Och's Text in English

Here is another excerpt from a Jesuit text pertaining to Sonora, this time from Joseph Och (1725-1773).  Och structured his text in three parts, the first dealing with his travel to the New World, the second dealing with the expulsion of the Jesuits (which is following below as the first excerpt), and the third dealing with the world of Sonora from both a scientific and personal point of view.

Taken from: Joseph Och, Missionary in Sonora. The Travel Reports of Joseph Och, S.J. 1755-1767. Trans. and Annotated by Theodore E. Treutlein (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1965).

Part II

Expulsion of the Jesuits and Return to Spain: 49-60

It was the twenty-fourth of June in the year 1767, the day of St. John the Baptist, when our fortunes changes. This day was celebrated in Spain as well as in America with the greatest pageantry. Among other enjoyments were riding and racing. On this day each and everyone must lead forth horses and mules and run them. All must race: men, young fellows, little boys, and even women are seen on horseback. This riding through all streets and in outlying fields begins quite happily, but always comes to a sad end. Many fall from their horses, careless children are injured, and brawls and murderous deeds are always the consequence of betting.

There is hardly a person who does not participate in this revelry. All left their houses, the Jesuits alone excepted. On this day none of them was permitted out-of-doors, not even under the necessity of hearing a confession, because all streets swarmed with multitudes of secular priests and regular clergy who could stand by the fallen and the wounded. And this seemed also to be the reason why people accepted their presence which, considering their position, might otherwise have been looked upon as impolite prying.

Thus the Jesuits were al in their houses and up to no mischief. Most of them were in the house garden about three in the afternoon, and were partaking very quietly of their vesper drink, provided on this day and on about five other occasions during the year.

The vesper drink did not consist in bottles of good Spanish or American wine (for throughout the entire year not a single Jesuit in Mexico at table received as much wine as a Rhenish measure would provide for a man). Rather this truly cool vesper drink, for it was cooled in snow, was nothing else but a glass full of lemonade, orange juice, or lime juice; that is, a good apothecary’s or householder’s water colored with pulverized gourd or melon seeds, and containing also a morsel of sugar, which is plentiful there and can be had for two to eight pennies (that is, one_half real) per pound.

So most of the Jesuits found themselves in the garden with this particularly pleasant refreshment when, behold! there strode suddenly into their midst a Captain who was at other times cordially known to the community. His expression was serious. He looked about him with sharp eyes, spoke no word, and withdrew. Before this he had searched through all the passages of the large college which counted about ninety to one hundred Jesuits. The gist of his orders was to spy out how many men we had garrisoned in the garden as soldiers, how many bulwarks had been thrown up behind the garden walls, with how many pieces these were equipped, whether the expected number of hundreds of powder kegs, weapons, and other war equipment could be determined, and so on. All this tomfoolery, impossible for either a Jesuit or other reasonable person to imagine, were the sole objects of the Captain’s orders as he weepingly later told us. He regretted that on pain of death he had not been permitted a single word of explanation.

At nightfall all of us retired without any cares or worries, nay without even the slightest thought or suspicion of imminent misfortune. The whole city, so noisy during the day, was like us in deepest slumber, but the garrison had to be alert and under arms from nine o’clock on, without a single officer, even the highest, knowing why. All this occurred in the greatest secrecy. Three thousand men, some on foot, some mounted, awaited their commands with greatest impatience, because they had to stand at attention in a long and heavy downpour.

The men marched at eleven o’clock, being deployed to all streets where there were churches or cloisters. Men’s cloisters in Mexico numbered thirty; women’s cloisters, twenty. All these communities were invested with twenty or more troops. The five Jesuit establishments were, however, completely surrounded with soldiers. Cavalry drew up before the palace of the Viceroy where also forty small field pieces were aimed down all streets. Under the circumstances, all these men were in the greatest fright and fear. Practically all of them later affirmed that, had they been able to learn anything about how they were to be used, they would never have performed that sort of service.

They were ordered to knock on the doors early in the morning about four o’clock and request entrance. One very zealous and at the same time stupid officer, who immediately stole for himself pocket watches, tobacco pouches, and whatever else he saw, did not follow orders. For him, standing by until the early morning would have been too long a delay. Therefore, he rang the seminary door_bell often and violently, at the same time calling out an untruth; namely, that a priest was urgently needed to minister to a sick person. As soon as the porter opened the door one hundred men stormed into the seminary with fixed bayonets, occupied all hallways, pulled everyone out of bed, and penned about thirty not even half_dressed priests and brothers into a room. There they had to await the outcome of the matter, and because of fear could not compose themselves.

The other officers and royal commissioners stood by until early morning at about four o’clock. At the stroke of four on the twenty fifth of June, a loud shout was heard at the door of the great college. When the porter asked through a little window who was there and what was wanted, he got the reply that he should open immediately, that on superior orders certain evildoers who were in the college were to be sought out. Senor Don Jose de Galvez, Royal Visitor of the entire Mexican empire, used this sharp duplicity to avoid telling as big a lie as the other officer. Truly, all Jesuits were considered impious delinquents to be seized by this gentleman who had been sent out from Spain a half year earlier for this purpose. Consequently, he had already rented an establishment across from the college gate so that he could spy out everything the Jesuits did, but all this excessive industry turned out to be wasted.

The porter became very frightened when he heard the murmuring of so many armed men and ran hurriedly to get the portal keys from the Father Rector, to whom every night they had to be given, and to ask how he should behave in this situation. He was ordered to open the gate without hesitation or resistance, which he then did. It was still quite dark (for in Mexico day and night are almost equally long). Amid much noise three hundred men entered the college with fixed bayonets and heavily loaded muskets, each man being provided with twenty_five cartridges. They took control of the belfry and, for fear that the alarm would be rung, immediately cut the bell ropes. Two hundred men remained in the court and at the portal, the others occupied the large halls and staircases of the extensive college. Almost every room had a guard. The Senor Visitor came to the room of the Father Rector with the command that he assemble all Jesuits without exception to hear a royal decree. The Rector was not permitted to leave his room. Most of us were up, and when we wished to go through the hallways to the choir, as was our custom, to visit the Blessed Sacrament in the church, we were everywhere stopped by soldiers and ordered to gather in the great house chapel. We Jesuits did not know whether all this was fact or fancy.

At half past four the Visitor, Don Jose de Galvez, came into the chapel with the Father Rector who had been deprived of all keys, including those to his own room. All the Jesuits’ names were read and each had to answer: “Present!” (We had to pass muster in this way on several other occasions.) Those who were not present were forcibly brought into the chapel. When all were assembled they were ordered to surrender their keys, which was immediately done. Next, a briefly worded royal decree was read by a quivering and weeping secretary. “Because of weighty considerations which His Majesty keeps hidden in his heart, the entire Society of Jesus and all Jesuits must leave the country, and their establishments and properties must be turned over to the Royal Treasurer.”

What manner of emotional manifestations now occurred can more easily be imagined than described. Some stood there quite dumfounded and immobile; tears streamed from the eyes of others. Some lifted their hands and eyes passively to heaven while others sobbed. One became insane on the spot, and another had a fit of apoplexy. Most, however, stood there with well_controlled feelings and expressions. We were asked: “What do you say to this decree?” The Father Rector (in the custom of the country) placed the royal decree upon his eyes and upon his head and also reverently kissed it, then quickly signed it in the name of the entire college. The Senor Visitor, witnessing this and noting no opposition whatsoever, was so deeply stirred that he could not restrain his tears.

That which happened to us occurred also in other colleges in the city, and all within an hour. Elsewhere soldiers forced their way into cloisters with orders that none be permitted to leave or enter for half a day. They seized all bell towers so that in the event of a possible general alarm they could control the movements of the multitude. Also on this day not a bell was tolled, all churches remained locked, and it is not known whether a single Mass was said by any of the total of approximately two thousand priests distributed among all the orders in Mexico.

Then came the first question: “Where is the treasure?” for these gentlemen imagined and had noised it about that we possessed many kegs of gold, and that many millions would fall to the royal exchequer. However, they were astonished when they examined the books of receipts and expenditures which were placed before them in the procuratory. Now they learned that the college owed forty thousand pesos (convention coins), that actually not more than eighty pesos was on hand, and that two days before another ten thousand pesos had been expended, not counting taxes, to meet expenses. All this seemed false and deceitful to the ‘worthy gentlemen. There was in the procuratory the sum of twenty thousand pesos along with sealed information naming the gentlefolk who had put the money on deposit. The information was not credited; hence this money was confiscated. I doubt very much whether the owners ever recovered it, for it was now considered high treason to have had dealings with Jesuits and to have entrusted money to them.

The lust for money with their failure to find any put the señores commissioners almost out of their minds and led them to unreasonable undertakings, some of which I shall describe. The rectors and .procurators were separated and so strictly guarded that at first they were not permitted to use the privy. They had to submit to taking care of their needs publicly in the court or in the garden, accompanied by two soldiers with fixed bayonets, and not without the greatest embarrassment.

The seminary students, who numbered about three hundred in all classes and who were being educated as theologians and jurists, had to clear out of the house immediately, and as a consequence most of them had to leave only half_clothed. The Rector of the seminary, Father Patiuo [sic], was everywhere in Mexico highly respected and esteemed because of his extraordinary eloquence in the pulpit where he excelled everyone in preaching. Because he neither could nor would talk of hidden treasures he was locked in a nearby cloister with the order that he be held in close custody, and this order was carried out in masterly fashion by a coarse brother who believed God and the King would be served if he tortured the priest. The latter, locked up in a narrow cell, was soon worn down, plagued by hunger but even more by the unbearable heat of midsummer in a fiery climate. He was lucky enough after a few days to be brought to trial, but had changed so much that he could hardly be recognized.

The Viceroy was secretly informed of the matter. He was very angry over the indiscretion of these monks; they offered the stern order as an excuse. But he let them be told that they were coarse . . . ; that orders had to be given sternly but were to be carried out with reason and discretion, talents in which they were deficient; that he did not want to lay eyes upon them again. The Father Rector was thereafter confined elsewhere.

Another, and choicer morsel: In Puebla, twenty_four hours from Mexico in the College of the Holy Ghost, treasure_hunting caused an even greater turmoil. It is true, this college was the best of them all. It had been richly endowed by the former Bishop of Mota. The building was great and magnificent. The new, beautiful church, built in 1760, had cost more than a half million pesos, and had been dedicated only three months before, in 1767. Such brilliance dazzled everyone, and the officials earnestly demanded as a matter of course that they immediately be given fifteen million pesos. The Father Rector, J. B., an exceptional, venerable man who had during fourteen years been rector and novice master, procurator in Rome, praepositus in the monastery, and so forth, with whom I had left for the Indies in the year 1754, laughed at such a fantastic proposal. He made the solemn assertion to the treasure_seekers that he had neither interested himself in such matters, nor had ever touched a single peso of the money of the college. He referred them to Brother Inchaurandietta, a Biscayan, who for twenty years had with indefatigable industry attended to the procuratory and all temporal matters. Therefore, the Rector was let alone, and they got after the brother.

The latter produced the books as well as the money which remained from the magnificent church construction, a sum amounting to about sixty thousand pesos. This was far less than the fifteen million they had quite certainly hoped to receive. The brother was most unconscionably threatened. He continued to deny knowledge of other monies and was thereupon immediately locked up in the Augustinian cloister. Now the treasure hunt began. Every corner was searched in vain. Practically all bricks were torn loose from the floor of the procuratory; but no subterranean vaults were revealed. The garden was dug up, but neither buried jars nor chests were unearthed. Walls were tapped inside and out and as soon as the sound seemed to reveal a space it was broken in, but no sealed coin repositories were found.

Finally, it occurred to these miners that perhaps the treasure was buried in the locis secretis, and that possibly the cesspool had become a gold mine. The inventor of this idea, the conceited finance_minister, remarked that now he had it figured out, and his crafty thought was applauded. Immediately were fetched ropes and cords, lanterns, and ladders. Fervet opus. The new miners made their first test, bravely lowering themselves well_secured into the shaft. Poles and sticks were lowered to them to serve as divining rods for searching through everything, so that nothing be left unprobed. They stirred and stirred until the chief overseers and inspectors almost swooned from the rising mercurio volatili and had no strength left either to halt or to spur on the miners in the shaft.

Some were so affected by the sulphur fumes and the sal volatile that weakened and unconscious they let go the ropes, and one miner, big as life, splashed bodily into the massam corruptam. This one screamed pitiably, and the others fled so as to reach daylight again, for they were breathless from the fumes, and the unripe mass had clung to their feet. The whole project was given up, they ran in all directions and everyone scattered before them as they shouted: “We have found rubbish!” This great enterprise caused an unbearable smell in the house and raging dispositions on the part of the commissioners.

It now occurred to them that the buried treasure should be sought among the dead and now not even the dead were spared. Attention was thus directed to the crypt where they counted on getting from the dead what had been disclaimed and denied by the living. No one in Mexico (with the exception of the viceroy) is buried in coffins. Jesuits were covered with lime, buried in separate holes in the wall of the crypt, mortared in, and the name, year, and day inscribed in large letters. Fourteen days before a priest by name Murilla had died. He now had to suffer. They stove in the wall, hauled out the deceased, and found no money, but only the corpse which regarded them all with a fixed look. Now they lost all desire to search for treasure and ran away, leaving the body unburied.

The frenzy for gold went even farther. One of the hangers_on and busy treasure_seekers had noticed that next to the crypt there was a dark little vault covered only with a wooden grating. With the aid of a lantern he could see a large iron strong box standing on four stone bases, and he ventured the opinion to the commissioners who had not yet recovered from their fright that he was the real treasure_finder and promised himself a generous tip. None had much stomach for it; fear of walking by the disinterred corpse held them back.

However, money lust and the hope of finding a large iron chest full of doubloons, overcame their fears. They went bravely at the treasure_business with “in the name of the King” on their lips, a watchword which the quick and the dead are supposed to respect, and easily broke through the wooden lattice. Lo! there stood the hidden treasure, so long sought after, so long disavowed by the perjurious Jesuits! What joy, jubilation, and congratulations! A locked iron chest over two hundred years old, four feet long, two feet wide, about an ell high, half_rusted, and equipped with padlocks. What else could it be but a treasure, an irretrievable treasure? The locks, however, were rusted and no key was at hand. They then wished to write a report to the Viceroy but were informed by the Jesuits that this chest contained no money, only the bones and ashes of the devout Bishop of Mota, founder of the college. They believed not a word until they had picked up the chest and shaken it, whereupon the bones within rattled and saved the locksmith the trouble of springing or filing off the locks. Now they loosed their wrath upon the poor Brother Procurator who, after heavy threats, would probably have been put to the rack had not an honorable man courageously opposed them and reproached them for their unheard of, inhuman, and godless frightfulness.

Now I again return to the happenings in our principal college of San Pedro y San Pablo in Mexico. When day broke and the townspeople opened doors and windows, they were astonished and dumfounded to see soldiers everywhere. Those who had planned to go out turned right around at their doors and went back in. Others, however, who for reasons of business were already in the streets and were talking with each other were separated by nudges in the ribs and were told not to walk along the streets except singly. The guards had orders to fire upon all those who did not separate, and actually three persons were shot, one of them being a man who was stone deaf and could not hear what was shouted to him. In front of the monastery gate were several old men, about seventy five years of age, who were almost in a faint because they had begged for permission to hear Mass, and at least to partake of their usual chocolate, and this had not been granted. They were not permitted to go into the chapel, but had to be conducted, a guard for each pair, to eat their breakfast.

In the meantime, the greatest and first concern was to have books collected from all rooms and brought to the library. On this occasion I lost all the books I had brought with me to the Indies from Germany, Italy, and Spain, contrary to all laws and contrary to the intent of the royal decree wherein it was ordered that none be deprived of his personal property. They left us only our breviaries and the little book of Thomas a Kempis.

Most assiduously they searched out manuscripts and letters and carefully separated these from the rest. Later there were established in every town where there had been Jesuits four_man commissions who through their mature judgment could discover the existence of traitors to the empire, secret understandings with enemies of the crown, plots to foment uprisings of the people, or even godless regicide. Ink, pen and paper were in all cases removed, and it was forbidden on pain of death that any be permitted to come by them. They even cut the blank end page out of the Authenticus and from the Documentary Letters of the Relics.

Meanwhile, it had become apparent to the city that everything was being directed against the Jesuits. The lamentations, weeping, and wailing were general. Some of the most noble and wealthiest people who had sons, brothers, or friends in the Society were beside themselves, and I know of three who grieved to death in eight days. No one was master of himself. At seven o’clock after trumpet call there was publicly read the royal decree, already read to us, telling of the confiscation of our properties and about our banishment. At this time also the Viceroy sent his nephew to the college to inquire of the Visitor how things stood and how they were being received. The conversation was in French, for they believed that none in the college was acquainted with this language. The nephew related that the Viceroy, fearing a riot, had locked himself in the innermost chambers of the palace, but when one of the Jesuits laughed and said in French that there was nothing to fear, he was quite comforted and departed to deliver to his señor uncle the glad tidings. However, they ceased immediately to speak French within the hearing of Jesuits and always went elsewhere to hold their conferences.

Concerning all that had transpired in the house I had no word, because I lay crippled and lame in my bed; and I became quite impatient because of the disappearance of a good Indian youth who was day and night at my side and served me as my own hands and feet, helping me with my outside needs and at Mass. The soldiers had halted him in the vestry, and because the stairs were filled with troops there was no way that he could return to my room. The long absence of this boy, who was exceptionally regular in preparing my chocolate, was something unusual. Finally toward seven o’clock he arrived panting and sobbing. I learned that he had courageously risked running up the stairs, shouting: “I have a sick father to take care of!” Now I knew that the house was full to soldiers. I immediately arranged through the loyal youth to have all my manuscripts torn up and burned, because he had free passage above to where the water was heated for chocolate. He brought in a large basin full of coals and burned my papers. The thick vapor and smoke revealed this action and a guard was posted at my door, but he arrived too late and the business was already finished.

About eight o’clock a doctor requested permission to visit the sick in the college. He was received with insolent words, but these did not turn him away. Instead he protested before the gate, calling out loudly that the King’s intent would yet be unkingly were it to allow sick Jesuits to languish without the help and comfort of a doctor. After long consideration he was graciously permitted by the Señor Visitor to enter the college and see his patients. The physician (Don J. V.) came also to my room with a lieutenant and the guard. He wept so hard he could not utter a word, but his face lighted up when I merely smiled at the strangeness of the situation. We spoke in Latin which neither the officer nor the private understood. At the same time the male nurse, the apothecary, and other Jesuits came to see me. We took this occasion to wish each other good luck in our circumstance of having to suffer without knowing the reason thereof.

It was a joyful experience for me to recognize in this physician one of our best friends who had disguised himself in physician’s garb so as to gain entry to the college when he saw what was happening to the Jesuits. Such entry was forbidden on pain of death. Many wished to pay a thousand pesos for permission to speak with Jesuits, or at least to bid them farewell. That which no one was able to do either through entreaties or with money this true friend, who had never in all his life read a book on medicine, was able through stratagem to accomplish.

Who would not have been amused at the figure he cut in a complete Luther_type predicant garb, the sort worn by all medical candidates until they are promoted to doctor. Our physician now asked to write a prescription, but was not himself permitted use of a pen. The poor lieutenant, for whom a soldier brought and held the ink_well, had to do the writing. While we winked at the doctor he dictated such a lengthy prescription so rapidly and one containing such unusual words that the wretched lieutenant began to sweat. He threw aside the pen and said: “This is pig_Latin; the devil may write it, but I won’t.” Thereupon he left us. Through such comedy we were free of soldiers.

The troops had to remove our stores of wood to their quarters because there was concern that the Jesuits in desperation might set the house afire to find opportunity in the conflagration of escaping with their treasures. The calmness, retirement, and silence of the captive Jesuits so affected the Visitor that he at length permitted us to move around freely in the upper corridors. Soon thereafter, the administration removed the guard, though we were still not permitted to walk in the court or on the roof. The roofs are all level and covered with polished pavement so that clear rain_water may flow into the cisterns, and they serve also as promenades.

Some of our members took the occasion to look through gratings or screens to see what was happening on the streets. They saw a crowd of people before the gate who were requesting various fathers for confession for the sick. When they were turned away a great clamor and shouting arose: “We are Catholic Christians, and have had almost none but Jesuits who instructed us and aided us. All others did very little for us.” But the riot did not abate. Soldiers were ordered to move through the streets to look for students for the secular priesthood and when they found one, they forcibly led him to some of the sick whether he wished to go or not. He was obliged to hear confessions, and none who protested that this man lacked the sacred faculties were helped thereby.

Part III

Taken from: Joseph Och, Missionary in Sonora. The Travel Reports of Joseph Och, S.J. 1755-1767. Trans. and Annotated by Theodore E. Treutlein (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1965),

Reports on America in General (119-20, 122-37)


The first conquerors of America were much less rational than the most ignorant Indians. The Spaniards were depraved enough to regard these people as brutes or apes; without consideration they branded them, forced them to do slave labor, and beat them to death. To the eternal shame of mankind, it was necessary to declare, and even through a peremptory papal decree to expound as an article of faith, that these people were our brethren and true human beings. The early Spaniards through their cruelty transgressed to such a degree that many thousands, yes, even millions of souls were inhumanly offered up to their avarice.

Whoever has seen one Indian has seen all of them. From the south to the north pole they differ little in maxims and in manner of living. If I wished to describe one I would say: “Indus est animal in actu primo rationale, in actu secundo modica ratione non nisi ad fraudes et mendacia impudenter utens.” His attributes are distrust, aloofness, boldness in attack, faint-heartedness in resistance.

To be sure, Indians are capable of higher instruction; but since they lack in upbringing, they will always remain Indians. Europeans possess enlightened understanding, thanks to their parents, teachers, daily admonitions, and civilized intercourse with other people; otherwise they would remain just as wretched as they are at birth. To well brought-up persons it may seem impossible that human nature could vary so widely from the typical and allow people to think only of maintaining the body-eating, drinking, and sleeping-and not contemplate any higher standard. However, it is yet certain that these people, born in the wilderness and left to themselves from childhood, and with no other example than their parents are, under the circumstances, incapable of having other, higher rational thoughts. However, the Indians who live in the environs of towns are fairly polished because of their dealings with the Spaniards. Such Indians do all the field labor, and become skilled craftsmen, and artisans in sculpture and painting. Those who are sent by wealthy parents to study become quite good grammarians and orators and comprehend very well ethics and pharmacology, so that many of them become priests and clergymen. Metaphysics and speculative theology, however, are too deep for them. Because of knowledge of languages they are, to be sure, very useful spiritual guides for their countrymen.

They are eager to learn, to the point of being indiscreetly curious. However, it is not well to teach them very much, a fact which I learned with my Indians. I taught the boys who worked with me how to read and write, which they did more avidly from natural zeal than would a European child with blows or coaxing. Nevertheless, I soon ceased my schooling, for no book was secure from them, and suspicion moved them to open letters and betray the contents to their compatriots. My instruction being withdrawn, they studied even more industriously for themselves. In the absence of paper they strewed heaps of ashes on the ground and spread them out with a stick. Then with a wooden style they drew letters and words clearly upon the ashes, as well as flowers and all kinds of sketches.

In the missions they were eager for learning so that they would not be held to field labor with the common herd, but would instead be considered masters of some skill. With little guidance they would for many days painstakingly and with the greatest patience work at what had been given them to do. Whatever I wanted of carpentry, I would draw for them on paper; that which I demanded of locksmith work or blacksmithing I would fashion for them in clay or wax, and they copied everything if not in masterly fashion, yet well enough, and adequately for personal use. Still I had to see to it often enough that the parts fitted the pattern. In this way they made for me chairs, stools, benches, tables, doors, and windows of brazilwood, ebony or snakewood, mastic tree, and so on. Inferior wood is hard to get; sometimes even better quality wood than those named is used as firewood for cookery.

I had Indians who made for themselves violins, harps, and even zithers, and this they did with little more than an old knife and a sharp flint. Some of my men made quite good garments, such as cloaks, coats, and trousers. The womenfolk, who had almost the entire burden of doing the heavier work, were also very skillful. They spun cotton very fine and dyed it with a fast color made from tree leaves or bark. They made such durable fabrics for tablecloths that it would have been difficult for a German weaver to imitate them. This they did without benefit of pattern or loom on four sticks driven into the earth. The woven stuff is so tight that when stretched it keeps out the heaviest rain without admitting even a drop.

I also saw their very beautiful needlework, consisting of the prettiest flowers, animals, and all kinds of figures embroidered with silk or wool on their shirts and clothing. Every year I had to lay in for them a fairly large stock of floss-silk, colored wool, and little ribbons, and these they begged from me for their adornment. They made the finest mats of palm or reeds decorated with various figures without using a pattern. They wove the best quality hats, which were light and all of one piece, of tender slit palms in the Damascus manner.

With astonishing care and patience they made their earthen dishes and pots of twelve-measure size and larger, all entirely round without flat bottoms. They worked the clay into long sausage-like pieces, coiled it in serpentine fashion, and pressed it together with a flat stone, smoothing it inside and out. Pots made in this way are bulgy, narrowing at the neck. They knew nothing of glazing; hence to render the utensils watertight they covered them with dry cow-dung and fired them in the field Then they smeared them with grease and baked them in a bright fire. After this the dishes were ready for use in cookery. Besides the three days’ toil that went into these vessels, many were worth more than a ducat because of the thousands of gold scales found mixed in with the clay. This gold could not have been collected through washing without an expenditure of labor in excess of the cost. It was true gold as I proved with a bit of quicksilver with which it immediately formed an amalgam, but neither I nor my Indians were attracted by its glitter. Girls and women fetch water from the brook in these vessels, place them brimful on their heads, and walk along straight as an arrow, balancing them without spilling a drop.

The Pimas, otherwise stupid, made some artistic things among which I admired most the round, platter-shaped baskets (coritas) woven of corniform plants as sharp-pointed as an awl. Coritas were fashioned so tightly that they would hold water and food. The alternation of black and white colors in various designs made the baskets attractive enough to be acceptable by gentlefolk as precious gifts. Weaving these coritas is so difficult that the blood runs from the weaver’s fingers and none can keep at it for more than two hours. They made coritas for me of such size that these could be used as kneading-troughs. Women even use the large baskets as little boats, for they place infants wrapped in swaddling clothes into such a corita, leap into the river, push the basket with the left hand and paddle with the right until they have swum to the other shore; thus they also transport foodstuffs.

All their skills pass from parent to child; mothers teach their daughters. It is a considerable achievement that they originally discovered these things for themselves. They are very inquisitive and forward to see and learn everything. I had many a sport with them by placing in their hands by turns a large looking glass. In this they regarded themselves and were uncertain whom they were seeing. They stood quite astonished; some childlike tried to grasp the image, others reached behind the mirror to seize whoever they thought was there, and still others would have dropped the mirror in fright had I not at all times held it before them on a string. The boys and girls ran away immediately when they glimpsed themselves, howling and screaming. As often as I showed them the mirror when they were noisy about my dwelling, they immediately took to their heels.


In their customs the Indians are secretive toward the missionaries. Even among those who otherwise are good Christians there always clings something of the former odor of impiety. From fear of punishment they keep some things hidden, and possibly only during the absence of the father would they hold their secret assemblages. Here were observed always some of the customs inherited from their forebears, some of them amusing and some of them superstitious, which were kept by the obdurate old ones and passed on from them orally to their descendants.

Very frequently when they were contemplating a nocturnal dance and revelry they used all kinds of lies and subterfuges to get the father away from the village, so that he would not hinder them. They might trump up a story about a sick person whose circumstances were so perilous that the father would have to hear confession, all to get him to leave the village. As often as I rode away to a confession I was asked solicitously: “Father! when will you return? . . . how long will you be away?” The greatest vexation I could cause them occurred when I had them accompany me as guards for my protection on the journey, for then, after they had taken me to the next village, they had to run back to be able to take part in their festivities.

The children are well built. They are born very large and strong, with hair as long as their arms, are quite chubby throughout, and of reddish color, one might well say a matre rubet. At baptism I might have taken them to be children of mulattoes, and the latter as Indian children, because the mulatto children were much browner and less well formed. The red color gradually changes within a year to a chestnut brown, resembling a piece of wet sole-leather.

At the tender age of six to twelve months these children must endure a cruel torture. All the hair is pulled from the child’s eyebrows and the little holes or pores are enlarged with a thorn. Coal dust is then sprinkled on these bloody openings and rubbed in. The upper and lower lips are turned out as far as possible and pierced with sharp thorns as much as a hundred times. These wounds, too, are sprinkled with coal dust, or with a preparation from a pod, like our kidney bean, which is used instead of nutgall for the best ink. From this treatment the lips become swollen and blue-black, as though the child had eaten large quantities of whortleberries, and they remain this way for life.

Temples, cheeks, the whole chin, the entire upper body, chest, arms and back, are pierced with many thousand different embroideries and figures, such as wheels, stars, roses, and all kinds of animals and snakes. The brown skin with these figures and the long, heavy hair hanging down from the head, make a fearsome sight. For performing this ugly ceremony there are, besides the one who does the pricking, a godfather and godmother who must hold the squirming, crying, and bleeding child during this torture. This devilish custom, which completely transforms a person and costs many children their lives, displeased me to the extent that I forbade it on pain of severe punishment. The first one who refused to obey and permitted his child to be so diabolically marked was disclosed to me by a faithful Indian. I had the father given twenty-five stripes, well laid-on with a braided leather whip by a powerful Indian; the mother received twelve, the godfather twenty-five, the godmother twelve, and the master of the ceremony twenty-five.

As often as a child died and was sewed in a palm mat and brought to me for burial, I cut open the mat in the churchyard to learn whether the child had died a natural death or from being tattooed. Whenever I learned that the child had succumbed to the torture, the parents and their assistants had to pay on the spot for their cruelty. These lashes made a greater impression than did my preachments. After but a few had received such a reward for their trouble they left off this barbarous ceremony, and the children grew up gay and healthy with their not badly formed physiognomies. If one of these Pimas, who more resemble devils than human beings were to appear in Germany, even the most courageous man would shudder. More, the sight of these womenfolk with a thousand different kinds of figures tattooed on their breasts and on the entire upper parts of their bodies, would certainly cause him to take flight. Certain it is that no person seeing these creatures can entertain a carnal or unchaste thought. It requires no little struggle to have dealings with such fantastic apparitions, to speak with them, to live among them, and to love them as children, when to outward appearance they are objects of abomination.

Their custom of adorning themselves I had to leave unchanged. They have various pretty earth-colors-red, green, yellow, blue, and white-which they make into balls, like our lacquer balls. When they wish to appear in all their splendor they dip these balls in water and dab themselves from the throat to the lower belly with different colored rows of dollar-sized dots. Or they may stir the colors in water and draw straight or zig-zag lines on the body with their fingers so that from a distance they appear to be dressed in calamanco. One thigh is red, the other yellow; one calf white, the other blue; the feet are coal black, the forehead yellow, the eyes are ringed with black, the nose is blue, the cheeks green, and the chin white. They braid little horns into their hair and to them attach cock-feathers.

Much time and patience is spent in this primping, though this is done only for the most important celebrations. With kind words I made this painting odious to them. They themselves recognized that they were acting foolishly, since they spent so much time in painting themselves and then immediately afterwards washed themselves in a brook. However, there were tribes who would never permit their daily adornment to be taken from them, who got themselves up in shining lacquer, and who always carried it with them.

Another form of painting which turns out very frighteningly is used when they go to war against the enemy, so that they will appear the more fearsome to him.

Tiger [jaguar] or leopard [ocelot] skins are used to make quivers for their arrows and to fashion little caps which they wear decorated on top with a feather tuft. They train their children even at the age of three to be warlike.

Children are little attended by their parents, and are left for half a day at time in the sun, molested by many hundreds of midges and gnats. Nevertheless, they begin for themselves to run about on all fours as swiftly as a dog. As soon as they begin to walk upright they are provided with a bow and arrows. With these they play the day long, aiming at whatever pleases them. They run around quite naked until the tenth year. Whole groups of these boys delighted me in the way they could shoot their little unpointed arrows at chickens and other things with hardly a miss and without injuring them. In this each one vied with the other to carry off the prize which was a piece of bread or cheese.

The whole endeavor of parents is to bring up their children with a warlike spirit. As the children grow in strength, more powerful weapons are given them. Boys are very restive and make many entreaties that they be counted as recruits and be made into soldiers, so that they may cut a figure among their compatriots. Youths of fourteen to fifteen years who offer themselves to their chief as candidates for military service are not immediately granted their wish. The induction ceremony for a new recruit is very barbarous, and accompanied by not a little bloodshed. The poor naked youth is brought before some of the old tested soldiers who must bear witness that he has sufficient heart to stand up under the test he is now put to by the chief.

The chief plucks him by the hair, throws him about on the ground, and kicks him with his feet. This is the first examination. Should the youth allow a single sob to escape him he would be rejected as unfit, and sent away. If he laughs about the whole thing, shows himself to be hale and hearty, and asks for much more, then he is subjected to the second test. The chief whips the recruit’s entire body with switches and thorns until blood flows, but never a sound may the youth utter.

Now he must submit to the third acute test. The chief uses various talons, taken from large birds of prey, which have been carefully readied for the test through drying and distention. With these he stabs, hacks, and scratches and tears the candidate’s entire body so that he bleeds all over. During all of this the recruit must stand cheerfully without writhing and turning. One single sob escaping him would spoil the whole show; he would be declared unfit to be a soldier. These horrible and foolish ceremonies I did not know about for a long time until two new recruits out of happiness revealed them to me. If the candidate is declared worthy, he is welcomed by the others with congratulations, and the more he has distinguished himself the more heartily is he acclaimed.

After he has withstood the tests and made trials in archery, a bow and arrows are placed in his hands by the chief who makes a speech: that he should never be fainthearted, and should gladly risk all danger; that he should always appear at the first command of the chief; that he should believe firmly that he and his tribe alone are people, and that all their enemies must be looked upon as wild beasts and never be feared; that he seek always to protect himself and his tribal brothers.

Hardly is the boy inducted when they foist the hardest jobs upon him. Daily, at great risk, he must scout out the paths to discover any tracks of the enemy. The new recruits must perspiringly climb the highest mountains; day and night and in all kinds of weather they must tend the stock, accompany as guards all travelers along the roads, and constantly run messages.

All the Indians highly esteem their weapons, and never travel without them. More, they even place the bow and arrows of the deceased into his grave so that he may defend himself on his death journey. As soon as they notice that a sick person is about to die they take great care to remove his weapons from his but and guard them elsewhere.

Women far advanced in pregnancy are driven from the house and absolutely forbidden to give birth within it, for such women are looked upon as being poisoned. The Indians believe that a birth deprives arrows of their power so that they will never be able to hit a mark. More than once have I encountered a miserable woman in birth pangs hanging under a tree in the forest where some other old women had tied her with ropes passed under her arms so as to torment her until she delivered. This savage midwifery and banishment I corrected with whiplashes, and brought it to pass that the women had to stay in their huts. They did this reluctantly, and the men fled elsewhere with their weapons.

A new mother does not have a single day of rest; her man runs away and often soon after the birth she creeps to a brook, washes or bathes in cold water, and then the next day, hale and hearty, does the hardest kind of work. For example, she may carry wood or grind corn on a stone. With many admonitions I could make them remain at home for only three or four days. With a cup of chocolate which I sent them they forgot all birth pangs. After a birth, my Pimas no longer wished to live in the contaminated house, and sought all manner of pretexts to tear it down, or industriously found ways to make it unlivable. They even set it on fire, and accepted the extra effort necessary to build their dwelling in another spot.

They also burned a house whenever anyone died in it. At first I did not understand what caused so many fire-damaged villages. But I learned the cause, for they explained to me they no longer desired to live in a certain place because the dead one had returned to it. They wanted to elude him so that he could no longer visit them in the house where he had lived. This constant changing of huts irked me greatly, for I never knew where they were living. They believed that the deceased always returned to his former dwelling. Since I forbade the burning of individual huts, and forced them to live in their old dwellings, they managed piece by piece to make over a house, even to the extent of digging out the floor deeply, to give it a different appearance and so to prevent the deceased from recognizing it.

They also observed a superstitious custom when stormy weather threatened. For the purpose of warding off hail, they tied a piece of palm thatch to a pole and pointed it at the clouds. On the occasion of a developing eclipse of the sun they rang all bells violently, shouting and crying to disturb and drive apart what was to them a struggle between two stars. For the rest, they considered that someone who had been struck by a thunderbolt was a creature more to be shunned than any other, as one who had been regarded by God himself as unworthy to walk about the earth. Never would even the youngest widow or the daughter of a man killed by thunder [sic] find a husband, because they believed the family to have been abandoned by God. The wife or children were considered to be the cause of the man’s death, and sometime the same bad fortune would befall them.

Nor would they have much more to do with a few Indians who had been struck by lightning and not killed by it, but marked blueblack. Those who have been struck by lightning they do not consider as dead, but say rather that the soul through fright is unable to find the body, which they then allow to lie untouched. Among the last Indians I worked with, the Opata, who had been Christians for a hundred years, was a well-to-do Indian who was struck by a lightning bolt while working in his field. At the time I was six hours away, riding to another village. They told me of the occurrence, and when I asked if he were dead, they replied they did not know, it could be that he might wake up again. I directed them to carry him home and either call me if a sign of life appeared, or bury him the next day. Nevertheless, they let him lie in the field. Through the great heat of the sun the stench became unbearable, but they by no means wished to bury him in the churchyard.

Finally, though they did not yet consider him dead, they dug a round hole in the middle of the churchyard, sat the deceased in it up to his middle, left him all of his good clothes, shoes, stockings, silver-trimmed trousers, cloth coat, and bordered hat, and placed his almost new blue-cloth mantle in his lap. They placed a pot on each side of him, one filled with water, the other with herbs, and laid his bow and quiver filled with arrows at his feet. Around the upper part of the body, which was above the ground, they piled a pyramid of many bushels of very long grass, and lightly sprinkled it with earth. All this was for the purpose of allowing him easily to push away his burial cover, when his frightened soul should have recovered itself, and to begin at once to eat and drink, which he would want to do because of his long fast. The arrangement was made without ceremony, cross or candles, singing, or the tolling of bells, something they would never do with a burial even in the absence of the father, except in the case of one struck by lightning.

The godfather of the deceased, a quite clever Indian who was very devoted to me, whom I could use for all services and who was choir leader and soloist in the village because he could read and write Spanish, revealed to me this heathenish ceremony. I had a horse saddled at once, and rode with the caciques to the place where already a new grave had been dug and the corpse laid in it; the body had almost completely decayed and was hardly recognizable.

Almost everywhere the Indians are in the habit of placing all sorts of things in the grave with the deceased. The women may give him a long stone, flat on one side, whereon all their lives they have crushed or ground Indian corn. For one Indian who took care of the horses we had provided a new cloak, saddle, stirrup and bridle, besides blankets to wrap around him. This man died the day after receiving these gifts, and they scraped everything into the earth with him.

In warfare they drag out their slain enemies and let them lie unburied after they have torn the skin and hair from the crowns of their heads as victory trophies. For three nights in a row they hold a dance of celebration around a great fire, especially participated in by old women and children. On such occasions the scalps are held aloft on a pole, amid disagreeable singing and boastful speeches. The scalps are sent around from village to village by messenger to impress others with their bravery for having struck a blow against the enemy. The messenger brings back many congratulations, and in each village the tufts of hair are honored with dance and song. Eventually I succeeded in inducing them to cover their slain enemies with earth, and to deliver their captives to me alive.

Almost constantly they brought me captive children whom I baptized and sent elsewhere so that they would be raised in a Christian fashion by other padres. I took care of two such boys who turned out fairly well. One of them I wanted to take with me to the city of Mexico. But when we reached the first little town, which was more than one hundred hours from the mission and he saw the large churches and felt uncomfortable among none but Spaniards, he gave me the slip the next day, though he left without even one cent travel money.

It appears that because of superstition they do not dare to kill certain of the many kinds, shapes, and colors of ants. Women may not kill a kind of red ant nor the men a black variety. Equally stupid compassion is displayed by them toward even the most harmful and dangerous animals, though these could be killed easily enough and their excessive numbers in the country gradually reduced. They catch snakes, and get pleasure out of pulling their teeth which are covered with a tender skin wherein, as in a little blister, the poison is lodged. Then they let them go. Only if they are excessively hungry do they skin them, wrap them around a stick, roast them in fire, and eat them with great relish, in the manner of eating an eel. Certainly, if one does not know what it is, he will invite himself to dine, for the tender flesh is snow-white and has a pleasant odor. Never was I able to persuade them to kill poisonous creatures such as various deadly spiders, snakes, vipers, scorpions, and others.

A nonsensical custom among them is the keeping of innumerable dogs, and to have them in houses. Their love for their dogs is stronger than is their love for their children. My greatest annoyance was the nightly howling and barking of so many hungry dogs. Not a single one, not even the most dangerous, will they dispose of. All puppies are carefully raised; the women even nourish them with their own milk by depriving their own infants. Every man in the family has one dog or more for which he provides not a bite to eat.

The dogs seek their food in the fields, eating grass, maize, even Spanish pepper. At night they dragged off from me whatever they could; leather, shirts, candles along with the candlesticks. These things had to be searched for either in the churchyard or in the field. The Indians are not angry even when dogs eat up their victuals; indeed, they eat with them from the same dish. Because they cannot give their children any other possession as property, they give them puppies. These the children drag around all day in their arms, kissing and hugging them, and feed them as well as they can. They call the puppy vacu, and are proud of the fact that they have something of their own.


Among the Mexicans and others who had kings and regular forms of government, idolatry and human sacrifice were formerly common. Nowadays, wherever the Spaniards have occupied the country everyone is converted to Christianity. Only in such haunts where godless Spaniards, runaway slaves, Negroes, and apostate Indians have taken refuge, so as to live according to their likes, have the offenses continued. Even some of those who could not be convinced by human power and weapons, as for example the Nayar, a fearsome robber-folk who lived in narrow gorges, were finally brought to the Catholic Faith by the Jesuits, especially by Father Arias, after fruitless efforts by various other Orders. Those living in the wilds have no faith at all; one can find not the least trace of religion among them. This I report as undeniable and certain, though our theologians hold it to be impossible that a person can live out his entire life without any knowledge of God.

I went to all conceivable trouble to elicit from them an understanding of God, but all was in vain. To everything they answered: “Unquays mat,” meaning, “”To be sure.” I asked: “What is this daylight which warms us and causes things to grow? How does Indian corn grow?” The only answer which was given by all hose adults I baptized was “Huquays mat,” or, “That may be.” Sometimes “Tat macatum,” or “That is beyond us.” Or sometimes the oft-repeated “To be sure.”

“But if it is so, who made it that way?” Answer: “Who knows hat? That’s the way it is; it grows; the light appears every day.” Truly, I was more concerned with questions than they with answers. All of their thoughts turned only to their bodily needs, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, and self-protection.

With all this they had some knowledge of the Deluge, for they suggested there was a time when it rained so hard that all people frowned except one youth and one maiden. In a drum these two escaped drowning, and from them all others had descended. They also had knowledge of the devil whom they neither honored nor worshiped, however, but referred to only as the evil one. Further, hey had a slight understanding of the immortality of the soul, though this idea did not represent reward or punishment, but rather a belief in the migration of the soul from one body to another. Because of this idea savages even today bury a deceased minor child in the middle of a roadway so that its soul, which has tot yet enjoyed life, will enter a friend who may be passing by and will begin life anew and be reborn. Old folk who died were dragged away and buried in a valley so that they would not return and molest the others at night.

I heard many conversing with spirits in their imaginings and in heir dreams, saying: “What are you doing? Why didn’t you stay with us? We told you often enough, you should not journey farther away. Surely, you don’t fare as well elsewhere as you did with us. Don’t bother me if you are hungry; here is something to eat,” and so on. Thus they screamed and wrangled, often in a loud voice so that I could understand every word. In order to sleep peacefully they placed something outside of the house for the dead to eat. This foolishness continued with some mothers, who had long been supposed Christians, to the extent that in secret they squeezed their own milk into a hole bored in the earth over their buried children, or sprinkled a whole dish of consecrated water on the graves.

When once they were instructed in the Catholic religion, they showed zeal and became quite different persons. They went happily to church and listened patiently to a sermon or exhortation, even if it lasted several hours. They had a particular liking for church services. Everything that pertained to external ceremonies, processions, and singing was most agreeable to them. Their innocent devotion often made me laugh, for particularly in towns they sometimes dragged around figures or paintings of the saints. These they decorated with flowers and provided with many large candles to light in their honor.

They like pictures excessively and hang them one next to the other, all around in a house. Saints accompanied by an animal, such as St. James on horseback, and St. Martin, St. George, St. Luke, were dearest to them. They enjoyed very much bringing their children to be baptized, and even better to stand as godfathers.

I noticed a particular whim among them; namely, that for the sake of flattery they wished always to bestow the name of the missionary on all of their children. For this reason there were in one village none but Franciscos (which they pronounce Parancisco, because they have no F in their language). The many Miguels among adults caused confusion, for I could not distinguish the one from the other. I humored them at first and bestowed upon fourteen the names of Joseph or Josephine. In one year all fourteen of the children baptized Joseph died, and none of any other name. Among them was an infant son of a Spaniard who liked to travel, but had been prevented from doing so because of a minor illness of the child. I reproached myself for this, and decided to christen no other children Joseph. To avoid the confusion caused by many having the same name, all children are also given the name of a particular saint.

I christened all who wished to be converted only after a half year of examination of their constancy and a twice daily participation on their part in Christian doctrine. After baptism came the marriage ceremony, since the neophyte either took in wedlock a woman he brought with him, or chose one of two before him. For the rejected one, who showed little sensitivity in the matter, I had to provide a husband, a very easy matter because among the Indians there generally were more menfolk than womenfolk, and many men could find no wives. One reason for this, I think, is the fact that parents do not esteem their daughters and give them little care. As a consequence very many of them die in infancy. Boys are better loved and looked after, creep and walk around more, and grow up quite hardy. A second reason is that girls are married off much too early, and many die with the first birth. A third reason is the hard work that womenfolk must perform.

Concerning propriety of conduct, the Indians put even the most well-bred Europeans to shame in the strict way they guard the innocence of their daughters. When daughters are marriageable, parents wish to be relieved of their guardianship and give the pastor no rest until he has provided a husband. They brought me their daughters who were still quite young, declaring: “Father, I have watched over this girl long enough; I do not wish to do this forever. Now you can get a husband for her.” Though I did this unwillingly, I often had to arrange marriages for thirteen-year-old girls, who in the following year gave birth to a child.

Quite reluctantly I married such young girls to old Indians of fifty or sixty years. At first I was deceived because the girls said it was as they wished it, but I learned that actually they were being forced into such marriages by the cajolery or threats of their parents. After learning this I always questioned the girls who then admitted that their father and mother had threatened them with blows. Hence, I did not marry them to those thrust upon them by their parents, but to youths, among whom I permitted them to choose.

In the Indies menfolk join the home of the women. Only rarely will a woman marry outside of her village into another. The man must accommodate himself to building a dwelling in her village. In the event of her death, he returns to his village. No one thinks of an endowment and dowry, and neither side hopes for even a penny. The entire marriage sacrament cost me only a few kreutzers [German currency, small unit, such as dimes], and consisted in nothing more than inscribing the names of the newly-wedded pair in the register, then serving them a cup of common chocolate. Before sending them home I gave them a panocha or changaca to share with each other. (These are little brown cakes, molded of the poorest quality sugar made from withered sugar cane or of the dregs of the other sugar, azucar roxo, or Saccharon S. Thomae.)

Quite often after a marriage the bride and bridegroom went each to his own house as though neither knew the other. Hence, I had to attempt to bring them together. Truly, many a one repented his marriage, especially among my Pimas. They were so impudent that they sometimes agreed among themselves to exchange wives. They even had the impertinence to request of the father another wedding right at the church door, because of some trouble they may have had.

They always enjoyed attending Mass, especially when the service was chanted. At communion I granted very little of the sacramental wafer to some of the Pimas whom I doubted could distinguish between common bread and the bread of the Sacrament. To others, and to the Opatas, who asked devoutly and deferentially to receive it, I granted the Eucharistic Bread.

In processions as well as in various services and vespers anyone would have been astonished to hear young girls and also married women sing with pleasant voices the antiphonies, psalms, hymns, and so on, and all from memory while the vicars followed the hymnal. Even more was I astonished that in their Latin singing I could notice not more than two errors in prosody which I could not correct. The girls vied with each other to be chosen as singers for the choir.

Indians who remained in their villages and had nothing to do with Spaniards continued in their ingenuousness and knew little of deliberate sin; on the other hand, those who lived among the Spaniards learned from them all the vices, such as cursing, swearing, blaspheming, carousing, getting drunk, and so on.