In 1600 they were the largest, most technologically advanced indigenous group in northwest Mexico, but today, though their descendants presumably live on in Sonora, almost no one claims descent from
the Ópatas. The Ópatas seem to have "disappeared" as an ethnic group, their languages forgotten except for the names of the towns, plants, and geography of the Opatería, where they lived. Why did
the Ópatas disappear from the historical record while their neighbors survived?
This book brings together a tremendous number of historical sources to paint a picture of the Ópatas, a group that has been largely neglected in academic literature. It should serve as a key historical reference to fellow scholars as well as the general reader.
—Kirstin Erickson, author of Yaqui Homeland and Homeplace: The Everyday Production of Ethnic Identity
David Yetman, a leading ethnobotanist who has traveled extensively in Sonora, consulted more than two
hundred archival sources to answer this question. The result is an accessible ethnohistory of the Ópatas, one that embraces historical complexity with an eye toward Opatan strategies of resistance
and assimilation. Yetman's account takes us through the Opatans' initial encounters with the conquistadors, their resettlement in Jesuit missions, clashes with Apaches, their recruitment as miners,
and several failed rebellions, and ultimately arrives at an explanation for their "disappearance."
Yetman's account is bolstered by conversations with present-day residents of the
Opatería and includes a valuable appendix on the languages of the Opatería by linguistic anthropologist David Shaul. One of the few studies devoted exclusively to this indigenous group, The
Ópatas: In Search of a Sonoran People marks a significant contribution to the literature on the history of the greater Southwest.