The Missions of Arizona

The first Mission settlement in Arizona was made in 1732. Father Felipe Segesser founded San Xavier del Bac, and Juan Bautista founded San Miguel de Guevavi. These were regular Missions; the Indian rancherias in that region were only visitas. In 1750 a presidio was located at Guevavi. The settlements formed by Father Kuehn forty years before had disappeared. Pimeria Alta was the name of Arizona at this time. During this year a revolt among the Pimas resulted in the murder of two priests of the Missions and nearly one hundred Spaniards. The Missions were deserted, but again occupied three years later. This blow from the natives destroyed the prospects and usefulness of all Missions in Pimeria. The Moquis in the Northeast were a bone of contention between the Jesuits and Franciscans, and this, with the hostility of these cliff dwellers, defeated mission labors with them until the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768. Pimeria was a portion of eastern Sonora, and assumed the name of Arizona in 1846. The annals of events in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early part of the eighteenth century of these changing provinces and their boundary lines are so meager and confused that Mission history is very indistinct and unreliable.

The Franciscans had sole possession of this field after 1768. There were no Missions in Arizona until many years after Father Kuehn’s death in 1711; in fact, there were no Spanish Missions save in Santa Cruz Valley. Bac and Guevavi were the only Missions there, yet there were several visitas de rancherias in this locality, protected by the garrison at Tubac. The Indian settlements founded or visited by Kuehn have been called Missions by the Spanish historians. The Missions and visitas de rancherias were transferred to the Franciscans, but their property had been confiscated from the Jesuits by the Government.

The friars who took control of the Indian settlements had no means of their own, but lived upon pensions. They held their little Mission communities together by labors of love, teaching, caring for the sick, ministering to the dying, and instructing the children, whom they won by presents. Into their rude chapels, built of brush, stone, or adobe, they induced the Indian by persuasion and promises to enter and listen to divine service; but they had little influence on his life. The good padres found him heathen and left him heathen.

As late as 1829 there were no records to show of the existence of Missions in Arizona. Many efforts had been made in the Gila River regions since 1640 to establish Missions; but the vastness of this wilderness, and its entire control by fierce and savage tribes, made the task of the missionary practically hopeless. The visitas de rancherias were resorted to as substitutes for regular Missions, and these were at all times subject to every danger and hardship incident to savage life.

The progress made in Mission life in Arizona from 1768 to 1846, a period of seventy-eight years, is shown by the fact that twenty-two visita stations were permanently established, as well as the two regular Missions already referred to. The American invasion of those regions gave the movement greater vigor, until in 1901 the census revealed a membership of forty thousand Catholic women within a large district, of which Tucson was the center.

Return to: The Missions of California and the Old Southwest

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