cuk Son means “at the black base"
referring to the base of one or both of the volcanic hills on the west side of the Santa Cruz River. Both of these original indigenous villages
have been lost to history while the Spanish buildings and compounds are used and studied by the public and scholars as a substitute. Such
an approach is disingenuous, bestows an inaccurate image of the past, and continues the practice of cultural carnage by those of
European descent that began many hundreds of years ago. Reversal of this process can be aided by recognition of the original place name
referent, of the distinction between the Tohono O'odham (Desert People) and these Sobaipuri descendants, and also an acknowledgement
of the distinction between the O'odham village of Wa:k, on the one hand, and the constructions that glorify Spanish colonial and religious
domination, on the other.
Wac was occupied by the Sobaipuri, a subgroup of the River O'odham. Later it received populations of other Sobaipuri and Tohono
O'odham as rebellious tribes, including the Apache and disenfranchised O'odham, attacked those people friendly to the Spanish, requiring
them to move together into these defensible settlements. Many of the western O'odham were drawn to Sobaipuri mission settlements along
the river because of the promise of food and protection. Thus, as Sobaipuri died these other groups moved in to supplement the
population. The missionaries were mainly concerned with keeping their baptism roles full to ensure financial and political support among
decision-makers and with converting natives to save their souls before they died of disease or attack from uncooperative neighbors.
The modern occupants of Wa:k reside in the literal shadow of Mission San Xavier del Bac and of the legendary Kino himself. Yet, owing to
"training" through the years they have lost some of the knowledge of the original settlement and the way of life of people the Spaniards
called the Sobaipuri. Some traditions of the O'odham as a whole have been merged with those of the Sobaipuri, owing to outside views of
a single unified O'odham nation (and colonial and modern political forces that have created and reinforced this structure) and also to the
fact that people of diverse backgrounds now live together. Some of this inaccessible information can be obtained through archaeological
inquiry. On the other hand, the people still retain many traditions that were founded in the past that cannot be mapped or discovered by
means other than knowing and living the culture.
People still live here at Wa:k, so as life goes on the terrain changes and is used in new ways, erasing and reshuffling evidence of the past.
It was agreed that it would be desirable and informative to identify the original village of Wa:k before modern activity causes its complete
erasure. Thus, our work is focusing on identifying and documenting the original native settlement of Wa:k, the one occupied when Kino
arrived, and on perhaps finding other Sobaipuri settlements that may have predated it. We started with the recognition that it is possible
that all evidence of this settlement is gone, but with the hope that this acknowledgment was wrong.
Tony Burrell, Cultural Resource Officer, and I are inspecting areas most likely to possess evidence of this old settlement of Wa:k hekihukam
(ancient) or Wa:k ge'echu (older one) so it can be preserved.
Tony Burrell, Cultural Resource Officer, rests on a hill taking in
the view that overlooks the original Sobaipuri settlement: Wa:k
hekihukam or Wa:k ge'echu.
Evidence of ancient activity abounds in the area with rock art
images etched into the dark weathered surface of boulders on
hill tops and slopes.
These images record one of two clear house outlines in this area. Sobaipuri houses are always paired and these pairings formed
the basic household grouping. The question now is whether these are part of a larger settlement arrangement that dates to Kino's
time and before, or if they are isolated remnants of a later or earlier settlement, perhaps even a functionally specific holdover
associated with later housing (much like the traditional hogan found behind many modern Navajo homes). One tactic is to see if
evidence of another Sobaipuri village is present anywhere in the area. If not, this is likely it. Another supplementary approach is to
date these features to determine with chronometric methods precisely the time of occupation. A search for additional structures in
this area will help as well, although the area is disturbed and also covered with a layer of sediment that may be obscuring other
features and artifacts. At a minimum we are fortunate to have this small amount of evidence preserved and from this we should be
able to answer the mystery of where Wa:k ge'echu is located, or at least where it is not.
On October 9, 1849 H.M.T. Powell penciled a drawing of San Xavier del Bac and the surrounding village of Wa:k. This drawing has been referred to
as “one of the best pencil drawings of the church and surrounding village ever done” (Fontana 1961:13).
One fortune attribute of this drawing is that it is not so singularly focused on the church as are most depictions of the mission. The foreground shows
12 dome-shaped houses, which are traditional for the O’odham. Another three or four are shown along the west side of the mission at the base of
cross hill. This latter location is one of the places where an abundance of Whetstone Plain was found, which is the archetypical pottery of the
Later that year, on December 13, another passer-by Judge Benjamin Hayes noted in part: “This morning early went up to the village. Struck with the
strange appearance of Indian wigwams on one side, and adobes on the other” (Fontana 1961:12; Wolcott 1929:43-45).
Are these the traditional houses positioned in this general vicinity that we have located?
If so, these are historically important in their own right because they are a historical settlement. They represent house forms before adobe-walled
rectangular structures were adopted.
This is important because it shows that this aspect of the traditional way of life was maintained until after the 1850s. As Russell noted in the 1930s,
the adobe-walled structures were only adopted in last 30 years, meaning around the turn of the nineteenth century.
Are these the elongate dome-shaped houses of the Sobaípuri or are they more hut like as the image suggests, circular as expected for more mobile
people like the Tohono O’odham?
Are these 1849 houses located in the same general vicinity as the Kino period settlement?
Chronometric dates will tell us if these are the houses relating to this 1840s community or if they relate to the Kino period. It is likely that the
Kino-period settlement is in the same general location. But to prove this we must find additional evidence, date that evidence, and also we must not
find evidence of Sobaípuri in other distant parts of the community...unless of course these other evidence reveals distinct neighborhoods that are
arranged in a large triangle.
H. M. T. Powell's Pencil Drawing of the mission and the area immediately surrounding it, Facing North
This large communial oven at the community house is probably more representative of the shape of
Sobaipuri houses than the circular or igloo-shaped oven forms. Thus, when the Spanish documents said
the houses were shaped like ovens, this is probably what they meant, elongated, like the archaeological
remnants of houses.
Martinez Hill as visible from the thicket bordering the fields below and
immediately northeast of the mission.
WA:K IN THE LATE 1600S
Although Kino had been visited in the south by emmisaries from Wa:k the year before his first visit to the Wac community was on August
23, 1692 about which he commented: "I found the natives very affable and friendly, and particularly so in the principal ranchería of San
Xavier del Bac, which contains more than eight hundred souls." With 5 people per house or 10 people per two-house household this
equates to about 80 households or house pairs, for a total of 160 structures. Already being a principle rancheria it is clear to see that this
settlement was well established at this time and Kino's visit does not represent the "founding" of occupation in the area, only its historical
In 1697 Captain Juan Mateo Manje (Burrus 1971:378; also see Smith, Kessell, and Fox 1966:70) observed that San Xavier del Bac was
divided into three barrios: The 166 houses were arranged in a triangle (La qual está dividida en tres barrios, en forma triangular; y conté,
por todas, 166 casas" (Burrus 1971:378). Ihave taken this to mean that they were aligned in rows as is typical of other Sobaipuri sites, but
that these rows were distributed in a triangle. Now I wonder if perhaps the "arranged in a triangle" could have means that they are found
within the triangle of the three hills.
On October 29, 1699 Kino commented that "The fields and lands for sowing were so extensive and supplied with so many irrigation
ditches running along the ground that the father visitor said they were sufficient for another city like Mexico [City]." (Bolton 1948:I:205).
Kino remarked that the canals came right up to the church...
"we began the foundations of a very large and capacious church and house of San Xavier del Baac, all of the many people working with
much pleasure and zeal, some in digging for the foundations, others in hauling many and very good stones of tezontle from a little hill
(grotto hill) which was about a quarter of a league away (about ¾ mile). For the mortar for these foundations it was not necessary to haul
water, because by means of the irrigation ditches we very easily conducted the water where we wished. And that house, with its great
court and garden near by, will be able to have throughout the year all the water it may need, running to any place or work-room one may
please, and one of the greatest and best fields of all Nueva Biscaya." --Kino, April 26, 1700
Area at the foot of Cross Hill or Grotto Hill adjacent to the plaza that contains
Whetstone Plain and other period-specific artifacts. Roasting pits are also present in
SOBAIPURI IDENTITY GOES DORMANT
Newspaper reports from the 1930s discuss the passing of the last two
people claiming Sobaipuri descent. The second article notes "the days
before the Sobaipuri lost their identity." Sobaipuri was overshadowed
by the mission and influences of adjacent Tucson.
As you read these remember how frequently the modern-day press gets
the facts wrong so note the many inaccuracies. For example the first
article says that the community and mission were situated "up on the
hill" but they are not on a hill but rather at the base of the hill on a
terrace or bench along the river.
Toibio Aragon notes that the Kino-period church was a mile north of the
current community and that its foundations washed away in a flood.
This image shows the mission from a location almost exactly a mile to the north. This area to the north and south was
inspected for any sign of Spanish-period use or a Sobaipuri settlement. No such evidence was found but evidence of
Hohokam and later O'odham use was abundant. This suggests that the Kino-period church and mission was not here,
because if the area had been destroyed in a flood none of this other evidence of different culture groups would be
visible. The only other option is that it actually was in the area where the fields are now located or that it has been
plowed or was washed away in the flood.
All of the areas between here and the mission at this contour were walked, as were other areas, providing a relatively
thorough walk over.
An areal view of Martinez Hill clearly shows the walls of the Trincheras site. Artifacts
and pottery indicate both an Archaic and Hohokam presence. A huge Hohokam site
nearby has at least a dozen trash mounds. This hill is on the San Xavier District and
access is restricted.
The distribution of Sobaipuri materials found so far in the core area around the mission and related hills is consistent with
a drawing of a portion of the community in 1849. The question that remains is whether this 1849 distribution of houses
overlies the earlier Kino period and pre-Kino period settlement.
WA:K IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Looking from the north side of the mission to the south one can see that there is a
slope up toward the south. The lower area in front has been filled in to extend
and/or raise the edge of the terrace or bench on which the mission and community
rests. Inspection of the face of the terrace and its surface demonstrates that it has
been filled with construction debris and dirt. Some of the contruction debris
consists of concrete floors that were stained using a technique that was known for
the area up until about the 1950s. Research into when the mission complex was
extended might provide insights into when this raising and leveling occurred. This
event is important because if the area was filled rather than bladed there is some
hope that evidence of a Sobaipuri community might be preserved under it all--that
is, if the church complex was built over part of the original community.
Rock art depiction of what seems to be a dog. This
petroglyph seems later than the Hohokam and Archaic
rock art, owing to the brightness of the carving and the
relative lack of wethering. This suggests it might be
Hohokam figures with headdresses like those depicted on
Hohokam pottery are shown on this rock face. These are more
weathered than some images, suggesting that the less
weathered ones are later and may be Sobaipuri.
Overview of the community from
Martinez Hill, looking west. Black
Mountain is to the left in the
Looking north from Martinez Hill
toward A-Mountain and Tumamoc
Hill. This was the general location of
the original Sobaipuri Tucson
Looking south along the Santa Cruz River
channel from Martinez Hill. The river runs
along the base of the hill. It had a much
narrower channel until the 1983 flood that
widened it, carving out a wide path to the
Deni is also captured enjoying the view,
with her back to the mission.
THE WIND ESCAPES FROM MARTINEZ HILL
Martinez Hill is an important historical location for reasons other than the Trincheras site positioned on top. On October 29, 1699
Captain Juan Mateo Manje accompanied Reverend Father Vistor Antonio Leal to Martinez Hill (not called that then) from the Wa:k
rancheria. Manje noted:
"After we had exchanged social courtesies with them, the soldiers and I accompanied by the reverend father visitor, because it was
early and a pleasant and quiet evening, went on foot to a little hill near by, which on such extensive plains could be seen from all
directions as there is no other [hill] except this one. We went up to its top in order to look off at such plains and found surrounding it,
an intrenchment (trincheva) of a wall like a plaza in the center of which was a white stone like a stake or load of sugar, half a yard
[vara] high and embedded in the ground. Conjecturing that this might be some idol which the Indians worshipped, we tore the stone
away by main force since a third of it was imbedded in the ground and there remained at that time, a round hole we did not see, or
seeing, notice that anything happened because of this action, until soon after we had gone down from the hill and before we had
come to the rancheria, when there arose such a great and furious wind and hurricane that it knocked us down to the ground and we
could not walk because of the violence of the force with which it blew. None of the Indians had gone with us, but when the furious
wind arose, they began to shout noisily, saying "Uburiqui, Cupioca" by which they meant that we had opened the home of the wind
[House of the Wind had been opened] and this was their rebellion. After sunset, and all night long, [the wind] blew so hard that we
could not sleep since it seemed that house and grove would be torn away and thrown down. In the morning they said that the Indians
went to close the hole and the violent hurricane ceased entirely and the day was calm and pleasant. It seemed that it might be some
volcano or air but it is strange since the earth is not subject to earthquakes nor has there ever been any, according to what the
Indians say." (Crockett 1918:144-145; also see Karns 1954:137-138)
Canal segment shown above that
passes near the mission that has
since been cut off from the main
canal. It seems that most of the areas
suitable for fields were used and
were fed by canals which also
brought water to the community.
Here we can see a later cement-lined canal that
runs along the flat between the fields and the rise
with the church on it. This may follow the course
of an original canals. The modern canal is to the
north and east.
Examples of inaccuracies in the following article include: 1. the Sobaipuri did not live in cliff dwellings, 2. the Apache were present in the Arizona
at least as early as the 1300s and likely found their way this far west much sooner than the 18th century, 3. The mission is not situated "atop a hill,"
4. The Papago or Tohono O'odham did not shelter the Sobaipuri because this was a Sobaipuri settlement from the start. Instead, the Sobaipuri took
Tohono O'odham into their community, as is typical of intermarriage in circumstances where patrilocal residence requires relocation of wives and
where small community sizes require wives be sought in different communities. Given these errors the said location of the original Jesuit period
settlement must be called into question, afterall, the Kino-period church was established over 150 years beforeToribio was born. Most other known
Sobaipuri sites are situated in higher or elevated ares where they were protected from flooding. It would be surprising if this settlement was not so
situated as well.
Encarnacion Mamake was the last surviving community member who self identifed as Sobaipuri. People of this same name live
at Wa:k today. As is the case with the various Apache groups, indigenous peoples intermixed with others, combining bloodlines
and gradually, through time they altered their traditions as well. These ever-changing traditions are what makes one Apache or
O'odham, or specifically Sobaipuri. Wa:k has maintained many distinctions from other portions of the Tohono O'odham Nation,
including exhibiting a distinct dialect and many associated traditions. Thus while theTohono O'odham (Papago) come to live
with the Sobaipuri it was the local traditions that prevailed. So while the author of the following article wrote: "With the death
of the aged Indian, the final chapter of Sobaipuri tribe has been written" this is not necessarily the case. Many more chapters
remain to be written, and the distinct Sobaipuri character of Wa:k remains to be studied.
The painted design is still visible on portions of these arrows.
This stone ball was used in the traditional
O'odham game. Photos of young O'odham
playing this game have been found and the
location of the "race track" has been identifed.
The sharpened tips, lacking stone points, indicate that these were used for hunting. Ethnohistorical data
suggest that those tipped with stone points were used in warfare. These were found in the rafters of the
church indicating that they were probably lost when shot at pidgens in the rafers.
These arrows were found in San Xavier de Bac Mission prior to the rennovation.
The woman is related to Encarnacion Mamake--the last
person to die in the 1930s who self-identified as Sobaipuri.
She may be the great-granddaughter.
This man is the grandson of Toribio
Aragon mentioned in the articles above,
who was the second to last person to die
who self-identified as Sobaipuri.
This is one of the great-granddaughters of
Young men playing the ball game.
A MILE TO THE NORTH
Most O'odham who live in the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation see themselves as O'odham, are often
referred to as Tohono O'odham and are seen politically as Tohono O'odham. They are, however, increasingly cognizant of
the difference between them as Akimel or River O'odham people and their Tohono or Desert kin and neighbors. They are
reminded of the relative slowness of their speech and the fact that they are river dwellers rather than desert dwellers. This
meant that they were able to live sedentary lives, farming the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers, while the Tohono O'odham
clung to water sources and drainages in the drier desert to the west.
Lupe Mamake married Antonio Oliver
(Oliverit) in 1936 or 1937. Lupe's father was
Antonio Mamake. His cousin was Cesare
Mamake. Encarnacion is probably either
Cesare's or Antonio's mother.
Mamake probably derives from mamakai which means medicine man, doctor, medic.
REVITALIZING SOBAIPURI--DIRECT DESCENDANTS
Martinez Hill from rockshelter in Grotto Hill
A area (AZ BB:13:19, ASM) adjacent to an arroyo and in the field areas about .85 miles north of the mission has
produced evidence of Whetstone Plain and early O'odham wares, along with Sobaipuri stone tools. Apparently
there are thermal features here as well that can be attributed to this period. This could turn out to be an earlier
settlement of Wa:k if structures can be confirmed and if the scatter is relatively sizable (which cannot be
determined at this point owing to the degree of disturbance from fields and a gravel pit). This suggests that the
impressions held by the oldest Sobaipuri of the 1930s may have been accurate. Dates will need to be run on the
sherds and additional investigations may reveal of there was once a sizable settlement here. There was likely a
Spanish or Mexican period structure in this general area that has since washed away in floods.