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Tucson's Missions

This area of Arizona was part of the Spanish frontier ruled by the King of Spain.

Europeans began coming to this area    starting in 1538.   The Franciscans were the first to come to the Sonora desert, the first Franciscan being Fray Marcos de Niza who guided Coronado during his 1540 explorations.   Beside the Franciscan father, a conquistador named Estevancio de Dorantes was also one of the first to this area who as he traveled through, is said to have deceived the Indians with magical powers.  He was killed by the Zuni in 1539.

Later in the century, the Jesuits arrived in 1572 in Mexico City.   They were led by Father Pedro Sanchez who had with him fifteen companions from Europe along with Jesuits who had survived the Florida missions.   The Jesuits would rule the religious activities of the church in the new world for 200 years until the Order would be evicted from all Spanish holdings in 1767.

The Jesuit presence began in the Sonora desert of Arizona near the end of the 1600s.   The natives in the area were the Pima whose village was called Wa:k meaning "where the water emerges".  The location of water would have been especially important to them as they irrigated their farms.   The name of their village was later changed to Bac and the new Spanish territory named Pimeria Atla.      Colonial officials wanted the native people to be concentrated into a few centers.   The Jesuits had accomplished this in their redactions in Paraguay where each center served a specific economic purpose.   To this end Father Euseblo Francisco Kino, a Jesuit born in the Tyrolean Alps and educated in Trent, Austria, was assigned to Sonora in 1688.

He first entered Arizona seventeen years earlier and founded San Cavetano de Tumacacori (soldiers of Jesus).   His first assignment was as a missionary and cartographer for Baja, California.   From 1688 on he served in Pimeria Alta   working also as a mathematician, historian, explorer, and geographer.   Horses and cattle were introduced to the area at this time along with adobe construction.   Four years later in 1692, he founded the Mission San Xavier del Bac which became a major mission in the area.  A chain of missions followed throughout this Northern Spanish area.

The Apaches came late to this area and benefited from the introduction of horses.  They conducted raids in the Sonoran desert against the Pima and the Spanish.   It was the missions of Guebavi, Tumacacori, Bac, and Tucson which were used to guard the land and new communities from these raids between 1700 to 1760.

Times changed as Spanish prospectors came to Pimeria Alta in the 1740s establishing mines to exploit the rich silver veins.   Unrest grew among the Pima people who rallied to attack the missions and the mines.   In 1751, there was a full scale revolt.  The next year the presido (fort) was built to defend the area, especially against the Apache who were running off Spanish livestock.

Fifteen years later while Carlos III was King of Spain, the Jesuit Order came under suspician and were accused of engaging in political intrigue.   On Feb 27, 1767 the King issued the edict which exiled the whole Jesuit Order or "Black Robes" as they were called, from the entire Spanish empire including their Northern frontier in the Sonoran desert.  It read, "Because of weighty considerations which his Majesty keeps hidden in his heart, the entire Society of Jesus and all Jesuits must leave the country and their properties must be turned over to the Royal Treasurer."

The Franciscans or "Gray Robes" took over the work.  The Spanish Presidio within twenty years was regarrisoned with Pima soldiers under Spanish officers.  The present church was begun at this time and finished at the end of the century in 1797.

The work on Tumacacori was begun next in 1800     but was never finished.  After the Mexican Revolution in 1821 which gave them independence from the Spanish, missions were no longer supported by the government and the order withdrew.  The missions were secularized during the Mexican rule.

With the Gadson Purchase of 1854, the land became a US possession.  Tubac was resettled having been overrun earlier by the Apaches.

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