San José de Tumacácori


Ruins of the Franciscan church at Mission San José de Tumacácori

NPS Photo by Ed Wittenberg


The meaning of the name "Tumacácori" is lost in history; however, there are some things that are known about the word. It's the English version of a Spanish version of an O'odham word or words which were what the O'odham residents told Kino that they called this place when he arrived and attempted to record it, but we don't know what they actually were trying to say to him. Visit the Frequently Asked Questions for more depth on this subject.

Father Kino established Tumacácori as a mission in January 1691, one day before Guevavi, making it the oldest mission site in what is now Arizona. For many years it was a visita or visiting station of the mission headquarters at Guevavi. During most of those years, it was located on the east side of the Santa Cruz River and was called San Cayetano de Tumacácori. Services were held in a small adobe structure built by the Pima inhabitants of the village. After the Pima rebellion of 1751, the mission was moved to the present site on the west side of the river and renamed San José de Tumacácori. Here the first actual church edifice was built.

Bishop Antonio de los Reyes on 6 July 1772 wrote a report on the condition of the missions in the Upper and Lower Pimería Alta. Following is his report on San José de Tumacácori as translated by Father Kieran McCarty:

The village of San Jose at Tumacácori lies seven leagues to the south of Guevavi and one from the Presidio of Tubac, in open territory with good lands. In this village they have a church and house for the Missionary devoid of all ornament and furnishing. According to the Census Book, which I have here before me, there are twenty-two married couples, twelve widowers, ten orphans, the number of should in all ninety-three.

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 not far to the north. Under the direction of a master mason, a maestro de albanil, a crew of Indian and Spanish laborers laid five-foot thick cobblestone foundations that year, but construction ground to a halt as funds dried up. Over the next few years they were able to add a few courses of adobe bricks, bringing the walls up to seven feet. These were plastered inside and out and decorative handfuls of crushed brick were pressed into the wet plaster.

It was not until 1821 that work truly resumed. An enterprising Franciscan, 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 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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