Machita incident

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Machita Incident
Pia Machita Arizona 1940 to 1941.jpg
DateOctober 16, 1940 - May 21, 1941
LocationPima County, Arizona, United States

The Machita incident occurred in southern Arizona between October 1940 and May 1941 when an elderly O'odham chief and medicine man, Pia Machita (O'odham: Pi ’Am Maccuḍḍam), resisted arrest by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for inciting his people to dodge the draft. It has since been called the "most dramatic of Indian resistance" to the United States during the World War II-era.[1]


Pia Machita (O'odham: Pi ’Am Maccuḍḍam, meaning He Has no Metate), was born around 1860 and was eighty to eighty-four years old when the trouble began. He lived with his small band of about thirty people in the northwestern area of the Hickiwan District, at an isolated village called Stoa Pitk. Machita identified as a Mexican citizen. He openly said that he did not recognize the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, by which the United States took "control" of O'odham land, and therefore he did not recognize the authority of the Indian Bureau or of the O'odham tribal government.[1][2][3][4]

The Tohono O'odham tribe of southern Arizona was one of the last to begin assimilation. In the 1930s, they conducted non-violent resistance to the Indian Bureau's construction of wells on the Papago Reservation, and were concerned about the loss of land. Leaders such as Machita feared that using the wells would make their people dependent on them; they preferred the traditional methods of collecting and storing rain and spring water. In a 1934 meeting to discuss the Indian Reorganization Act with T.B. Hall, the superintendent of the Sells Indian agency, Machita said that "his people owed allegiance to Mexico."[3] After the interview, Machita stopped cooperating with the Indian Bureau in regards to land conservation, the inoculation of cattle, and the taking of the 1940 census.[1][3]

Following the signing of the Selective Training and Service Act in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Indian agents tried to draft Indian men into the armed forces. Machita considered enrollment in the draft to be another means for the United States government to take away his people's freedom, so he encouraged the young men to refuse to register. According to author Brad Melton, the majority of Machita's band was illiterate and therefore ineligible for the draft, but the chief was unaware of this in his resistance.[2][1][3] By 1942, however, nearly 99 percent of eligible Native American men in Arizona had registered for the draft, and they enlisted at a high rate.[5]


On October 13, 1940, Indian agents arrived at Stoa Pitk to enlist 30 men for the draft, but the natives refused to comply. In response, the tribal chief of police and a force of United States Marshals under the command of Ben McKinney launched a raid against Stoa Pitk to arrest Machita. The raid began at 2:00 AM on October 16, 1940. Entering with guns drawn and tear gas grenades at the ready, the raiders captured Machita without a shot fired. However, while they were on their way out, the O'odham villagers confronted the raiders and released their chief, severely beating one of the marshals in the process. When the scuffle was over, the police retreated to Tucson and Machita fled into the desert with 25 followers.[1][3][4]

The Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to move quickly to suppress the "draft rebels," because they feared that the resistance to the draft would spread to other reservations. But, for the next seven months the old chief remained on the run, evading both the police and the military. Machita and his band could have easily crossed the border into Sonora, Mexico, but all accounts suggest that they were within Arizona the entire time. O'odham oral tradition says that aircraft from the United States Army bombed their villages; however, the "bombs" were sacks of flour dropped to mark the villages, which blended in so well with the surrounding desert. Machita and his band were finally apprehended without incident at Stoa Pitk on May 21, 1941. Machita was sentenced to serve eighteen months at the Terminal Island Federal Prison, but a tribal chairman named Peter Blaine managed to persuade Machita's judge to let him go early.[1][3][4]

The following appeared in a 1941 newspaper editorial:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Bernstein, Alison R. (1999). American Indians and World War II: Toward a New Era in Indian Affairs. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806131849.
  2. ^ a b Melton, Brad; Dean Smith (2003). Arizona Goes to War: The Home Front and the Front Lines during World War II. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 9780816521906.
  3. ^ a b c d e f J.D. Hendricks (2004). "Resistance and Collaboration: O'odham responses to U.S. Invasion" (PDF). Tiamat Publications. Retrieved November 5, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "Native American Netroots:: O'odham". Retrieved November 5, 2012.
  5. ^ Melton (2003), pp. 75-76