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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Spanish Borderlands

Herbert E. Bolton

in the
Chronicles of America edition,
Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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please let me know!


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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p188  Chapter VII
Jesuits on the Pacific Slope

On the Pacific slope the frontiers of effective settlement marched northward by slow degrees into Arizona and Lower California. This advance was led throughout the seventeenth century by Spanish Jesuits, contemporaries of the better known Black Robes in Canada. Laboring in a much more propitious field, they were able to achieve more permanent results than their less numerous and less fortunate French brothers in the Canadian wilderness. The Jesuits on the Pacific slope made important contributions to civilization. A large part of the population in this area today has sprung from ancestors, on one side or the other, who got their first touch of European culture in the Jesuit missions and most of the towns and cities of today have grown up on the sites of early missions.

Missions were an integral part of Spain's scheme  p189 of conquest. Experience on the frontiers of Mexico, repeated in Florida, proved that the methods of such conquerors and pacificators as Guzmán and De Soto had worked ill on the whole. A mass of legislation and royal instructions issued in the seventeenth century indicates that the authorities desired to approximate to that ideal of conquest through love for which Fray Luís Cancer had, long ago, laid down his life on the sands of Florida.

The Indians had a definite place in the Spanish scheme. Apart from the fact that Indian wars were costly, Spain wished to have the natives preserved and rendered docile and contented wards of the government. She needed their toil, because of the dearth of Spanish laborers. Furthermore she lacked white settlers. She planned, therefore, to gather the Indians into permanent villages, to civilize them, and to use them as a bulwark against other European powers who might seek to plant colonies on her territory. Not to the conquistador could she look for fulfillment of this design. For, though his contract bade him be tender, it offered him no means of enriching himself except through the fortuitous discovery of precious metals or pearls — or by plundering and exploiting the natives. Spain turned to the missionaries  p190 because the Indians were "well disposed to receive the friars" — as Mendoza had written to the King in describing Guzmán's devastations in Sinaloa — "while they flee from us as stags fly in the forest."1

In the early days of conquest in the West Indies and Mexico the control of the Indians had been largely in the hands of trustees, called encomenderos. They were secular persons, for the most part, entrusted (encomendar means to entrust) with the conversion, protection, and civilization of the natives, in return for the right to exploit them. In theory the scheme was benevolent. But human nature is weak, and the tendency of the trustee was to give his attention chiefly to exploitation and to neglect his obligations. As a result the encomienda became a black spot in the Spanish colonial system. Efforts were made to abolish the evil, and by slow degrees some progress was achieved. Then, too, as the frontiers expanded, the institution tended to die a natural death. Civilized Aztecs were worth the trouble of conquering; wild Apaches and warlike Creeks hardly, for the cost of subduing them was disproportionate to the returns from their labor.

On the new frontiers, therefore, the care and  p191 control of the Indians was given over largely to the missionaries, aided by soldiers. The missionaries were expected to convert, civilize, and control the Indians, without the old abuses of exploitation. So it was that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries missions became almost universal on the frontiers. They operated simultaneously in the still unsubdued areas of northern Mexico, and in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Lower California.

It was in 1591 that the Jesuits, having after vain labors abandoned the Atlantic coast, first entered Sinaloa to heal the wounds made by the conquerors, and to gather together, convert, and civilize the remains of the native population. As they went slowly northward, tribe by tribe, valley by valley, they founded missions beside the streams, attracted the natives to them by gifts and the display of religious pictures and images, baptized them, and gradually influenced them to collect in villages about the missions, to submit to the discipline of the padre in charge, to cultivate the soil, and to learn a few simple arts and crafts. By the middle of the seventeenth century they had reached the upper Sonora valley. Meanwhile settlers had crept in behind the missionaries to engage  p192 in mining, grazing, and agriculture. These little outposts on the Pacific coast mainland became a base for later developments in adjacent California.

The man who led the way into Arizona and Lower California was one of the heroic figures of American history — Eusebio Francisco Kino. This hardy Jesuit was born near Trent in 1645, of Italian parentage, and was educated in Austria. He distinguished himself as a student at Freiburg and Ingolstadt and, in consequence, was offered a professor­ship in mathematics at the royal university of Bavaria. He rejected the offer and vowed himself to the missionary service, as a follower of Saint Francis Xavier, to whose intercession he attributed his recovery from a serious illness. He had hoped to go to the Far East, literally to follow in the footsteps of his patron, but there came a call for missionaries in New Spain and hither he came instead. Arriving in 1681, he proceeded two years later, as rector of missions, with an expedition designed to colonize the peninsula of California. The natives, though among the lowest in intelligence and morality of any tribes in America, were unwarlike and tractable on the whole. But a prolonged drought on the mainland, the base for supplies, caused the abandonment of the enterprise.

 p193  Destiny reserved for Kino a more promising field. Missions had already been established over all of southern and eastern Sonora. But beyond, to the west and north, lay the virgin territory of Pimería Alta, home of the upper Pimas, a region which comprised what is now northern Sonora and southern Arizona. At that day it was all included in the district of Sonora, to which it belonged until 1853, when the northern portion was cut off by the Gadsden Purchase.

Father Kino arrived in Pimería Alta in March, 1687, the very month when La Salle met his death in the wilds of central Texas, and began a term of service that was to last for twenty-four years. The frontier mission station when he arrived was at Cucurpe, in the valley of the river now called San Miguel. Cucurpe still exists, a quiet little Mexican pueblo, sleeping under the shadow of the mountains, and inhabited by descendants of the Indians who were there in Kino's time.

Some fifteen miles above Cucurpe, on the San Miguel River, Kino founded the mission of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores — Our Lady of Sorrows. The site chosen was one of peculiar fitness and beauty. Nearby the little San Miguel breaks through a narrow canyon, whose walls rise several  p194 hundred feet in height. Above and below the gorge the river valley broadens out into rich vegas, or irrigable bottom lands, half a mile or more in width and several miles in length. On the east the valley is walled in by Sierra de Santa Teresa, on the west by the Sierra del Torreón. Closing the lower valley and hiding Cucurpe stands Cerro Prieto; and cutting off the observer's view toward the north rises the ground and rugged Sierra Azul. At the canyon where the river breaks through, the western mesa juts out and forms a cliff approachable only from east. On this promontory, protected on three sides from attack, and affording a magnificent view, was placed the mission of Dolores. Here still stand its ruins, in full view of the valley above and below, of the mountain walls on the east and west, the north and south, and within the sound of the rushing cataract of the San Miguel as it courses through the gorge. This meager ruin on the cliff, consisting now of a mere fragment of an adobe wall and saddening piles of débris, is the most venerable of all the many mission remains in Arizona and northern Sonora, for Our Lady of Sorrows was mother of them all, and for nearly a quarter of a century was the home of the remarkable missionary who built them.

 p195  From his station at Dolores, Kino and his companions, Jesuits and soldiers, pushed the frontier of missionary work and exploration across Arizona to the Gila and Colorado rivers. Most faithful amongst his associates, and his companion on many a long journey over the deserts, was Lieutenant Juan Mange, who, like Kino, has left us excellent accounts of these pioneer days.

Kino began his exploration into what is now Arizona in 1691. He was accompanied on his first journey by Father Salvatierra, who had come from the south as a visitor. They went north as far as Tumacácori, a Pima village on the Santa Cruz River, now the site of a venerable mission ruin. In the following year Kino reached San Xavier del Bac and entered the valley of the San Pedro, north of Douglas. At Bac he spoke to the natives the word of God, "and on a map of the world showed them the lands, the rivers, and the seas over which we fathers had come from afar to bring them the saving knowledge of the holy faith"; so giving them a lesson in geography, as well as a bit of Gospel truth. Two years later Kino descended the Santa Cruz River to the Casa Grande, the famous ruin on the Gila River, of which in his writings he gives us the first description. "The casa grande,"  p196 he observes, "is a four-story building, as large as a castle, and equal to the largest church in these lands of Sonora. It is said that the ancestors of Montezuma deserted and depopulated it, and, beset by the neighboring Apaches, left for the East, or Casas Grandes,​2 and that from there they turned toward the south and southwest, finally founding the great city of Mexico." Mange adds a note of description. He mentions the thick walls of "strong cement and clay . . . so smooth on the inside that they resemble planed boards, and so polished that they shine like Puebla pottery."​a

Despite his success among the Pimas, Father Kino had never lost interest in the Indians of Lower California, and in 1695 he and Salvatierra, still working in unison, went to Mexico to urge a new attempt to found missions there. Two years later the two had the distinction — always cherished by Kino — of being personally named by the King to head the work. But the settlers in Sonora clamored to have Kino remain in Pimería Alta, where he was needed to help keep the Indians quiet, and Father Picolo went with Salvatierra instead. But on Kino's continued support the success of the work largely depended.

 p197  The difficulty of sending supplies across the Gulf to Salvatierra's new missions quickened Kino's interest in northwestern exploration, and brought about a revolution in his geographical notions. He had come to America with the belief that California was a peninsula, but, under the influence of current teachings, he had accepted the theory that it was an island. During his journey to the Gila in 1699, however, the Indians had made him a present of some blue shells, such as he had seen on the western coast of California and nowhere else. He now reasoned that, as the Indians could not have crossed the Gulf, California must be, after all, a peninsula, and that it might be possible to find a land route over which to send provisions and stock to Salvatierra's struggling establishments. To test this theory was the principal object of Kino's later explorations. By 1702 he had explored the Colorado from the mouth of the Gila to the Gulf and had proved, to his own satisfaction at least, that Lower California was not an island but a peninsula. The map which he made of his explorations, published in 1705, was not improved upon for more than a century.

As Kino explored and questioned natives about blue shells and hidden trails over the arid deserts  p198 and the stark peaks, he baptized and taught in little huts which the wondering Indians built to serve as chapels. Kino's diaries reveal not only a consuming zeal for his faith, but a deep love and paternal care for his red-skinned flock. He was not satisfied with itinerant preaching, which left the Indians to revert to their pagan ways between his visits; but he gathered them into missions as the law required. By 1696 Kino had begun to prepare for resident missions in Arizona by founding stock ranches in the Santa Cruz and San Pedro valleys, and four years later had begun the building of San Xavier del Bac, near the present Tucson, which is in use to this day. On April 28, 1700, he wrote in his diary: ". . . we began the foundations of a very large and capacious church and house of San Xavier del Bac, all the many people working with much pleasure and zeal, some in digging for the foundations, others in hauling many and very good stones of tezontle,​3 from a little hill which was about a quarter of a league away. For the mortar for these foundations it was not necessary to haul water, because by means of the irrigation ditches we very easily conducted the water where we wished. And that house, with its great court and  p199 garden nearby, will be able to have throughout the year all the water it may need, running to any place or work-room one may please, and one of the greatest and best fields in all Nueva Biscaya."4

The "many people" were three thousand Indians who had gathered to meet him and to beseech him to remain with them. Kino was willing, for he regarded San Xavier as the strategic point in his plans for advance. He asked permission to move his headquarters thither, but he was needed elsewhere, and in his stead Father Gonzalvo was sent. In the same year Mission San Gabriel was built at Guebaviº and Father San Martín was installed there. For the support of his missions and the Indians who gathered about them Kino started large stock and grain farms; and once at least he sent as many as seven hundred head of cattle to his brethren on the Peninsula of California.

As an explorer Kino ranks among the greatest of the Southwest. From Mission Dolores, during the twenty-four years of his ministry, he made over fifty journeys, which varied in length from a hundred to a thousand miles. He crossed repeatedly in various directions all the country between the Magdalena and the Gila rivers and between the  p200 San Pedro and the Colorado. One of his trails lay over the waterless Devil's Highway, where scores of adventurers have since lost their lives. Sometimes his only companions were a few Indian servants. But he usually traveled with plenty of horses and mules from his ranches, sometimes as many as a hundred and thirty head. His physical hardihood was great, and there are many stories of his hard riding. More than once, like a general, Kino mustered his Pima children and sent them out to war against the unsociable Apaches. And, when the Spanish authorities disputed the number of Apache scalps they were requested to pay for, it was Kino who galloped off to count the scalps and see to it that his children were not stinted of their bonus. For himself, he cherished hardship. He ate sparingly, drank no wine, and went meagerly clothed.

Kino's last days were to him a time of stagnation and disappointment. The Spanish monarchy was at its lowest ebb, and funds for the support of the missions were not to be had unless they served some important political purpose. Texas, not Arizona, was the danger point now, and funds had to be used there. Kino died in 1711 at Magdalena, one of the missions which he had founded, across  p201 the mountains from Dolores. He was not yet seventy. Father Velarde, a companion, has thus described his last moments: "He died as he had lived, with extreme humility and poverty. . . . His deathbed, as his bed had always been, consisted of two calfskins for a mattress, two blankets such as the Indians use for covers, and a pack-saddle for a pillow. . . . No one ever saw in him any vice whatsoever, for the discovery of lands and the conversion of souls had purified him. . . . He was merci­ful to others but cruel to himself."

For two decades now the Arizona frontier slumbered. Then, Apache depredations in Sonora, a military inspection, and a visit by the Bishop of Durango shook it to renewed life. A missionary revival followed. In 1732 a new band of Jesuits, mostly Germans — Keler, Sedelmayr, Steiger, Grashofer, Paver — took up the work which the great founder had laid down with his life. San Xavier and others of the abandoned missions were reoccupied. Interest in the border was enhanced by a mining "rush" in 1736. Immense nuggets of free silver were found at Arizonac, in the upper Altar valley, just over the present Sonora line. It is from this place that the State of Arizona gets its name. For a time the region fairly hummed with  p202 life, but after five years the mines played out and there was another dozing spell. A Pima uprising in 1751 caused another awakening. To hold the district a presidio was built at Tubac in 1752. Here the military frontier halted for twenty-four years, and then it advanced to Tucson.

Meanwhile Salvatierra and his companions — for others had joined him from time to time — were succeeding across the Gulf of California. Having slender royal aid, the missionaries had to depend at first on private alms. In a short time prominent individuals had contributed $47,000, which constituted the nucleus of the famous Pious Fund of California. Missionary beginnings were made at Loreto, halfway up the inner coast of the Peninsula. Soon a palisaded fort and church were constructed there, and within a year Salvatierra had four launches plying back and forth, to and from the mainland. Gradually the work extended to the surrounding country, new missions were founded in the neighborhood, and explorations were made across the Peninsula to the Pacific. Salvatierra was much interested in Kino's efforts to establish a land route between Arizona and Lower California, and joined him, in 1701, on one of his expeditions.

 p203  In a report written in February, 1702, Father Picolo, in fervid and poetic language tells of the landing of himself and Salvatierra and depicts their mission as it appeared to them in their spirit of exaltation and sacrifice. They had taken, he wrote, "as the guiding star of our voyage that star of the sea, the most devoted image of the Lady of Loreto, which led us without mishap to the desired port." And on landing they had set up the image "as decently as the country and our poverty would permit" and had placed the "undertaking in her hands" that she, like a "beneficent sun," might banish the pagan night blinding the Indians with the shadows of death. Satan had not watched the coming of the padres unmoved at the prospect of losing "his ancient and peaceful possession" of heathen souls.

As he blinded their understandings, they could not comprehend the words of the light which, with resplendent rays, spoke the language of heaven for their welfare, while we, upon hearing a language which we had not known, could not in ours, which they had not heard, make known to them the high purpose, for them so advantageous, which had taken us to their lands. And although we had gone to their shores solely to seek the precious pearls of their souls, to nurture them with the heavenly dew of the Divine Word, and to give  p204 them their luster in Christ, showing them the celestial shell Mary, who conceived for their good, with the gentle dew of heaven, the perfect pearl of first luster, Christ, they thought we came like others who at other times, sometimes not without injury to their people, had landed on their shores in search of the many and rich pearls which were produced in the countless fisheries of their coast. With this opinion quickened at the instigation of the Devil, . . . they attacked our little guard . . . with such fury and so thick a shower of arrows and stones that if the Lady had not constituted an army to resist it . . . our purpose would have been frustrated. With this glorious triumph their pride was humbled. . . . Some of them came to our camp. . . . Then through easy intercourse with them we devoted all our efforts to learning their language.​5

Salvatierra followed the same plan which Kino and his associates employed in establishing their work. He sent a padre, or went himself, to visit a tribe, to make gifts and to talk of religion, until the Indians were won over and were willing to have a mission erected in their village. Each new mission was placed within easy communication of one already established from which supplies could be drawn until the new mission was able to support itself. Some fifteen missions were ultimately established in Salvatierra's domain by separate  p205 endowment made through the charity and zeal of some rich Catholic who sought by this means his own grace and the benefit of the heathen. Two were endowed with ten thousand pesos each by a "priest commissioner of the court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition," another by certain members of a Jesuit college in Mexico; but the greater part of the Pious Fund was contributed by non-clericals. Patiently Salvatierra and his assistants went on their chosen task, erecting missions, gathering the Indians in pueblos under trustworthy native alcaldes, teaching them agriculture, stock raising, saddlery, and shoemaking, improving on the native fashion of weaving, and — for the beautifying of the church services and for their own innocent entertainment — instructing them in music and singing.

In the midst of his work Salvatierra was called to Mexico to serve as provincial of New Spain, but at the expiration of his term he returned and continued his work till 1717. For twenty years the history of Lower California had been little more than his own biography. After Salvatierra's death more liberal aid was provided, and new missions were established both in the south and the north. Before their expulsion the Jesuits had founded  p206 missions and opened trails throughout almost the entire length of the peninsula.

The lives of such men as Kino and Salvatierra — and of some of their associates who met martyrdom at the hands of their flocks — are the undimming gold of one side of the shield. It was for what he professed to see on the reverse side of that shield that Carlos III, in 1767, banished the Jesuits from his dominions. For a year or two the Franciscans occupied the former Jesuit field; but, when a new advance north was made, the Peninsula was assigned to the Dominicans and Alta California to the Franciscans.

The work of the Jesuits in Lower California had opened the way for the colonization of Alta California. The preparations for settlement were made at Loreto and other mission towns, from which land expeditions started; and the ships from Mexico were overhauled and stocked in seaports on the Peninsula. Thus the first stages of the northward journey of the founders of California were made through a province where peaceable natives and a chain of missions and mission farms reduced the hazards of the march.

The Author's Notes:

1 Lowery, Spanish Settlements, vol. I p400.

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2 In Chihuahua.

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3 A porous stone much used by Mexicans for building.

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4 Bolton, Kino's Historical Memoir, vol. II, pp235‑36.

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5 Bolton, Kino's Historical Memoir, vol. II, pp47‑49.

Thayer's Note:

a That smoothed and beaten plaster should shine may seem odd, but it does: the technique was well known to the Romans, and Vitruvius describes how to achieve the effect: see the section on sideboards in the article Abacus in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, and especially my note there.

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