Why did the Spaniards decide to establish a fort at Tucson? The two documents translated in this section answer that question.

The first is a letter of Juan de Pineda, governor of Spanish Sonora, transmitting to the viceroy information received from José Antonio de Huandurraga, ensign at Tubac. Huandurraga was endeavoring to defend San Xavier and the Indians living near the future site of Tucson, operating from the royal Spanish presidio at Tubac - a position obviously too far south. His captain, Juan Bautista de Anza, was absent trying to put down the Cerro Prieto rebellion even farther south. The Huandurraga report reveals an Apache pattern often repeated before the founding of Tucson: a raid on San Xavier and then a running battle through what is now east Tucson to the pass between the Catalina and Rincon Mountains. The ambush at La Cebadilla (now called Redington Pass) was evidently not part of the pattern but a highly successful surprise move by the wily Indians. Though the Tubac report declared that two soldiers stationed at San Xavier were killed in the ambush, Garcés reveals in the second document that they were only captured.

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Whether they were dead or captured, the fort at Tubac was too far away to do much about them, or even to know exactly what was going on.

Garcés had been at San Xavier less than a year when he composed the document, a report to Governor Pineda on yet another attack on San Xavier. The letter is full of ethnographic detail on both the attacking Apaches and the defenseless Pimas of the Tucson area. His implication throughout, corroborated by his first-hand observations, was that Tucson needed a presidio.

October 17, 1768.


I have just received word from the ensign of the Tubac presidio of an Apache attack on the livestock at San Xavier Mission. The raid occurred between eight and nine o'clock on the morning of October the second. The two soldiers stationed at the mission, together with the warriors and native governor of the San Xavier village, gave chase and recaptured some of the cattle. In the hope of recovering at least the mares of the horseherd as well, they engaged the fleeing Apaches in a running battle all the way to La Cebadilla pass. Another band of Apaches, unbeknown to our forces, had joined the fugitives and waited in ambush at the pass. Our side defended itself with great valor and the two soldiers, together with the native governor of San Xavier, gave up their lives in the battle.

When word of the raid finally reached Tubac, the ensign and twenty-five soldiers went in search of the enemy.


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San Xavier del Bac.
February 21, 1769.


Around eight-thirty yesterday morning Apaches attacked this village of San Xavier and at the same time began rounding up the horses and cattle that had just been let out of the corral. The few of us who were here began to defend the village. In the exchange of arrows one Pima was wounded in the arm. The Apaches were thirty or more in all, most of them mounted on good horses. The few who came in afoot were even more effective, dashing into and behind the native huts nearest the church to take advantage of the safety of these vantage points to pin down anyone who might be in the church and the attached convento where our escort of two soldiers stay. They kept hurling their lances into the doors of both church and house to discourage exit from these strategic buildings.

The attack was over in a matter of minutes, the time it took to make off with the livestock, which was most of what we had. There remain only three yoke of oxen, a little over thirty head of cattle, twenty mares and a few colts. We were able to save our riding horses, which were out to pasture. I gave orders that they be brought in and only one or two were missing. I also insisted that we give chase immediately, but because of the number of Apaches and the superiority of their horses nothing could be done.

Word was sent to the mountains where most of the San Xavier villagers are gathering agave. The Tubac presidio was also advised. The ensign there assures me that he is preparing a detachment for a retaliatory campaign and urges me to call everyone back to participate. Of course all of this will be done, but we simply do not have the forces needed for effective control of the Apaches here.

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There were formerly two Pima villages between Tucson and the Gila River settlements, but last August both of them were abandoned due to Apache pressure. The Gileño Apaches will now sweep through that gap down into the Altar Valley. Something must be done! If the Pima rebels of the Cerro Prieto have meanwhile come up to influence their Papago cousins, we are in even greater trouble.

Last year I wrote you a letter which through someone's carelessness never got past Guevavi. In it I explained how things are here at San Xavier and Tucson. During the greater part of the year my escort of two soldiers, the Pima in charge of the livestock, the native governor of the village and myself are practically alone in the village. The rest of the people are either working their fields along the river or gathering agave in the mountains. During the agave seasons the Tucson village is completely abandoned. This was the reason for yesterday's raid. Those thirty Apaches came right through Tucson. They are so overconfident that they have abandoned the element of surprise, for as they left San Xavier, they drew three circles in the sand boasting that in three moons they would return.3 Then they shouted that the Apache band that lived east of San Xavier and had carried off the two mission soldiers last year were planning to attack San Xavier at night.4

Now you know, Sir, something of the seriousness of the situation. We have great hopes that with the momentarily impending arrival of the visitor general of the Indies, José de Gálvez, to this province of Sonora, your advice to the visitor will provide a definitive remedy to this problem.

Fray Francisco Garcés5

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Desert Documentary by Kieran McCarty - Chapter 3
Tucson, Arizona: Arizona Historical Society, 1976.

© 1976 The Arizona Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.

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