Religion at the Mexican Town of Tubac


The religious life of the people of Tubac after Mexico became independent paralleled the political and military spheres: for a few years the momentum of Spanish colonialism carried priests and people along relatively unchanged. Then political demands for the expulsion of Spanish Tories from the new nation brought about the forced departure of the 581priest at Tumacácori Mission who was acting chaplain of the Tubac garrison. Thus formal religious activities were the first to feel the effects of independence from Spain and heralded the changes which ensued in all aspects of life in this frontier military post.

1. Fray Ramon Liberos

Fray Juan Bautista Estelric officiated at Tumacácori Mission and Tubac during the transition from colonialism to independence, but his successor, Fray Ramon Liberos, bore the brunt of republicanism.

In the spring of 1822 Liberos traveled around to the various Upper Pimeria missions as secretary to the Comisary Prefect, Fray Francisco Nuñez. They evidently traveled to the western missions first, visiting Oquitoa on March 23 (Libro de Bautismos del Partido de Huquitoa de 1757:58v), and Tubutama on March 28th (San Pedro y San Pablo de Tubutama, Libro de Bautismos). Then they went north up the Santa Cruz River Valley, visiting Tumacácori Mission on April 6, 1822 (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Entierros, f. 177). By the end of that month they were back at Nuñez's residence at Magdalena (Libro de Entierros No. 2, Santa María Magdalena).

The Commissary Prefect evidently decided to send Liberos to Tumacácori Mission to replace Estelric as a result of his tour of visitation, for Liberos arrived there the following month to take in hand the completion of the church building under construction and the financing thereof. By May 20, 5821822, he was writing to the purchaser of four thousand head of cattle sold by Estelric to finance the new church attempting to collect (Liberos May 20, 1822). The new structure was finished enough for Liberos to transfer the bones of Friars Carrillo and Gutierrez to the new church on December 13, 1822 (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Entierros; Stoner 1937:69-70). The effort to collect from the officer who had bought the cattle dragged on for many more months.

At the same time, Liberos tackled one of the Tubac land grantees, Leon Herreras, to protect the rights of the Tumacácori Mission Indians to grazing and irrigated fields in lower Sonoita Canyon. Herreras had obtained a grant at old San José de Sonoyta Mission and his area adjoined the mission grant. Liberos obtained an agreement with Herreras as to the boundary between the two grants (Britton & Gray 1884:29-30).

In the spring of 1825 Liberos filled up the record book, started by the pioneer Jesuits at Guebavi Mission nearly a century before and continued by his Franciscan predecessors (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Bautismos f. 65v). Liberos began a new volume of records, but it has not survived. The priest burned his private papers on the eve of his departure from the mission, evidently when the Spanish priests were expelled from Sonora (ibid.). He may have felt that in his case there was some written evidence of the sort of activity by Spaniards which led to their expulsion from the new republic.

5832. The Expulsion of Spaniards

Although Mexican independence was achieved with relatively little bloodshed, the Spanish government was extremely reluctant to admit that Mexico was in fact independent, just as it refused to recognize the independence of the rest of its New World colonies. Some loyal Spaniards continued to work for a restoration of Spanish sovereignty in Mexico, so the Mexican government finally decided to expel all Peninsular-born Spaniards from the country except those who had fought on the republican side or who had Mexican-born wives and children and were not active Tories, were over sixty years of age or had permanent physical incapacities (Bancroft 1885:V:60 fn 39). The federal congress passed its expulsion law on December 20, 1827.

The federal law was implemented in Sonora by a state expulsion law passed in 1828. The enforcement of these laws resulted in some conflicts between the civil authorities and army officers over proper jurisdiction (Redondo April 9, 1828:1-1v). Civil officials felt that enforcement fell within their sphere but army officers from the state commander on down tended to take the bit in their teeth and throw the Spanish rascals out.

The post commander at Tubac played a key role in the expulsion on the frontier, ordering the Altar commandant to reconnoitre the various northern Pima towns to find out whether execution of the laws would motivate the Indians to rebel (Tobar April 8, 1828:1). The mission communities at Caborca, San 584Xavier del Bac, Tubutama and Oquitoa were particular points of concern-evidently the military felt that Tumacácori was sufficiently overawed by Tubac to present no problem. The Altar officer was authorized to draw on the garrisons at Tubac, Santa Cruz, Altar and Fronteras for fifteen men from each post to carry out the reconnaissance (ibid.), giving him a total force of sixty men.

In carrying out his reconnaissance, the Altar commander, Juan José Tobar, nonetheless looked over the situation at Tumacácori Mission on his way to Mission St. Francis Xavier at Bac (Redondo April 9, 1828:2).

The attitude of frontier residents toward the expulsion of Spaniards insofar as it affected their Franciscan missionary priests may be summed up by quoting the head of the city council at Altar on the feelings of people there. The state officials feared expulsion of the Spanish priests might lead to Indian depredations and other public disorders. The Altar mayor dryly commented:

The tranquility which is enjoyed in all of the towns of this district is indicated in the documents cited. I am able to assure Your Excellency under my responsibility that it is thus effective.  I do not deny to Your Excellency that upon the separation from their Missions of the two clergymen who are in charge of the seven places which make up this district, their inhabitants will show some sentiment from the lack of some clergymen 585of known probity who have administered them for more than twenty years. At the same time I shall deny that they intend to impede with force compliance with any law or laws which intend nothing less than the tranquility of the Republic....(Redondo April 9, 1828:1v).

When the military finished, priests remained at only two of the eight missions staffed by the College of the Holy Cross at Querétaro. Crusty Faustino Gonzalez at Caborca followed the advice of the Altar city council and resisted expulsion even though he was a Peninsular-born Spaniard. In 1831 his position was regularized by a license to remain in Mexico issued by the federal government. At the same time an aged Spaniard named Serna who had been a royal official at the mine camp of Cieneguilla for many years and had been sacked for republican activities in 1810 and had Mexican-born children received a license to remain in Sonora, as did a Redondo who was probably the father of the mayor of Altar, Santiago Redondo, who stood behind Fray Faustino.

At the booming town of Magdalena to the east, two priests remained. One was José María Pérez Llera, who had been there previous to the expulsion and was apparently a native Mexican. Father Pérez Llera raised money by begging alms throughout the state of Sonora to construct the present church at Magdalena, completed in 1832. Later, he became guardian of the College of the Holy Cross at Querétaro. His companion at 586Magdalena was Fray Rafael DÎaz who had been the missionary at Mission St. Francis Xavier at Bac and acting chaplain to the Tucson garrison since 1824. DÎaz had to leave the northern mission in 1828, perhaps because he was Peninsular-born, but managed to stay on at Magdalena to assist Father Pérez Llera in administering Magdalena and its many nearby settlements (Dîaz 1828).

Fray Ramon Liberos, the Franciscan dynamo who had completed construction of the present church building at Tumacácori Mission in 1822 (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Entierros), was apparently expelled as a Peninsular-born Spaniard, and the Tubac garrison was thus left without an acting chaplain for the first time in its long existence.

Priests were not, of course, the only foreigners in newly independent Mexico, nor were all foreigners Spaniards. After the first fury of expulsion the federal Congress recognized that it might be desirable to allow some foreign subjects to remain in the country, and on October 12, 1830, adopted a law allowing them to stay with letters of security from the Department of State. Many non-Mexicans sojourned in the republic without proper credentials from the government, however, so the central government urged its provincial officials to tighten up administration of the 1830 law (Escalante March 4, 1844). The state government reminded even such remote outposts as Tubac of this law in 1844.

5873. Post-Expulsion Religious Situation

After 1828 the Tubac troopers were dependent on rare visits from the overworked priests at Magdalena to marry them, baptize their children and celebrate mass for them, and hear their confessions. Many of the tasks formerly performed by missionaries had to be assumed by lay Catholics. People died whether a priest was handy or not, so they died unshriven and their bodies had to be buried without benefit of the rites of the Church.

Even though the devout could rarely attend mass, the women could recite the rosary from memory, so that the little chapel at the Tubac fort continued to be the scene of regular congregational services. The people simply had to do the best they could with the knowledge of Catholic ritual they possessed and the services lay individuals could perform.  Fortunately, any Catholic could baptize in an emergency so infants could be given this rite even in the absence of a priest.

The people remained without a resident local priest throughout the period of Mexican sovereignty. They had either to travel south to Magdalena to the two Franciscan friars remaining there after the expulsion, or later the parish priest assigned there, or persuade the priests at Magdalena to undertake the hazardous journey to Tubac to celebrate mass, baptize children, regularize marriages, hear confessions, etc. This became more and more difficult as the Tubac company deteriorated over the years, for with the resumption of hostilities 588by the Apaches it became just as dangerous to travel without adequate armed escort as it had been prior to 1786. The people of Tubac simply lacked sufficient force to offer a safe escort and became dependent upon the bounty of the much stronger garrison at Tucson for services of a priest when that settlement sent an escort to Magdalena to accompany the priest there on a trip north.

Such a visit from a priest had become a notable social event by the 1840's. Not only was it a rare thing, but the size of his escort insured an interesting visit and exchange of gossip between the members of the escort and the Tubac people. For example, the escort sent from Tucson to return Fray Antonio Gonzales to Magdalena in February of 1843 consisted of Captain Antonio Comaduran, commandant of the Tucson fort and the Line (Tucson-Tubac-Santa Cruz) with a corporal, eight troopers, four friendly Apache scouts and four citizens (Ybarra March 1, 1843). The priest, last of the Franciscans at Magdalena, spent the night at Tubac and moved on with his escort the next day, so he could not have had much sleep and caught up with the backlog of baptisms, marriages, confessions, etc., waiting for him at Tubac both overnight. The people at Tubac suffered the humiliation of their military poverty-they got nothing but crumbs from Tucson's table so far as religious services were concerned.

When there was no troop movement in the convenient direction between Tucson and Magdalena, the citizens of Tucson would send eighteen or twenty well-armed citizens riding to 589Magdalena to escort the priest (Salpointe 1898:185). Probably such civilian escorts guarded the first parish priest at Magdalena, Pbro. Trinidád García Rojas, on his trips through Tumacácori, Tubac, and Bac to Tucson in 1844, the year after he took over the parish from the last Franciscan missionary, and in 1845, 1846 and 1848 (Libro de Bautismos No. O, No. 1, Santa María Magdalena). On each of these northern excursions Father García Rojas baptized children in Tubac during a short visit of a day or two and he surely must have heard many confessions and celebrated a mass for the Tubac people at least once per visit.

4. Mission Assets

During colonial times Roman Catholic missions on the frontier had been supported by royal, which is to say governmental, funds. The missionaries received a regular annual stipend from the crown and frequently additional appropriations were made to various missions. This government aid not only came to an end with Mexican independence, the republic moved to convert the missions from financial drains into taxable economic assets.

Since the great majority of the priests serving in the missions had been Peninsular-born Spaniards, the expulsion law of December 20, 1827, left most of the missions, including those on the Sonoran frontier, without priests. One immediate result was the removal of the primary protectors of Indians. Inevitably the loss of the moral and political leadership 590the priests had provided resulted in a quick fall in the rate of transculturation of the Indians and many of the natives scattered out from the priestless missions and returned to traditional non-Christian ways or greatly modified forms of Christian customs (Salpointe 1898:180-181).

The abandoned mission properties and those merely left defenseless by the expulsion of their missionaries, invited the avarice of the republicans feeling their new-found political power. The politician who could gain control of such an economic plum as a mission could hope to profit greatly therefrom. A law confiscating lands and goods of the missions soon followed the expulsion decree, on May 10, 1829 (ibid., p. 180).

Six years later, in 1835, the Sonora state legislature passed another law providing that Indians should be no different, whether "under the bell" of a mission or not. It is not quite clear whether the intent of this act was to make all Indians state citizens even if they were mission residents or to disenfranchise them all.

The Indian missions of northern Pima country did not actually come to an end, however, until the early 1840's.  The national government took an interest in their anomalous continued existence in 1841. The Secretary of War requested the Guardian of the College of the Holy Cross at Querétaro to submit a report on his institution's management of these missions from the beginning of its responsibility. The Guardian at that time was Fray José María Pérez Llera, former 591missionary at Magdalena. Father Pérez Llera replied on June 29, 1841 (Escudero 1849:45) that his College was still in charge of eight missions with nine additional towns as visitation stations, and four forts including that at Tubac (ibid., p. 44).

At this time the seventh bishop of Sonora was also taking an interest in the anomalous survival of the missions. His Excellency Lazaro de la Garza y Ballesteros early in 1842 authorized the parish priest at Hermosillo, Pbro. Juan Francisco Escalante, to visit as his deputy the towns and missions of northern Sonora and to administer the sacrament of confirmation (Almada 1952:305). Escalante's visit was without doubt another of the great social highlights of the lives of the residents of Tubac. His northern visit almost certainly motivated him to report to Bishop Garza on conditions in the frontier settlements. In the following year 1843 the long history of Indian missions in northern Pima country ended with establishment of parishes with headquarters at Altar and Magdalena with secular priests in charge.  Roman Catholic Indian missions to the northern Pimas were only temporarily terminated, however, for a generation later priests of the United States Church renewed operations among the Pápagos and in 1910 the Order of Friars Minor in the U. S. opened a large-scale campaign of reconverting those Indians. The bishop had so few curates to send into the north country that the situation at Tubac changed not at all.

5925. The Compadrazco System

The troops and families of the troops at the Mexican fort at Tubac continued to act as godparents for Indian infants after 1821 just as they had in colonial times. The change in political forms did not alter the basic social traits of the Mexicans such as this time-and-church-hallowed custom of widening kinship ties through ritual devices. Thus on July 21, 1822, a soldier of the Tubac company and his wife became baptismal godparents of an adult Pápago woman christened in danger of death (San José de Tumacácori, Libro de Bautismos f. 80).

The frequency of such ritual relationships between troops and Indians dropped sharply, perhaps, after the expulsion of Spanish priests later in the decade. Certainly baptisms at which priests officiated dropped very markedly after the expulsion. On the other hand the Mexicans remained devout Roman Catholics and they carried on themselves as much of the church ritual as possible. It is, therefore, probable that the intimacy of contact between troopers and Indians increased following the expulsion.

[NOTE: The printed volume continues from Section E. to Section G. and is so noted in the Table of Contents.]

Part of which site