In his book, which details the true story of a hazardous stretch of Sonora desert on the U.S./Mexico border known as the "Devil's Highway," Luis Alberto Urrea begins by recounting a story concerning a group of men who recently perished there. He then backtracks to the earliest recorded account of...
In his book, which details the true story of a hazardous stretch of Sonora desert on the U.S./Mexico border known as the "Devil's Highway," Luis Alberto Urrea begins by recounting a story concerning a group of men who recently perished there. He then backtracks to the earliest recorded account of a fatality that occurred in the same area which would eventually inspire its nickname. Later in his account, Urrea then returns to the initial story to fully explain what befell the men who perished.
By 1541, a small settlement called Sonoita had become a stopping point for Spaniards pushing north from Mexico City, which was more than a thousand miles to the south. Melchor Diaz was the head of one Spanish patrol. Urrea speculates that Diaz had heard that the zone he must cross was "the most hellish stretch of land in the entire north." Stories of people disappearing had already begun circulating. The Spaniards "commonly believed that the natives of the Devil’s Highway devoured human children. The Spaniards weren’t planning on settling."
Pursuing a dog that had invaded is sheep pen, Diaz tried to hit it with a lance, but managed to pierce his own stomach instead. He lingered for twenty days before passing away. This was the first instance of death in this area that the Spanish recorded. Urrea also tells of people (or perhaps spirits) who appeared and were attacked. The Blue Woman was a female prophet in the early seventeenth century. The local people tried to chase her away, then "filled her full of arrows." Unlike an earlier female apparition, this woman died.
The five Mexican men, about whom Urrea writes in the first pages, tried to cross roughly in the vicinity of Yuma, Arizona. He describes the land as "a vast trickery of sand" in the Cabeza Prieta wilderness, which borders the U.S. Air Force Goldwater bombing range. The men were sun-struck, delirious, and hallucinating. With no water left, they tried to get moisture from cactus, but it was far from sufficient. Later, they were found by U.S. border patrol agent Mike F., from Wellton, Arizona. He learned that the group originally had fourteen members; nine had perished in their attempt to cross the border. They were then dubbed "the Yuma 14."