Self-Guided Mission Tour

map of mission grounds
The ruins of the Tumacácori mission represent a time of change for the people of this land. Here, Native American and European people from very different cultures met and intermingled their ways of life. We see the results not only in the remains of buildings, but in the culture which was created and which gives flavor to this region today.


1 - Garden

Once established, it took time, often years, before a mission had all its components. However, given the necessary time and money, it was certain that its missionary would see to the construction of a church, with workshops and classrooms surrounding a courtyard. Traditionally, the courtyard would feature a garden such as the one represented here.

Tumacácori was the first mission in what is today Arizona, but when Father Kino established the Guevavi (Gwe vä' ve) mission the following day, he made it the cabecera, or headquarters. Thus, the first church was built there. In the mid-1700s when the first church building was constructed at Tumacácori, the village was likely able to boast of a garden similar to this one. And, when the Calabazas mission was established during those same years, it surely also had a courtyard garden.

Although this is not the original garden of the Tumacácori mission, it is engineered to represent elements of mission gardens everywhere. The vegetation growing here represents plants introduced to this area along with native plants that would have been used by the Padres. There are herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and myrtle. Fruit trees include apricot, olive, and pomegranate. These trees and the monk's pepper tree were introduced by the National Park Service when this garden was built in 1937 as part of the visitor center.

Take a moment to sit by the fountain in the cool of the garden, just as native resident and priest might have at a similar place near here, two hundred years ago.

"This mission, which is managed in conjunction with that of Guevavi, is located in Pimería Alta and is twenty-five leagues directly north of Guevavi. The road is ill provided with water and is dangerous because of the enemy. Farther north there are no Christians whatever, but only many heathen tribes who lack the illumination of the Gospel and knowledge of Christ."
- Fr. Joseph de Torres Perea
San Xavier del Bac, March 16, 1744

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kino on horse bronze statue

2 - Kino Statue

In January of 1691 a black-robed Jesuit missionary rode his horse north through the Santa Cruz Valley. Stopping at the O'odham Indian village of Tumacácori, on the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, Father Kino celebrated Mass for the village inhabitants.

From 1687, when he first entered New Spain until his death in 1711, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was tireless in his travels through uncharted desert, river valleys, and mountain ranges. He established missions in what is today northern Mexico and southern Arizona.

However, Father Kino merits recognition not only for his religious zeal, but for his achievements in other fields. Born in what is now northern Italy in 1645, and educated in Bavaria and Austria, Kino brought intellectual curiosity to his exploration of a new world. A cartographer and astronomer, Kino drew the first accurate maps of this region, known as the Pimería Alta (the upper lands of the "Pima,"or O'odham), of the Gulf of California, and of Baja California. He was the first to prove to Europeans that Baja California was a peninsula, not an island. Through his contribution of new crops, especially wheat, and domesticated animals such as cattle and sheep, a new and different culture composed of both New and Old World elements began.

Padre Kino was noteworthy for the good relations he established with the indigenous peoples among whom he worked. He treated the O'odham with respect and learned their language. By helping the various O'odham groups to come together to resist the fierce Apache tribes, Kino helped bring peace and security to the Pimería. In turn, the O'odham and other tribal groups affectionately regarded Kino as a leader and advocate. When a tragic misunderstanding resulted in 9 the Pima uprising of 1695, it was Kino who brought an end to hostilities and reestablished peace.

Until his death in 1711 Kino continued his efforts to build agriculturally self-sufficient mission pueblos such as Tumacácori and Guevavi. Today, if you visit his shrine in Magdalena, Sonora, you can sense the devotion people still offer to Father Kino—the indomitable Padre of the Pimería Alta.

"We ascended to the valley of Guevavi and arrived at the village of San Cayetano de Tumacácori. Here they had prepared three ramadas for us;one in which to say Mass, another for sleeping, and the third for a kitchen. There were more than forty houses together here. We baptized some children and gave good hopes to everyone that they would receive the Fathers and holy baptism and the remedy for their eternal salvation for which they were asking. We then went on to the village of Guevavi."
- Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino

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close up of model of front of church

3 - Mission Model

As you view the model you can see that a mission was much more than a church. The mission community included housing for the mission residents and the priest, workshops, class rooms, a cemetery, a mortuary chapel, an irrigation system, gardens, orchards, and grazing lands. In fact, a mission did not always have a church. Tumacácori was established as a mission in 1691, but it did not have a dedicated church building until 1756, over sixty years later. Father Kino designated the Guevavi mission, fifteen miles south of Tumacácori, the cabecera, or headquarters, for several missions. Thus, a church was built first at Guevavi in 1701.

Although the Jesuits were responsible for the building of the first church at Tumacácori, they continued to live at Guevavi and make it their headquarters. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the first Franciscan priest assigned here, Juan Chrisóstomo Gil de Bernabé, did not like living at Guevavi and moved his residence to Tumacácori. From 1768 until its abandonment in 1848, Tumacácori was cabecera for the other missions.

Around 1800, the Franciscans started to build the church that you see through the archway. Although the bell tower was still under construction, they began to use the church in 1822. Father Ramón Liberós, who was born in Spain, was sent back to Spain in 1828 after Mexico gained independence, and Tumacácori never again had a resident priest. Although they continued to live here and worked to complete the bell tower (as shown by the scaffolding portrayed in front of it in the model), a hard winter, continuing Apache attacks, and the Mexican-American War forced the last of the mission residents to gather their belongings and leave in 1848.

"In the present year of 1771, although I do not know on what day or in which month, the following people died, without any sacraments, near Pipian, a small Papago settlement: Juana Rosa, wife of the head man, Francisco;María, a single lady;and Luisa, a small child. All were of the aforementioned Papago nation. I had to bury them all in the open desert like cattle. All were associated with this mission of Tumacácori, for which truth I sign. I knew of these persons because others saw them."
- Juan Chrisóstomo Gil de Bernabé
Apostolic Father and Minister for His Majesty

"In 1768 Fray Juan Chrisóstomo was assigned to the mission Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi in the Pimería Alta. This mission had three villages or visitas in its jurisdiction: Calabazas, two leagues away;Sonoitac, six;and Tumacácori, seven. It also had in its charge the Presidio of Tubac."
- Fr. Juan Domingo Arricivita, 1792

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walkway leading to church with mountains in background

4 - Mission Grounds

Standing here, perhaps you can visualize life at Mission San José de Tumacácori. To the left of the trail is a mound that runs from the visitor center museum to the front of the church. Beneath this mound are the foundations of the residents' adobe houses.

Imagine yourself an O'odham or Yaqui resident of the mission in the earliest years of the nineteenth century. The massive church is being built. Nearby, workers are forming mud into blocks using wooden forms. Others are stacking semi-dried blocks on edge to finish drying in the hot desert sun. Another crew is laying the dried blocks on the growing walls of the church, using more of the wet adobe mud as mortar. Other workers are firing some of the adobes to later be used in supporting the roof and the bell tower. The majority of the people, however, are working in the gardens, orchards, and fields, or tending the mission livestock.

Off in the distance, thirty miles away to your right, are the Santa Rita Mountains where other workers are quarrying limestone to be used for plastering the church walls. Higher up in the mountains, others are harvesting timber for roof construction. And, somewhere between here and there, yet another crew is transporting the dressed logs and limestone boulders to the mission. Maybe a friend has gone with the family donkey to help drag one of the timbers. He has been gone nearly a week but should return this evening. You are excited to see him, but you are also concerned. You know all too well that he is traveling slowly through country that is often visited by Apaches. Although you are concerned, the constant threat of Apache attack is something you have learned to live with. If your friend does not make it home tonight, you know that Padre will say a special prayer at Mass this evening for the workers.

"It is from the country of the Pimería Alta that I send Your Reverence my respectful salutations. I have been stationed here since last year. Upon the death of Father Johann Grazhoffer, of blessed memory, I was ordered to take up his work among these Indians of the Pimería, some of whom had not had any religious instruction since the death of the venerable and reverend Father Eusebio Kino, who used to come to them once or twice a year."
- Fr. Gaspar Stiger
November 9, 1734

"This morning about ten o'clock the Apaches fell upon us on one side of the village, fighting with us in an attempt to take our lives. They drove eleven mares away and of the nine stallions that the mission had, they left eight maimed and wounded"
- Bartoleme Ximeno
March 5, 1773

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closeup of facade of church

5 - Front of Church

The façade of the church was painted with bright colors. Today, in the doorway and under the cornice below the window, some of the original color is still visible. The half circle of the espadaña, or pediment, is a reconstruction dating to 1921.

The columns on the front of the church were painted red, the capitals yellow with black markings. You may be surprised to find Egyptian architecture in southern Arizona, but these capitals are Egyptian in style, introduced into Spain by the Moors and copied here by the person who designed the façade. Many architectural features of the church reflect cultures that the Spanish had come in contact with over time. The statue niches, a Roman introduction, were painted blue. The pointed arches of the two niches beside the window are Moorish in style. The little corbels, or shelves, at the base of the niches brought the statues forward so they might be seen from a wider angle.

The tower was built in three stories—the baptistery on the ground floor, the robing room on the next level, and the bell arches on top. You can still see the holes where scaffolding was built into the walls during construction—round holes in the lower part of the tower, and square holes in the brick of the bell arch piers.

Although the bell tower arches appear to be in a state of ruin, they are in almost exactly the same condition as they were when the church was abandoned, never having been completed. Note the scallop shell motif of the statue niches. Scallop shells are associated with the patron saint of Spain, Saint James, and with Christian pilgrimage. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela on the Atlantic coast of Spain would often bring back a scallop shell as a symbolic memento of their journey. Although the bells you see are not original to Tumacácori, it was the pealing of similar bells that kept the mission community on schedule.

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diorama of people kneeling in church nave

6 - Nave

Looking toward the altar you can see the remains of the once magnificent nave. Here Spanish settlers and native people took their places at the holy Mass. Notice that there are no pews. The people stood or knelt during the services. There are no side chapels. The church is in the form of a long hall, rather than a cross. Lining the walls are four side altars where individuals lit candles and said specific prayers to statues of saints in the niches above.

Life for the residents of Tumacácori may have been a mixed blessing. Some priests would have been kind, others harsh, or unable to adjust to their surroundings. The priest might have tried to speak the local languages and translate for both Indian and settler. He provided food, protection, clothing, and other gifts. On the other hand, he was probably strict. Prohibited conduct could result in verbal or physical punishment, as was common everywhere at the time. Whatever the trials or joys a day might bring, stepping into the nave most likely brought tranquility and color. Imagine an early morning mass with candles flickering throughout the church, sweet melodies from the choir, and the priest chanting in his colorful robes.

The church was abandoned in 1848. The roof was soon removed and local settlers used the original timber for construction elsewhere. It was first replaced in 1921, but the nave was exposed to the elements for over sixty years. Damage is extensive, but a closer look reveals a compelling story of life at Tumacácori. Hundreds of people received communion here. Two priests who helped build the present church were buried below the altar steps, then later moved to Mission San Xavier del Bac in 1935. The replaced floor and holes in the walls tell of fortune hunters looking for Jesuit treasure that never existed.

Little is known of individual experiences within the church. Original documentation gives only glimpses of what happened. We can be certain of a few things, however. . . there were hard times . . . festive times . . . holy times.

"In the year of our Lord 1819 on the 31st day of May, having published the three marriage banns prescribed by the Holy Council of Trent on three consecutive festival days, I, Father Narciso Gutierrez, Apostolic Father Minister for His Majesty in this mission, at the altar asked José Padilla, an Opata Indian and resident of this mission, and Gertrudis León,an Indian who comes from the gentiles of the Yuma nation, if they wished to be joined in marriage. Having received their affirmative answer, I solemnly united and veiled them in true and holy matrimony the same day. Known and present witnesses were José María Montaño, Tomás Castro, and Ramón Montaño, for which truth I sign below."
- Juan Chrisostomo Gil de Bernabe

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illustration of choir loft

7 - Choir Loft

Facing toward the front door of the church, you can see where the choir loft once stood. Notice the entry to the balcony high on the left wall, and the two ruined pillars that supported it. A display depicts what the choir loft looked like, reminding us of an important part of mission life—music.

The small community at Tumacácori might have supported eight to ten choir members and the same number of musicians playing instruments such as trumpet, oboe, bassoon, flute, and zither (guitar).

Although few could read or write, singers and musicians memorized up to twenty-five songs for four different Masses and other religious rituals. They sang in Latin, Spanish, and O'odham. The excellent acoustics of the church would have made the music and singing of the High Mass resound with a beauty to touch the emotional and spiritual in all who heard it.

"The greatness of the missions . . . will be heard in music and the choir of singers."
- Eusebio Francisco Kino, 1695

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detail of diorama showing baptismal font

8 - Baptistry

A right turn immediately upon entering the church will lead you into the room where the sacred ceremony of baptism was performed. From birth and baptism through life and death, the imported Catholic religion became a part of the lives of community members. Here adobe walls, nine feet thick with an inner rock core, support the massive bell tower above you. A stairway (inaccessible to visitors) leads up to the robing room and the entrance to the choir loft, then on up to the roof and the bells. Let the voice of Father Liberós tell what once took place in this room.

"In the year of our Lord 1825 on the eighth day of March, I, Father Ramon Liberós, Minister of this Mission of San José de Tumacácori, baptized a boy of about six years from the gentiles of the Papago nation, on whom I placed the name of Miguel and surname of Borboa. Godparents were Francisco Zapata and Esmerencia Mesa, children of this mission, whom I advised of their spiritual relationship and other duties."

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illustration of sanctuary

9 - Sanctuary

Ascending the steps leading up out of the nave, one enters the sanctuary, still adorned with remnants of its original paints, picture frames, and extensive stenciling. Here the priest, dressed in his bright-colored holy vestments, celebrated the Mass. The service of two hundred years ago was called the Misa Mayor in Spanish, or in English, the High Mass. It was totally, or nearly all, sung by the priest and the choir. The main language of the Misa Mayor was Latin, although some shorter prayers and answers given by the people in attendance could be offered in Spanish or O'odham.

As you stand near the altar in the sanctuary, try to visualize the priest singing here and the choir responding from the loft at the far end of the nave. Imagine the melodious strains of the Gregorian chant reverberating above the heads of the kneeling parishioners like music from heaven. That was the effect that the celebrants were trying to create. As you view the paintings above you on the walls and ceiling, even though they have become faded after so many years, you can see that they, too, were meant to bring a feeling of nearness to heaven.

"They have a very good ear for music, can sing the Gregorian chant from books . . . though they cannot read, except the choirmaster, yet they can sing in unison from beginning to end . . . after Mass the entire congregation sings the Christian doctrine."
- Phelippe Segesser, IHS

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steps leading to gated doorway

10 - Sacristy

From the sanctuary, a sacred place, you enter the sacristy, a room not blessed or consecrated. This did not make it any less important. Priests kept the clothing and articles used in the performance of their duties here. In the sacristy they documented and stored the records of important events, signing their names as witness to marriages, births, and deaths.

Missionaries dressed in the fine cloth of their position in preparation for performing their duties. They changed roles as well as robes. This was a place where a man prepared to be the man of God, disseminator of God's truths—a place of transition from the concerns of the physical world to the spiritual needs of the soul.

For about twenty-five years, this sacristy was used for its original purpose. After the mission was abandoned, the church changed from a house of worship to just a house. People who traveled through the area could not resist its lure. With the protection of the sacristy's thick walls and a warming fire, they followed, without conscious thought, the foot steps of the priests before them. They recorded their visits not on parchment bound in books, but on the plaster walls. Tired "49ers" on their way to the California goldfields, and Mexican soldiers and cowboys spent nights here, lit fires, and recorded their stay. Later, U.S. soldiers and cowboys would do the same. Sometime during the last two decades of the 1800s, a U.S. Army lieutenant patrolling the border spent a few nights in the sacristy. While here he scratched his name in the plaster of the walls like many before him. Known to the world for his role as a general in World War I, his name was John J. Pershing. The sacristy provided shelter to all who discovered it. The darkened ceiling gives testament to the numerous fires that were built for heating and cooking.

January 1, 1821
Holy Inspection in the Sacristy of the Mission of Tumacácori
"Inspection and review on behalf of my lord, his Most Holy and Reverend Bishop, of the books in which the baptisms, deaths, and marriages of the above mentioned mission are recorded. Because of the death of the Reverend Father Friar Narciso Gutiérrez, his successor and the present minister, Friar Juan Bautista Estelric, has presented them for review. His Holiness said that I should review the books, and I reviewed them;that I should approve them, which I did;and that I should give instruction concerning them, and I instructed that the records should continue to be kept in the same fashion which conforms to the mandate of the Holy Council of Trent. The Most Illustrious and Reverend Lord Don Friar Bernardo del Espiritu Santo, Most Worthy Bishop of Sonora."
By Domingo Espinosa de los Monteros, Chief Inspection Officer

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illustration of courtyard

11 - Convento Courtyard

As you exit the doorway of the sacristy you are facing into the convento courtyard. The convento—an open square of buildings with a central courtyard—was a focus of community life. To your left, an earthen berm protects the foundations of a row of work rooms that were vital to life at the mission. Straight ahead is a section of low, reconstructed wall, indicating the location of the wall, which enclosed the east side of the square. To your right was another row of rooms, some of which still stand, including rooms where the priest lived. Here, within the rooms of the convento, were a kitchen, ironworker's shop, carpentry shop, weaving room, leather shop, and grain grinding mill. All contributed to community life and to support of mission construction.

"The houses, extending east, are adobe . . . 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."
- H.M.T. Powell
Traveling to the California goldfields, October 6, 1849

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cemetery with round mortuary chapel

12 - Cemetery

Two features come into view as you enter the cemetery. The first is the mortuary chapel, circular in design and about sixteen feet in diameter. The roof, possibly intended to be a dome, was never completed. Its walls have heard the echoes of many funeral Masses and rosaries. The Soto marker identifies several graves belonging to members of a family who lived at Tumacácori after the turn of the twentieth century.

As you proceed into the cemetery toward the interpretive sign near the mortuary chapel, the graves on the north side of the cemetery come into view. These are also burials from the early twentieth century. Any evidence of mission-era graves was destroyed long ago by weather, treasure hunters, and cattle. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the cemetery was used as a corral during cattle drives and roundups. Families who moved into the area around 1900 knew it as campo santo (holy ground) and used it once again to bury their dead. Juanita Alegria's grave is the last burial (1916) and the only one which has been identified.

However, the mission-era dead are also beneath our feet. Five hundred ninety-three burials were recorded at Tumacácori between 1755 and 1825. The location of the "old cemetery" associated with the Jesuit church is unknown. Thirty-six burials were registered by Father Ramón Liberós between 1822 and 1825 in this, the "new cemetery." María Teresa 26 Gutiérrez, a Pima child "some five years of age," was the first. Perhaps she was a victim of one of the terrible epidemics of smallpox or measles that swept through the missions. A few were killed during Apache raids. Records from 1825 to 1848 when Tumacácori was abandoned have never been found.

The fourteen niches in the wall were Stations of the Cross. The higher portion of the southeast wall is the west wall of the storehouse next door. We are reminded that while death was an ever present part of life, life required the tasks of planting, harvesting, and storing for future use.

"In the year of our Lord 1822, on the first day of October, I, Father Ramon Liberos, Minister of this Mission of San José de Tumacácori, interred in the new cemetery of the said mission in the sector set aside for children, María Teresa Gutiérrez, a child of some five years of age. Having died the day before, she was the daughter of Petra Gutierrez and Miguel Antonio Gonzales. She died in union and communion with our Lord God, for which truth I sign below."
- Fr. Ramon Liberós

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steps and storage pots

13 - Storehouse

Foodstuffs were stored here for distribution to the community. Prior to the coming of the Spanish, the local diet consisted of squash, beans, corn, game, and wild plants. The Spanish brought domestic sheep, goats, and cattle, adding protein to the diet. They brought wheat, which could be grown in winter, as well as fruit trees, such as apricot, fig, quince, and pomegranate, providing a pleasing dietary variety.

The stairs led to a second story where additional food and animal fodder were stored. The food was kept in baskets and clay pots for later distribution. The mission had a communal system of growing, collecting, and distributing.

How were fruits, fleshy foods, and meats preserved without refrigeration or canning? Extensive use of the hot desert sun and dry climate was made in preserving many foods for year-round use. Fruits, meat, and grains were all dried before placing them in their respective containers to be used during the nongrowing season.

"My Governor and Commander: I find a lot of tallow stored at this mission. There is much pinole at Nacameri and Cucurpe, and more than 200 fanegas of corn from last year. I inform you of this in case it is needed for the campaign."
-Juan Bautista de Anza, Captain of Tubac Presidio, March 15, 1767

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round brick-lined structure in ground

14 - Lime Kiln

Lime plaster was used to protect adobe buildings from moisture. Tons of raw material (limestone boulders) had to be brought to the mission for processing so that a coat of plaster, often more than two inches thick, could be applied to the walls. Limestone had to be gathered from distant mountain drainages or, like the timbers in the roof, transported some thirty miles from the Santa Rita Mountains to the east. This was most likely accomplished by means of ox carts, traveling through rough country with the risk of attack by Apaches an ever-present danger.

Once here, the limestone was loaded onto a heavy metal grate that rested on the shelf you see about halfway down the wall of the lime kiln. Fire was placed underneath the grate and the rocks were "cooked" until they began to swell and break open. At that point they could be readily hammered into a powder. The powder was then "slaked" by putting it in water for a day or two.

After the powder was "hydrated," it was made into a paste, sand was added to make plaster, and it was spread onto a building's walls to dry. Though course and lumpy by today's standards, it was (and is) the best protection possible for sun-dried adobe.

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rectangular plastered outline in ground

15 - Jesuit Church Foundation

Padre Kino first celebrated Mass at Tumacácori underneath a ramada, or brush shelter, built by the O'odham who were living here. At that time, the native village was located on the other side of the river. Although he designated Guevavi to be the cabecera where the priest would live, he and Fathers Campos and San Martín continued to visit Tumacácori, sing the Mass, and tend to the needs of the mission.

By 1695 an adobe house had been built in the village for Padres to use during their visits. However, there is no record of a church having been built while the village was on the east side of the river. In November of 1751, a group of O'odham rebelled against the Spaniards and the resulting conflict, though it lasted less than a month, caused the abandonment of Tumacácori for over a year.

When everyone returned, the Spanish began construction of a presidio, a military outpost, at Tubac. The village of Tumacácori was moved to the present location nearer to and on the same side of the river as the new presidio.

The outline that you see before you marks the location of the below-ground foundation of the church that was begun in the spring of 1753. The date of its completion is uncertain, but it is known to have been in use by the summer of 1757, just four years later.

The community used this small church under the guidance of Jesuit priests for ten years, until the Jesuits were expelled in July 1767. Father Custodio Ximeno was the last Jesuit to serve at Guevavi and Tumacácori. He performed his last service here on June 14, 1767, just six weeks before his arrest at Guevavi and his subsequent exile. A year later the Franciscans arrived to care for the missions of the Pimería Alta. They continued to use this building until the new church was ready for use in 1822.

"On the 14th of June of 1767, Juan Antonio, native mayor, and María Antonia, a single lady, both of the village of Tumacácori, were married before me in church ceremony, having met all the requirements prescribed by the Council of Trent."
-Jhs. Custodio Ximeno

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small building with buttresses and no roof

16 - Convento Ruin

The standing ruin of a fragment of the convento includes the rooms in which the priest is likely to have lived. These rooms have seen much use, both during the mission era and afterward. After the mission residents left, it was used as a house by various people and was even used as a school in the 1930's during the administration of the first resident superintendent at Tumacácori National Monument. Probably the most extensive use the convento residence ever saw was when five priests stayed here for eight days while waiting for the Anza Expedition to leave Tubac between Sunday, October 15 and Monday, October 23, 1775, as evidenced by the quote below.

"I stopped at the mission of Tumacácori, a league down the road from the presidio. Fathers Francisco Garcés and Tomás Eixarch, who are to come on the expedition and remain on the Colorado River, were here. I remained with them and Fathers Pedro de Arrequibar and Felix de Gamarra during the days while the expedition was waiting at Tubac."
-Fr. Pedro Font October 15, 1775

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mud house with thatch roof
17 - Melhok Ki

The O'odham word for house is "ki" (kee). Melhok (pronounced moo' ro) is the word for the plant known in Spanish and English as "ocotillo." The particular structure that you see here is a modern construction of a traditional O'odham dwelling, made of mesquite timbers, ocotillo sticks, and mud. It was built in 1997, following ancient customs, by O'odham workers using traditional hand tools. When completed, it was dedicated by them to San Francisco Xavier, Father Kino's patron saint. Originally, the O'odham built round kis. Over time they adopted the square rooms favored by the Spanish. A home would also include a juato (whä´ to), or mesquite ramada, as you see here. Although this ki is of modern construction, it probably closely resembles the O'odham housing that was once part of the mission complex.

brick channel in ground

18 - Compuerta

Probably the single most important commodity in the desert was, and is, water. Water for drinking, washing, bathing, and irrigating crops was taken out of the Santa Cruz River nearly a mile upstream to the south of where you are standing. It came to this point via an acequia, or irrigation ditch.

The burnt adobe structure at your feet probably served several purposes. It was most likely a compuerta, a weir or diversion box, for turning the water out of the ditch and into the orchard to the east. It was probably also used as a lavandería, or place for washing clothes and dishes, and possibly even bathing. And lastly, it was used as a holding tank for filling ollas, earthen jars, in which water could be carried back to the houses for drinking and cooking.

"Tumacácori, which today is the district headquarters, has twenty-three families. This is a village that is somewhat convenient to its fields. Although its waters are not the most abundant, it has the relief of having them nearby."
-Bartolome Ximeno March 5, 1773

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metal gate leading to orchard

19 - Orchard

The mission complex included a walled garden and orchard, in which you are now standing. The treelines in front of you and to your right grow along the stone foundations of two of the adobe walls which originally surrounded and protected this area. Within this 4.6 acre enclosure, the community grew vegetables and fruit trees. Since there are few fruit trees native to this area, the orchard would have contained favorite trees brought to the mission from Europe such as peach, pomegranate, quince, and fig. As recently as 1938, peach trees lined the mission acequia, stabilizing its banks and making use of moisture which seeped through its mud walls.

The fruit trees that you see growing here today were started from seeds and cuttings of old cultivar fruit trees—the oldest trees that could be found in historic orchards and yards throughout southern Arizona. This replanted orchard was dedicated in 2007.

Take a minute to imagine the people of the mission at work around you—men and boys walking among these trees, tending to the irrigation ditches, trimming and caring for the growing trees, young children running in the shade while their mothers collect vegetables to take back to their homes near the church. Beyond the orchard walls, others of the community are watching the cows, horses, and goats, and still others may be planting or harvesting fields of wheat and corn.

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A Living Culture

Life was always difficult in the harsh climate of the Pimería Alta. After Mission San Jose de Tumacácori lost its last resident priest in 1828, the mission families stayed on for another twenty years. For reasons that they did not record—undoubtedly including an Apache raid and a particularly hard winter—in 1848 the residents of Tumacácori moved away, carrying their precious Santos (saint statues) to San Xavier del Bac for safekeeping. They left behind their beautiful church, cemetery, homes, fields, and the legacy of a unique, vibrant culture that is with us here even today.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do you pronounce the name of this place?
A. Enunciate vowels as in Spanish with the accent on the second "a." (Too muh kä´ koh ree)

Q. What is the meaning of the name "Tumacácori?"
A. Tumacácori is a Spanish phonetic rendition of the O'odham name for their village. Although we don't know what the O'odham word, or words, may originally have been, a group of elders brought together by the O'odham Cultural Center in 2010 suggested Chumak ka:kork, "caliche hills," as one possibility. There have been many other widely differing theories regarding what the original O'odham words, and thus the meaning of the name, may have been.

Q. When were the visitor center and the walls that surround the park grounds built?
A. The walls were built in 1934. The visitor center was dedicated in 1937.

Q. Why doesn't the Park Service restore the church?
A. The philosophy of the National Park Service is to preserve the original, historical material of the church, rather than reconstructing it. This allows you to look into history and see the work that the O'odham Indians did nearly two hundred years ago, rather than what the Park Service did recently.

Q. How much of the church is original?
A. The majority of the structure, with the exception of the roof and the floor, is original. The rounded pediment above the front door and the bases of the pillars on the church façade, eroded portions of interior and exterior walls, and exposed wood elements were replaced to stabilize the structure and to protect the integrity of the building and design. New lime plaster is put on exterior walls, the sanctuary dome, and the sacristy roof as needed to prevent moisture from deteriorating the adobe blocks.

Q. What are the square boxes in the ground in front of the church?
A. Early excavations found the hydraulic lime surfaces at the bottom of the boxes. Hydraulic lime is useful for retaining water. The boxes are reconstructions, based on the theory that the excavated surfaces were the bases of water holding tanks. We do not know for certain when or how they may have been used or filled.

Q. How do you get to the mission ruins at Calabazas and Guevavi?
A. These ruins are open to the public only during scheduled tours, by reservation. Inquire at the visitor center for current information.

Q. Is Mass ever held at Tumacácori?
A. Mass is held yearly on the first Sunday of December during the Tumacácori Fiesta. It is held in front of the church due to the large number of people in attendance. A Mass is held inside the church once each year in conjunction with Tubac Presidio State Historic Park's "Anza Day" in October.

Q. Why were the Jesuits expelled?
A. The expulsion of the Jesuits is a complex subject, but the heart of the matter lies in politics and greed. France and Portugal were the first countries to expel them. When Carlos III, King of Spain, became convinced in 1767 that they were in conspiracy against him, he had those in his realm arrested and brought to Spain where they were locked in prison and then sent into exile. The movement against the Jesuits was carried to Rome where Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Order in 1773. It was not until 1814 that Pope Pius VII restored them to their former standing as an Order in the Catholic Church.

Last updated: September 30, 2015

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Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 8067
Tumacacori, AZ 85640


(520) 377-5060

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