Just fifty miles south of Tucson in Santa Cruz county (near Nogales), is an interesting place full of Arizona history and culture. I spent the day uncovering the forgotten history of Tubac and Tumacacori. Their history is forever intertwined and part of a greater story of the American Southwest.
Tubac & Tumacacori Intertwined
At Tubac and Tumacacori, O’odham (Pima), Yaqui, and Apache Indians crossed paths with Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries, soldiers, settlers, and ranchers. There were raids, conflicts between tribes, and conflicts between ranchers and settlers. This is all a part of the Santa Cruz Valley’s history. From the first European settlement in Arizona, to the founding of San Francisco, California, Tubac and Tumacacori played a part in it all.
Apaches often raided both Tubac and Tumacacori. The Pima revolted over the appropriation of their lands. They also suffered horrible abuse by “missionaries.” The first commander of Tubac was killed by Indians. After the first commander’s death, Juan Bautista de Anza Bezerra Nieto (1736-1788) assumed command. The 4.5 mile hiking trail between Tubac and Tumacacori is named after him. Eventually Tubac was abandoned and the residents relocated to the Tucson Presidio (next post). The mission at Tumacacori was also abandoned. Today the mission and grounds are a National Park Service interpretive site.
Established in 1752, Tubac was once a Spanish garrison. The quaint artist’s colony you see today evolved in the last half of the twentieth century. One of the more notable events of Tubac happened in 1861, when the town was the site of a four-day siege by Apaches, Confederate militia, and the town’s male population. Settlers from Tubac also made the dangerous journey west and founded San Francisco, California.
The main attraction in Tubac is the Presidio. The Presidio is Arizona’s first state park. The original Presidio ruins are preserved underground. Six different governments once operated out of Tubac’s Presidio. New Spain, Mexico, the U.S., New Mexico Territory, Confederate States of America, and Arizona Territory have all occupied the Presidio at Tubac. The Presidio at Tubac is one of only three left in Arizona. The remaining two are in Tucson, and near the San Pedro river in southern Arizona.
Hours: 9am – 5pm everyday except Christmas. Admission: $5.00
Arts & Crafts
Tubac has several festivals and fairs throughout the year. However, I enjoy wandering the streets when it’s less crowded. Metal art, Native American jewelry, and sculptures are all available in Tubac. Numerous outdoor dining options are available in Tubac. The food is slightly pricey and service is slow.
History of Tumacacori
Tumacacori is a Spanish mission that was established in the eighteenth century. The name comes from an earlier mission, established at a different site, in 1691. The mission was founded at a native O’odham settlement. The site has been occupied for at least two-thousand years.
Hours: 9am – 5pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission: $5.00 (they accept NP and BLM passes).
Timeline of Tumacacori’s History
1691 – Tumacacori was founded by Father Kino. He also founded San Xavier del Bac Mission in Tucson.
1751 – Tumacacori and the mission at Guevavi were abandoned after the Pima revolt. Stay tuned for a behind the scenes tour of Guevavi and San Cayetano de Calabazas missions in January.
1752 – Tubac Presidio is founded in response to the Pima revolt.
1828 – Mexican Independence from Spain. Spanish-born residents are ordered out of Tumacacori.
1853 – Tumacacori officially becomes a part of the United States as a result of the Gadsen purchase.
1908 – Tumacacori officially becomes a National Monument. Ten years later a custodian assumes control of the site and cleanup & restoration begins.
Can you imagine living in New Spain, Mexico, Arizona Territory and the United States without ever moving, all in one lifetime? For many that was a reality.
Just Wander Around
If you have the time, I highly recommend wandering around Tumacacori. I’ve visited the site four times. I still haven’t seen everything. Sometimes living history demonstrations are going on on the grounds. Also worth exploring are the gardens and museum. Many thanks to Theodore Roosevelt for designating this beautiful area a National Monument in 1908.
Next, take a hike after checking out the mission and museum. The many trails offer excellent views of the mountains. The most famous trail is the 4.5 mile Juan Bautista de Anza trail. In the fall/winter, the NPS provides a shuttle from Tubac so you can hike one-way back to Tumacacori.
Moreover, early morning or evening hikes will yield the most wildlife viewing results. As always, in the Arizona desert, take precautions. Let someone know where you’re going. Hike with plenty of water and snacks. Wear sturdy shoes. Also, carry a basic first aid kit. Pay attention to your surroundings. Make sure you can see where you’re walking! Most of all, have fun and enjoy the history, nature, and scenery.