On Mexico's northwestern frontier, judicial conflicts unfolded against a backdrop of armed resistance and ethnic violence. In the face of Apache raids in the north and Yaqui and Mayo revolts in the
south, domestic disputes involving children, wives, and servants were easily conflated with ethnic rebellion and "barbarous" threats. A wife's adulterous liaison, a daughter's elopement, or a nephew's
enraged assault shook the very foundation of what it meant to be civilized at a time when communities saw themselves under siege.
Shelton offers a persuasive argument for the centrality of family and community in the liberal state-building process in early republican Mexico. Her use of legal records—criminal suits, civil cases, and the like—allows us to understand the complex nature of the transition from colony to liberal republic.
Laura Shelton has plumbed the legal archives of early Sonora
to reveal the extent to which both court officials and quarreling relatives imagined connections between gender hierarchies and civilized order. As she describes how the region's nascent legal system
became the institution through which spouses, parents, children, employers, and servants settled disputes over everything from custody to assault to debt, she reveals how these daily encounters
between men and women in the local courts contributed to the formation of republican governance on Mexico's northwestern frontier.
Through an analysis of some 700 civil and criminal trial
records—along with census data, military reports, church records, and other sources—Shelton describes how courtroom encounters were conditioned by an Iberian legal legacy; brutal ethnic violence;
emerging liberal ideas about trade, citizenship, and property rights; and a growing recognition that honor—buenas costumbres—was dependent more on conduct than on bloodline. For Tranquility and
Order offers new insight into a legal system too often characterized as inept as it provides a unique gender analysis of family relations on the frontier.