Documenting and Preserving Sobaipuri Sites in the San Pedro Basin
By the late seventeenth century, Spain’s presence in the northwestern frontier of New Spain comprised established military, agricultural, and missionary settlements. A number of missions, visitas, and communities of Tohono O’odham were in place along the Santa Cruz River under the watchful administration of Jesuit missionaries and military forces. Forty miles east of the Santa Cruz, the San Pedro River Valley marked the frontier between Spaniards and neighboring Native Americans. Among the people whom the Spaniards encountered in the San Pedro Valley were the Sobaipuri Pima, best known through the records of Padre Kino and Lieutenant Manje, the Alcalde Mayor of Sonora. These records are from the Spaniards’ point of view, however, and do not convey a full sense of how and where the Sobaipuri lived in the region. Furthermore, although informative and intriguing (albeit one-sided) information on the Sobaipuri is found in the Spanish records, the archaeology of the Sobaipuri remains poorly understood. Few sites have been documented and reported on since the work of Charles Di Peso of the Amerind Foundation during the 1950s, when he investigated the Spanish Presidio of Terrenate (also known as Quiburi), and the Sobaipuri site of Gaybanipitea.
This research and preservation program aims to refine and augment our current, very limited understanding of Sobaipuri archaeology. Preservation Fellow Jim Vint has focused on the stretch of the San Pedro between the old townsite of Fairbank and the area around the mouth of Aravaipa Canyon to the north. A number of the sites documented by Spaniards are located in this section of the valley. Using a methodology that combines documentary records with archaeological research, known and previously undocumented sites are being investigated and placed within the context of Spanish records; at they same time, sites are being considered from an archaeological perspective outside of the Spanish documentary framework. This multifaceted approach will provide a fuller picture of the Sobaipuri and Spanish frontier than that afforded by documentary or archaeological research alone. The sparse nature of Sobaipuri sites and sporadic documentary records make this research a challenging but promising endeavor.