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The History



A Journal of the Arizona

Archaeological and Historical Society





Volume 23

Number 1










Slightly more than two centuries ago, a part of the Pima nation, led by Luis Oacpicagigua, of Saric, rose in bloody revolt, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to drive all of the Spanish from the Pima lands.Before this uprising was finally quelled, "ciento y tantes" (Keler 1856) Spaniards were killed, many more were wounded, and an unknown number of Indians were killed and wounded.

Becouse their travels and teachings hampered Luis' conspiracies, and lessened his prestige as a shaman ("hechicero"), the missionaries were attacked with special bitterness. In eastern Pimeria, all were able to escape to places of safaty, although two of the Jesuits, Jacob Sedelmayr and Juan Nentvig, were beseiged for two days at Tubutama. (Jacksen 1951: 26-28).

In western Sonora, raiding bands of Pimas killed Father Thomas Tello, at Caborca; and seriously

wounded Father Enrique Ruhen at Sonoyta. These later two raids were senseless acts of violence, gaining the Pima rebels nothing militarily, and depriving their Papago neighbors, in western Sonora, of spiritual and cultural guidance for many decades.'

For more than a century and a half, the major documents pertaining to the Pima Revolt were largely unavailable and unknow to historians in the United States. During the second quarter of the twentieth century, due in large part to the work of the late Herbert E. Bolton and his students, the salient documents pertaining to the early history of Papagueria and Pimeria were found, translated, and skilfully annotated. Similar studies, of comparable merit, for the barren adjacent province of Baja Colifornia, have been completed by Peter M. Dunne, S. J., and others.

From these broad outlines, augmented by documentary evidence from Rome and Hildesheim; and by field studies in archaeology and folklore in Mexico; we can now piece together a biography of Enrique Ruhen, S. J., Sonoyta's Martyr, with some assurance that the major features are correct, and that the minor features are at least within reason.

The history of Father Ruhen is a pathetic tale, worthy of the pen of a Sophocles Despite his dedication to his chosen work, his proven diligence, and his fidelity in the face of rising hostility, he became the victim of senseless and unprovoked violence by a band of marauding strangers, finally meeting death at the hands of a compassionate Indian, whose motives were almost certainly merciful.


Father Enrique Ruhen was born Heinrich, in the small town of Borsum, near Hidesheim, Germany, about the middle of the year 1718. He was the son of the cabinet-maker Peter Christoph Ruhen and his wife Anna ( Busch ) . Young Heirich was baprized on June 16, 1718, according to the parish register, which is irt very close accord with records in the Jesuit Archives, in Rome. Inquiries in Borsum disclose that "the Jesuit Heinrich Ruhen was born in Borsum, in the formerly "Alperschen House," Borsum No. 102.

Of Ruhen's education we haveno detailed record, but the salient dates in his educational career indicate superior scholastic progress. He entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Trier, at the age of 18, on Oct. 22, 1736, and took his first vows just two years and one day later, on Oct. 23, 1738. Having finished his philosophy before entering the Order, Ruhen taught humanites in the Jesuit College at Munster, apparently from 1738 until 1745, when he began his theological studies at Buren, in the Diocese of Paderborn. These occupied approximately three years, and he was ordained late in 1748 or early in 1749, the ordination, but not the exact date, being recorded in the catalog of 1748-49.

Shortly after his ordination, Ruhen began the long journey across western Europe, the first lap of the trip to the new World. A German source states that his departure was in the early part of 1749, and his name is lacking from the 1749 catalog of the Lower Rhine Province, to which he belonged. Although we have no reason to question this approximate date of departure, we also have no direct evidence to confirm it.²


No account has been found of Father Ruhen's journey from Buren southwestward to Cadiz When next heard of, he had been waiting for transportation for some time in Cadiz, all westward sailings having been suspended because of the depredations of the Mooorish pirates.³

On June 15, 1750, Ruhen finally sailed from Cadiz on the French trading ship Condé. From the pen of his jellow-passenger, Father Johann Jakob Beagert, S. J., we learn that the Condé was convoyed4 during the first few days of the journey, by a "Chaplain's Guard" of "two warships, each armed with twenty-eight cannons."

This naval might was apparently too much for the pirates, for the condé arrived at Vera Cruz, Mexico, after an uneventful voyage of "only seventy-two days," on August 23, 1750. From Vera Cruz, Ruhen, in company with Beagert and others, proceeded to Mexico City, then, as now, the political and cultural center of the country. There, they waited several months before receiving travel orders and assignments.


In company with nine other missionaries, including Father Baegert, Ruhen left Mexico City5, and traveled northward, by very easy stages, toward his ultimate destination in Papugueria. The party reached Guadalajara on December 19 of 1750, and apparently spent the Christmas holidays there. Beagert comments most favorably on Guadalajara, which he regarded as "the best city on the whole fearful journey" from Mexico City to his station at San Luis Gonzala.6

From Guadalajara, the little caravan, which originally consisted of ten missionaries, twelve muleteers and servants, and a number of pack animals, proceeded northwestward through Tepic, Rosario, Culiacan, and Los Frayles, arriving at Yaqui, at the mouth of the Yaqui River, south of Guaymas, Sonora, on March 9, 1751.

The slow progress on this journey is explained by Father Beagert, who describes stops in the various towns en route, where they enjoyed the hospitality of the residents. on the trail, the food consisted of carne seco, frijoles, and tortillas, which Baegert described as "little pancakes made of corn meal."

After March 9, 1751, Father Ruhen traveld northward through Sonora, to report to the Father Visitor, Jacob Sedelmayr, S. J., in Tubutama.7 On an unspecified part of this journey, he was accompanied by Father Baegert, whose transportation to Lower California, a dugout canoe, finally left the mouth of the Yaqui River on May 7, 1751, and deposited him, two and one half days later, in Loreto, Baja California, where he was greeted by an N-gun salute from the muskets of the local garrison!


In June or July of 1751, after a short stay in Tubutama, Father Ruhen was assignes to Sonoyta, the westernmost of the old Kino missions, in the lands of the Papagos. This mission, in1739, had been endowed by the will of the late Marques de Villaquente, and the name changed from San Marcelo Sonoitac to San Miguel de Sonoyta (Bancroft 1886: 543; Dunne 1952: 298-299, 485; Ives 1955. 208; Venegas 1757: 19-ff.).

At this isolated location, slightly less than one mile easr of the present Sonoran community of Sonoyta, Kino had started work on a chapel and residence in 1699, and by 1706 it had grown to include a whitewashed and roofed adobe chapel, a residence consisting of three rooms and a kitchen, extensive wheat fields, and herds of livestock.8 The buildings were still extant less than a year before Father Ruhen's assigment there, we learn from the report of the Ensign who headed Father Sedelmayr's military guard. He states, in part, "November 22 (1750)--We--came to Sonoíta.--There are many Indians here, too, who--assisted the Father Visitor (Sedelmayr) and were obedient to the soldiers.--There is a good house here, made up of there rooms and a kitchen. There are the ruins of a small house where Father Kino used to say Mass, so far as these Indians were able to remember" (Dunne 1955: 68).

Although Father Ruhen was almost certainly accompainted by either Father Sedelmayr or a soldier on his first journey to Sonoyta, we have no record of the journey, or of his work at that station, although he almost certainly was busy rehabilitating the physical plant there, in addition to his missionary duties.

After some weeks at his isolated post, Father Ruhen went to Tubutama, and was definitely there on August 15, 1751, for on that date he made his Solemn Profession (Fig. 1) before his Father Visitor, Jacob Sedelmayr, S. J. The signature on this rate document, clearly "Henricus Ruhen,"9 10 leaves no doubt as to the correct spelling of his name.11

Two and one half months later, Ruhen again visited Tubutama, and for the last time. At this time, he made his confession, and, apparently aware of the oncoming Pima Revolt, he remarked to his superior, Jacob Sedelmayr, "Fare thee well. We shall never see one another again" (Treutlein 1949: 259). Ruhen was tragically correct, for only three weeks later he had attained a Martyr's Crown at Sonoyta, and Sedelmayr narrowly missed the same fate during the siege of Tubutama

The Martyrdom of Enrique Ruhen


All of the accounts of the martyrdom of Enrique Ruhen are at least second-hand, for there were no known literate witnesses to his murder. Rather interestingly, all of the nearly-contemporary accounts are in close accord; and these agree with the archaeological evidence unearthed during this century in Sonoyta. In contrast, the folkloric material, while containing elements of truth, suffers from misplaced decimal points, transplanted nonpertined elements, and semantic changes inherent in multiple transfers between languages and their accompanying patterns of thought.

Documentary Evidence

The most nearly-contemporary account of Father Ruhen's martyrdom is found in the writings of Father Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S. J. Compatible material, summarized from a number of eightteenth-century documents, is containing in Decorme's great history of the Mexican Jesuits (Decorme 1941, II: 438-442).

The attack on the little Sonoyta Mission occurred on the night of November 21-22, 1751 (Sunday-Monday). As Father Ruhen lay in bed, arrows were shot through the window of his bedroom, wounding him so badly that the attackers thought him dead. He had received more than one mortal wound, in the opinion of Father Pfefferkorn (Treutlein 1949: 34-35, 259-260). Arrow wounds, however, are seldom immediately fatal . Some time later,"he gathered his remaining strength and crept forth from his hut, perhaps intending to hide himself somewhere.12 Not far from the hut he reached a tree at which he knelt, clasping the trunk to hold himself upright. Thus he awaited his end. Some Indians13 found him in this position at the break of day. One of them smashed Father Ruhen's skull with a stone; he sank to earth and piously expired. So ended the virtuous life of Father Ruhen, and so vanished at the same time the best hope for the conversion of the Pápagos and the spreading of the Faith to the farthest confines of Sonora" (Treutlein 1949: 260).

In the famous Rudo Ensayo, the supposed auther, Father Juan Nentvig, S. J. states (p. 231), regarding Sonoyta, "The town was destroyed by the inhabitants themselves during the year that they put to death its Ministering Father, Henry Ruhen, who--was an angel in his life and morals, as we who knew him can testify." The destruction of Sonoyta by its inhabitants is also mentioned by Father Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S. J., who, probably in 1756, "had the good fortune, after six years, to give decent burial to his (Father Ruhen´s) still unburial corpse, with its blood stained skull"(Treutlein 1949: 34).

Pfefferkorn had hoped to reactivate the Sonoyta Mission, but found that the local residents "had conceived such an aversion for Christianity that on no account did they wish ever again to tolerant a missionary among them" (Treutlein 1949: 261).

Due initially to this hostility, and later to a severe shortage of both Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, Sonoyta never again had a resident missionary. Later ecclesiastical visitors, however, from 1771 (Fray Francisco Garces) to the president, have been treated with courtesy, kindnass, respect, and even generosity, according to very extensive documentary evidence.

Summary of Folklore

During more than a quarter of a century of field work in Sonra, many modern accounts and legends concerning the destruction of the Sonoyta Mission and martyrdom of Enrique Ruhen, have been heard. Additionally, some legendary material has crept into the documentary evidence. It is notable that the legendary material heard in the vicinity of Sonoyta is in substantil agreement with nearly-contemporary documents; whereas that heard at some distance from Sonoyta is likely to be somewhat out of phase with anything verifiagle by either field library research.

In some of these legends, the murder of Father Ruhen was an act of retaliation for his practice of ringing the mission bell to make earthquakes. The local residents broke his arms and legs, and threw him into a cholla tree, "where he lived three days." After his death, they burned the church, and removed the bell and altar stone to a cave near Quitovac. Some accounts state that the bell was of solid gold.

The bell, according to this legend, is kept wrapped in blankets and buried in sand, so that it cannot couse any more earthquakes; and the altar stone, a slab of tezontli, has been identified with the famous piedra que llora y canta of the older Papago legends. Some informants state that Ruhen's rosary hung on a tree near the mission ruins for more than a century.

Careful checking of these legends discloses that the probability of their correctness is small, and that some legendary elements are almost certainly transplanted from other areas.

The bell-and-earthquake theme is quite definitely exotic to Sonoyta,where earthquake are both mild and infrequent. This may be a transplanted folkloric elements from Loreto, Baja California, where a similar tale has been heard several times. It may also be imported from a greater distance, as there are some Portuguese tales, of great antiquity, on the same general subject; and some Sicilian folklore, vaguely related to the vecchia religione, has the same theme.

Stories of a solid gold bell, wherever heard, can be discounted immediately, as a solid gold bell performs its intended function abouts as well as does a lead balloon!

Careful search of pertinent documents fails to disclose any evidence that Mission San Marcelo Sonoitac ever had a bell. In view of lack of evidence, the rather widespread legends of "the Bell of San Marcelo" must be taken cum grano salis.14

The story of Ruhen's murder is incompatible with Papago and Pima war customs, but resembles reputed Apache cruelty. According to the late Col. Jefferson Davis Milton, a killing of this type took place naer "the other Sonoyta" (Sonoita, Santa Cruz Country, Arizona) about 1875. He was not clear as to the details, which had been told him many years ago, and local investigation failed to uncover specific evidence.

The torture theme in the Ruhen legends is not, however, a recent addition. Writing of Sonoyta in 1784, less than a quarter century after the crime, Juan Bautista de Anza started, in part "with cruel and prolonged torture they killed its fiest missionary together with a Spaniard who kept him company" (Bolton 1930, II: 152). This statement is not in agreement with statements by Pfefferkorn, Nentvig, and others who "ought to know," and who make no mention of other fatalities at Sonoyta during the Pima Revolt.

Records of the trials pf the Pima rebels, summarized by Miguel Quejano,15 imply vaguely that Ruhen's Indian mayordomo may have been a casualty at this time. Many of the accounts, both "third hand" and legendary, imply or state that the same band of Pima rebels murdered both Father Tello in Caborca and Father Ruhen' in Sonoyta. Consideration of reported dates and probable travel times between the two missions suggests quite strongly that this was not the case.

The status of the "piedra que ilora y canta" is somewhat ambiguous in these legends. the first legends of this stone date from the battle of Iitoi, a Papago culture-hero, with a monster, probably at Quitovac, some thousands of years ago. Bones at Quitovac, presently identified as those of the monster, are those of the Imperial Mammoth, unfossilized, and dating from the later Wiscousin Pleistocene, most probably more than 4,000 years ago, but probably not 10,000 years ago. Just how this stone, reputedly the heart of the monster, became the altar stone of the San Marcelo Mission is not made clear by either legend or document (Ives 1941: 195-199).

Archaeological Evidence

The Sonoyta Mission, with its related buildings, was destroyed during and immediately after the Pima Revolt of 1751. Slightly more than a century latre, changes in water table and drainage pattern made necessary the abandonment of the old Sonoyta townsite, and the establishment of the present town about 11\4 miles downstream. The irrigated fields of Kino's time were replaced by a swamp, which, with increasing subdrainage, became barren desert.16 During the time of these changes, water supply increased temporarily about ten miles downstream, where the ephemeral settlement of Santo Domingo was established by Cipriano Ortega. When the drainage pattern again stabilized, water supply at Santo Domingo failed, and the settlement fell into ruins (about 1895). About 1907, Mr. M. G. Levy, a merchant of Ajo, Arizona, learned of the old mission site from Papago Indians, and secured permission to excavate the ruins, in search of the fabled "Jesuit Treasure." As a laborer on this excavation, he employed a young Mexican, Ygnacio Quiroz, who was blessed with a happy combination of diligence, keen powers of observation, an excellent memory, and deep interest in the history of Sonoran missions. From Quiroz' observations came the first extensive information on the Sonoyta Mission ruins.

These ruins today consist of a mound of rubble, about 11\4 miles east of the present church in Sonoyta, between the trail to La Nariz and the road to the local cemetery. Field study of the Sonoyta mission ruins discloses that the main building was an adobe structure, approximately 20 by 34 feet in exterior dimensions, a size entirely compatible with the "twelve small beams" mentioned by Kino (Bolton 1919 and 1948: 288-289).Exact dimensions of the building are in doubt because parts of the walls show two cycles of construction, with a period of erosion between them. The long axis of the building trends roughly north-south, but this axis does not coincide either with true north or magnetic north of Kino's time (as estimated by the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey). Door of the structure was appartently at the south, with the altar near the north wall. Location of windows, if any, is not indicated by remaining wall sectors.

The mission floor was composed of a hard, semi-glazed, grayish-white material, apparently a mixture of sand, clay, and caliche, probably applied when wet and tramped into place with bare feet. Giant finger marks, supposedly those of Father Ruhen, were reported found in the adobe during the excavations in 1907. Study of accessible wall sectors thirty years later disclosed some indentations that could have been finger or thumb marks, but no whorl patterns or other conclusive means of identification remained.

Several skeletons, one very large, with blond hair, were found under the probable site of the altar. The large skeleton with blond hair is identified, beyoud any reasonable doubt, as that of Father Ruhen. Identity of the others is not clear, as the most naerly contemporary documents indicate that Ruhen died alone. One may be that of "the Spainiard who kept him company" if Anza's account is correct; another may be that of Ruhen's Indian mayordomo, if some Indian legends are to be accepted.

Attempts at dating charcoal found in the mission ruins by one of the earlier radioactive methods were unsuccesful, due to contamination by local mineral radioactives, derived from the granites of the nearby Sierra de Cubabi, which concentrate in the magnetic black sands in present and ancient drainage channels.

All bones found in the mission ruins were respectfully reburied at the site by Mr. Quiroz. For many years, the ruins, now a heap of rubble, were marked by a small wooden cross, which was periodically repaired and decorated with a wreath by members of the Sonoyta congregation.

Currently, a small stone marker is being erected at the grave site by Sonoyta residents, and a suitable plaque for it has been prepared.17


1 A competent summary history of the Pima revolt, by R. C. Ewing, is contained in Greater America Essays in Honor of Herbert E. Bolton, pp. 259-280, 1945, Berkeley.

2 Data concerning Father Ruhen's education were obtained from the Archives of the Society of Jesus, Rome, though the courtesy of Rev. Drs. Walter J. Miller, S. J.; Hugh J. Bihler, S. J.; and Ernest J. Burrus, S. J..

3 These were the same Barbary Pirates who had disrupted sea travel in the Mediterranean and adjacent areas for several centuries. They ceased to menace United States ships after the Algerian War of 1815, during which Commodore Stephen Decatut secured the release of all Christian captives of the pirates, brought to an end the payment of annual tribute to the pirates, and extracted a treaty of peace and good behavoir from the Dey of Algiers. Conquest of Algeria by the French in 1830 finally terminated large-scale organized piracy in the Mediterranean.