Exploring Arizona – Tumacacori Mission – A History Lesson

Tumacacori Mission – Tumacacori, AZ

We’ve all done it. We’ve passed that place or sign on the road that we vowed we would stop and explore “the next” time we pass it. And of course we don’t. But this time we did by visiting Tumacacori Mission on the I-19 frontage road in Tumacacori, Arizona.

Indigenous Life pre-spanish

Long before the mission church was established the O’odham lived along the Santa Cruz River in dome-shaped brush houses. These were organized into extended family clusters. The O’odham farmed the flood plain, hunted wild game and harvested wild plants. Their food supply varied by the season and was always subject to the weather.

What remains inside of Tumacacori Mission

new arrivals

Between the late-1600’s and and the mid-1800’s, Spanish Priests, soldiers, and settlers arrived in the valley. some of the O’odham moved int Tumacacori mission area where they encountered ideas from the European settlers. They were subjected to religion, governance and the sense of community. Among things they learned were intensive farming methods and the use of metal tools to farm with. They learned planting seeds and cuttings of non-native plants The O’odham grew winter wheat, quince, fig, apricot, pomegranate and peaches. The raised cattle, sheep, and goats. All of which furthered they range of available foods year around.

Life in the mission community

Life in the area was protected by Spanish soldiers and offered a measure of protection from raiding Apaches. The O’odahm value song and storytelling in their chants, music and structure of the mass. which reminded them of their own ritual ceremonies to bring rain and good health.

Father Euesbui Francisco KIno

In 1691 the O’odham (pronounced – taw-haw-naw aw-aw-dham) people invited Father Kino to stay in their valley. The valley of the Santa Cruz river was intermittently wet and was well known by native peoples

Between 1751 and 1753 O’odam factions rebelled against Spain which in turn builds a presidio (military post) in nearby Tubac to defend it’s interests in the region.

“Visita” – Church without a resident priest

The mission was raised starting in 1757 by the Jesuits. The construction was adobe with kilned lime made into plaster to weather proof the structure. It was a “Visita” meaning there was a church without a resident priest.

1757-1768 -Jesuits expelled

The Jesuits were expelled from “New Spain.” Tumacacori becomes “Cabecera” (headquarters) for the Franciscan Monks.

1800- 1820 – New Church

In 1800 new foundations were laid for the eventually raising of a new mission church. Progress was intermittent and Cattle are sold to pay for the completion of the church.

1820 – 1824 – The New Church is completed

The church upper walls, sanctuary, dome and baptistery were completed and the church was dedicated for use.

1821-1828 – Mexico achieves independence

In 1821 Mexico expells all Spanish-born residents including Tumacacori’s priest in 1828

1848- 1856 – The Us-mexican war ends

The O’odham leave Tumacacori and the mission church and the Tubac Presidio are largely abandoned.

the mission churches legacy

The mission’s buildings and communal spaces included priests rooms, kitchen, classrooms, lime kilns, cemetary, store house (the round building), convent, curtyard, orchard, many fields with various crops, blacksmith shop and an irrigation system which watered all crops from a series of irragation canals.

As testament to the construction practices of the 1600’s many of the structures on the property are still standing in disrepair to this day.

The trunk of a gnarled old Honey Mesquite tree

If you find yourself in Tubac or headed on I-19 towards Nogales, take an hour or so to view this interesting place.