Narciso Gutiérrez


Ginny Sphar

Father Narciso Gutiérrez, who succeeded father Carillo, was born in Calahorra, Rioja, Spain, about 1765.[1] At that time the Jesuits still administered the missions of Sonora. In the summer of their expulsion in 1767, he had barely started to walk. About the time the Yuma Indians revolted in 1781 and put to death four friars on the Río Colorado, the Spanish Franciscans invested the 16-year-old Narciso with the habit of Saint Francis in the Convento de San Julián at Agreda, a couple of days south of Calahorra.[2]

He received his pentente at the Franciscan Convento in Santa Domingo de la Calzada, Spain, about 500 miles south of Cádiz. In July 1789 he set out for Cádiz and checked into the government hospice at the Puerto de Santa Maria across the Bay of Cádiz on August 2, 1789. Twenty-one friars would sail from Cádiz on December 1789. Father Narciso spent time at the College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro, Mexico, after his arrival there on March 23, 1790.

Not yet 30, Father Gutiérrez rode into Tumacácori on July 10, 1794, where he worked with the old missionary, Father Baltazar Carillo for a year. On the morning of October 10, 1795, he listened to Father Carillo’s final confession. That afternoon he was dead. The next day, on a Sunday, he presided at the funeral and buried him inside the crumbling Jesuit church just at the top of the steps in the center before the main altar.

There were examples of laxity in the missions of Sonora. When the College of Querétaro’s Master of Novices, Father Antonio Bertrán returned from a home mission in Sinaloa, he confirmed the worst.[3] There had been distressing reports of misconduct by the missionaries in the field. There were stories of undisciplined friars mixing with money, commerce and women. He could not ignore the stories.[4]

Bertrán singled out several individuals about whom he had heard specifics. Among them was Father Gutiérrez, compañero to old Carillo. Gutiérrez had written to another of the new young missionaries a most unfraternal and indiscreet letter.[5] It was time to act! The Guardian and Discretory of the College of Querétaro commissioned a Father Visitor. They chose Father Diego Miguel Bringas de Manzaneday Encinas, the College’s procurdador, who would be impartial in dealing with “los viejos,” veterans of the Mission of 1769 and the “los nuevos” (new arrivals) mostly of the Mission of 1789.

After making a number of visits on the way, Father Visitor Bringas rode on to Pimería Alta. From Tubutama, Father President Iturralde met Bringas at Tumacácori. At Tumacácori in the first week of October 1795, the two superiors conferred in private about the full range of mission crises. One involved Gutiérrez, already accused of conduct unbefitting a friar. Tumacácori’s long-time missionary Carillo might not last a month. Young Gutiérrez, the Father Visitor warned, must not be permitted to succeed Carillo or anybody else. He was not suited for the missions. Perhaps the best solution, in the event of Carillo’s death, would be to transfer him to Tubutama as Iturralde’s compañero. There the Father President could keep an eye on him. After these talks, Iturralde returned to Tubutama and Bringas rode north to San Xavier and to the Río Gila.

Father President Iturralde attempted to fill the vacancy created by the death of Carillo. He unsuspectedly touched off, among the religious, an open display of what he termed politely “human frailty.” During the two years following Carillo’s death, the people of Tumacácori and Tubac saw a succession of five missionaries not one of whom, except Gutiérrez, was happy at Tumacácori.

Iturralde sent 55-year-old Florencio Ibañez to Tumacácori out of spite. According to Iturralde, Ibañez was a born troublemaker. He was a musician, an artist and a poet. He had spent most of the time at Sáric, 20 miles up the Altar River from Tubutama. He built a church there and quarreled with his brethren. By December 1795 he was minister at Tumacácori and Tubac. Because Gutiérrez had not been well (he had a skin disease) Father President still had not removed him. Besides, Iturralde felt Ibañez and Gutiérrez deserved each other. Relations between the two friars were anything but cordial. Five months earlier Ibañez had roasted Gutiérrez in a letter to the College of Querétaro. He said he was materialistic, and shortly after he arrived at Tumacácori he convinced Carillo to fire the mayordomo for dishonesty. He said Gutiérrez took charge of economic affairs and kept all the keys except those for the livestock. Sick old Carillo let him have his way. Evidently Gutiérrez wanted to build the new church so long overdue. Ibañez said all this hastened Carillo’s death.[6]

Even before Ibañez arrived, Father Narciso prejudiced the mission Indians against him. Then, alleged Ibañez, he put four Indians, including Tumacácori’s Governor Luis Arriola, up to going to Father Visitor Bringas in protest. They said the new Father had pillaged the mission and also made them get up at the crack of dawn for mass on work days. In his own defense, Ibañez pointed out, he was only following Bringas’ instructions. Ordered to pay 1,000 pesos each to San Xavier and Cocóspera, he had found in the Tumacácori storehouse a great surplus of clothing that he sold to those two missions and Sáric. Also Bringas told him to teach the Indians to pray. The only time they had to pray was early in the morning before working in the fields. Ibañez and Gutiérrez did not have to suffer each other’s company for long. Father Visitor Bringas decided to send Ibañez to the College of Querétaro. Yet when Ibañez humbled himself before Bringas at Arizpe, the Visitor sent him to Caborca, where two new interns, Father Mariano Bordoy and Father Ángel Alonso de Prado, received him with raised eyebrows as if they were saying, “so this is the mischievous one, the gossiper, the spy of los viejos come to check on our behavior.”[7] While Ibañez endured the contempt of the two missionaries and plotted his return to Sáric Father Iturralde was having his trouble prying Gutiérrez away from Tumacácori.

Father President had determined to send the two interns, Father Mariano Bordoy and Father Rámon López, to relieve the stubborn and supposedly ailing Gutiérrez. When the two interns reached Tumacácori in mid-February 1706, they presented father Gutiérrez with Iturralde’s order summoning him to Tubutama. Still he balked. Only two weeks before, Gutiérrez had informed the Father President that his condition had improved, “that only his skin had not healed over.” Suddenly he was crippled. He wrote for permission to travel south to Arizpe for treatment.[8] Iturralde denied the request but three weeks later he relented. The pass to Arizpe was sent but Gutiérrez did not go. He did not open the letter thinking it contained another summons to Tubutama. Gutiérrez was saying, reported Father López from Tumacácori, that he would remain sick until Bringas departed Sonora for the College and that he would manage to stay at Tumacácori. In early May, Iturralde lost patience. In answer to Father President’s latest summons, Gutiérrez said he could not ride a horse. That did it! Iturralde ordered him by holy Obedience, which no friar could refuse without breaking his solemn vows. Gutiérrez finally went to Tubutama. He was there from May 1796 to December 1797. He resented his removal to Tubutama and Iturralde’s surveillance. In 1797, during the Easter season, Fathers Gutiérrez and Ibañez performed their annual spiritual exercises at Sáric and emerged as allies.

Fathers Rámon López and Mariano Bordoy did not get along and got on each other’s nerves. Finally López left Tumacácori on May 29, 1797, and was replaced by Father Ángel Alonso de Prado, another of the ill-suited interns who came in with Father Bringas. After only a week at Tumacácori, he wrote to the Father Guardian of the College saying he was not suited for the missions and wanted to return t the College. Evidently Bordoy and Prado had seen to patching up the Jesuit church because it was no longer split in two.

In January 1798, Gutiérrez was back at Tumacácori and Prado was preparing to leave for the College. Back at the College, Prado would be elected Father Guardian three times before his death on December 28, 1824.[9] As for Gutiérrez, who shared Tumacácori with Mariano Bordoy during 1798 and 1799, he had come home to stay.

At Tumacácori, Father Gutiérrez resolved to build a proper church. In his favor he would have an Apache “peace” such as it was and a decade of relative prosperity. Against him was napoleon in Europe and unrest in New Spain. He lost Mariano Bordoy in 1799 to other missions.

When Father Moyano, who succeeded Iturralde as Father President, drew up his first State of the Missions report in May 1803, he could point to a half dozen new, brick and mortar churches built under Franciscan supervision. Most of the others had been repaired and renovated. Only two churches in all Pimería Alta did he judge substandard—Caborca and Tumacácori. At Caborca, Father Andrés Sanchez was about to begin construction. At Tumacácori a church was, in Moyano’s words, “currently being built anew.” Father Narciso Gutiérrez had already begun his church.

Like Sanchez at Caborca, Gutiérrez took the magnificent San Xavier del Bac of Father Velderrain as his model and goal. Unfortunately for him, circumstances would impose a whole series of retrenchments. Perhaps he was too optimistic. He staked out the foundation some 50 feet behind the little Jesuit church. The new church would be oriented north-south and would have the adjoining convento to the east. It would measure some 100 feet long on the outside, nearly twice the length of the old church. In 1802, Gutiérrez brought in additional laborers and craftsmen. Moyano’s figure for that year credited Tumacácori with a population increase of 70 percent over 1801.[10]

The problem for Gutiérrez now became one of economics, how to sustain a long-term construction project with no more resources than his poor pueblo could muster. The mission had livestock, more than ever before, but prices had fallen. He could try to raise surplus wheat, but that would depend on the weather. As Father Moyano pointed out, the only industry in the mission aside from pottery and basketry was the weaving of blankets and sarapes from the wool of mission sheep. Unfortunately Tumacácori flocks had been nearly wiped out by the Apache raid of June 1801. Because these raiders often came by way of the deserted visita of Sonoita, Moyano urged reoccupation of the site and a strong enough guard to hold it but that came to nothing.[11]

In the middle of the Santa Cruz Valley the new prosperity was evident but limited. Stock wearing the Tumacácori brand grazed for 20 miles along the Santa Cruz River from south of Guevavi. Travelers on the valley road noticed the massive foundation of Father Gutiérrez’ church, great river boulders set in mud mortar.

Still Tumacácori was poor. Once Father Sanchez began building at Caborca, Gutiérrez could not keep up. His project lagged. When Father President Moyano made out his second State of the Missions report, he described Tumacácori’s old church as “very deteriorated and narrow.” Construction of a new one had begun but he mentioned no progress since the last report. In contrast, at Caborca, Sanchez had the walls up and already had begun the barrel vault roof. Tumacácori’s population was down and Caborca’s up from two years before. It was an indication of how the two jobs were going.

The Apaches were partly to blame. San Xavier, Tumacácori, Cocóspera and San Ignacio had the greatest and most frequent peril and damage. Those and other outrages kept the missions of the north and east poorer than the others, retarding the growth of herds and activities of their people.

For five years Gutiérrez managed pretty much on his own, doing double duty as missionary and chaplain.[12] Between 1804 and 1807, Father President sent him, in rapid succession, three eager but luckless compañeros. The first was Father Manuel Fernández Saravia. Whether on business or sick leave, Gutiérrez was away between November 1804 and May 1805.

The second compañero was a devout but sickly Mexican, Father Joseph Ignacio Ramírez de Arellano. When Gutiérrez returned in May, he was battling an epidemic. Arellano rode back to San Xavier. The third compañero in three years joined him later in 1805, another Mexican, Gregorio Ruíz. He stayed through 1806 and most of 1807.

With some misgivings father Gutiérrez watched the new settlers arrive in the valley. Tumacácori herds were increasing despite the Apache raids. The friar foresaw trouble over the land. The poor squatters did not bother him as long as they recognized the land belonged to the mission. It was the ambitious potential ranchers who might file a claim on allegedly vacant lands or lands with imperfect titles. The legal process was known as denuncia.[13] Any day it could be used against the mission, particularly to the south, where Calabazas and Guevavi had been “abandoned” for longer than the three full and consecutive years stipulated by law. Worse, Tumacácori possessed no legal papers setting forth its title or boundaries. These papers had been lost sometime before 1806. Father Gutiérrez summoned Governor Juan Legarra of the Tumacácori pueblo and other justices late in 1806 and suggested that they petition for a formal re-grant of mission lands. Legarra petitioned the intendente of the province, Don Alejo Garcia Condé, for an adjudication and survey of the land for the fundo legal (farming purposes) and the estancia (grazing land) to replace the old title. Complying with this request, Condé issued a royal patent to the Indians of the pueblo of Tumacácori and instructed Manuel de León, the commander of the presidio at Tubac, to measure and mark off the four square leagues to which each pueblo was entitled, plus two sitios of grazing land previously occupied by the pueblo of Calabazas, a total amount that would have exceeded 26,000 acres. The needed land that was actually surveyed for use by the Indians, however, was a little les than one-fourth of a square league. The combined pueblo and estancia lands totaled about 6,770 acres. The grant was dated April 2, 1807.

One unusual provision in the new title was the stipulation that, in the event the lands should be abandoned for a period of three years, any person might claim them. As fate would have it, Tumacácori declined during the 1830s and 1840s. In 1842 the Mexican government under Santa Anna began selling church lands valued at $500.00 or less. In 1844, although not totally abandoned, Tumacácori was sold along with the stock from Calabazas and adjacent lands to Francisco Aguilar for $500.00 at a public sale.[14] Early in 1808 the legion of Napoleon occupied Spain. Three years later a terrifying race war erupted in New Spain. Although the fighting never reached Hispanic Arizona, economic stagnation did. The missionaries’ annual stipend stopped coming. Most of the Tubac garrison left for detached duty in the south.

By now Father Gutiérrez was one of the “los viejos,” the old ones. The old guard of the missions could hardly believe the scandals of “los nuevos,” the liberated new friars who arrived from Spain between 1811 and 1813. physical attacks on the Father President, kept women and drunken fandangos, all by Querétaran friars, devastated morale. Also the reformers reached out with the Spanish Constitution of 1812 to free the Indians from oppression once again.

In the winter of 1812-1813 Francisco Pérez came to Tumacácori as compañero to Gutiérrez.[15] He and Narciso did not see eye to eye. Gutiérrez had been painfully afflicted by what sounded like a severe case of shingles.

It was at this time that there was another inspection of the missions by Fathers Cevallos and Fontbona. Cevallos, as Bringas had 20 years before, took an instant dislike to Gutiérrez. He had heard rumors about the long-time Tumacácori missionary’s unFranciscan commercial activities and temporal irregularities. He recommended Father Narciso’s removal.[16] That did not happen. It was about this time that Pérez left Tumacácori.[17]

The reason for the inspection of 1814 was to explain and implement the Spanish Constitution of 1812. The Spanish Constitution of 1812 and the inspection of the Pimería Alta in 1814 gave extreme discomfort to Gutiérrez and most of his fellows.

The Constitution of 1812 meant the election of Alcaldes nationals, payment of wages to any Indian for any job not done for his own sustenance and the allotment of the farm lands, first to the mission Indians, next to recently converted Indians and the last to settlers. All this had a ring of the 1767 instructions to missionaries (similar to secularization). The issue had not changed. It was still a question of how much authority the missionary should have over his Indians.

On paper the 147 Indians and mixed breeds of Tumacácori wee, per capita, the richest mission residents in all Pimería Alta but, according to Cevallos, they lived in poverty.[18]

When Father Narciso’s license to retire to the College of Querétaro arrived at Oquitoa, a tired and disconsolate Father Moyano hid it so he would remain at Tumacácori. Gutiérrez, however, knew of it and rode over to inquire. Moyano begged him to stay on.

The old friars hated the new permissiveness. “Corruption has come among us with the last shipment of priests,” wrote Gutiérrez. “The cause that fills us old ones with grief, while the new ones are very cocky.” The scandals of 1815 were very sensational.

In mid-October 1816, the fatal effects of an epidemic were felt at Tumacácori. In the next two months Gutiérrez entered 25 deaths in the mission book of burials. By 1818 hard times fell on Tumacácori. Bread was scarce, meat plentiful. There was no market for cattle. Because of lack of water (drought?), stock that left the area and limits of the mission was too expensive to round up. All over, people suffered an economic crisis. Mission industry foundered for lack of cash to pay for skilled labor and tools. Little wonder the building of the new church had stalled.

From the time Narciso Gutiérrez buried his predecessor in 1795 until he took to his bed for the last time in November 1820 he was Tumacácori’s most enduring priest, some 26 years.

After Gutiérrez had secured the mission lands by title in 1807 he encouraged settlement. By 1808 several gente de razón families had reoccupied Calabazas, which he called thereafter the mission rancho. Farther south at Guevavi a sizable mining operation had started in 1814. Doubtless he saw that the mission got its fair share of the yield.

Father Narciso talked of going home to Spain but he never did.[19] He endured more than double the compulsory ten years in the missions. Still he chose not to use his license for the College. In deference to Father Moyano, he did not abandon Tumacácori.

When father Gutiérrez’ time had come on Wednesday, December 13, 1820, the blue-eyed friar with the long nose died alone and unprepared without the holy sacraments. He was only 55.

They carried his body in a wooden box past the open walls of the church he had begun nearly two decades before and into the narrow little adobe church the Jesuits had built before he was born. On Friday morning they put the box in a hole dug beneath the steps of the main altar on the Epistle side. They did not even record the burial. His successor could take care of that.[20]

On Friday, December 13, 1822, Father Liberós, who followed Father Gutiérrez, and Father Estelric removed the remains of Fathers Carillo and Gutiérrez and reburied them beneath the floor of the sanctuary on the Gospel side of the still unfinished new church. In February 1935, both were removed and reburied beneath the floor of the mortuary chapel at San Xavier del Bac.

The 1822 reburial of Carillo and Gutiérrez has led to some confusion as to when the new church was finished. It probably was not finished at that time.

Also, according to Kessell, there was an error in recording the death of Gutiérrez. His death was recorded as December 13, 1821, written as an error for 1820. Father Estelric reached Tumacácori after Gutiérrez died. He received Bernardo, Bishop of Sonora, on New Year’s Day 1821. Estelric was at Tumacácori nearly a whole year by the date of December 13, 1821.

The error was compounded at San Xavier where Gutiérrez’ death is recorded as December 13, 1821.[21]

[1] Certification of sailing, Marqués del Surco, Cádiz, December 17, 1789, AGI, Mex., 2735.

[2] Madoz, Diccionario, Vol. 1, pp. 109-10.

[3] DCB.

[4] Father Ángel Collazo to Father Juan Francisco Rivera, Búsanic, September 28, 1794, CC, misc. Father Florencio Ibañez to Rivera, Sáric, July 5, 1795, ibid. Father Francisco Iturralde to Rivera, Tubutama, March 7, 1795, CC, 203.33.

[5] Father Antonio Bertrán to Rivera and the Discretory, n.d., CC, 203.34.

[6] Iturralde to Father Guardian, Tubutama, December 4, 1797, CC, 203.21.

[7] Ibañez to Rivera, Caborca, April 4, 1796, CC, misc.

[8] Iturralde to Rivera, Tubutama, April 5, 1796, CC, 203.34. Iturralde to Bringas, Tubutama, February 4, 1796, CC, 203.41-42.

[9] Just when Prado left is not clear. He last signed the Tumacácori books on October 21, 1797, when he struck the notice of an unauthorized January 15 visita by Licenciado Manuel María Moreno, DCB. In his letter of October 2, 1798, Iturralde lamented Prado’s return to the College but he did not say when or if he had departed. The President did not notify the Bishop of Prado’s exit until the following January when he requested the faculties of chaplain at Tubac for Gutiérrez. Iturralde to Rouset, Tubutama, January 28, 1799, AMS. Prado served as Guardian at the College during 1809-1812, 1815-1818 and 1824.

[10] Moyano, Noticia, 1803.

[11] Ibid. In total population, Tumacácori, even with the increase, ranked only fifth among the eight missions.

[12] In his report of May 18, 1803, Father President Moyano showed two missionaries for Tumacácori yet between 1799 and 1804 Gutiérrez alone performed all the mission’s baptisms, marriages, and burials. DCB.

[13] See Richard E. Greenleaf, “Land and Water in Mexico and New Mexico 1700-1821,” NMHR, Vol. 47 (1972), pp. 88-89.

[14] SED, pp. 13-15. Mattison, “Spanish and American Settlements,” pp. 293-94, and “Tangled Web.” The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1898 that the sale to Aguilar was illegal and void, thus nullifying all subsequent transfers of the grant. Because the rightful owners, the Tumacácori Indians, had, in the meantime, abandoned the grant it reverted to public domain.

[15] Cevallos to Bringas, December 31, 1812. Moyano to Iturralde, Oquitoa, June 4, 1813, ACQ, Cartas de Sonora (CS). Typescripts of the so-called Cartas de Sonora, hundreds of documents from the SCQ for the period 1813-1842, variously labeled, are filed at the Bancroft Library in the Bolton Research Papers, Nos. 359 and 378. Carbon copies are in BL, N-A 25. BL, BRP, No. 373, contains photocopies of some of the documents.

[16] Cevallos to Bringas, Durango, February 2, 1815, and Ures, June 14, 1815. ACQ, CS.

[17] Cevallos to Bringas, San Xavier del Bac, July 7, 1814, ACQ, CS.

[18] Cevallos to Ruiz de Apodaca, April 17, 1818. José Francisco Velasco, Noticias estadisticas del Estado de Sonora, p. 143, makes this intriguing statement: “The ministers were very industrious, especially Father Narciso Gutiérrez, during whose time the said mission loaned 22,000 pesos to the royal treasury at Arizpe.” He was referring to Cocóspera where Gutiérrez never served.

[19] Cevallos to Bringas, September 1814, ACQ, CS.

[20] DCB. CSCQ, Libro de difunto.

[21] DCB. The error in the year was compounded in marble in the mortuary chapel of San Xavier del Bac, the final resting place of Narciso Gutiérrez. There the friar’s death date reads December 21, 1821.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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