File No. 312.11/8466

Consul Simpich to the Secretary of State


Sir: For an exposition of the general Yaqui problem, as it has stood for some years, the Department’s attention is respectfully invited to my despatch No. 473, of February 5, 1916.2 That despatch gives a brief history of Yaqui uprisings since 1911, an outline of matters in dispute between the Mexican Government and the Yaqui tribe, and also shows to what extent American interests had suffered from Indian depredations in Sonora up to that time; also, the report cited sets forth that, while the Yaquis’ pretended cause for grievance is that they have been wrongfully deprived of certain lands, they have not confined their activities to attempts to recover such lands by ousting present occupants, but have raided, robbed and killed many Mexicans and some foreigners throughout practically the whole State of Sonora.

When the despatch above cited was written, i. e., in February, 1916, General Estrada with about 12,000 de facto troops, had formed a half circle about the western border of the territory held by the Yaquis, and it was publicly announced—and it was promised officially to the Government of the United States—that an effective campaign to conquer the Yaquis would be immediately begun and carried to success. Unfortunately, the campaign failed. The Mexican troops did not keep up the pursuit after the Yaquis had separated into small bands and retired to the hills. After a few slight skirmishes and halfhearted punitive efforts, the campaign was abandoned, and the larger part of the de facto troops withdrawn. Small garrisons were maintained at Lencho, Esperanza and Guaymas.

This was the situation in the Autumn of 1916, and it was then that a few Yaquis, under Chiefs Mori and Matus, came down out of the hills to Lencho (a small town on the S. P. de M. Ry. about 45 miles southeast of Empalme) and asked for a conference with agents of the Mexican Government. These Indians were promptly received, at a conference, by Generals Serrano and Calles. After an exchange of views, the Yaquis promised that they, as representatives of the tribe, would agree that raiding and fighting should cease if in return the [Page 1026] Mexican Government gave them the use of certain land and also furnished them with certain supplies of food and forage. To this General Serrano assented; and certain land, in the vicinity of Potam on the lower Yaqui River, was given to the Yaquis. To do this, however, it was first necessary to eject various Mexicans and others, some of whom had been long on the land, and had made substantial improvements.

In further pursuit of this agreement, about 1,200 to 1,500 armed Yaquis came from the hills, and camped in huts built for them at the hamlet of Lencho. Food, some clothing and forage for their animals was provided. Expensive baled hay was actually imported from the United States, to be issued to these Indians, for the use of their inferior mules and horses. It is estimated that $15,000 U. S. currency, or more, was expended monthly, supposedly for the supply of these Indians. The issue of provisions was in the hands of one Colonel Topete, a Mexican army officer. It appears that Colonel Topete actually turned over to the Yaquis only a portion of the supplies received by him. This continued shortening of their food allowance caused dissatisfaction among the Yaquis. From time to time they made complaints. Chief Mori, a young and influential squaw named La Juana and other emissaries went to Hermosillo, to intercede on behalf of the tribe. Also, differences arose among tribal factions. Trouble began brewing between the wild or Broncho Yaquis still in the hills, who had refused to come to the concentration camp, and those at Lencho. In this connection there was issued in January, 1917, a proclamation or manifesto, a translation of which follows, and which was signed by the Yaqui Chief, Luis Espinosa. It reads:

to the mexican people!

It is hereby made known that we, the primeval inhabitants, who composed the Yaqui tribe and who for 37 years have suffered the pressure of invaders, who by brute force have occupied the lands of this tribe, and calling themselves makers of civilization have forced upon us orphanage and devastation, now therefore we manifest the following to the First Chief of the Constitutionalist Army in reply to his various peace conferences and invitations to us to come down from the mountains to our towns to cultivate our lands and on which peace (he says) depends the tranquility and surety of lives for all the State of Sonora as well as for us, the sons of the tribe.

Therefore, we now make it unanimously known, to-day the 13th of January, 1917, in the camp of Lencho, that we are in accord with his brotherly (fraternal) declarations and advances; but, we desire that he withdraw all garrisons in the Yaqui River (region) which are maintained about the boundaries of this tribe. I, as a good and honorable man, in order to fulfill my part, gave orders to the Yaqui Generals Matus and Mori that they should come down into the pueblos of Vicam and Potam, and I will remain in my present position, hoping that the other pueblos shall be evacuated in order that the others of the tribe may gradually locate themselves and that it may come to pass that peace may make itself firm in Sonora; and in so doing we have given evidence that we desire peace and happiness for our race, because experience has taught us that we can never remain in peace if we live with bayonets around us, or with bayonets in our own hands.

For the Yaqui Tribe,
Luis Espinosa
El General Mayor

The Yaqui Chiefs Subilama, Matus, Montero and Espinosa have apparently had little to do with the concentration camp, but have [Page 1027] remained in the hills. It is possible that these hill Yaquis induced the already discontented colony at Lencho to rise in revolt. At all events, on the morning of May 25 last, a fight started at Lencho. Yaquis, estimated at from 30 to 50, were killed, and about 150 were made prisoners and taken to Cocorit. Just what the Mexican losses were is not known. A few wounded were brought back to Guaymas. One Mexican trackwalker, employed by the S. P. de M. Ry. Co., was murdered, his mutilated body being found near the station.

One story about the fight at Lencho is that the Mexican officials had planned to begin the attack, in order to remove certain troublesome Yaquis. It is established that on the night of May 24, Colonel Topete took troops from Esperanza, including those in the command of one Colonel Felix, and moved them north to Lencho; this would indicate that trouble was anticipated.

After the battle, a considerable number of Yaquis were missing from Lencho, with their arms; it is reported they went to the hills.

Some days after the fight, the 150 Yaqui prisoners were released; it is commonly asserted this action was taken at the request of General Obregon, who is in the neighborhood on private business.

Following the fight at Lencho, General Serrano arrived from Hermosillo with troops. Guards were placed on trains running through the danger zone, and also assigned to protect railway construction gangs. No expedition was sent against the Yaquis who escaped.

On May 24, according to Mr. Sydney Smith, Superintendent of Irrigation at Esperanza for the Richardson Construction Company, a small band of Indians, perhaps 20 of them, came to Block 34 in the Yaqui Valley and robbed a native family. This band went on to Block 90, and robbed a man named Leifer, said to be a naturalized American, of 18 mules. These Yaquis were from Chief Mori’s group. Yaquis have also killed cattle in the valley, some of which belonged to the said Richardson Construction Company. On the whole, however, the Yaquis have not molested Americans. With the exception of the cases cited, no American property has been destroyed or stolen. No Americans have been killed. The houses burned during the fighting at Lencho were not owned by foreigners.

About June 20 a small band of Yaquis raided Camp Verde, near La Colorada. As I passed through Torres Junction a train was being loaded with troops, to be sent to Camp Verde.

It is estimated that from 500 to 600 Yaquis are still living peaceably on the lands assigned to them near Potam, on the lower Yaqui River.

The hill Yaquis are reported hard pressed for food, and much dissatisfied with their treatment by the Mexican authorities. The fight of May 25, however, appears to have been a mere local episode, without serious political significance. Viewed as a whole, and all conditions considered, it does not appear that the Yaqui menace is any less or any more serious than it has been for the past three or four years.

I have [etc.]

Frederick Simpich
  1. Not printed.