Tumacacori National Monument
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Tumacacori National Monument
Frank Pinkley
Superintendent Southwestern National Monuments

The Tumacacori National Monument was first created by a proclamation dated September 15, 1908 (35 Stat., 2205), to protect the ruins of the Tumacacori Mission. The Monument contains an area of 10 acres. The ruins of this mission are well worth preserving as they are more than of local or state interest in that they represent one of the units of the first line of settlements pushed into the United States west of the Rio Grande.

The Tumacacori Mission should not be studied alone but should be considered as one unit in a chain of missions, in which chain the other Arizona missions were San Gabriel de Guevavi, San Cayetano de Calabasas, St. Gertrude de Tubac, and San Xavier del Bac.

Tumacacori Mission, in earlier times called San Cayetano de Tumacacori and later re-named San Jose de Tumacacori, is located 49 miles south of Tucson and a little more than 18 miles north of Nogales, in southern Arizona.

Interior of nave before excavation and restoration. (Three feet of material laid on the floor in this picture.)

This site was first visited by Padre Kino in 1691. Leaving his headquarters at Dolores late in the year, accompanied by the Father Visitor, Juan Maria Salvatierra, he traveled by way of Santa Maria Magdalena Pueblo and a land called El Tupo, to the Mission of San Pedro San Pablo de Tubutama on the Altar River. Thence they went to Saric and Tucubavi, in the same vicinity. Here they were met by a delegation of Sobaipuris who had come from the region about the present Tumacacori Mission. The Indians asked the Fathers to visit them and they did so, probably going by way of the site of the present town of Nogales to Guevavi and thence onward to Tumacacori. After the visit they returned to Dolores by way of Santa Maria de Suamca and Cocospera.

There is, as yet, no evidence that missions were founded at either Guevavi or Tumacacori on this first visit, but Padre Kino passed this way again in 1692, 1694, 1697, and 1699, and it is reasonable to suppose he talked and preached to the Indians, preparing the way for the resident priests who came later.

Sacristy doors taken from the Sacristy side.

It must be remembered that the Fathers did not found the missions in the valley of the Rio Santa Cruz and then persuade the Indians to settle nearby. They discovered the Indian villages already long established and located the missions in settlements which dated back into remote times. This explains the locative name which we find added to the Saint's name of these missions. Mission San Jose de Tumacacori is, literally translated, the Mission of St. Joseph at (the Indian locative name) the place of many small fenced fields, or the place of many fields having small, low fences. The Guevavi of San Gabriel de Guevavi, means, in the Indian tongue, "large water." The Bac of San Xavier del Bac, refers to a species of grass which grows in the low, marshy ground, or to the marsh itself which produces this grass. The same "bac" occurs in "Tubac," the prefix in this case being the word for black and the word probably refers to the dark or black soil found in the low, marshy places near the river. Calabasas was founded in later times and was given the Spanish name which means pumpkins.

So far as we now know, the year 1701 marks the date when the village at Tumacacori was put under the charge of a visiting priest. In that year Padre Juan de San Martin was given charge of the three new pueblos of San Gabriel de Guevavi (the present Guevavi), San Cayetano (now Tumacacori), and San Luys (afterward abandoned and the site now lost). After mentioning this event, Padre Kino, in his diary, continues:

"In all places buildings were constructed, and very good beginnings were made in spiritual and temporal matters. In Cubavi in a few months we finished a house and a church, small but neat, and we laid the foundations, of a church and a large house."

Padre Juan seems to have lived at Guevavi and visited the other pueblos when services were to be held there. The ruins of the Guevavi mission are still to be seen about 12 miles up the Santa Cruz River from Tumacacori, but they can never be restored. Parts of the church walls are standing, and the walls of the outer buildings can still be traced on the ground.

Interior of Nave after Excavation.

A small room or house in which services were held at Tumacacori, had been in use for several years before and probably served for several years after the appointment of Padre Juan. Another building was probably erected about 1730, when Padre Juan Baptista Grasshofer came to administer the affairs of the church. It was this second building which was attacked by the Apaches in 1769 and was almost in ruins in 1772. It was repaired in 1784 and Bancroft says it had become the headquarters of the Padre by that time. This building was re-roofed in 1791 and probably suffered badly in one of the Indian raids subsequent to 1800. A new church was then planned and the construction was started. This church was still under construction in 1822 but work was being held up by delay over the payment for some cattle which were being sold to raise funds and I am convinced by my study of the walls that the church was never completed. Manuscript evidence bearing on the construction of the new church is found in the burial record, where Padre Ramon Liberos made an entry to the effect that on December 13, 1822, he had removed the bodies of Padres Carrillo and Gutierrez from the old church to the new and buried them on the Gospel side of the altar. From this evidence it is reasonable to assume that the present church was still under construction at the death of Padre Gutierrez, which occurred in 1820, and he was buried in the old church. By the latter part of 1822 the new church was nearly enough completed to be dedicated and, the old church being abandoned, the bodies of these fathers were removed to the new, to prevent desecration. On the evidence as it stands, we cannot assume the present mission walls at Tumacacori to date earlier than 1800.

The Tumacacori Mission must have been abandoned soon after 1824. Prof. Thomas Davies, superintendent of the Aztec Syndicate Mines, wrote that when he first passed down the Santa Cruz Valley in 1849, the church roof was nearly intact and much of the interior was in a good state of preservation. There were many fruit trees, pomegranates, peaches, etc., bearing profusely, and the wall that once inclosed the orchard and garden could still be traced by the eye.

Interior of nave after restoration of roof.

In the last report, dated 1860, made to the mining organization of which he was the general agent, Prof. W. Wrightson thus describes the Tumacacori Mission.

"The church is an adobe building plastered with cement and coped with burnt brick. The front is of the Moorish style, and had on the southeast corner a tower, the top of which was burnt brick. The roof of the church was flat and was covered with cement and tiles. The timbers have now fallen and decayed. The chancel was surmounted with a dome, which is still in good preservation. Adjacent to the church, in the form of a hollow square, were the residences of the priests, containing spacious and airy rooms, with every evidence of comfort and refinement, while surrounding these in the interior, was an arched colonnade, forming a shady walk around the whole inclosure. To the east of this square of sumptious residences was an oblong building, where the metallurgical operations were carried on. Here are still the remains of furnaces and quantities of slag, attesting the purpose for which this was formerly used; and further still to the east was the garden, including about five acres and surrounded by a cahone wall. The acequia passed through this, and here are the remains of a bathing place and washing vat. There are also fruit trees and vines still growing; while in the rear of the church is the campus santi, a burial ground surrounded by a strong adobe wall, well covered with cement, and even now the best inclosure in Arizona. To the south of the mission building, and fronting the church, was laid out a large plaza, which was surrounded by peon houses, thus forming a respectable village."

The following description of the Tumacacori Mission is divided into an explanation of the church; the cemetery and mortuary chamber; outer buildings and enclosures; and miscellaneous structures.

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Last Updated: 16-Apr-2007