Tubac Historical Overview

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Compiled by Richard A. Zidonis
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[Author's note¹: This article compiled from wikipedia sources.]
[Author's note²: Primary source document for alternative origin/translation of "Tubac." jump]

The name Tubac is a Spanish corruption of O'odham phrase "s-cuk ba'a", or perhaps "cu wa", meaning "black water" or "low place", respectively. Tubac is situated on the Santa Cruz River.

Tubac was the original Spanish colonial garrison in Arizona. It was depopulated during the O'odham Uprising in the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century, the area was repopulated by miners, farmers and ranchers, but the town of Tubac is best known today as an artists' colony.

Established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, the first Spanish colonial garrison in what is now Arizona, Tubac was one of the stops on the Camino Real (the "Royal Road") from Mexico to the Spanish settlements in California.

Tubac's most famous Spanish resident was Juan Bautista de Anza. While stationed at Tubac (1760-1776), de Anza built the chapel of Santa Gertrudis, the foundations of which lie beneath today's St. Ann's Church.

The remains of the old Spanish presidio are preserved by Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The park also features a regional museum, an underground archeology display, and other historic buildings.

California gambler and highwayman Jack Powers was murdered in Mexico in November 1860, south of Nogales, and his body fed to a pen of starving hogs. The uneaten part of his corpse was buried in the Arizona Territory south of Tubac.

Tubac was the scene of a three day siege in 1861, between Tubac's male population, Confederate militia and Apache warriors.

The Siege of Tubac was a siege of the Apache Wars, between settlers, militia of Confederate Arizona and Chiricahua Apaches. The battle took place at Tubac in the present day southern Arizona.

The town's people fought the Apaches for three days until sending a dispatch rider to Tucson, requesting reinforcements.

Apache warriors, over 200 strong, attacked Tubac sometime in early August and initiated a siege on one side of the town. Mexican bandits occupied the other side but stayed out of the major fighting.

A force of twenty-five militiamen, carrying a Confederate Flag and commanded by a Granville Henderson Oury, arrived at the town and fought off the final assault. The Apaches withdrew out of close range but continued to lay siege by stopping the ability of the militia to escape. Eventually, food and ammunition became short and the garrison, women and children chose to flee to avoid being massacred by the overwhelming Apache army.

The Arizonans escaped successfully after another skirmish on the last night, leaving Tubac to be burned by the native army and plundered by the Mexican bandits. The Americans headed back to Tucson, to the north, having completed their objective of rescuing the besieged Tubacans.

The Tubacans, with their town virtually gone, left Tucson at about August 15, 1861. Their destination was the Rio Grande River, east of Mesilla. Before completing their journey, the Arizonans would be attacked again by Apaches, this engagement is known as the Battle of Cooke's Canyon. The battle in Cooke's Canyon resulted in the Battle of the Florida Mountains.

Charles D. Poston was one of the men who left Tubac as result of the siege, Poston, a republican, supported the creation of an Arizona Territory separate from New Mexico Territory, which he discussed with President Abraham Lincoln after leaving Tubac.

After the Civil War Tubac was briefly home to a command of United States troops but no population existed. The town was abandoned into the 1880s. By 1908, Tubac was being rebuilt but still had a very small population of less than 200. As of today, 149 years later, only about 1000 people reside in the town.

The Apache Wars were fought during the nineteenth century between American settlers, the U.S. and or C.S. Army and many Apache tribes in what is now the southwestern United States.

The conflict lasted from 1851, with the arrival of American settlers, to 1886, the year Geronimo surrendered. However, Apache attacks on white and mexican settlers continued as late as 1900. Some historians group the Apaches and Navajos together because they have similar languages (Athapascan) and cultures.

In the early years of the wars, the Apache war battles were often the result of stolen property and massacres of whites and Mexicans. This period; roughly from 1851 to 1875. The latter period from 1875 to 1886, the United States engaged Apaches in order to settle them on reservations or to keep them from escaping the reservations. With the capture of Geronimo in 1886, the period then on to 1900 was a time of small skirmishes between white settlers and little packs of Apaches who evaded the U.S. Army's reservations. A lot of the time, individual Apache warriors were reported to have made attacks.

Sometimes the Native Americans were provoked by white and Mexican settlers, speculators of the federal Indian Reservation policy. Apache leaders like Mangas Coloradas of the Bedonkohe; Cochise of the Chokonen; Victorio of the Chihenne band; Juh of the Nednhi band; Delshay of the Tonto; and Geronimo of the Bedonkohe led war or raiding parties against non-Apaches and resisted the military's attempts, by force and persuasion, to relocate their people to various reservations.

At the start of the Mexican-American War in 1846, many Apache bands promised U.S. soldiers safe passage through their land. When the U.S. claimed the former frontier territories of Mexico in 1848, Mangas Coloradas signed a peace treaty, respecting them as conquerors of the Mexicans' land. An uneasy peace between the Apache and the now citizens of the United States held until an influx of gold miners into the Santa Rita Mountains of present day Arizona, led to conflict.


Author's note²: An astute reader with the initials T.A asked me a question I could not answer. He asked for a primary source document for the meaning of "Tubac" as "black water" or "low place." He knew what he was asking, as neither meaning is supported by a valid, primary source document (that I can locate). In fact, the documents listing those meanings often source each other in a "he said - she said" daisy chain that is not supported by any academic research. He made his point.

Within his e-mail, he included a link that provided primary, academic insight into the origin and the meaning of the word "Tubac."

Here is an excerpt from the document located at that link:

Tubac Through Four Centuries
An Historical Resume and Analysis
by Henry F. Dobyns

"The place name Tubac is an English borrowing from a Hispanicized form of a northern Piman Indian place designation. English speakers tend to accent the word on its first syllable and drawl that first vowel. Contemporary Spanish speakers tend to accent the final syllable although such usage violates the norms of Spanish stress which would place the accent upon the penultimate syllable. The term Tubac has a written accent over the "a" in many Spanish manuscripts, denoting this stress pattern and proving its relative antiquity. This stress pattern probably reflects an historic elimination of a third and final syllable in the term, for when first taken into Spanish speech, it was spelled Tubaca. The written accent on the "a" of Tubac possibly represents an attempt to retain an accent on this final syllable after the original final syllable was dropped.

"In any event, the Spaniards modified the original Indian accent of the term in adopting it to their usage. The original Indian word was stressed upon its initial syllable. This was and is the rule in northern Piman speech, and the word is still so pronounced by contemporary Piman speakers. An additional phonetic change in the original Piman term was made by Spaniards adopting it. The initial consonant was changed from tch or tdj to an ordinary Indo-European "T" with the sound value of the initial "T" in ten.

"The northern Piman consonant rendered tch or tdj has no Spanish or English equivalent, hence it was not adopted. The Spanish and Piman "u" is like the oo in English cool; the Spanish "b" or "v" is a labial softer than the English "b", yet harder than the Piman aspirated "w" and this second consonant in the place name is now pronounced "harder" by Spanish speaking residents in southern Arizona as a result of English influence. The Spanish and Piman "a" sounds like the "a" of father in English. The Spanish "c" is equivalent in this usage to an English "k" and stands for a Piman consonant which is an intermediate glottal written sometimes "g" and sometimes "k" in English and "g" or "c" in Spanish. The Pimans do not distinguish two consonants as do the European languages.

"The original Piman place name may be written Tchoowaka in English orthography, remembering that the initial syllable is accented. Tchuvaca would be a somewhat more accurate Spanish rendition than the conventional version.

'Tchoowaka translates into English as "rotten."'

Rotten? Why, you ask? The story continues here.

T.A., thank you for your valued input.

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