The deportation of the native yaquis of Sonora to other parts of Mexico, notably to the henequen plantations of Yucatán, was one of the most notorious acts of the Díaz regime in the decade preceding the 1910 Revolution.1 However, the background, rationale, mechanism, and consequences of this deportation have not been adequately studied. This essay discusses the motives of the Yaqui rebellions which both preceded and characterized the Díaz period, the development of the Díaz regime’s efforts to pacify the Yaquis and the implications of the official policy both for the Yaquis and for Sonora’s landowning elite. Finally, it views the deportation as a contributing factor in the alienation of these Sonoran groups and their participation in the Mexican Revolution.

Yaqui rebellion had a long history antedating the Díaz period. But the Yaquis intensified and found new meaning for their resistance as a result of the impact in Sonora of the process of rapid economic development occurring in Mexico during the Porfiriato. During this period, massive infusions of foreign capital dislocated certain traditional sectors of society, thus provoking rural rebellions against the forces or agents of development in various parts of the country. The Zapatista movement emerged in the sugar-growing region in central Mexico as a result of such conflicts.2 The intensified Yaqui rebellion was another example.

Economic development also produced a contradiction within the elite itself. National plans for development were not always consistent with the interests of a locally powerful and ambitious group. The transfer of Yaqui labor to the henequen plantations of Yucatán meant a sharp curtailment of the labor supply to Sonora’s hacendados. The deportation policy became a major bone of contention between the national elite and a local counter-elite in Sonora.


The Díaz government did not provoke the Yaqui rebellion, but inherited the nettlesome problem from all the previous governments, as far back as the colonial administration. At 30, 000 strong, the Yaqui nation was the most populous indigenous group in northwest Mexico when the Spaniards first explored that area in the early sixteenth century. Sharing the fate of most of the native inhabitants west of the Sierra Madre Occidental, they came under Jesuit rule for the major part of the colonial period.

The Yaquis traditionally occupied a large area of well-irrigated land along the lower Yaqui River, recognized from the beginning by Spaniards and Jesuits alike as potentially the richest in this otherwise arid territory. The extremely productive Yaqui mission became an important part of the successful economic empire built by the Jesuits in northwest Mexico. Yaquis also provided much of the labor force in the Spanish reales de minas, despite strong opposition from the Padres. In 1740, the Yaquis and their neighbors, the Mayos, rose up in their first rebellion to protest against both their Spanish and Jesuit oppressors. Ruthlessly crushed by the government, they did not rise up again until the next century.3

Since the inception of the Mexican nation after Independence from Spain, the Yaquis had posed a continuous threat to the state authorities. Freed at last from the paternalistic but absolutist Jesuit control, they simply refused to submit to any secular government. They declined to pay state taxes or permit colonization in the Yaqui Valley. From their mission experience, they inherited a strong conviction that the Yaqui nation as a whole was the sole and rightful owner of the entire Yaqui territory.

For three-quarters of the nineteenth century, the chaotic, divisive and problem-torn state of Sonora was unable to dominate the Yaquis. In a series of civil wars in Sonora, they became the allies of any side that would promise them autonomy and independence in the Yaqui Valley. Thus they were found fighting alongside the Federalists, the Centralists, the Liberals and even the French Imperialists. Although they were merely used by these various political factions as a fighting force, their active participation contributed to the instability and impotency of the state government. For most of this period the Yaquis enjoyed a de facto independence, and were able to keep incursion into the Yaqui territory at a minimum.

With the defeat in 1876 of General Ignacio Pesqueira, last caudillo of Sonora, who had tried several times unsuccessfully to subjugate the Yaquis, pro-Díaz forces moved into the state and brought it under federal control by 1879.4 The explicit aims of the Díaz regime in Sonora were to eliminate its antiprogressive elements and develop the potentially rich state, ending the internecine wars. In Sonora, the impediments to progress were seen as the Apaches and the Yaquis. With the Apache problem finally solved by a combined United States-Mexican military effort in the 1880s, the only obstacle remaining were the Yaquis, who were to prove much more resilient than the government had imagined.

Development in Sonora entailed opening of the Yaqui River and Valley to agricultural exploitation. As long as the Yaquis refused to give up the fight for control of their home territory, however, total development in Sonora was clearly impossible. Moreover, there was the expressed hope that a pacified Yaqui nation would provide much of the necessary manpower for rapid development in the state. In the words of the eminent científico, Justo Sierra, the native must be converted into a “social asset,” and transformed into the “principal colonist on intensively cultivated soil. . . .”5

Yaqui resistance in the early years of the Porfiriato was embodied in the great chief José María Leyva Cajemc, a highly acculturated Indian who had learned his military skills from service in the state and federal armies. He single-handedly organized and maintained a Yaqui state-within-a-state from 1875 to 1886, when a massive federal military effort definitively crushed him. At the height of his power, he could easily amass a fighting force of 3, 000 Yaqui and Mayo allies.6

Towards the end of Cajeme’s rule of the Yaqui, the state government encouraged his former lieutenant, Loreto Molino, to rebel against him. Although the plot to overthrow Cajeme was thwarted, Molino’s defection signalled the beginning of an exodus of war-weary Yaqui families out of the valley. With Cajeme’s demise, close to 4, 000 Yaquis were reported by the federal government to have surrendered.7 The Yaqui nation never regained the unity it had under Cajeme, but his defeat was only a temporary victory for the government.

Juan Maldonado, alias Tetabiate, Cajeme’s nominal successor and the most eminent Yaqui since Cajeme, was one of several Yaqui chiefs to emerge after the great leader. While more and more Yaquis were emigrating from their traditional homelands, the die-hard rebels under the leadership of Tetabiate fled to the Sierra de Bacatete, flanking the River, to bide their time.

The state government of Sonora during the Porfiriato was tightly controlled by a closely-knit clique of federal generals and local civilians. The state and national power structures were so intertwined at times that it was difficult to separate the two. Foremost among the civilians was the Sonoran Ramón Corral. Several times governor of Sonora, he was called by Díaz to Mexico City where he soon became Díaz’s vice-president. From the capital, Corral provided the direct link between national policies and interests and local operations in Sonora.

Perhaps the most versatile member of the state ruling clique was General Luis E. Torres. He and his relative, General Lorenzo Torres, first entered Sonora from neighboring Sinaloa to help install the Díaz government in 1879. During most of the Porfiriato, they alternated in the command of the federal forces of the First Military Zone, headquartered in the middle of the Yaqui territory and dedicated almost exclusively to the Yaqui pacification campaign. They also took turns with Corral and another civilian member of the group, Rafael Izábal, in occupying the governor’s seat, thereby effectively monopolizing state political power.

In 1880 during his first term as governor, Luis Torres brought the railroad into Sonora and opened the state up for exploitation. He also gave the first impetus for reopening the long dormant mining industry of the state. With encouragement and generous concessions from the Díaz government, foreign investment, especially from the United States, poured into Sonora.8

Besides railroads and mines, agricultural production and land speculation were other foci of development. These particular interests were largely centered in the Yaqui Valley with land being sold as late as 1902 for the incredibly cheap price of 6. 60 pesos per hectare.9 The extended Torres family came to own some 400, 000 hectares of land in the Yaqui Valley and were personally involved in building canals and overseeing other development schemes in this area. In a promotional pamphlet issued by the joint Mexican-North American Sonora and Sinaloa Irrigation Company in 1894, the author and president of the company boasted of the generous land concession granted by the Díaz government: 547, 000 acres of land in the Yaqui Valley, 400, 000 of which would be irrigated by water from the company canal.10 Land in the Yaqui Valley was granted under the official category of baldíos, or national wastelands.

Later bought up by the Richardson Construction Company of Los Angeles, this compañía deslindador, or colonization company, was interested mainly in agriculturally developing the Yaqui Valley through colonization and irrigation. Far from wishing to dislodge its original owners, president Walter Logan optimistically predicted that the 30, 000 vanquished Yaquis would happily settle on their contested homeland as hardworking colonists.11 Most of the Yaquis, however, declined to settle in the Valley on the terms of the colonization company.

Although by the end of the century a few hundred Yaqui colonists were found in the Valley, these constituted only a small minority of the total Yaqui population in the state. Most of the Yaquis were scattered in the countryside outside the Yaqui Valley; they easily found employment in the mines and railroads as wage laborers. Increasingly they also found work opportunities on the haciendas and ranches owned largely by Sonorans.

Alongside the members of the political ruling clique who personally benefitted from the economic expansion of the state, the local hacendados also prospered under the favorable economic climate of the early Porfiriato. New names were added to the roster of old-landholding families as a result of the liberal land exploitation program of the Díaz regime. At a time of mounting demands for food items, the high transportation costs prohibited heavy importation of such products into the state. The hacendados knew how to take full advantage of the cheap and ready source of labor provided by the influx of Yaquis into the countryside. Financed by local capital, the haciendas produced for the internal consumption market.12

Most representative of this rising group of local hacendados was the Maytorena family. Don José Maria Maytorena, Sr. had established himself as one of the richest hacendados and most respected men in the state during the early years of the Porfiriato. His haciendas in the Guaymas areas included San Antonio de Arriba, San Antonio de Abajo, La Misa, La Huerta and Santa Maria.13 He was not the scion of a traditional Sonoran family, and not well known before the dawn of the Porfirian era. Nor did he become a member of the Díaz political machine, despite his growing economic power. On the contrary, he and other prominent members of his group were purposely denied effective political power. As a result, several times Maytorena set himself up as the opposition to the Díaz dictatorship in Sonora. In 1887, he and Adolfo Almada of Alamos challenged the Díaz candidates, Lorenzo Torres and Ramón Corral, for the highest state offices. Although the Maytorena ticket overwhelmingly won the popular vote, the State Congress awarded the victory to the Torres-Corral ticket.14 Since then, the Maytorena name was identified with the Sonoran opposition, Maytorena, Jr. inheriting the leadership from his father. The main point of contention was the virtual monopoly of political power by the Díaz clique.

The movement of Yaquis out of the Valley continued into the last decade of the nineteenth century, at which time the handful of rebels under Tetabiate also became more active, raiding haciendas, ranches, mines and rural communities for sustenance. The federal military forces concentrated their efforts after the defeat of Cajeme on ferreting out these remnants of the long rebellion. When the pursuit became too hot for the rebels, they hid out temporarily in the countryside, mingling with their working brothers. This created a new problem for their pursuers, who could not tell the rebel apart from the peaceful elements. Gradually, forced by the changing nature of their struggle, the Yaquis were learning to fight a special brand of guerrilla warfare. This was to become the dominant feature of the Yaqui resistance in the last phase before the Revolution of 1910.15 For ten years after the defeat of Cajeme, the army futilely chased after the elusive bands in the sierra, who had become quite adept at guerrilla maneuvers. As one military historian remarked: “They have good advance scouts. They no longer bring their families with them. . . . They fight in small guerrilla bands which flee rapidly from the strong columns that pursue them, dispersing in all directions; but they regroup to ambush or attack resolutely small parties of troops, and have succeeded in beating some of them.”16

Throughout the early 1890s more money and men were added to the anti-guerrilla campaign, and the mounting costs of a war that was supposedly over elicited much criticism from developmentalists in the state. Some felt that the money could have been better spent in “building canals in the Río Yaqui to irrigate the fertile land.”17

The government then decided to resort to a tactic that had been employed unsuccessfully numerous times in the past: a negotiated peace. In May 1897 the Peace of Ortiz was concluded and signed with much pomp and ceremony by General Luis Torres and chief Tetabiate. The government thought it had finally reached a modus vivendi with these intractable people. The peace agreement provided for repentant rebels to become colonists in the Río Yaqui; they would also be fed and clothed by the government until they recovered from the exhaustion of war. President Díaz had already expressed his personal dream of seeing every Yaqui behind a plow.18

The Yaquis, however, understood the peace terms rather differently. They thought the agreement guaranteed them their long sought independence and autonomy. Most of all, they understood the peace to mean that every federal soldier would be out of the Yaqui Valley.

When both sides realized the miscommunication regarding the Peace of Ortiz, fighting broke out anew in 1899 and 1900. Frustrated government officials accused the Yaquis of feigning peace in order to gain time for re-mobilization and re-supply.19 For the last time in their history the Yaquis amassed a sizeable force, at their mountain redoubt of Mazocoba. The Battle of Mazocoba of January 18, 1900, turned out to be a bloody massacre for the Yaquis: more than 400 dead and 800 taken prisoners.20 Although this devastating defeat was far from signalling the end of the rebellion, it again forced the Yaquis to redefine their positions and tactics. At first some goo rebels hid out in the Sierra de Bacatete, but according to official figures, intensive government pursuit reduced the number to only about 300 by the end of 1900.21 Encouraged by the recent victories against the rebels and by the death of chief Tetabiate in July, the government pronounced the Yaqui campaign formally closed in August 1901.22

According to the census of 1900, the Yaquis constituted about 15 percent of the total Sonoran population of 220, 553.23 After Mazocoba, they again fanned out to all comers of the state and as far north as Arizona. They were engaged in many types of employment, from domestic servants to peons, from sailors to mine workers. There were 3, 000 Yaquis officially listed as “colonists” in the Yaqui Valley.24

The Yaqui War continued into the twentieth century. The government underestimated the strength and vigor of the small number of remaining rebels, who returned to the tactics of guerrilla warfare. In small, highly mobile units, they ventured out from the mountains to attack communities, haciendas, ranches, mines, the open highway, the railroad construction sites. They raided for arms and ammunition, as well as food and clothes for their families, who moved with the guerrillas from camp to camp.

In April 1902, Governor Izábel proclaimed a new policy to deal with these rebels. The plan called for a combination of several operations: to pursue and arrest the rebels in their mountain holdouts, and to concentrate and guard over the Yaqui mansos, or peaceful laborers, in the countryside. All employers of Yaqui workers were ordered to gather them into rancherías, or camps, in specifically designated areas to facilitate vigilance over them. The prefect of each district was required to register each month all Yaquis over 15 years of age and issue them passports. Yaquis found wandering without passports would be considered rebels and subject to arrest, and maybe even deportation from the state.25 Were the plan as easy to execute as it appeared on paper, the government would have solved its Yaqui problem in no time. As it turned out, however, the military again found itself confronting the frustration of waging guerrilla warfare, employing neophyte soldiers, often in inclement weather, on unfamiliar terrain, and using traditional military maneuvers which seemed completely unsuccessful under the circumstances.

Unlike the soldiers, the rebels were operating in their home territory, whose mountainous terrain favored this kind of warfare. They also enjoyed the advantage of a nearby United States border, which provided a natural escape route and unlimited sources of arms supply. Much to the chagrin and bafflement of the military, rebel activities grew and intensified in the face of its persistent action.


The practice of deportation was actually initiated towards the end of the last century. At first it was only applied to the most incorrigible Yaqui leaders. Massive and systematic deportation was considered too radical a measure for these much valued workers, and not at all necessary.26 The government still harbored the hopes that with the rebel leaders safely out of the way, the rest of the Yaqui population would become sufficiently reformed into a “civilized and progressive” contribution to the growing prosperity of the state.

As in the case of all successful guerrilla movements, the Yaqui rebels counted on wide support from the people, in this case the Yaqui workers in the countryside. They supplied the rebels with food, money, arms, information (acting as occasional spies) and shelter for the fugitives. It also became increasingly clear to the government that the countryside provided an unlimited recruiting ground for the rebels, as the workers would sometimes rebel en masse on the haciendas, then flee to the hills; or one or two workers at a time would simply slip away into the night.27 At the same time, a rebel might also descend from the sierra to work a stint on a hacienda, temporarily relieving himself from the rigors of a guerrilla life. This rotation system between rebels and laborers forced the government to resort to more drastic action. All unexcused absentees from the places of work, as well as those found wandering without proper identifying passports, were to be arrested as rebel suspects.

The complicated registration-passport system resulted in many false arrests. Obviously, wandering bands of women and children could not be active guerrilla fighters, but they were often arbitrarily arrested. Pimas, Opatas, Papagos, Mayos and other Indians were often also mistaken for Yaquis. Complaints from hacendados affected by the increasingly indiscriminate arrests began to pour into government agencies. One F. Sánchez, hacendado of Moctezuma district, petitioned his prefect, “There are in this jail, by disposition of the government, seven Yaquis, four with families; I think they are pacíficos, who for some circumstance did not have their passports. We have an extreme shortage of laborers and I beg you that, if it is not compromising to you, arrange in my name the release or these Indios so that 1 can have them as servants.”28

Other hacendados also protested against unfair arrests and the loss of good workers. While some women were deported, most women and children arrested in 1902-1903 were returned to their original patrones.29 Labor was so short that hacendados squabbled over a good Yaqui worker. Hacendados accepted and protected all Yaquis who sought employment with them, for while some lamented losses from an occasional raid, most of them worried even more about a diminishing labor supply.

During this period of intensified action against the Yaquis, they often found shelter in the haciendas of José María Maytorena, Jr. He was already acquiring a special reputation with the Yaquis of being an unusually “fair, considerate and affectionate” patrón.30

With the hacendados, especially those in the most agriculturally-oriented districts of Ures and Hermosillo, obviously harboring the rebels, an increasingly frustrated government accused them of always having been “if not contented, then indifferent to the anti-Yaqui wars, which worked in their favor. When the Indians are in war, they have cheap peons, for in their haciendas they find refuge, and there they are received with open arms. On the other hand, when they are at peace, they migrate back to the Río Yaqui, and consequently the loss of such a valuable asset for prosperity on their properties.”31 In short, the government charged certain local interests with obstructing the effective execution of a federal policy, namely the total pacification of the Yaqui nation.

The years 1904-1907 saw an intensification of activities by the guerrillas, and, consequently, government persecution of suspected elements. In 1904, Governor Izábal admitted the problem of labor shortage if too many Yaquis were captured and deported; but he was still determined to extirpate the rebel problem. In February Izábal issued a stronger second decree to the hacendados and mineowners, not only to continue to concentrate and register their Yaqui workers, but also to refrain from hiring any Yaqui without a passport. This was aimed at avoiding confusion between rebels and workers.32 Meanwhile, Izábal himself headed a reconnaissance tour of the haciendas, ranches and mines of the whole state to weed out what he considered suspicious Yaquis.

Amidst mounting criticism, Izábal claimed that all the Yaquis he arrested were “justified as rebels,”33 or, more correctly, as he himself put it, “not well justified as pacíficos.”34 The slightest suspicion came to constitute sufficient grounds for arrest. Sometimes, the yaquería of a whole hacienda, ranch, or mine which the rebels had just raided were rounded up for deportation on charges of collusion with the enemy. Increasingly the orders called for arrests of Yaquis “with all their families, so that not a single Yaqui remains, neither big nor small.”35 Selective arrests had evolved into more generalized and systematic forms; alleged sympathizers were deemed as guilty as the rebels themselves. “Frankly,” General Luis Torres argued, “I don’t see any other solution for these indios.”36

In Izábal’s 1903-1907 report to the State Congress, he listed some 2, 000 Yaquis forced to “leave the territory,” and another 600 captives freed for informing on their fellows.37 Most of those deported were men and women, although occasionally boys and girls were also found on the deportation lists.38 The children were usually farmed out to the service of prominent families of the state, or simply left to die in crowded and unsanitary conditions. One especially tragic consequence of these procedures was the splitting up of the families, all the more devasting in a society in which the family had been such a strong cultural institution.

Not all those arrested were actually deported. Some were sentenced to hang on the spot; others were sent to the state penitentiary in Hermosillo to await further sentencing; still others were shipped to the port of Guaymas and elsewhere to work.39 Izábal’s search and execution procedures had a definite aura of selective terror about them. As Yaqui Rosalio Moisés described it in his memoirs, “Governor Izábal was called el segundo díos by the Yaquis. He liked to preside at the Sunday morning sessions, sitting on the portal. Out in the middle of the cuartel, Yaqui men were sorted into three lines. Men in one line were to be killed; men in the second line were to be deported; men in the third line were released to work another week.”40

Although not all the deportation lists specified Yucatán as the final destination of the unfortunate Yaquis, the bulk of the Yaqui prisoners were destined for the henequen haciendas of Yucatán. This did not result from the decision of some lowly government functionary. It so happened that the Secretary of Development, Colonization and Industry during this period, Olegario Molina, was also the biggest henequen hacendado of Yucatán. Also, in his official capacity, he was granting some of the most generous concessions in Sonora, specifically in the Yaqui Valley, to such interests as the Richardson Construction Company.41 On the other hand, as the henequen king of Yucatán, he personally derived much satisfaction from the resulting deportation arrangements.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, henequen in Yucatán was rapidly growing in importance. It became one of the major exports of the Mexican economy, prompting the giant henequen hacendados to pride themselves as the leaders of national progress. Despite the enslavement of the Maya Indians of Yucatán, the rapidly expanding henequen economy still suffered from a shortage of workers.42 When Molina and his fellow hacendados looked elsewhere for cheap labor, their eyes were drawn to the Yaquis of Sonora. After a trial period, the Yucatán hacendados unanimously acclaimed the imported Yaquis as superior to their own Mayas in “hard work and vigor.”43

The Secretary of War connived with his colleague, Molina, to execute the plan to supply workers to Yucatán. To them, it was killing two birds with one stone. Sonora would be rid at last of its most persistent, anti-progressive thorn, and Yucatán would gain some much needed laborers. Another rationale was used officially. These Yaqui rebels deserved to die, but the benevolent government chose to civilize them instead by deporting them elsewhere to work. Such an experience would transform them into “sane, vigorous men, and very useful to the country.”44

While leaders in Yucatán were satisfied with the arrangement, the intensified persecution and deportation of Yaquis provoked increasingly vehement protests in Sonora. Many prominent hacendados lost part or all of their cuadrillas, or work teams, often just before harvest time.45 Many protested against the arrest of innocent workers. Among this group was the American hacendado Carlos Johnson, who carried his case all the way to the United States State Department.46

Hacendados in Sonora also lost workers when their Yaquis fled to the sierras or to Arizona to avoid Izábal’s draconian measures. The Arizona Star in April 1904 lashed out at Izábal for depriving the mining industry of the state, in which so much American capital is invested, of this industrious class of people.”47 Clearly, not even the American mine-owners were spared by the fury of Izábal. Meanwhile, making sure that he personally suffered minimally from the anti-Yaqui campaign, Izábal took the precaution of maintaining sufficient Yaqui laborers on his own haciendas.48

Some hacendados were placated with the return of several workers.49 Others were bluntly told, “It is not possible to accede to your demands, because it has been resolved that there shall not remain a single Yaqui worker in these districts.”50 In January 1907, enough pressure was brought to bear on the government by a group of hacendados in the Ortiz area that many prisoners were found “not guilty and returned to their patrones.51 Immigrants to Sonora simply did not compensate for the loss of Yaqui workers in the countryside.

With reluctant cooperation from the Arizonan authorities, Izabal curtailed somewhat the flow of Yaquis to Arizona. Arizona was not only a refuge for rebels, but also provided jobs for any good Yaqui worker. Moreover, much of the money earned in Arizona went towards buying guns and ammunition for the rebel movement. The Tucson Post protested Mexico’s restriction of movement of Yaqui workers to Arizona, for they had come to be highly prized there.52 Izábal also tried to pressure the Arizonan authorities to deport illegally entered Yaquis back to Mexico.53 Despite these efforts, however, Yaquis continued to work and buy arms in Arizona.

In the 1906 to 1907 censuses large concentrations of Yaquis were found in the urban centers of Hermosillo and Guaymas where they were assimilated into the urban proletariat and did not pose the same kind of problem as their rural counterparts. Guaymas district also reported some 150 rebels—men, women and children—in the Sierra de Bacatete. The Yaqui River area itself had no more than 2, 000 Yaqui residents.54 Most of the Yaquis were found scattered in the rural areas north of Hermosillo.55

Orders went out in 1907 to clean out all the Yaquis north of Hermosillo, in the districts of Sahuaripa, Arizpe, Ures, Magdalena and Altar.56 These were also the districts close to, or bordering, the United States. Yaquis were also forbidden to work on the railroads, which had become a favorite target of the rebels.57 Even Yaquis with passports were to be arrested in these districts.58

Meanwhile, military authorities continued to complain of very few positive results gained against the elusive guerrillas.59 The local militias lacked sufficient arms and trained personnel to be effective. Even the especially organized 11th Rural Corps, with a monthly budget of 10, 000 pesos, was unable to crush the guerrilla movement. Out of frustration and necessity, the government redirected its attention from the slippery Yaqui guerrilla to the more vulnerable and easily accessible Yaqui peon.

The accelerated roundup and deportation of Yaqui workers and families in 1907 was partially a reaction to increased rebel assaults on the tiendas de raya, or company stores, of the haciendas, mines, and railroad companies, and on travelers on the unprotected highways. But more systematic government persecution aggravated an already unstable situation in the countryside. Not only were hacendados losing their best workers, but the rebel movement was also dealt a severe blow. With more and more workers rounded up for deportation, the rebel base of support throughout much of the state was also drying up. This in turn meant that the rebels had to resort more to raids for their ammunition and provisions. Intensified rebel activities led to increasing pressure on the government to deal with the rebels. The circle was full drawn.

To escape these harsh and often arbitrary government decrees, many Yaquis, both accomplices and previously unaligned, tried to escape to Arizona, although this was becoming increasingly difficult. Other Yaquis took to the hills to join the rebels, consequently swelling their ranks.

Aside from the Yaquis themselves, the biggest losers in this conflict were the Sonoran hacendados and, to some extent, the mining and railroad companies. They suffered losses from both the rebel raids and the deportation program. At the height of the Yaquis’ desperation, even the haciendas of the Maytorena’s were not spared. The hacendados, however, continued to distinguish between the rebels and their workers. They still insisted that the two elements could be dealt with separately, contrary to the opinion of the government.

In May 1908, Governor Luis Torres tried for the last time to negotiate with the Yaquis.60 This time, he parleyed with Luis Bule, one of the rebel leaders. While Bule agreed in principal to the cessation of hostilities, he could not agree to the surrender of all Yaqui arms, the main condition of the government. On June 9th, the day before the deadline for turning in all arms and ammunition, Bule received an ominous warning from Torres: “For the last time we communicate to you that if you do not comply with your first offer and turn in all arms and ammunition immediately, the war will return and deportation of Yaquis to Yucatán will continue. You should understand that you are the cause for the death of your tribe, for the government, at the same time it is disposed to concede to you all kinds of guarantees in the case of surrender, is also disposed to exterminate all of you if you continue to rebel.”61 Despite the warning, Bule missed the deadline, and the government signalled all-out war against the Yaquis. Alberto Cubillas, Secretary of the state government, expressed his opinion to Ramón Corral that only the complete deportation of the tribe could solve the rebel problem.62 Corral wired back that both he and the President approved of the decision to deport all Yaquis.63

In July, orders were issued to the prefects of the districts of Ures, Moctezuma, Arizpe, Magdalena, and Altar to round up all Yaqui pacíficos for deportation.64 There were to be absolutely no Yaquis north of Hermosillo. Cubillas’ orders read: “We are not speaking of a campaign nor of persecution of Yaquis, but of apprehending all those, who live peacefully in the ranches and haciendas to deport them.”65 Or, in the words of General Lorenzo Torres, “We must take out of Sonora all the Yaquis, all without exception, and in this case it is useless to examine the indios. Next we will proceed with the referred deportation of large groups of Yaquis without distinction of any kind; we will take out rebels and pacíficos.”66 There was no attempt by the government to mask its intentions of removing all Yaquis from Sonora by deportation.

June and July of 1908 saw the largest shipment of Yaquis to Yucatán. One shipment in July on the steamship ironically named “Corral” loaded some 800 Yaqui men, women and children.67

Concurrent with the accelerated deportation notices, more stringent border control measures also finally went into effect. In October, the United States Department of Commerce and Labor agreed to intervene in Arizona. It ordered the detention and deportation back to Mexico of all illegally entered Yaquis.68 Merchants in Arizona were strictly forbidden to sell arms and ammunition to Yaquis or export unauthorized shipments. Arms sales within Sonora were also controlled by the government, so that none would inadvertently fall in the wrong hands.69

It is significant that the U. S. Department of Commerce and Labor agreed in 1908 to accede to demands long voiced by the Mexican government to curtail the entry and activities of Yaquis into Arizona. The United States was in the throes of an investment and banking crisis that began in November of 1907. Both the railroad and mining industries in Arizona and Mexico had absorbed large amounts of capital; these enterprises were no doubt affected by the crisis. The consequences of this short-lived economic slowdown was to reduce the demand for labor in the United States. Business in the United States did not begin to pick up until 1909. While Arizona once welcomed the influx of cheap Yaqui labor, it now found itself obligated to cooperate with the Mexican government to turn them back. Unlike the practice of earlier years, Arizonan newspapers did not rebuke the Mexicans for unfair treatment of the Yaquis. The American mining and railroad companies in Sonora also stood by mutely while the Yaquis were being deported.

The depression of 1907-1909 did not seem to diminish the local Sonoran hacendados’ needs for workers. For three years in a row, southern Mexico had suffered terrible harvests, which could have led to increased demand for Sonoran agricultural products.

Repercussions of the depression did reach the export-oriented Yucatan economy, and during this period, prices of henequen dropped on the world market.70 This development could help explain why, by the end of July 1908, the massive deportation of Yaquis to Yucatán was abruptly terminated. Instead, the government issued warnings to the Yaquis that for every subsequent rebel raid, 500 Yaqui pacíficos would be deported.71

The slowdown could also have been a partial concession to mounting protests from Sonora directly addressed to Díaz, begging him to revoke the deportation orders to avoid a real economic crisis in the state.72 The problem of labor shortage had reached such proportions in July that two Maytorena brothers were caught trying to smuggle Yaqui workers to Sinaloa, in an obvious attempt to evade deportation notices.73 The scandal gained national attention, and an embarrassed Corral ordered the state government to drop the case against the prestigious Maytorena family.74

The government also worked out special arrangements with those hacendados, with prestige, such as the Maytorenas, and those with good government contacts, such as Aureliano Torres. The latter was temporarily loaned twenty-five Yaquis from the penitentiary in Guaymas during the height of deportation in June to help him harvest his chick peas.75 José María Maytorena was also given special permission by Díaz himself in September to contract Yaquis in Guaymas and Hermosillo to work on his haciendas as wage laborers.76

By January 1909, the general atmosphere had relaxed enough in Hermosillo and Guaymas that Yaquis were issued passports and permitted to seek employment in local haciendas, ranches, and businesses and in the port of Guaymas.77 Luis Bule and his faction of rebels finally gave in to the government in early 1909. They were immediately incorporated into the federal forces as a Special Auxiliary to ferret out their less repentent brothers.78 Incentives from 100 to 500 pesos were offered to anyone bringing in rebels, dead or alive.79

One year before the Revolution of 1910, the Yaqui spirit was considerably weakened, although not completely broken. A very reduced band of rebels—who did not agree with Bule’s surrender to the government-still held out in the Sierra de Bacatete, once again biding their time. They found that massive deportation of the Yaquis had dried up their social base of support; they saw many of their people shipped off to Yucatán or forced to flee to Arizona, and they were made to feel responsible for this terrible fate that befell many of their friends and relatives. Most tragic of all, they were persistently hunted down by some of their ex-comrades in the resistance. Furthermore, they discovered that the once wide open frontier of Arizona was closed; this meant no more easy escape route nor ready access to fresh supplies of arms and ammunition to carry on the armed struggle. The century-old Yaqui rebellion had reached its nadir.

The exact number of Yaquis deported to Yucatán and elsewhere is difficult to calculate before a complete deportation roster is located.80 Turner cites a figure above 15, 000, based on the testimony of a boastful deportation officer.81 This might have been an exaggeration, since the Yaqui population at the time could not have totaled more than 30, 000. The census of 1910 gave a conservative 2, 757 Sonorans living in Yucatán; but this figure surely did not include all the Yaqui slaves on the henequen haciendas.82

The length and nature of the Yaqui pacification program during the Porfiriato had another effect that must be considered. Inadvertently, government action against the Yaquis helped them maintain a high degree of mobility in the countryside. If the Yaquis were not physically removed by government forces, they were often fleeing from them. Moreover, their labor was in great demand, and they could switch work locations almost at will. Finally, they were constantly driven by the goal of returning to the Yaqui River and saw the sojourn outside as only a temporary interlude. All these factors help explain why the mobile Yaquis never became debt peons, although they lost their land and became a rural labor force.

The Yaquis reacted to federal efforts to wrest from them control of the Yaqui River Valley by intensifying their resistance against the government. This in turn provoked the series of pacification measures described above. Because they were already in a state of rebellion, and hence mobilized for action, they responded almost immediately to the developmentalists’ efforts to redefine them economically and culturally. Similar phenomena occurred elsewhere in Mexico during the Porfiriato as a result of the push for capitalistic development in a still largely traditional society.

The dialectics of the Yaqui pacification program, especially the deportation phase, had implications that went beyond the Yaquis themselves. Importing the much-prized and much-needed Yaquis to Yucatán answered the quest for a constant and fresh supply of workers to the henequen plantations during their period of most rapid growth. It was surely no coincidence that the Díaz government effected this happy marriage between Sonora and Yucatán. Did the unquenchable thirst for cheap labor of men such as Secretary and henequen hacendado Molina constitute a pressure for deportation of Yaquis from Sonora? Díaz, it must be remembered, personally sanctioned and applauded this draconian measure, which the Yaquis consider the most terrible phase of their history. Reportedly Ramón Corral received three pesos per Yaqui sold in Yucatán. No matter what the exact number of Yaquis that ended up in Yucatán, there is no question that imported Yaqui labor contributed greatly to bolster the henequen economy of Yucatán.

On the other hand, the consequences of deportation were not as felicitous for the Sonoran economy. For the Sonoran hacendados, it was sometimes close to disastrous. Hacendado families such as the Maytorenas made their fortune under the fortuitous circumstances of the early Porfiriato. Completely independent of foreign capital, the interest of this group of national bourgeoisie was rural, totally dependent on local labor, and oriented towards the local and national markets. Until the period of general deportation, labor had been satisfactorily supplied by the exodus of Yaquis from the Yaqui Valley. While the initial government campaign to flush the Yaquis out of their home territory benefitted the new entrepreneurs tremendously, the extension of the federal pacification program into massive and systematic deportation threatened to reverse the economic gains they had made.

Politically, however, this group was impotent, being largely outside the Díaz ruling clique in Sonora. Their continuous protests led at best to a few occasional token gestures. It should be no surprise then, that José María Maytorena, Jr. was at the forefront of the anti-Díaz Maderista movement in Sonora in 1910. The position of Maytorena was not unlike that of Francisco Madero himself. They both represented a growing national bourgeoisie with no corresponding political leverage. They arrived at the conclusion that only by seizing political power in their own hands could they hope to maintain and strengthen their own economic position.83

While the Maytorena group did not represent the only anti-Díaz faction in Sonora, nor the deportation of Yaquis the sole focus of their disaffection with the Díaz dictatorship, the Yaqui question did come to symbolize federal interests and policies that clashed directly with important local interests. In contrast, this contradiction did not obtain in the center and south of Mexico, where economic and political power were concentrated in the same hands.84

Seen in this context, the question of the Yaquis during the Porfiriato becomes more than a simple matter of rural rebellion. Significantly, many Yaquis allied with Maytorena, their favorite patrón, and later with Alvaro Obregón, to help overthrow the old order during the course of the Mexican Revolution.


The drama of Yaqui deportation has been poignantly captured in the muckraking classic of John Kenneth Turner, Barbarous Mexico, 2d ed. (Austin, 1969). More than anyone else, Turner called attention to the barbarity of the deportation policy.


For an excellent theoretical discussion of the relationship between development and rebellion in traditional societies, see the conclusion of Eric R. Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (New York, 1969). For a specific discussion of Mexico, see chapter 1.


The Yaquis and Mayos were actually late-comers to the series of Indian rebellions that took place in northern Mexico throughout the colonial period. The most serious rebellions occurred when both Jesuit missionaries and Spanish miners fought for the labor of the mission Indians. The first such rebellion was in 1616, when the Tepehuan Indians of the Topia mining region rose up to expel all the foreign intruders into their territory, missionaries as well as miners. For a listing of the rebellions in northern Mexico during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Ma. Elena Galaviz de Capdevielle, Rebeliones indígenas en el norte del Reino de la Nueva España (siglos XVI y XVII) (México, 1967). For a detailed discussion of the 1740 Yaqui and Mayo rebellion, see Luis Navarro García, La sublevación yaqui de 1740 (Seville, 1966).

The author of this article is currently at work on a complete history of the Yaqui nation. For a summary of Sonoran history, see Eduardo W. Villa, Historia del Estado de Sonora, 2d ed. (Hermosillo, 1951). For summary histories of the Yaquis, see the following works by Edward H. Spicer: Perspectives in American Indian Culture Change (Chicago, 1961); and Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960 (Tucson, 1962).


For a fairly good discussion of the Ignacio Pesqueira period in Sonora, see Rudolph Francis Acuña, “The Times of Ignacio Pesqueira; 1856-1876,” Ph. D. Diss. University of Southern California, 1968.


Justo Sierra, Evolución política del pueblo mexicano, ed. by Edmundo O’Gorman, Obras Completas del Maestro Justo Sierra, Tomo 12 (México, 1948), p. 398.


For an interesting and largely accurate biography of Cajeme, see Ramón Corral, “Biografía de José María Leyva Cajeme,” in Obras históricas, No. 1 (Hermosillo, 1959).


Francisco P. Troncoso, Las Guerras con las tribus Yaqui y Mayo del Estado de Sonora (México, 1905), p. 148.


Not surprisingly, Americans were the most active investors in Sonora, especially in railroads and mines. In 1892, the Barlow census listed the highest amount of U. S. mining investment in Mexico as being concentrated in Sonora. In 1902, Sonora enjoyed the third highest volume of total U. S. investment in Mexico, next to Mexico City and Chihuahua. El Porfiriato. La vida económica, Part II, in Daniel Cosío Villegas, ed., Historia Moderna de México, 10 vols. (México, 1955-1972), VII, 1103-1134.

By 1884, the American-built Ferrocarril de Sonora line had already laid 422 kilometers of tracks. In 1900, a giant concession was granted to the Cananea Company, with heavy investment in mines, but also in cattle, to build the Ferrocarril de Cananea, Río Yaqui y Pacifico. Ibid., pp. 566, 592-593.


Moisés González Navarro, El Porfiriato. La vida social in Daniel Cosío Villegas, ed., Historia Moderna de México, IV, 255.


Walter S. Logan, Yaqui: The Land of Sunshine and Health. What I Saw in Mexico (New York, 1894), p. 10.


The interests of the Richardson brothers were not limited to land speculation, but actually began in mines and branched out into railroads, land speculation and colonization.


Cosío Villegas, El Porfiriato. La vida económica, p. 9.


Claudio Dabdoub, Historia de El Valle del Yaqui (México, 1964), p. 210.


Antonio G. Rivera, La revolución en Sonora (Mexico, 1969), pp. 111-116.


The Mayo Indians of Sonora had been the erstwhile allies of the Yaquis, to the end of the Cajeme period. Originally inhabitants of the Mayo River, just south of the Yaqui, their situation and history closely paralleled that of the Yaquis. In the early 1890s however, the Mayos succumbed to a messianic movement and desisted from rebellion. Meanwhile, their mineral-rich homeland was rapidly being exploited, and their valley successfully opened up by the colonization companies. The Mayos became what the Yaquis never were: docile and law-abiding citizens of Sonora. For summary histories of the Mayos, see works by Spicer, note 3 above.


Troncoso, Guerras, p. 203.


El Agricultor Mexicano (México), December 6, 1906 quoted in Cosío Villegas, El Porfiriato: La vida económica, p. 21.


Troncoso, Guerras, p. 235.


Angel García Peña report on the Yaqui River, May 26, 1900, in ibid., pp. 269-272.


Troncoso, Guerras, p. 261.




Cosío Villegas, El Porfiriato. La vida social, p. 257; Troncoso, Guerras, p. 308.


1900 census, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Fondo de Micropelícula. Sonora, Rollo 8 (hereafter cited as INAH Son.). There are twentyfive rolls of documents, most of which are copied from the various Sonoran archives.


Cosío Villegas, El Porfiriato. La vida social, p. 252. Figures are for 1898.


Government circular on the Yaquis. Hermosillo, April 19, 1902. Patronato de la Historia de Sonora, México, D. F. (hereafter cited as PHS), vol. 13, pp. 174-177. This private collection of documents on Sonora—some of which are duplicated in the INAH collection—contains 100 volumes of typewritten copies placing special emphasis on the Yaqui movement.


Troncoso, Guerras, p. 342.


State Secretary Francisco Muñoz to the prefects of Ures and Guaymas districts, Hermosillo, May 28, 1902. PHS 14, p. 15.


Telegram, F. Sánchez to F. Muñóz, Moctezuma, July 5, 1902. PHS 14, p. 215.


Lists of women and children returned to original patrones, December 1902. PHS 15, pp. 140-141.


Dabdoub, Historia de El Valle del Yaqui, p. 210.


Troncoso, Guerras, pp. 266-267.


Izábal report to State Congress, 1903-1907, PHS 17, pp. 155-156. Also in INAH Son 9.


List of Yaquis “justified as rebels,” Tórin, Sept. 26, 1904. PHS 18, p. 196.


List of Yaquis “who are not justified as pacíficos.” Hermosillo, Sept. 30, 1904. PHS 18, p. 207.


Governor to prefect of Arizpe district, August 29, 1905. PHS 20, p. 210. See also PHS 18, p. 122.


Telegram, Luis Torres to Acting Governor Fernando Aguilar. Cananea, July 23, 1906. PHS 23, p. 281.


Izábal report, 1903-1907.


List of boys and girls who are to be deported, October 1905. PHS 21, p. 48; List of distribution of Yaqui children, November 16, 1906. PHS 25, p. 88; Prefect of Guaymas to State Secretary, Guaymas, October 21, 1904. PHS 18, p. 262.


State Secretary to Prefect of Guaymas, August 3, 1906. PHS 24, p. 1.


Rosalio Moisés, The Tall Candle. The Personal Chronicle of a Yaqui Indian (Lincoln, 1971), p. 25.


List of contracts granted for Sonora, in the “Memoria presentado al Congreso de la Unión por el Secretario de Estado y del Despacho de Fomento, Colonización e Industria de la República Mexicana, Lic. Olegario Molina, January 1905-June 1907. PHS 19, pp. 85-87.


Moisés González Navarro, Raza y tierra. La guerra de casta y el henequén (México, 1970), pp. 183-188, 204.


Ibid. p. 206. As early as 1902, hacendados in Campeche and Yucatán used and came to appreciate Yaqui workers. Cosío Villegas, El Porfiriato. La vida social, p. 259.


Significantly the Yaquis in Yucatán did not rebel during the 1902-1910 period. They were sold as slaves in Yucatán and did not survive long in the subhuman conditions and tight control of the henequen haciendas. Furthermore, the haciendas were isolated enough from one another that the Yaquis could not communicate and organize. Finally, they worked alongside many other groups— Chinese, Koreans, Mayas, and other luckless Mexicans—who did not understand the Yaqui struggle. Only in 1911, while waiting desperately for the repatriation to Sonora promised by Madero, did they rebel on the haciendas. See González Navarro, Raza y tierra, p. 229.


Sentences given to arrested Yaquis, March, 1904. PHS 17, pp. 172-178.


On details of Carlos Johnson’s complaints, see PHS 18, pp. 179-188; on other hacendados’ complaints, see PHS 22, pp. 120-121; PHS 20, p. 218; PHS 21, pp. 287-290.


“Mexico’s Indian Policy,” The Arizona Star, April 27, 1904. PHS 17, pp. 262-263.


List of workers sent to hacienda of Izábal. PHS 21, p. 69. Contrary to the benevolent reputation of Maytorena, Izábal’s fame as patrón was a very cruel one. After the Revolution a great variety of punishment and torture instruments were reportedly found on his hacienda La Europa. Dabdoub, Historia de el Valle del Yaqui, p. 210.


State Secretary to Moctezuma hacendados, February 21, 1906. PHS 21 p. 295.


Governor to hacendado Alfredo Peñuñuri of Sahuaripa district, May 7, 1906. PHS 22, p. 121.


Various documents on Yaquis found “not guilty, January 1907. PHS 28, passim.


The Tucson Post, August 24, 1906. PHS 18, pp. 48-49.


Archivo de la Defensa Nacional. Archivo Histórico, México, D. F. (hereafter cited as ADN). Expediente 14708.


Prefect of Guaymas reports on existence of Yaquis in his district, Guaymas, August 18, 1906. PHS 23, p. 243.


Censuses of Yaquis in the northern districts, November 1906. PHS 24, pp. 14-24.


Orders to round up Yaquis in the northern districts. PHS 47, p. 243. Many other similar documents are found scattered in the same volume.


Report of the Ferrocarril de Sonora, October 2, 1907. PHS 46, p. 237.


Prefect of Arizpe to State Secretary, Arizpe, February 11, 1908. PHS 47, p. 250.


Complaints of military on elusive enemy. PHS 47, p. 102; PHS 47, pp. 73-78.


In 1907, Luis Torres was again “elected” governor. Lorenzo Torres took over as General-in-Chief of the First Military Zone, and Izábal became full time professional Yaqui hunter.


Lorenzo Torres to Bule, June 9, 1908. PHS 48, p. 124.


CONDUMEX, S. A. Centro de Estudios de Historia Mexicana. Ramon Corral papers. Expediente 30.


Telegram, Corral to Lorenzo Torres, June 28, 1908. PHS 49, p. 198.


Lorenzo Torres to Alberto Cubillas, Tórin, July 9, 1908. PHS 48, p. 252.


Alberto Cubillas to Comisario Rudolfo Moreno of Carbó, Hermosillo, July 4, 1908. PHS 48, p. 229.


Lorenzo Torres to A. Cubillas (n. d. but late 1908). PHS 49, p. 234.


Lorenzo Torres to A. Cubillas. Tórin, July 4, 1908. PHS 48, p. 234.


ADN. Expediente 14709, no. 658.


Various documents granting or denying permission to import, buy or sell arms in Sonora. PHS 50.


Antonio Manero, El Antiguo regimen y la revolución (México, 1911), pp. 211-212. See pp. 209-229 for a rare discussion of the consequences of the U.S. economic crisis of 1907-1909 on Mexico.


Governor to Prefect of Guaymas, July 18, 1908. PHS 48, p. 275.


Manero, El Antiguo regimen, p. 189.


Lorenzo Torres reporting on activities of Luis and Antonio Maytorena, July 1908. PHS 49, p. 384. Also see PHS 48, p. 223.


México to Guaymas, July 19, 1908. PHS 48, pp. 277-278.


State Secretary to presidente municipal of Guaymas, June 4, 1908. PHS 48, p. 116.


CONDUMEX, S. A. Centro de Estudios de Historia Mexicana. Ramón Corral papers. Expediente 31.


Governor to Prefect of Hermosillo, January 22, 1909. PHS 50, p. 52.


Luis Torres to A. Cubillas, January 4, 1909. PHS 50, p. 5.


Governor to Prefect of Magdaleha, December 31, 1908, offering rewards for rebels. PHS 49, p. 265.


The lists found in PHS and elsewhere were mainly of Yaqui prisoners, most of whom were probably deported; but one cannot be sure of the total number deported because a) these lists may not be complete, and b) not all the Yaquis arrested were deported.


Turner, Barbarous Mexico, p. 76.


Cosío Villegas, El Porfiriato. La vida social, pp. 258-259.


Some of the ideas on the Maytorena family come from the first draft of the doctoral dissertation of Héctor Aguilar, “Los jefes sonorenses en la Revolución Mexicana, 1910-1920,” El Colegio de México, 1972.


For a discussion of the differences between the local elites of central and southern Mexico and of northern Mexico, see Wolf, Peasant Wars, pp. 21-24. For an excellent discussion of the development-oriented elite of the sugar-growing area of central Mexico, see John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York, 1968), chapter 2.

Author notes


The author is an Instructor of History at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.