Reenactors fire a cannon at the partially restored presidio in historic downtown Tucson.
I am of the opinion that we cannot truly appreciate a place if we don’t know or understand its history. For that reason Southern Arizona Guide has a lot of local history. For example, Ms. Karen recently went shopping for summer dresses in Tombstone. She was sifting through a clothes rack only a few feet from where Morgan Earp was assassinated in 1882. Knowing such trivia can change one’s perspective with just a little imagination.
A few weeks ago Neighbor Roy & I were walking through a new 6 acre garden that is protected by high adobe walls. This garden is located at the base of “A” Mountain and was built on the same site as the original Mission Garden established by Father Kino in the late 1600′s. AND the grape vines, fruit trees, and myriad crops are the descendants of those first seeds and saplings that this intrepid Jesuit priest brought from Spain more than 300 years ago. Amazing!
However, when I considered how to tell the story of the Mission Garden, I realized that I did not know its history as well as I should. So, as I typically do, I build a timeline to help get my mind around this fascinating story. What follows is the result. The story of Mission Garden will follow in a week or so. We call Tucson “The Old Pueblo”, but most Tucsonans have no idea how old it really is. Moreover, like most Tucsonans, I thought that Tucson began at the old Spanish presidio on the east side of the Santa Cruz River near what is today the Tucson Museum of Art. When you read the following timeline, you will realize how wrong I was.
Along the Santa Cruz River that flows north from Mexico through Tucson, you will find the Spanish missions and presidios (forts) of the Pimeria Alta, land of the Upper Pimas.
Today, Interstate 19 makes traveling this 70-mile section of Arizona history an easy day trip. Along the way are some very good restaurants, an extraordinary artist village, enlightening museums, and ruins far older than our Southern Arizona ghost towns. Personally, I found these places far more interesting once I began to understand their history. For me, timelines help put major historical events in perspective.
“Pima” is a general reference to various indigenous groups who resided along Southern Arizona rivers. At the time the Spanish arrived, the …
- Akimel O’odham lived along the Gila & Salt Rivers near present-day Phoenix;
- Sobaipuri O’odham lived along the San Pedro River near present-day Sierra Vista and;
- Sobaipuri O’odham & Tohono O’odham lived along the Santa Cruz River near present-day Tucson, Tubac, & Tumacácori.
Each speaks a dialect of the broader Piman language and claim a lineage to the older Hohokam culture. The term Hohokam is derived from an O’otham word meaning “those who have gone before” or simply “The Ancestors”.
The Spanish called the indigenous people living along the Santa Cruz River near Mission San Xavier “Papago”; Spanish for “bean-eater”. Tepary beans were an important crop & source of nutrition. In the 1980’s theses people officially changed their name to Tohono O’odham, meaning “Desert People”. Today, referring to them as “Papago” could be considered an insult. The Tohono O’odham have a huge reservation southeast of Tucson.
Because of their losing struggle against Apache raiders, the Sobaipuri eventually merged with the Tohono O’odham and disappeared as a distinct people.
This is the San Pedro River today. A long time ago the Santa Cruz River near Tucson was also lined with giant cottonwoods & gnarled old mesquites.
11,000 B.C.: Paleo-Indians of the Clovis culture are hunting large mammals, such as mammoth, camel, horse, and bison, along the perennially flowing Santa Cruz River in what is now Southern Arizona near Tucson. The River is lined with huge cottonwood, Arizona sycamore, & gnarled mesquite trees.
1200 B.C.: Paleo-Indians predating the Hohokam are farming along the Santa Cruz River where Tucson is today. They construct the earliest known irrigation canals in North America. They cultivate maize, squash, beans & other crops. However, they continue their hunting & gathering practices because farming alone does not supply enough food.
400 A.D.: Beginning of the Hohokam culture of complex irrigation canals, large villages, and distinctive pottery. Unlike their predecessors, the Hohokam rely mostly on their irrigated crops and less on hunting & gathering.
1400-1450 A.D.: Hohokam culture collapses, probably due to sustained drought & poor soil management.
1691: Father Kino, a Jesuit, establishes Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori on the east side of the Santa Cruz River adjacent to a Pima Indian village. A small adobe structure serves as a church.
1692: Father Kino establishes Mission San Xavier del Bac at a Tohono O’odham village on the west side of the Santa Cruz River. “Bac” is a Spanish transliteration of a Tohono O’odham word that means “place where the water appears”. At one time there were substantial springs here that made successful farming possible.
Ruins of the Tucson Convento, Chapel, & Cemetery on the West Bank of the Santa Cruz River. Image from Tucson Citizen.
1692: Father Kino encounters a year ‘round Sobaipuri O’odham village at the base of Sentinel Peak (“A” Mountain). The Indians refer to this extensive flood plain as S-cuk Son; meaning “at the base of Black Mountain”. S-cuk Son eventually morphs into the Spanish Chuk-shon, then the Mexican Tuk-son; then the Anglo pronunciation with the silent “c”. Kino names his new mission “San Cosmé del Tucson” and establishes a small “visita” for visiting priests from Mission San Xavier del Bac six miles up river. Nearly 100 years later, the “visita” is named Mission San Agustín de Tucson and expanded to include a chapel, convento, two cemeteries, and outbuildings, including a large granary, the walled Mission Garden, and an extensive system of irrigated agricultural fields. The convento, chapel & walled mission garden site will become Tucson Origins Heritage Park.
The preserved ruins of Mission Tumacacori today.
1751: Following the Pima Indian rebellion, Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori is moved to its present site on the west side of the Santa Cruz River and renamed San José de Tumacácori. Today, no one knows what the word “Tumacácori” meant to the people who lived here.
1752: Construction begins on Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac. It’s the first European fort in the Pimeria Alta. Eventually, its ruins will become the first Arizona State Park.
1770: Apaches destroy the original mission church at San Xavier del Bac about 2 miles from the present site.
1770: San Agustín Mission Gardens established inside high adobe walls at the base of Sentinel Hill (“A” Mountain) 6 miles north of Mission San Xavier. The Indians living here have dammed the perennially flowing Santa Cruz River and created a spider web of canals to irrigate their crops, primarily squash, beans, & maize. From Europe, the Spanish bring saplings of fruit trees, such as pomegranate, lime, and apricot, & crop seeds, such as wheat, thus greatly increasing the variety and quantity of available food in this harsh desert environment.
Modern Tucson Today. Walled Mission Garden in the foreground were recently built over the original. Volunteers are growing heritage crops; descendants from seeds & saplings brought here by Fr. Kino centuries ago. The surrounding undeveloped area will someday be the Tucson Origins Heritage Park with a replica convento & chapel.
1771: Construction begins on Mission San Agustín de Tucson. Known as the Tucson Convento, or sometimes “visita”, it is a two-story fortified adobe mission complex. It will be abandoned in the late 1800′s as Tucson develops mostly on the east side of the Santa Cruz River in the area surrounding El Presidio San Agustin de Tucson. Like all early Spanish forts, it is built to protect Spanish settlers and local Indians from marauding Apaches. The Convento is completely gone by the 1950’s and covered by a landfill.
1775: Spanish soldiers abandon El Presidio de Tubac, move north about 45 miles, and establish El Presidio San Agustin de Tucson on the east side of the Santa Cruz River. The new fort, about 11 acres in size, is built on the ruins of a Hohokam village. The remnants of the Hohokam presence can be viewed today at the partially restored Presidio in downtown Tucson.
1775-1776: Juan Bastista de Anza leads an expedition of 240 colonists and 1000 head of livestock from Tubac west across the desert to California. When they reach Alta California (Northern California) they establish a little village on a fine bay and call it San Francisco in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. It will become one of the great cities of the world.
1783: Construction of the present church at San Xavier del Bac begins. Local Papago Indians (called Tohono O’odham today) do most of the hard work, but also create some of the artistic features.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
1797: Construction of Mission San Xavier del Bac completed. Today it is a National Historic Landmark and considered the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.
1821: Construction begins on the present church at
1821: Mexicans win independence from Spain. The Pimeria Alta becomes part of the State of Sonora, Mexico.
1848: Mission Tumacácori is abandoned due to frequent Apache attacks. Anything that can be salvaged is taken to Mission San Xavier.
1854: Through the Gadsden Purchase, the Pimeria Alta becomes part of the United States in what is New Mexico Territory. (The Territory of Arizona will be split off from New Mexico in 1863.)
Newpaper clipping: Last remaining portion of the Tucson Presidio’s original adobe wall.
1890’s: As Tucson’s population grows, wood-burning mechanical steam pumps begin extracting water from the Santa Cruz River, local springs, and the aquifer as never before. (When Americans first came to Tucson in the 1860’s, the ground water was only about 18 feet below the surface. By 1985, the underground water level was 200 feet below the surface. Today, the Santa Cruz is mostly dry except after a heavy rainstorm. The natural springs & groves of cottonwood, mesquite, & Arizona sycamore trees along the riverbank are long gone. The aquifer beneath Tucson would not exist without importing billions of gallons of water annually from the Colorado River.)
1908: President Theodore Roosevelt declares Mission Tumacácori a National Monument. Restoration and stabilization efforts begin in an effort to preserve what is left. Today, it is a National Park administered by our U.S. National Park Service.
1912: The Arizona Territory becomes the State of Arizona, the last of the contiguous United States of America.
1918: The last vestiges of the Presidio de Tucson adobe wall is torn down to make room for modernity.