Captain Juan Tomás Belderrain

Captain Juan Tomás Belderrain held the first command of the Royal Fort of St. Ignatius at Tubac in 1752. He was already an experienced commander after having held the post in Sinaloa and attracting favorable notice from the then-Visitor of Jesuit Missions, Father Juan Antonio Balthasar. Balthasar recommended him for the job and the viceroy granted it.

"I order the lieutenant, ensign, sergeant, corporals of squads and soldiers of said company to have and hold said Don Juan Tomás de [Beldarrayn] for their captain, to revere, respect, obey and guard him, comply with and execute all orders he may give them orally as well as written."

The job came at a time of trouble. The Pima Revolt in November of 1751 had irrevocably changed the northern frontier. In order to shore up security, the new San Ignacio Presidio Company enlisted on March 26, 1752 and in June their new presidio was chosen to be the abandoned village of Tubac. The Company’s spring muster was followed by campaigns in May against O’odham resisters leaving no time to construct a fort. In June, Governor Ortiz Parilla ordered Belderrain to send 30 of his 50 troopers to begin construction of the presidio buildings.

With relative security established in the Santa Cruz Valley, the O’odham began returning to their former home of Tubac only to find Spanish citizens farming their fields. The establishment of the Presidio immediately attracted civilians who built a new pueblo just south of the fort.

Belderrain, faced with a population of O’odham, needed to consolidate them away from the pueblo. Anticipating the return of the priests to the frontier, he sent them to a flat expanse of land on the west side of the Santa Cruz River. He ignored the abandoned San Cayetano de Tumacácori that Father Kino had established.

His choice for a new mission site was closer to the growing Spanish community of Tubac. Belderrain established the Mission San José de Tumacácori. The returning priest would have new responsibilities besides the O’odham. He would also serve the Catholics of Tubac. The O’odham were put to work clearing the land and starting new farm fields.

Captain Belderrain’s personal life seemed as charmed as his professional one. He married the wealthy daughter of powerful governor, associated with the social elite and riches of silver from the Planchas de Plata discovery. Their surviving daughters and sons made similar matches with high-powered governing elite.

Even the Belderrain family did not escape the ravages of disease, however. They lost an infant son in 1753 and an 8-year-old daughter in 1759. Belderrain’s own rising star ended during one of the campaigns with the Seri Indians when he was wounded with an arrow. Although the wound was not severe, the poison caused a slow death. Continuing to weaken he was transported to the Guevavi Mission. There he died on September 7, 1759, in the care of Father Francisco Xavier Pauer, who was the closest person he had to a doctor. The Captain was interred under the sanctuary of Guevavi Mission’s church.

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Last updated: October 18, 2019

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