American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Banderas, Juan de la Cruz

Juan Banderas was a noted Yaqui Indian war leader of the early nineteenth century. After receiving visions in 1825, Banderas attempted to unite the Indian nations of northwestern Mexico under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the last great Aztec emperor, Moctezuma II. Although Banderas successfully challenged Mexican dominance for seven years between 1825 and 1832, local forces captured and executed the Yaqui leader in January 1833. Thereafter Banderas became a powerful symbol of Yaqui resistance to foreign domination.

Banderas was born Juan Ignacio Jusacamea in the Yaqui town Rahum, possibly from the family line that included Muni, leader of the Yaqui Rebellion of 1740. In Rahum, Banderas held the important post of flag bearer in the town military organization. Following Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, Banderas rose to prominence, leading resistance to state land and political policies aimed at integrating the Yaquis into the Mexican nation. In particular, the western state of Occidente (modern Sonora and Sinaloa) attempted to impose taxes on the Yaquis, survey their lands, and integrate Indian towns into the local municipal system. Upon arrest for resisting state programs, Banderas reported having visions summoning him to establish an independent Indian nation-state. In several proclamations, the Yaqui leader invoked the protection of the patron saint and symbol of Mexican independence, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and expressed a desire to restore the sovereignty of the last great Aztec emperor, Moctezuma II. A man of great organizational and oratory skill, Banderas invited all the Indian nations of Sonora and Sinaloa to join the rebellion, although he garnered strong support only from the Yaqui, Mayo, and Opata nations.

From 1825 to 1827, Banderas's forces restored Indian control over much of the state of Occidente. With between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters armed largely with bows and arrows, Indian units enjoyed several military victories over the disorganized state forces. Banderas excelled at guerilla tactics, engaging in strikes on lonely outposts, and then retreating to local Indian towns or mountain ranges. Combined Yaqui, Mayo, and Opata units forced panicked Mexicans to consolidate in the larger towns of Guaymas and Alamos, and prompted local non-Indians to relocate the capital from El Fuerte south to Cosalá, Sinaloa. Defeated in 1827, Banderas accepted a pardon. His resistance, however, forced the Occidente government to acknowledge the Yaqui leader's position as commander general of his nation, a concession to the preindependence system. Although Banderas invoked European and indigenous religious symbols, the messianic appeal of his movement was likely overridden by more concrete political and strategic concerns among his followers.

By 1831, a new series of state laws aimed at colonizing Yaqui territory and incorporating their towns into the local municipal structure sparked a second Banderas rebellion. That year, the Yaqui commander allied with Opata Indian leader Dolores Gutiérrez and gained immediate success. Having several thousand warriors in their command, Banderas and Gutiérrez enjoyed support among the Opata and Lower Pima peoples in northern Occidente and the Yaqui and Mayo peoples in the south of the state. For approximately two years rebel forces swept the countryside, attacking isolated ranches and mines, burning farms and houses, profaning churches, and killing settlers. Banderas's military success ended in December 1832, however, when his troops met defeat at Soyopa, Sonora. The revolt crushed, in January 1833 Banderas, Gutiérrez, and eleven others were executed. Thereafter, Banderas's main rival, Juan María Jusacamea, succeeded him as captain general and accommodated Mexican nationalist policies. Banderas's articulated goals of an independent Indian state did not die with him, however. His movement ushered in intermittent warfare between Yaquis and Mexicans that would continue through the Mexican Revolution. In light of Yaqui resistance, nineteenth-century Mexican officials never fully succeeded in their aims of integrating the Yaqui towns into the local municipal system, collecting taxes, or alienating Yaqui lands.

Contemporaries and later observers have debated the significance of Juan Banderas and his movement. Mexicans of the time viewed him simply as a military strongman, leading a bandit movement for personal reward. Twentieth-century anthropologist Edward Holland Spicer places Banderas squarely within a longer tradition of Yaqui resistance to European encroachment. Historian Evelyn HuDeHart credits him with beginning the Yaquis' century-long guerilla war against the more powerful Mexican nation-state. To modern Yaquis, Banderas holds an exalted place: a militant torchbearer of the independent spirit of their people.

Mark Edwin Miller


Further Reading
Hu-DeHart, Evelyn. 1984. Yaqui Resistance and Survival: The Struggle for Land and Autonomy, 1821–1910. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.; Spicer, Edward H. 1980. The Yaquis: A Cultural History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
 

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