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Papago Indians

An important tribe of Shoshonean linguistic stock

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Pàpago Indians, an important tribe of Shoshonean linguistic stock, speaking a dialect of the Pima language and resembling that tribe in all essentials of culture and characteristics. Their territory, which they shared with the closely cognate and afterward incorporated Sobaipuri, comprised the valleys of the San Pedro and Santa Cruz rivers, southern tributaries of the Gila, in southeastern Arizona, together with most of the Rio del Altar, in the State of Sonora, northern Mexico. The name by which they are commonly known is a derivation from the proper form, Papah-óotam, as given by their missionary, Father Kino, signifying “bean people”, whence the Spanish, Frijoleros, and has no reference to “baptized”, as has sometimes been asserted. The Pàpago were and are a semi-sedentary and agricultural people, occupying numerous scattered villages of houses, usually dome-shaped and grass-thatched but frequently with flat roofs covered with earth. They practice irrigation and cultivate corn, beans, and cotton, besides making use of the desert food plants, particularly mesquite beans and the fruit of the saguaro or giant cactus (Cereus gigante-us, Pitahaya). From the lagoons they collect salt, which they formerly traded to other tribes. Their women are expert basket makers, but their pottery does not rank so high. In their aboriginal condition the men went naked excepting for the G-string, while the women wore only a short skirt. What remains of their primitive myths and ceremonies accords nearly with those of the Pima. In temperament they were noted for their industry and friendly disposition towards the whites, while carrying on ceaseless warfare with their hereditary enemies, the predatory Apache. Owing to the isolation due to their desert environment the Pàpago remained practically unknown for nearly a century and a half after the more eastern and southern tribes had come under Spanish dominion. Their connected history begins in 1687, when the noted German Jesuit missionary and explorer, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (properly Kühn) founded the mission of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, about the eastern head streams of the Rio del Altar and not far from the present Cucurpe, Sonora. From this headquarters station until his death in 1711 he repeatedly traversed the country of the Pàpago, Pima, and Sobaipuri from the Altar to the distant Gila, for some years alone, but later aided by other Jesuit workers, notably Fathers Campos and Januske. Other missions and visitas were established on both sides of the line, the most important within the limits of Arizona being San Xavier del Bac, originally a Sobaipuri village of about 800 souls. It was first visited by Father Kino in 1692, but the church was not begun until 1699. In 1695 the arbitrary cruelty of a local Spanish commandant provoked a rising among the southern Pima and their allies, who attacked and plundered the missions on the Sonora side, excepting Dolores where Father Kino was stationed, and killing Father Saeta at Caborca with the usual savage cruelties. The insurrection was soon put down by the energetic measures of Governor Jironza, and through the intercession of the missionaries a general pardon was accorded to the revolted tribes. In 1751 a more serious rebellion broke out, again involving the three tribes, in whose territory there were now eight missions, served by nine Jesuit priests. Of these missions two only were within the present limits of Arizona, viz., San Xavier del Bac, already noted, and San Miguel de Guevavi, founded in 1732 near to the present Nogales. For a period of more than twenty years after Father Kino’s death in 1711 the scarcity of workers had compelled a withdrawal from the northern missions, with the result that many of the Indians had relapsed into their original heathenism. The return of the missionaries was followed a few years later by an influx of Spanish miners and garrison troops, leading to trouble with the natives, which culminated in November, 1751, in a massacre of Spaniards and a general attack upon missions and settlements alike. Nearly 120 whites lost their lives, including Fathers Zello and Ruhn, and the missions were again abandoned until peace was restored in 1752. They never fully recovered from this blow, and were already on the decline when the Jesuit order was expelled from Mexico in 1767 and the missions were turned over to the Franciscans, among whom, in this region, the most noted was Father Francisco Garcés, first Franciscan missionary at San Xavier del Bac and author of a journal of exploration among the tribes of the Lower Colorado River. San Xavier had dwindled from 830 souls in 1697 to 270 in 1772, while the other missions had declined in proportion, their former tenants, whose numbers were constantly diminishing by neglect and Apache raids, having scattered over the desert. In 1828 the revolutionary Government of Mexico confiscated the missions, and for many years even San Xavier was left without attention, except for occasional visits by a secular priest from Sonora. In 1864 a Catholic school was once more reestablished in connection with the ancient church, and continues in successful operation. The Pàpago, including most of the descendants of the Sobaipuri, number now altogether about 5500 souls, of whom all but about 1000 are in Arizona, the rest being in Sonora, Mexico. Those in Arizona are on two reservations at Gila Bend and San Xavier, established in 1874 and 1882, or scattered in villages throughout Pima County. They are farmers, stock raisers, and general laborers, practically all civilized and Catholic. See Eusebius Kino; Pima Indians.


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