Empire of Sand

The Seri Indians and the Struggle for Spanish Sonora, 1645-1803

by Thomas E. Sheridan

From the earliest days of their empire in the New World, the Spanish sought to gain control of the native peoples and lands of what is now Sonora. While missionaries were successful in pacifying many Indians, the Seris—independent groups of hunter-gatherers who lived on the desert shores and islands of the Gulf of California—steadfastly defied Spanish efforts to subjugate them.

Empire of Sand is a documentary history of Spanish attempts to convert, control, and ultimately annihilate the Seris. These papers of religious, military, and government officials attest to the Seris' resilience in the face of numerous Spanish attempts to conquer them and remove them from their lands.

Most of the documents are being made available for the first time, while the few that have been published are extremely difficult to find. They include early observations of the Seris by Jesuit missionaries; the collapse of the Seri mission system in 1748; accounts of the invasion of Tibur¢n Island in 1750 and the Sonora Expedition of 1767-1771; and reports of late-eighteenth-century Seri hostilities.

Thomas Sheridan's introduction puts the documents in perspective, while his notes objectively clarify their significance. In a superb analysis of contact history, Sheridan shows through these documents that Spaniards and Seris understood one another well, and it was their inability to tolerate each other's radically different societies and cultures that led to endless conflict between them. By skillfully weaving the documents into a coherent narrative of Spanish-Seri interaction, he has produced a compelling account of empire and resistance that speaks to anthropologists, historians, and all readers who take heart in stories of resistance to oppression.




  • isbn
  • publisher
    University of Arizona Press
  • publisher place
    Tucson, AZ
  • rights
    CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
  • rights holder
    University of Arizona Press