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For Tranquility and Order

By Laura M. Shelton

Publication Year: 2010

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.

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.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-21

On July 12, 1837, Ana Mar

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1: Community, Gender, and “Barbarity” in Early Republican Sonora

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pp. 22-49

In 1826, British lieutenant William Hardy recounted a treacherous and desolate journey on a Sonoran road between the port of Guaymas and the growing town of Pitic, complaining as his driver repeatedly dug their wagon out of the desert sands. After spending the night at an isolated ranch, Hardy...

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2: For the Sake of Tranquility: Marriage and Consensual Unions

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pp. 50-74

In the late fall of 1839, an Indian woman named Do

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3: Against Religion and Civilization: Illicit Relationships

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pp. 75-95

In Sonora, sex crimes were relatively uncommon compared to suits over theft, assault, property, and inheritance. Yet these cases were important in ways that their numbers alone cannot tell, because of the vital role sexual practice played in defining public morality in a civilized social order. In this chapter I explore how Sonorans understood illicit relationships as moral...

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4: Death, Debt, and Inheritance: Families and the Circulation of Credit

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pp. 96-115

In 1828, Alcalde Pasqual Iñigo of Pueblo de Seris traveled to the home of the deceased Don Vicente Antúnez to pay his final respects to the local landowner. Antúnez was not a wealthy man, but he did have land and some livestock. As the nearest judicial authority, Iñigo’s visit was also a matter of business. He needed to carry out an inventory of Antúnez’s belongings...

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5: By All Laws, Divine, Positive, Natural, and Civil: Reciprocity and Obligation between Young and Old

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pp. 116-134

In the spring of 1839, a young man, Juan José Castro, arrived at his mother’s house drunk late one evening and began to quarrel with her. The witnesses to their argument could not agree on what they were fighting about, but all were shocked when Juan José struck his mother, Doña Vicenta Cásares, on the face. While the assault left no lasting physical marks, the reactions among...

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6: Servant or Son? : The Negotiation of Labor Relations in Sonora’s Local Courts

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pp. 135-149

The following appeal comes from a conservative, religious magazine that found its way into the home of a local notable family in the city of Alamos at the middle of the nineteenth century. It aptly describes the ideals Sonora’s leaders—liberal and conservative—came to embrace for the republican family, and the servant’s place within that family: “The primary purpose of the family...

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pp. 150-155

What kind of republican family did Sonorans create in their local courtrooms by the middle of the nineteenth century? Courtroom encounters were conditioned by an Iberian legal legacy, ethnic violence, and emerging liberal ideas about trade, citizenship, and property rights. In Mexico’s remote...


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pp. 157-182


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pp. 183-197


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pp. 199-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780816501144
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528073

Publication Year: 2010