• Sunlight illuminates the top of historic Mission San José de Tumacácori church.

    Tumacácori

    National Historical Park Arizona

Nijoras

by

Donald T. Garate

November 2005

The Mission 2000 database is providing new opportunities to better understand obscure and poorly understood groups and individuals of the Spanish colonial era. One such group is the so-called "Nijoras." The last, and only, in depth study of these fascinating people was published forty-five years ago using some sixty mission records, without the aid of computers. That study can now be enhanced and expanded upon by the more than 300 Nijora records in Mission 2000, a number which will have grown by the time this article comes to print. Presently there is a span of 117 years between the first record of a child named Juana Francisca, "a seven-year-old Nijor" who died at Magdalena on October 18, 1715, and the final record on February 7, 1832. This last is of a newborn child named María Dorotea Serrano, a descendant of one of the Nijora foster children of the great Pima captain, Antonio Serrano. Her father had recently been killed by the Yumas on a return trip to Caborca from Californa. This article will examine some of the information that is presently contained in the system.

Like all names recorded in old Spanish documents, spelling is relevant only as it pertains to phonetics and the ability of the person writing the record to hear the sounds of the syllables spoken and convert them to the written word. "Nijora," as I have chosen to spell it here, is recorded as Nijor, Nijora, Nixor, Nixora, Nigor, Nigora, Nicora, Nichora, Nifora, and Niforo in the records of the day. The point is, it was pronounced something like "Nee - hor - ah" and they were all the same people. It has become obvious that, while they were not always from the same tribe, they were all part of the greater Yuma-speaking nation living near the Colorado River and often from the mountains near that river. This fact is born out in the following examples, a few among many of the same:

Speaking of a boy named Juan at Suamca in 1743 Padre Ignacio Keller said that he was “of those commonly called Nijora, which nation does not exist, rather they are Yumas.”

Padre Esteban Salazar of Tubutama said of a boy named Hemeterio in 1772 that he was “of the Yuma nation, commonly called Nijora.”

In 1810, Padre Saturnino Arizeta wrote that María Saturnina, whom he surnamed Arizeta, was "a Nijora child of about seven years" whom he said was from the "Cajuenche Tribe," a group of Yuma speakers.

Speaking of María Concepción Serrano in 1813, Padre Faustino Gonzalez said she was "a Nifora of gentile parents of the Yuma nation."

In 1818, José María was referred to as a "Yuma … who was captured and brought here to sell as one of those they call Niforas," and José Oriol de la Cruz was recorded as a "Nifora Yuma" in 1823.

The original Nijoras were children who were captured by warring tribes near the Colorado, such as the Cocomaricopas, Opas, Gileños, Papagos, and even other Yumas. Although there are many Nijoras in the database who were first recorded as adults, either marrying or dying, and the children of those adults, at least a third of the total are those who were recorded at or about the time of their capture. Of the 160 in this group, ten were recorded as adults without having an age given for them. However, when one reads all the Nijora records, it becomes obvious that an "adult" was anyone ten years of age or older. Of those who were recorded as adults and assigned an age above the age of sixteen, there are only six, one each of ages 17, 18, 19, 22, 24, and 25. There are twenty-five recorded adults between the ages of ten and sixteen. By far the greatest majority of captured Nijoras, however, were 119 children from a few months to nine years of age.

While generalizations are dangerous to make in any group, and while some of these Nijoras may have found their way into slavery somewhere, there is not one of them recorded as a slave in the mission records. While some were recorded as being "purchased" (comprado), the majority were recorded as being "redeemed" or "ransomed" (rescatado). While some were recorded as servants (sirvientes or criados), and while that designation has been interpreted as "slave" by some, a closer examination shows that "servant" merely meant a paid worker. A look at forty servants whose ethnicity was recorded and who worked for Lorenzo Velasco, the owner of the ton-and-a-quarter piece of Arizona silver discovered in 1736, making him the richest man in Sonora, is instructive. While 4 of his servants were Nijoras, there were also 4 Opatas, 9 Yaquis, 10 Pimas, and one Apache. The remaining 12 were Spanish and Gente de Razón. The jobs that these so-called "servants," or hired workers were responsible for included cooks, shoemakers, cowboys, gardners, mule packers, carpenters, and freighters, among others.

By far the majority of Nijora children were "bargained for (cambalacheado) with mules and other things" (see José Valentín). The missionary at Caborca was able to redeem a Nijora named José María from the gentile Papagos who had purchased him from his captors in 1820 for "two mules and a blanket." Once these "Nijoritas" were ransomed from their captors, they were sold or given to families - Indians, Mestizos, or Spaniards - to raise as their own children.

Nicolás Romero was a mestizo of the San Luis valley . He and his wife, Higinia Perea raised at least three Nijora children as their own, along with other orphan children. Juan Tomás Beldarrain, the Spanish (Basque) captain of Tubac, and his wife, Teresa Prudón, also raised at least three Nijora children. Magdalena Nieblina, a Pima lady who cooked for the Padres and sang in the choir raised a number of them, even after her husband died. The third wife of Lorenzo Parada, Polonia Colorado, was a Nijora. He was known as "Lorenzo the Cripple" and was a rescatín, or redeemer, of Nijora children, raising them in his home as his own children. Probably the greatest, all-time reclaimers of Nijora children were Pima War Captain, Antonio Serrano, and his Pima wife, María Ignacia Siguimuri, who, herself, had been married previously to a Nijora. The ten Nijoras that they raised as foster, or adopted children, who all took the surname Serrano and at least half of whom grew to adulthood, married and raised families of their own, were recorded as follows:

1. Bonificia was "a Nijora who was raised by Antonio Serrano, the Captain."

2. María Concepción was "a Nifora of gentile parents of the Yuma nation who was raised by and had as the daughter of Antonio Serrano and his wife Ignacia Siguimuri."

3. Juan was "an Indian of gentile parents of the Yuma nation who was raised and baptized by Antonio, the captain."

4. María Paula "had been in the care of the Indian, Antonio the Captain, without having known any other parents than him and his wife."

5. María was "a Nifora who was raised by Antonio Serrano, the Captain."

6. Juan Capistrano, was "a son of gentile parents of the Yuma nation, who was obtained by the Indian Captain, Antonio."

7. María Concepción was the "daughter of gentile parents of the Yuma nation …[who] was received as a daughter by Antonio Serrano and his wife, María Ignacia Siguimuri."

8. Juan Crisóstomo Rafael was "the son of gentile parents of the Yuma nation whom Antonio Serrano … brought from the Papaguería with the purpose of raising him as a son."

9. María Guadalupe was "the daughter of gentile parents of the Yuma nation, who, in the capacity of a Nijora, was purchased by the Indian, Antonio Serrano, ex-captain of war, and he promised to raise her as his daughter."

10. José was "the son of gentile parents of the Yuma nation, whom the Indian Captain, Antonio Serrano, had taken charge of."

Did You Know?

The first roof replacement in 1921

It is estimated that since 1917 over 20 million dollars have been spent on the preservation and upkeep of Tumacácori's ruins.