As a narrative history of Mexico’s “Yaqui Wars” of the nineteenth century, this second work of a proposed trilogy succeeds quite admirably. Two themes from the author’s earlier study, Missionaries, Miners, and Indians (1981) are carried on here. One of these themes is substantive. Yaquis enhanced the autonomy of their indigenous communities along the lower Yaqui River by fulfilling the labor demands of the sparsely populated Sonoran frontier. Virtually constant turmoil in southern Sonora throughout the nineteenth century underscores the fragile nature of this symbiosis between Indian worker and non-Indian employer. While there were substantial numbers of Yaquis who took part in this regional economy of mines and haciendas, there were also those who adamantly refused to volunteer for the rural proletariat. While some of the state’s hacendados were content to leave Yaqui territory alone, others coveted the rich alluvial lands. Some employers obtained an adequate labor supply; others felt slighted.
Were these the only tensions in Sonora, the history of Yaqui resistance and survival would be fairly straightforward. Hu-DeHart adds additional complications. There were struggles between Centralists and Federalists, between Liberals and Conservatives, between nationalistic Mexicans and those looking to the north for capital, expertise, and colonists to develop Sonora’s latent wealth. Finally, during the economic expansion of the Díaz years, there were demands for labor on the henequen plantations of Yucatán. To the dismay of Sonoran hacendados, now largely oriented toward production for export but at odds with the inner Porfirian circle, Yaquis were deported to meet these demands.
Hu-DeHart seeks to bring order to these political, economic, and social complexities. The organizing focus is a typology of Yaqui resistance: partial accommodation, autonomous or self-reliant rebellion, and expedient alliance with larger political movements. The typology falls short of its appointed task. Necessary and sufficient causes, the “internal and external circumstances” (p. 5) for producing one mode of resistance or another, are not clearly isolated. Part of the problem lies in the complexity of external forces through nineteenth-century Sonora. Part lies in the inherent difficulty of understanding Yaqui motives and actions. Here Hu-DeHart expands on the second, methodological theme of her previous study. She reiterates her skepticism as an archivist of ever writing the history of what Eric Wolf calls a “people without history.” Thus she admits to a necessary weakness in describing Yaqui society and culture, “anything about their lives that did not have direct bearing on their dealings with their adversaries (p. 9).” The author fails to acknowledge the asymmetry here. The culture of Sonora’s power-holders, which, as Hu-DeHart correctly observes, was much more complicated and differentiated than Edward Spicer suggests, had much to do with the elites’ dealing with their Indian adversaries. To presume, for lack of written records and nineteenth-century ethnographic observations, that Yaqui culture had little direct bearing on the continued pattern of resistance is to severely underplay the force of ethnicity in political action. As a military and political history of southern Sonora, the book is superb. As an interpretation of Yaqui resistance and survival, it is incomplete.