[graphic] National American Indian Heritage Month, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service[graphic] N P S arrowhead, a link to the N P S website

[graphic] November 2004


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San José de Tumacácori Mission Church
Photo by Shannon Davis

Tumacácori National Historical Park in southern Arizona protects three adobe Spanish colonial mission ruins: Tumacácori, Guevavi, and Calabazas. Two of these missions--Tumacácori and Guevavi--are among more than 20 established by Father Kino among the O'odham Indians in the Pimería Alta between 1687 and 1711. Calabazas was established by another Jesuit missionary. Jesuits administered these missions until the time of their expulsion in 1767, after which Franciscan missionaries took over until Mexico gained its independence in 1821.

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Mounds at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
Photo by Shannon Davis

Tumacácori is the oldest mission in Arizona, established by Father Kino in January 1691. It is also the best preserved of the three missions."Tumacácori" is a word believed to be derived from O'odham words--chu-uma and kakul, refering to a flat, rocky place. For many years, Tumacácori was a visita or visiting station of the head misssion of Guevavi and was located at a different site than it is today. Tumacácori was moved to its present site, where the first church building was constructed after the Pima rebellion of 1751. The Franciscans began work in 1800 on an ambitious undertaking--a church that would match the frontier baroque glory of the celebrated Mission San Xavier del Bac just north of Tumacácori. Under the direction of a master mason, a crew of Indian and Spanish laborers began laying five-foot thick cobblestone foundations. Due to lack of funds, construction stopped and then slowly resumed to the point where the walls were seven feet tall, plastered inside and out with decorative handfuls of crushed brick pressed into the wet plaster. It was not until 1821 that work truly resumed, when Father Juan Bautista Estelric, sold 4,000 head of the mission's cattle to a local rancher, Don Ignacio Pérez, and with the first payment hired a new master mason and pushed the work ahead. The walls were raised to 14 feet, but the rancher stalled on his payments and construction again ceased. Two years later, Father Ramón Liberós, a persistent friar, finally got the rancher to pay his bill, and work resumed. Within a few years the church was almost completed, although the bell tower was never capped with its dome. The church must have been a striking landmark in the flat Santa Cruz Valley, with its embellished and painted façade and plaster walls embedded with crushed red brick.


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Ruins of Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi
NPS Photo
Guevavi's name is also derived from an O'odham word--gi-vavhia, meaning “big well” or “big spring.” It was established one day after Tumacácori and became mission headquarters or cabecera. The ruins of Guevavi which remain today are from an 1751 church that once measured 15 by 50 feet. The Pima revolt of 1751, later Apache raids, disease, and the removal of the Jesuits in 1767 caused much disruption to mission life. The first Franciscan, Juan Crisóstomo Gil de Bernabé, arrived in 1768 and began the mission with about 50 families. Unfortunately the Apaches attacked in 1769 and killed all but two of the few Spanish soldiers guarding the mission. In 1770 and 1771, the Apaches continued their attacks and the cabecera was moved to Tumacácori. Guevavi was abandoned for the last time in 1775. After sitting forlornly abandoned since the 1770s, Guevavi's ruins were added to Tumacácori National Historical Park in 1990.

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Ruins of San Cayetano de Calabazas
NPS Photo

Calabazas was established in 1756 by Father Francisco Xavier Pauer, who relocated at least 78 Pimas from their village of Toacuquita near the Santa Cruz River to establish the mission.  Calabazas means "squash" or "gourds" in Spanish--the name may be a reference to the wild "coyote gourds" that grow in the area, or to the domestic squash cultivated by the O'odham.  Records are scanty but it is known that construction of the church was half complete in 1761 and functional by 1773. The church, houses and the granary were set on fire during an Apache attack in 1777.  Because of continuing conflicts with the Apaches, Calabazas was abandoned in 1786 when the last of the O'odham left. From 1807 to 1830 it was used as a farm for the Tumacácori mission.  In 1808, several non-Indians moved into Calabazas and restored the chapel, but again, the Apaches attacked and destroyed the buildings.  In 1844, Calabazas was sold to Manuel Gándara, governor of Sonora, who converted the church into a ranch house. After the Gadsden Purchase, the ranch house (the old Jesuit church) served a number of purposes--customs house, post office, and dwelling.  Fort Mason was established at Calabazas in 1864, but after 300 of the 400 men got sick with malaria, the fort was also abandoned.  By 1878, only a roofless shell remained of the Calabazas mission. In 1960, Father Norman Whalen from Tombstone, Arizona, recruited preservation volunteers who capped the walls and laid a cement foundation.  The Arizona Historical Society took over site management and ownership in October of 1974.  Like Guevavi, Calabazas was added to Tumacácori National Historical Park in 1990. 

For further information, visit the Tumacácori National Historical Park website.

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