Kino's Life

Pioneer Jesuit Missionary, Explorer, Historian

Cartographer, Rancher and Scientist

"Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J.

Pioneer Padre of the Pimería Alta"


Charles W. Polzer

The desert appears lifeless, deserted, void. Its arid mountains are etched in emptiness by the strong shadows of the parching sun. Mesas of mesquite and cactus are ripped apart by bouldered arroyos. Stillness covers the sun baked horizons. To each generation the desert seems history-less and hostile. It is no place for man, much less his dreams.

This is how the desert appears to one who has never probed its realities, for the desert is alive and filled with the dreams of men who have made history here. The desert is a paradox. It has been for centuries a home for strong men, for men of faith and vision. The desert is a place where life means more because it is set against the backdrop of nature.

This is the story of a man who knew the paradox of the desert - Eusebio Francisco Kino, priest and missionary to the Pimería Alta. He spent his life among backward desert peoples, turning river banks into farms, dirt into dwellings and churches, and dreams into living realities. He respected this land and matched its strength. Padre Kino wrote into the sands of the southwestern deserts a history as strongly etched in time as the mountains that witnessed his work.

Many men have come to the desert and made history - Cabeza de Vaca, Coronado, Oñate, Anza, and Garcés, but none have equaled the record of this dedicated Jesuit missionary. His vision reached beyond the thirsting horizon and his influence has spanned centuries, so well did he know the desert land and its people.

When Padre Kino arrived on the "Rim of Christendom" in 1687, he was already an experienced missionary although a newcomer to northern New Spain. His assignment to the frontier of the Pimería Alta, the land of the Upper Piman Indians, had been another unforeseen development in a life long series of circumstances that seemed like continued reversals. But nothing ever dampened his enthusiasm or dimmed his dreams.

The saga of Padre Kino began in Segno, a tiny mountain town in the Italian Tyrol, not far from historic Trent. There on August 10, 1645, Eusebio was born in a typical stone and timber house similar to those that stud the slopes of the Dolomite Alps along the Val di Non. His boyhood here shaped the powerful frame that would one day explore the mountains and deserts of a land a hemisphere away. Young Eusebio must have shown some degree of brilliance because his parents sent him off to the Jesuit college at Trent where he was introduced to the world of science and letters. Soon he journeyed to the Jesuit college at Hall near Innsbruck, Austria, to carry on a newly won interest in science and mathematics. While studying here, he contracted an unidentified illness that brought him close to death. That sickness drew from Kino one of his deep-down dreams - for he vowed that if his patron, St. Francis Xavier, would intercede for his health, he would enter the Society of Jesus. His health did return and for the rest of his life Eusebio Kino valued his recovery as a gift from God through the intercession of Xavier. Whatever may be said of Kino's recovery, his life was certainly to be a welcome gift for the "abandoned souls" of Baja California and the Pimería Alta.

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Bolton's Two Sketches of Padre Kino's Life


"Jesuits on the Pacific Slopes"


Preface: "Kino's Memoirs of the Pimeria Alta"


Professor Bolton's chapter entitled "Jesuits on the Pacific Slopes"  in his 1922 book "Spanish Borderlands" gives the broad historical context of the life and times of Father Kino and his attempts to overcome the challenges of the frontier on the Rim of Christendom.

Professor Bolton's Preface to his 1919 translation of the Father Kino's reports and diaries that he entitled "Kino's Historical Memoirs of the Pimeria Alta" is the best specific summary of Kino's genius and his selfless and tireless work. The Preface was the basis for Professor Bolton book "Padre on Horseback" that was published to raise funds for the Kino Bas Relief Monunument that was erected north of Tucson's City Hall.

Father Kino's labors of 2 years in Baja California and almost 25 years in the Pimeria Alta and his creation of the Pious Fund in 1696 set the foundation for the work of others in the establishment of missions in the present Baja California in Mexico and later in California in the United States.


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Jesuits on the Pacific Slope

Preface Memoirs


"Jesuits on the Pacific Slope"


By Herbert E. Bolton


The Mission as a Spanish Institution

On the Pacific slope the frontiers of effective settlement marched northward by slow degrees into Arizona and Lower California. This advance was led throughout the seventeenth century by Spanish Jesuits, contemporaries of the better known Black Robes in Canada. Laboring in a much more propitious field, they were able to achieve more permanent results than their less numerous and less fortunate French brothers in the Canadian wilderness. The Jesuits on the Pacific slope made important contributions to civilization. A large part of the population in this area today has sprung from ancestors, on one side or the other, who got their first touch of European culture in the Jesuit missions and most of the towns and cities of today have grown up on the sites of early missions.

Missions were an integral part of Spain's scheme of conquest. Experience on the frontiers of Mexico, repeated in Florida, proved that the methods of such conquerors and pacificators as Guzmán and De Soto had worked ill on the whole. A mass of legislation and royal instructions issued in the seventeenth century indicates that the authorities desired to approximate to that ideal of conquest through love for which Fray Luís Cancer had, long ago, laid down his life on the sands of Florida.

The Indians had a definite place in the Spanish scheme. Apart from the fact that Indian wars were costly, Spain wished to have the natives preserved and rendered docile and contented wards of the government. She needed their toil, because of the dearth of Spanish laborers. Furthermore she lacked white settlers. She planned, therefore, to gather the Indians into permanent villages, to civilize them, and to use them as a bulwark against other European powers who might seek to plant colonies on her territory. Not to the conquistador could she look for fulfillment of this design. For, though his contract bade him be tender, it offered him no means of enriching himself except through the fortuitous discovery of precious metals or pearls — or by plundering and exploiting the natives. Spain turned to the missionaries because the Indians were "well disposed to receive the friars" — as Mendoza had written to the King in describing Guzmán's devastations in Sinaloa — "while they flee from us as stags fly in the forest."

In the early days of conquest in the West Indies and Mexico the control of the Indians had been largely in the hands of trustees, called encomenderos. They were secular persons, for the most part, entrusted (encomendar means to entrust) with the conversion, protection, and civilization of the natives, in return for the right to exploit them. In theory the scheme was benevolent. But human nature is weak, and the tendency of the trustee was to give his attention chiefly to exploitation and to neglect his obligations. As a result the encomienda became a black spot in the Spanish colonial system. Efforts were made to abolish the evil, and by slow degrees some progress was achieved. Then, too, as the frontiers expanded, the institution tended to die a natural death. Civilized Aztecs were worth the trouble of conquering; wild Apaches and warlike Creeks hardly, for the cost of subduing them was disproportionate to the returns from their labor.

On the new frontiers, therefore, the care and control of the Indians was given over largely to the missionaries, aided by soldiers. The missionaries were expected to convert, civilize, and control the Indians, without the old abuses of exploitation. So it was that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries missions became almost universal on the frontiers. They operated simultaneously in the still unsubdued areas of northern Mexico, and in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Lower California.

It was in 1591 that the Jesuits, having after vain labors abandoned the Atlantic coast, first entered Sinaloa to heal the wounds made by the conquerors, and to gather together, convert, and civilize the remains of the native population. As they went slowly northward, tribe by tribe, valley by valley, they founded missions beside the streams, attracted the natives to them by gifts and the display of religious pictures and images, baptized them, and gradually influenced them to collect in villages about the missions, to submit to the discipline of the padre in charge, to cultivate the soil, and to learn a few simple arts and crafts. By the middle of the seventeenth century they had reached the upper Sonora valley. Meanwhile settlers had crept in behind the missionaries to engage in mining, grazing, and agriculture. These little outposts on the Pacific coast mainland became a base for later developments in adjacent California.

Father Kino's Pimeria Alta Beginnings

The man who led the way into Arizona and Lower California was one of the heroic figures of American history — Eusebio Francisco Kino. This hardy Jesuit was born near Trent in 1645, of Italian parentage, and was educated in Austria. He distinguished himself as a student at Freiburg and Ingolstadt and, in consequence, was offered a professorship in mathematics at the royal university of Bavaria. He rejected the offer and vowed himself to the missionary service, as a follower of Saint Francis Xavier, to whose intercession he attributed his recovery from a serious illness. He had hoped to go to the Far East, literally to follow in the footsteps of his patron, but there came a call for missionaries in New Spain and hither he came instead. Arriving in 1681, he proceeded two years later, as rector of missions, with an expedition designed to colonize the peninsula of California. The natives were unwarlike and tractable on the whole. But a prolonged drought on the mainland, the base for supplies, caused the abandonment of the enterprise.


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Preface: "Kino's Memoir of the Pimeria Alta"


By Herbert Bolton



Missionary, Explorer, Cartographer, Rancher, Historian & More

The problem of the biographer of Father Kino will be to tell much in little, so many and long continued were his activities. He was great not only as missionary and church builder, but also as explorer and ranchman. By Kino or directly under his supervision missions were founded on both sides of the Sonora-Arizona boundary, on the Magdalena, Altar, Sonoita, and Santa Cruz Rivers. The occupation of California by the Jesuits was the direct result of Kino's former residence there and of his persistent efforts in its behalf, for it was from Kino that Salvatierra, founder of the permanent California missions, got his inspiration for that work.

To Kino is due the credit for first traversing in detail and accurately mapping the whole of Pimeria Alta, the name then applied to southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Considered quantitatively alone, his work of exploration was astounding. During his twenty-four years of residence at the mission of Dolores, between 1687 and 1711, he made more than fifty journeys inland, an average of more than two per year. These journeys varied from a hundred to nearly a thousand miles in length. They were all made either on foot or on horseback, chiefly the latter. In the course of them he crossed and recrossed repeatedly and at varying angles all of the two hundred miles of country between the Magdalena and the Gila and the two hundred and fifty miles between the San Pedro and the Colorado. When he first opened them nearly all his trails were either absolutely untrod by civilized man or had been altogether forgotten. They were made through countries inhabited by unknown tribes who might but fortunately did not offer him personal violence, though they sometimes proved too threatening for the nerve of his companions. One of his routes was over a forbidding, waterless waste, which has since become the graveyard of scores of travelers who have died of thirst because they lacked Father Kino's pioneering skill. I refer to the Camino del Diablo, or Devil's Highway, from Sonoita to the Gila. In the prosecution of these journeys Kino's energy and hardihood were almost beyond belief.

All the foregoing was the work of a man of action, and it was worthy work well done. But Kino also found time to write. Historians have long known and had access to a diary, three "relations," two or three letters, and a famous map, all by Kino, and all important for the history of the region where he worked. His map published in 1705 was the first of Pimeria based on actual exploration, and for nearly a century and a half was the principal map of the region in existence. And there has now come to light, discovered by the present writer in the archives of Mexico, this vastly more important work a complete history, written by Kino himself at his little mission of Dolores, covering nearly his whole career in America. It was known to and used by the early Jesuit historians, but has lain forgotten ever since. It is now found to be the source of practically all that has been known of the work of Kino and his companions, and to contain much that never has been known before. Kino, therefore, was not only the first great missionary, ranchman, explorer, and geographer of Pimeria Alta, but his book was the first and will be for all time the principal history of his region during his quarter century.


Early Days in Europe: Jesuit and Professor

Only with extreme difficulty can we of the twentieth century comprehend the spirit which inspired the first pioneers of the Southwest. We can understand why man should struggle to conquer the wilderness for the wealth which it will yield, but almost incomprehensible to most of us is the sixteenth century ideal which brought to this region its first agents of civilization the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries. These men came single minded, imbued with zeal for the saving of souls. Most of them were men of liberal education. Many of them were of prominent families, and might have occupied positions of honor and distinction in Europe.

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