Eusebio Francisco Kino, the seventeenth century Jesuit missionary to
Northwest New Spain, entered my life nearly fifty years ago. Well,
not exactly, when I was ten, I sat before a fireplace screen at my
Grandmother’s home in San Diego; it depicted the pioneers of
California and the very first figure on the illustrated border of the
map was a Blackrobed figure. It identified the first missionary to
California – Eusebio Kino!
As a proud native of the state, I insisted this was a terrible
mistake because everyone knew the missionary to California
was Fray Junipero Serra. It took me twenty years to realize that
the history painted on that screen was absolutely correct.
Kino is no stranger to any of you in this audience. But I do worry
that he is nothing more than just a fairly prominent name in the
colonial history of Mexico. As savory as that history may be, Kino
is often considered not much more tantalizing
than frijoles refritos. Tasty and familiar, but nothing
really new on the menu of humanity. And if any of you are among
those who ask, “Is there anything new on Padre Kino,” you are bound
to be disappointed because we historians have combed the archives for
decades; nothing has emerged out of the archival dust. Nothing
that is except newer and richer understandings about the man and his
work. That is why I have chosen as a topic today: “Padre Kino, a
Over the past several years I began work on a new translation of Kino’s
memoirs – the famous “Favores Celestiales.” I was
able to retrieve only one fairly well worn copy of the translation made
by Dr. Herbert E. Bolton in 1919, entitled Kino’s Historical Memoir
of Pimería Alta, a title that on the bookshelves of most stores was
destined not to sell. The title was an academician’s way of
avoiding the flowery and pious one Kino gave to his grant proposal to
King Philip V of Spain – the Heavenly Favors of Jesus, Mary Most
Holy, and the Most Glorious Apostle of the Indies, Saint Francis Xavier.
He was quite right in addressing the King as he did, but in a marketing
sense, it was a disaster -- the manuscript never made it to print.
Kino finished it just a year before his death in the desert; and his
treatise was shelved in the library of the Jesuit college in Mexico City
for lack of a living promoter. His dreams about a major expansion
of the northwest missions were not readily shared either by companions
or the newly appointed Bourbon administration in Spain.
Working on the retranslation was tedious. Often I would ask “why
doesn’t he get on with the details of history?” Time and again
he laments about the opposition he encountered from colonial officials
and Spanish speculators. Time and
again he praises the industrious and docile Indians of the Pimería.
Chapter by chapter the memoirs reveal a generous, positive minded
apostle stung by reversals and rewarded by successes. Part One of
Kino’s Favores Celestiales is a recasting of his first tract
that he wrote after the murder of Padre Francisco Xavier Saeta at
Caborca in 1695. The manuscript of that tract resides today in the
Biblioteca Nacional in Mexico City; like the Favores, it, too,
was never published although the manuscript was widely known to
successions of Jesuit superiors.
the manuscripts on Saeta and the Favores it is clear that Kino
kept meticulous records of his journeys and explorations, including
detailed maps and inventories. He carefully archived letters from
superiors and colonial officials. His headquarters at Dolores in
Sonora was a treasure trove of the early history of northwestern New
Spain. Tragically, that archive has been scattered and lost over
the centuries. What we have remaining is his compilation of events
that he composed, not as history but as a paean to the promise of North
America. If you overlook that aspect of his writings, you are on
the virtual edge of misinterpreting his life and his importance.
In my own writing and research on Kino I have tried to puzzle out the
historical sequences and human interactions of this frontier missionary
and apostolic visionary; in most cases I have failed because Kino
cloaked over the details of daily life, although he left enough evidence
in his writings to piece together an incomparable history. However,
to come to know the man behind the pen, one has to pay minute attention
to the scope of his dreams.
As a young man Kino envisioned himself following in the tracks of his
cousin Father Martino Martini, the Jesuit missionary to China. His
fervent interest in mathematics, physics and astronomy was fueled by his
recognition of their apostolic usefulness in the Orient. But fate
sent him West, not East. In his quest for the Orient he got only
as far as the crashing waves on the Pacific shores of Baja California
and the swells of that same ocean in search of pirates that would seize
the China Ship. Providence kept pulling him back to the mainland
of Mexico and the frontiers of Spanish expansion to the northwest.
assignment to join the expedition of Don Isidro Atondo y Antillón to
the “California islands” in 1683 was a profound failure that shaped
the rest of his mortal life. Wealth and courtly influence made no
sense in that God forsaken, destitute land. It was human misery
and deprivation that burned deeper into his soul than the sun into his
skin. Never had he encountered a people more abandoned than those
on that desert island, where even the Spaniards recognized their total
dependence on supplies over the seas. California was less a
conquest than an exercise in survival.
return to the mainland and his assignment to the missions of the
northwestern frontier was obediently accepted, and eased somewhat by the
knowledge that he would be only a few days sail away from those poor
isolated humans. Although his original hopes to evangelize the
Seris and Guaymas Indians on the Gulf coast were dashed by an assignment
to open missions among the Pima Alta, he kept the memory of California
and its people firmly in mind. Like so many frontier tribes, the
Pimas were considered fair game for slavers who enriched themselves by
selling them as laborers to the grueling mines of the Sierra Madre.
But Kino saw them as an industrious, docile people who built excellent
farms in the valleys of the foothills. This was a land of immense
opportunity far beyond the extraction of silver and gold. In a
matter of a few years Kino had sold himself and several companions on
the value of developing these natives and their lands into prosperous
missions that could care for each other, and through their surplus
production to aid others far away. And Kino remembered that
California was not all that far off.
a matter of only eight years the Pimería Alta was prospering. The
threat of jealous colonials to oust the Italo-German Jesuit in 1690 was
crushed by bushels of wheat, ollas of corn, and trampled by herds of
cattle and horses. The Pimería was coming alive. But the
brutal slaying of Saeta seemed to contradict all of Kino’s assessment
of these Indian peoples; he rode to Mexico City in near desperation in
1695 to plead for more missionaries. And once again the hand of
Providence was laid upon the unsuspecting Eusebio. There in Mexico
City in early ’96 while urging the Jesuit provincial to find more
missionaries for the northwest, he learned of his reassignment to
California in consort with his old Italian superior, Padre Juan María
Salvatierra, who had come in response to complaints about the missions
of the Pimería – only to be convinced of the rectitude of Kino’s
apostolate. With the opulence of the Piman missions and the
generous benefactions of friends in Mexico as collateral the austerity
of abandoned California could well be overcome. The dream was born
the fall of 1697 Kino loaded his saddle bags and spurred his horse
toward the port of Guaymas. Salvatierra was waiting for him to
join the new, independent California expedition. But this time, it
wasn’t Providence that handed him a turn of fate, it was the people of
Sonora. They feared his loss to the management of the missions
might mean the loss of peace on the frontier; Kino was simply too
important a player to be allowed to leave. Couriers of the
governor intercepted him with orders to return to his headquarters at
No California redeux.
Stung by the suddenness of the reversal of his assignment, Padre Kino plunged into an even more vigorous campaign of development. If he couldn’t work in California, at least those in California would never suffer want from a lack of food and supplies. A shorter road to Guaymas would be opened; the port would be readied to store more food and house more livestock. And he would incorporate even more Indian communities into the mission economy, priests or not. Once again the drying timbers for his boat building at Caborca would be cleaned off and shaped for creating a reliable vessel to ply the Gulf with supplies for California.
most historians this is the portion of the Favores that defines
Kino’s importance in history – the explorations that led to the
discovery of an overland passage to California and the definitive proof
that California was not an island, but a long, slender peninsula.
And precisely at this point is where most writers miss the apostolic and
historic significance of the life of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino.
His enthusiasm to develop more Indian pueblos into productive
agricultural centers to aid California had driven him west to the shores
of the Gulf and across the deserts to the fabled lands of the Yuma and
Quiquima. As he spied the glimmering Colorado delta from the
barren hills at the edge of the Camino del Diablo, he wondered what lay
beyond. As the stared at the blue shells, a gift of those same
delta tribes, he wondered how they acquired shells he had only seen once
before on the shores of the Pacific. It was all beginning to make
sense – California had to be conjoined with the mainland!
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