Tumacacori's Yesterdays
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Our next reference to Tumacacori comes from an entirely different type of source, the diary of a traveler, Cave J. Couts. The following is a quotation from his diary entry for October 25, 1848:

"At Tumacacori is a very large and fine church standing in the midst of a few common conical Indian huts made of bushes, thatched with grass, huts of most common and primitive kind. This church is now taken care of by the Indians, Pimas, most of whom are off attending a jubilee, or fair, on the other side of the mountains. No priest has been in attendance for many years, though all its images, pictures, figures, etc., remain unmolested and in good keeping. No Mexicans live with them at all."

Many years ago the Papago Indians, although lacking a true written language, used to keep records by means of notched calendar sticks. From interpretation of the story told by these sticks, and from memories handed down by word of mouth as well, we have learned that the winter of 1848 was one of unheard-of intensity in Papago land. Intense cold swept the desert country, with snows over two feet deep on level ground. The people suffered terribly, and much of their livestock died. With people in the lower desert lands suffering as badly as this, imagine the sufferings in the higher country of Tumacacori.

Heavy snowfall, of course, would have meant considerable moisture, more than normal. From tree-ring records we learn that the winter of 1848-9 was a period of above normal precipitation in the Santa Catalina Mountain country, north of Tucson. While moisture conditions in the high mountains were not necessarily the same as those of the desert country, this fact at least gives a measure of support to the likelihood that the Papago calendar stick record was correct.

It was in this terrible winter of 1848 that we believe the Tumacacori people finally abandoned their village. They were undoubtedly a very saddened and disheartened group. Plagued by Apache raids in the district, having their home ground sold even while they lived on it, having no priest or hope of one again, suffering from the unprecedented weather, they took such cherished items of church property as they could, including the statues, and left, never to return. They transferred to San Xavier, donating the furnishings they carried to the church there (also abandoned at that time), and joining their kinsmen of the town.

Only a few months later, on September 1, 1849, another traveler passed by Tumacacori, and in his diary wrote, "This morning we passed a deserted mission and obtained a further supply of peaches." On October 6 of the same year, H. M. T. Powell visited here, sketched the mission church, and wrote a description, which included no reference to any inhabitants, or to any movable furnishings in the church. Part of his description is quoted below:

"The houses, extending East, are adobe. The church inside is about 90 x 18, painted and gilded with some pretensions to taste. The altar place under the dome was, of course, more carved, gilded, and painted than anywhere else. Behind the Church, north side, there is a large burying ground enclosed by a neat adobe wall plastered and having niches in it at intervals. There was a circular ovatory at the south end of it near the Church. East of the Church there was a large square yard, on the west side of which, passing under some solid arches, we came to a flight of steps leading to a granary, etc. It is a very large establishment and the monks or priests had every accommodation to make life comfortable. In the square tower there were three large bells, and there was one lying inside the church, dedicated to Senor San Antonio—dated 1809."

In December of the same year another visitor, by the name of Hayes, wrote a description of Tumacacori. He refers to some 50 peach trees in an enclosure, and states that in places the ground was covered with the seeds.

"The fruit has fallen and none to gather it. Corrals still standing—not a living thing seen. It had a melancholy appearance. The walls of the church still stand, no roof, and only the upright piece of the cross. It looks desolate indeed . . . built of beautiful large burnt brick; the walls inside plastered with cement, and adorned with paintings in the cement. The dome over the altar covered with cement which shines white in the sun; portico in front, with two tier of columns; rich and exquisite carving inside, 4 bells, one has been taken down; . . ."

As a mission, Tumacacori had reached its end. There was no return of priests or natives. The mission church began its rapid descent into a ruined state. History continued its hectic march in this region, but it by-passed Tumacacori for many years.

For a time Manuel Gandara conducted a prosperous ranching business on the lands, which included the territory formerly used by the people of Guevavi and Calabasas, as well as those of Tumacacori. Gandara's son, and others, ran the place. It had a woolen factory, with 18 employees, and there were 22 farm laborers. There also were 10,000 head of sheep, and 600 head of goats.

With the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, ratified by the American Congress in 1854, all of Arizona south of the Gila River became property of the United States, instead of continuing as part of northern Sonora. Not long after the year of the Boundary Survey, 1855, Gandara abandoned the ranch.

A member of the survey party wrote: "Tubac is a deserted village. The wild Apache lords it over this region, and the timid husbandmen dare not return" to their homes. "The mission of Tumacacori another fine structure of the mother church stands, too, in the midst of rich fields; but fear prevents its habitation, save by two or three Germans . . ."

In 1854 Charles D. Poston and his associates began search for gold and silver in the Tubac region, losing no time in getting American enterprise started. Eastern capital was obtained, the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company was incorporated, and Tubac was set up as field headquarters in 1856. Soon the great Heintzelman silver mine, about 14 miles northwest, was opened, and the Arivaca, Sopori, and Santa Rita mines were being developed, all within a 20-mile radius of Tubac.

Poston, a real organizer, with a group of vigorous young men accompanying him, soon made the town a young metropolis of the frontier, which boasted a population of around 2,000 at its peak, not long before the outbreak of the Civil War. On March 3, 1859, Arizona's first newspaper, "The Arizonian" received its first printing in Tubac. In the same year comes a reference to Tumacacori, which states the walls of the mission were sheltering political exiles from Sonora, and a few enterprising Germans, and that its rich lands were being cultivated by the American squatter.

In 1860 Professor Wrightson, in the Second Annual Report of the Santa Rita Silver Mining Company to its stockholders, says this of Tumacacori:

"The roof of the church was flat and covered with cement and tiles. The timbers have now decayed and fallen. 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 enclosure."

As a mining metropolis Tubac was destined for a short life. The Civil War broke out in 1861, defensive manpower in the frontier was in part drained away, Apaches were quick to cash in on opportunities caused by withdrawal and confusion, and pandemonium reigned. By the end of the year Tubac was abandoned. For a time Arizona was a part of the Confederacy, although it was not until early in February of 1863 that a force of 200 Texans entered Tucson and raised the Confederate flag. On February 24 of the same year President Lincoln signed a bill creating Arizona Territory (which previously had been called part of Dona Ana County, of the territory of New Mexico). In May of that year a troop of California Volunteers came eastward into Arizona, and on the 20th of the month entered Tucson. The Texans retreated to the Rio Grande, and the Union Flag was raised over Arizona.

In 1864 Tubac was visited by J. Ross Browne, a traveler and writer. He said Tubac was completely abandoned, with roofs of the adobe houses falling in and walls crumbling to ruins. At Tumacacori he was impressed by the evidence of former extensive irrigation. The structures he described had by now been considerably defaced by time and vandalism. He referred to a strong adobe corral adjoining the back part of the main edifice, with a massive gateway and with loop holes for defense. The "corral" must have been the mission cemetery, which in truth was used as a round-up corral after abandonment. The massive gateway to which he referred could not likely have been the comparatively narrow passage way through the west cemetery wall. What he probably described was a pair of heavy and wide wooden gates which were, at at unknown date, put in place of part of the adobe wall forming the south end of the east cemetery wall. The gates could have dated from Gandara's occupancy of the ranch, and it is possible they may have been the same double wooden ones which were there in 1884, and were described to the writer by Mr. Joe Wise, of Nogales, as "smooth gates," not rough ones. However, if gates from Gandara's time were still usable in 1884 they must have been exceptionally well made.

The part of the cemetery wall formed by the two-story granary, showing a loophole to noted photographer George Grant's right, and a statue niche in his shadow. The niche held one of the Stations of the Cross.

Browne's reference to loopholes for defense doesn't fit the cemetery as well as it does the rooms of the patio which lay to the east. But the patio was not in the rear of the church, and if he had been describing it, he could hardly have failed to note the fact that high walls of the rooms still stood around the space. He probably saw only the two loopholes, which are still visible in the east wall of the cemetery, in a portion which originally was outside wall of two of the court rooms. We believe the rooms of the courtyard antedated construction of the cemetery, so that there was a time, with open country to the west, when loopholes would have been of possible value for protection of the court from Apache attack.

For a number of years after the Civil War southern Arizona was literally a "no man's land," which the Apaches made into one of the most dangerous places on earth. Available military forces were inadequate to cope with these foemen, and there were few men hardy enough and lucky enough to live in the region south of Tucson. Among these was Pete Kitchen, a Kentuckian who feared neither man nor the devil. On his ranch called the Potrero, 14 miles south of Tumacacori, he built a hilltop fortress and ranchhouse, and while not fighting off Apaches, conducted a lucrative hog ranch, selling hogs in Tucson.

Some time before the arrival of the railroad on the border in the early 1880's, the city of Nogales was founded, by one Jacob Isaacson. He built a store at or near the site of the present Southern Pacific station. After railroad construction gangs arrived he apparently found the district too congested with people, and moved away.

The railroad brought a steady trickle of settlers to the border region; after the surrender of the famous Geronimo in 1886 marked the official end of the Apache wars, the trickle became a stream. People began settling in the Tumacacori district, with the result that the church changed hands several times before the turn of the century.

Way back in 1869, several years after Manuel Gandara had used and abandoned Tumacacori's lands, his brother in-law, Aguilar, finally deeded the Tumacacori, Guevavi, and Calabasas grants to him. Gandara in turn sold the lands, in 1877, to Charles P. Sykes, who was interested primarily in the development of a town at Calabasas, about 10 miles south of Tumacacori. A year later Sykes sold part of the property to John Currey, and in 1879 they transferred their interest in the land to the Calabasas Land and Mining Company, whose title later was vested in the Santa Rita Mining Company.

In 1898 the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed a lower court decision to the effect that the action of the treasury department of Sonora when it sold the Tumacacori grant in 1844 was irregular. It said that, according to Mexican law of the time, abandoned pueblo lands belonged to the public domain and could not be granted to the treasurer of a department to sell, and accordingly, the Supreme Court said the land reverted to the public domain. This meant the lands were open to homesteading.

In 1899 Carmen Mendez filed homestead application to a portion of the grant which included the old Tumacacori mission church and grounds. By this time there were numerous homesteaders in the district. On June 30, 1908, Mendez relinquished to the federal government his rights to 10 acres of this, which included the mission and most of the site of the abandoned Indian village. By this time a great many people from various parts of the country were taking an interest in the historic old church, and there was much desire that it be set aside and protected against the elements and vandalism.

On September 15, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Mendez relinquishment as Tumacacori National Monument. However, it developed that title to the lands was to be complicated by a historic controversy over what became known as Baca Float No. 3. This grew from an old grant in New Mexico made to Luis Maria Baca. When the Mexican government in 1835 granted a tract of land to the town of Las Vegas, the Baca heirs protested the new grant conflicted with their claims. Apparently the Mexican government took no action on this, and after the region had become part of the United States, the Baca heirs successfully presented their claims to the American Congress. On June 21, 1860, the heirs were authorized to select in lieu of their original grant an equal quantity of vacant land, not mineral, in the territory of New Mexico, to comprise not over five tracts. In 1863 Baca Float No. 3 was filed for by attorneys for the heirs, and a year later was approved by the Land Office as being vacant and non-mineral in character. The land embraced the Tumacacori mission.

An involved history then followed, of attempted surveys, attempted relocation of the claim to include more valuable lands, and finally action in 1914 by the Supreme Court, upholding a lower court decision that Baca Float No. 3 had passed from the government to the Baca heirs when the selection of 1863 was approved by the Land Office as being vacant and non-mineral. Hence, a survey of the land was not necessary for title to pass. Homestead entries therefore became invalid and illegal, and so Mendez' relinquishment meant nothing, and the government's title to Tumacacori was nullified.

In 1917 homesteaders on the Float were ordered evicted. On December 8 of this year Weldon M. Bailey, James E. Bouldin, Jennie N. Bouldin and Helen Lee Bouldin, owners of this part of the Float, deeded Tumacacori to the government. In 1921 a bill was passed for relief of the many disappointed settlers of the district who had been deprived of their lands and homes by the Float decision, and they were given two acres of unsettled land to every one acre they had lost.

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2007