The Mission San Jose de Tumacacori

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by Richard A. Zidonis   Contact Rich

The Gadsden Purchase in 1853, ratified by Congress in 1854, gave us Tubac and most of what we call Southern Arizona. At the time, Tubac was within the Territory of New Mexico. In 1864, we split away from that initial territorial assignment and became the Territory of Arizona.

About that time, there was a man named Ben C. Truman that we now know as a distinguished civil war correspondent and an authority on duels. But back in 1867, he was a Special Agent of the Post Office Department ordered into the Arizona Territory to examine the "condition of Post Offices and post roads," and that brought him to our Santa Cruz Valley.

Future Arizona TerritoryBen considered his assignment to the Territory the makings of "A Very Dangerous Trip," which, coincidentally, is what he named his piece for The New York Times, published 23-years later in June of 1890.

Prior to his departure, he made the comment that the papers were "full of the atrocities done by the Arizona Apaches" along the route he was to travel. "Soldiers… miners and prospectors, and drivers of 'prairie schooners' and mail wagons were being murdered and mutilated by these meanest and most cruel of all American savages, and often burned over slow fires by their squaws if time permitted…."

Today, roasted over a slow fire is a marketing phrase. Not so much then.

Ben added, "There was no place on the continent at just that time when it could have been more truly said that a man carried his life in his hands."

Ben departed from San Francisco on February 9, 1867, proceeding to San Diego by steamer, and to Los Angeles by horse. While in Los Angeles, Truman met General Rusling of the Quartermaster's Department who was making independent plans for a trip over the same route envisioned by Truman. The two combined forces for the journey, making eight days to Yuma by "beast," then onward to Tucson in ten days.

As a sidenote, Truman would often assist their cook. In his words, he said I would help "with the culinary premises, much to the disgust of my dignified New Jersey friend Rusling, who was exceedingly aristocratic… and who never deigned to speak" to the cook "except on business."

In our modern age we are more polite. Well, superficially. We all know what happens to food sent back to the kitchen to be perhaps warmed. I wonder if the cook back then found his own way to cope with this needless frontier aristocracy.

While the party rested in Tucson, Mr. Truman found the time to visit Tubac, which is the perfect opportunity for us to shift the narrative to Mr. Truman's own voice:

"The only other mission in Southeastern Arizona is that of the ruins of San Jose de Tumacacori, about forty miles from San Xavier del Bac. The first mission built in this neighborhood was consecrated at Tubac, forty-six miles from Tucson, in 1750, and was called the Santa Gertrude Mission. In twenty days after its construction the church was destroyed and all the missionaries and solders and friendly Indians killed by the Apaches.

"In 1751 a new church was built upon the site of the ruins above named, four miles from Tubac, and this, too, was destroyed by the Apaches before it was a year old. In a few years the missionaries tried it again, and in 1801 San Jose de Tumacacori received its finishing touches by the Gauwa brothers.

"The Apaches were invited to be present at the consecration, and a large number of fatted calves were killed and a very little fire water, judiciously diluted, was distributed. The Apaches behaved themselves for eighteen years, when one day in September, 1819, they came down upon Tumacacori, killed everybody they could find, and left the mission in pretty much the condition one finds it today. (today being 1891 -  editor)

Mission Tumacacori"While Tumacacori did not approach San Xavier in architectural beauty and grandeur, the outer and communicating buildings were more extensive and agricultural and mineral expectations greater. Even at the present time the ruin is not so complete but that the passer-by may see a good deal to reward him for a day or two at Tubac and vicinity.

The main building was 100 by 45 feet, and its shape was that of a Greek cross. It was built of both kiln-burned bricks and adobes, which were put together by a superior cement and concrete made by the Gauwas. It was well timbered and surmounted by two domes – one over the chancel and one upon the southeastern corner. There were pretentious residences for the priests and soldiers and master workmen, and comfortable adobes for  their peons and neophytes. There were oranges, limes, lemons, pomegranates, pears, figs, and gardens of vegetables and plants.

"The dome of the chancel is still in a fair state of preservation. But the timbers are all 'knocked which-way,' the tile roof is 'topsy-turvy' on the ground, the residences have 'gone to grass,' and the constellations may be seen from the ground floor. The old gardens, with their hyperborean and semi-tropical productions, have ceased to exist. The space dedicated to chants and benedictions is a jumble of brickbats and adobes. Only the jay and the linnet assist at mass, and the mocking bird and the nightingale at vespers. All the men who made the church and all the men who destroyed it have crossd (sic) the mysterious river and have had their reckoning.

"But there is the old ruin left, and with it the majesty of annals. There is the same sun in the morning and the same moon at night. The same mountains lift themselves up like colossal ramparts, and the same trees shade the same springs of delicious water the year round.

"The day after we left Tubac the Apaches raided that little town and killed five men. They also severely wounded a man named Buckalew of Pennsylvania, whose uncle was at that time United States Senator from the Keystone State. Buckalew was taken up for dead, but he pulled through, as I met him years afterward, minus a leg and otherwise not as fairly proportioned as when he entered the Territory."

As mentioned earlier, Ben Truman went on to other fames and fortunes, but he did leave us his voice and personality and wit. He is with us, as we today enjoy the same sun in the morning and the same moon at night, and his same mountains still lift as colossal ramparts. Soldiers, miners, prospectors, and drivers of 'prairie schooners' and mail wagons, postal inspectors and Apaches, and each raised the Tubac dust… as we do now.

As the man once said, when you get to where you're going, there you are.
...and that's where we are: at the end of this month's newsletter. Until we meet again, stay well... and see you somewhere. Rich and Peggy