Anza Trail Blog

Sonora Shines During Anza Society Conference

by Rita Vega-Acevedo, VP of Programs & Education, Genealogical Society of Hispanic America - Southern California

Tagged as:   Historic Sites , Mexico , history

La Piedra Lisa

On March 8, 2014, the Anza Society, in conjunction with Mayor Vidal Vasquez Chacon of Arizpe, Sonora, and other Mexican community leaders (Jesus Lauro Escalante Peña, Guillermo Molina Paz, Jose Terran, Jose Delgado Ortega, Mario Bustamante Tapia, C. Ramon Acedo Burrola) made history while holding their 19th Annual Conference in Banámichi, Sonora, Mexico.

Phil Valdez Jr., president of the Anza Society, along with the board, Anza Society members and scholars attended ribbon cutting ceremonies in nearby Arizpe and La Piedra Lisa. Under blue skies, approximately 115 people were on hand to see the unveiling of historic Anza Trail signs in front of Arizpe’s old adobe church, Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion, which was begun in 1646 by Jesuits and completed in 1756.

Arizpe was Anza’s home and the place where he is buried (inside the church, currently undergoing major art conservation and construction repairs). Local students from the Alvaro Velazco Rodriguez Elementary School performed Sonoran dances at the outdoor event.

Later that afternoon, the officials, in the presence of locals and Anza Society members, unveiled two more signs mounted in a beautiful stand-alone rectangular rock wall at La Piedra Lisa. This area in the local mountains was where Anza and his troops were attacked by Apaches from above while traveling in a narrow canyon along an arroyo trail. Locals and tourists stood on top of the spectacular historic viewpoint to see where Anza survived being shot with an arrow on route to Tubac (present-day Arizona).

The Anza Society conference sessions brought together Mexican and American scholars for further study and understanding of Anza and his contemporaries in the Sonoran region. Dr. Piñeda Pablos (a Director at El Colegio de Sonora in Hermosillo), spoke about the changes over time among the indigenous populations and the Spanish colonists who initially focused on mining and later moved into ranching. Piñeda Pablos showed charts which demonstrated the decline of indigenous populations, mostly due to European diseases, loss of communal lands and poor working conditions in the area.

Dr. Maria del Valle Borrero Silva, history professor at El Colegio de Sonora in Hermosillo, spoke on the topic of soldiers and presidios in protecting Spanish Colonial settlements in the region and the problems and obstacles faced by Anza and others because of Apache and other tribal raiding. Further, insufficient resources constantly tested Anza and others while they tried to maintain security, soldier morale and survival. The professor also discussed Bourbon reforms implemented during Anza’s time to improve military operations along the entire Spanish frontier, including a controversial policy to relocate certain presidios to other areas.

Dr. Julianne Burton-Carvajal, Yale scholar & professor emeritus at UC Santa Cruz, and Rita Vega-Acevedo, VP of Programs & Education of GSHA-SC, presented “15 Momentous Encounters in the Life of Anza” which impacted history and the development of settlement and culture, especially in Alta California and New Mexico. One such momentous encounter was the coming together of the Yumas (Chief Salvador Palma) and the Spanish, along with Palma’s friendship with Anza and their subsequent trip to Mexico City where Palma requested that he and a few other Yumas receive baptism. Palma also officially petitioned the viceroy and king for missions to be established at Yuma. Another momentous encounter included the historic meeting of Anza and Father Junipero Serra at a Chumash village near Point Conception in April, 1774.

Dr. Ronald D. Quinn, professor emeritus of biology at Cal Poly, discussed “Father Font’s Greatest Trial” based on three letters he discovered and after Font’s return from the Anza Expedition. Quinn described the complexity of Font’s personality and his superiors’ inability to place him in a more secure area resulting in Font’s close call with death during an Apache raid and fire at his home in Magdalena.

Dr. Michael Weber spoke about the Spanish culture during the Spanish Colonial Period, including music and dress. He also discussed fashions of the time, including the use of rebozos worn by women and the versatility of fashions available through merchant’s ships to Mexico.

To further enhance understanding of the culture and area, two resident chroniclers of the area, Sra. Dalia Figueroa and Heriberto Corella spoke about the traditions of Banámichi, including the fact that Sonora remains famous for its beef, agriculture and religious processions and practices.

Dr. Lourdes Gabikagojeaskoa, professor of Santa Clara University, was the featured keynote speaker at the March 7 Anza Society Banquet in Banámichi at Hotel Los Arcos. The professor, a Basque, spoke about the importance of Anza and other Basques in the development of Sonora and the expanding Spanish economy and culture in New Spain. She showed the origin of Basque names which became part of the historic and geographic landscape in Sonora. Additionally, Basques became instrumental in mining and other commercial ventures, including providing loans and other funds for expeditions and supplies loaded on ships or for pack mules destined for missions and presidios, as far as Monterey, Alta California and elsewhere.

The long-envisioned goal to make the Anza Historic Trail a living collaboration with our neighbors in Mexico along the trail is a major step initiated by Phil Valdez Jr. and the National Park Service under the leadership of Superintendent Naomi Torres. Rather than see the Anza Historic Trail as two separate fragments divided by borders, the event marked an international effort to have individuals see the trail as one continuous route which can bring people together, foster international understanding, and encourage more travel to Sonora and other sites in the United States along the trail.

In the closing day of the conference, Stella Cardoza was elected to be the new president of the Anza Society in the coming year. The conference lasted from March 6 to 9. The site of the 2015 conference is pending.

For more information about the Anza Society, Inc., visit 


Unveiling an Anza Trail Sign in Arizpe
Officials unveiled signage to mark the Ruta Turística de Anza in the Mexican state of Sonora. This sign marks the church in Arizpe where Anza is buried. (L to R: José Delgado, Jose Teran, Phil Valdez, Jr., Vidal Gpe Vasquez Chacon, R. Cabral, and Guillermo Molina Paz. Photo by Rita Vega-Acevedo)

La Piedra Lisa
Officials inaugurate signage along la Ruta Turística de Anza, March 8, 2014, in the Mexican state of Sonora. This panel marks the spot where Anza was nearly killed during an Apache attack. (L to R: Jose Teran, Phil Valdez Jr., Teresa Leal, Guillermo Molina Paz, and R. Cabral. Photo by Rita Vega-Acevedo)

Ruta Turística de Anza en Sonora

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