Tumacacori National Historical Park, south of Tucson, was our nation’s third national park – after Yellowstone and Yosemite. It was designated in 1908, four years before Arizona became the 48th state.
The Tumacacori site preserves one of many missions begun by Father Kino who served the area between 1687 and 1711. His mission work for Spain concentrated in what is now northern Sonora, Mexico and southern Arizona.
The Tumacacori Mission persevered between 1691 and 1848. Inhabitants suffered disease, Apache attacks and the Spanish King’s removal of Jesuits in favor of Franciscans. After Mexican independence, Spanish born priests were expelled leaving a shortage of priests. The site was abandoned in 1848 and became part of the United States with the Gadsden Purchase of 1853.
Spain’s Jesuit, and later Franciscan missionaries, were tasked with spreading Spain’s language, religion and rule of law to native peoples. In retrospect, this effort was successful in two aspects given that peoples in Mexico and Central and South America speak primarily Spanish with Catholicism as the dominant religion.
We also went on a tour to see two missions available for viewing only with a ranger, and conducted just twice a month.
We traveled by van to the remains of Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi, also begun by Father Kino in 1691. He encountered the natives, celebrated mass, left gifts of livestock and winter wheat seed and promised a permanent missionary. The first resident missionary helped build a small church that was completed in 1701. It was a difficult locale so Jesuit missionaries came and went.
In the 1740s Guevavi Mission took on a more permanent role and a bigger church and compound was completed in 1751.
Guevavi was impacted by an O’odham (native peoples) uprising and the repeal of all Jesuit missionaries by the King of Spain. As the Franciscan priests arrived, the decision was made to move the area mission headquarters to Tumacacori. Guevavi was abandoned by 1775.
To preserve what remains of the mission site, the park service limits access and covers the remaining adobe walls with mud.
An archeology study was done a few years ago and an extensive record was found.
The remains of a building were found in this area with lower walls still intact under the sediment.
Only wild game are allowed in the Guevavi unit without escort. We didn’t see any, but we saw the camera that sees them!
A dozen miles away we were shown San Cayetano de Calabazas. The naming of this mission is a mystery as most missions took on the name of a neighboring village. Calabazas means gourds or squash. It is not known when this mission actually began but the first reference to it in the written record was in 1756.The side doorways were a later modification.
This indenture near the floor would have been at or above eye level during the mission church’s active years. A statue of a saint would have been displayed there. Several feet of sediment now cover the floor.
This area was under constant threat of Apache attack and by 1780s, most of the people of Calabazas had assimilated into Tumacacori. The grounds of Calabazas were converted into a stock ranch to support the Tumacacori mission.
Over the years, the ranch had several owners but was generally occupied. After Mexican independence, the abandoned ranch was purchased in 1844 for $500. The old church became a ranch house.
This view is from what was the sacristy where the priest could look out towards the worshippers. The doorways and interior walls were added when the church was used as a ranch house.
When the lands became US territory, the mission was used by squatters until it became Camp Moore during the Civil War.
The Apache continued to be a problem for Calabazas until Geronimo was curtailed in 1886. Eventually it was left to ruin until the park service came into stewardship. Strategy for preservation at Calabazas is to cover the remains and limit access.
I hope you enjoyed the return to a History blog. Channeling Donnie and Marie: “I’m a little bit History, He’s a little bit Science and Space.”