[page 292]


OUR party was in good spirits when we left the Pimo villages; and our reflections of the experience with the interesting people and their dwellings often recurred to our minds. The recollection of their many quaint narratives concerning their relation with the whites, and of their peculiar life, has often entertained me in solitude since. A half day's travel from the Pimo villages brings you to the quaint old town of Florence. I say ‘‘quaint’’ and ‘‘old’’ town. You can hardly say old or new. It is a little of both; and the two extremes are more forcibly met with here than perhaps anywhere in the Territory, except, perhaps at Tucson, which town is beginning, under the American ambition, to aspire to something more than one story adobés. But the very combination of these

[page 293]

extremes makes it quaint. Here you will find the primitive Mexican or half breed Indian adobé hut; the log cabin; the Anglo-Saxon American cottage among a cluster of cotton-wood or willow; and the aborigines' tepis. The slight elevation of this place with its cooler bracing atmosphere over that of the hotter valleys of the Gila or Colorado, is a promising feature for its growth. It also has a beautiful valley bottom contiguous to it, which will at no distant day open up a fine farming country. The elevation is about five hundred feet. The pattern of the city resembles very much, Salt Lake City, Utah; having its streets cheerfully cooled by running streams of living water, brought down from the Gila by artificial means, and having these streams edged with a growth of cotton-wood or willow.

We had not to drive far from the Pimo villages to the next hacienda or station. Here we learned for the first time on this tour, of one of those entertainments common on highways and especially on our frontier—a stage robbery. Like all traveling parties over our new West, our own had passed many a moment in conversation on this subject while wending our way over mountain, plain and mesa. We had decided just what we would all do in case of an attack. One of us would grab the fellow by the hair; (if there happened to be two, we bind the other one—or choke him);

[page 294]

and if more, we would shoot the whole lot of them—with compassion of course, but as a matter of self-defense and protection. There were two of our party, however, not participants in the conversation, and they enjoyed hugely, the good will and determination of our friends to rid the desert of its unpleasant visitors; but as well did we enjoy the credulity of these self-same deliverers. The whole secret was, we two had ‘‘been there before;’’ and knew that in case of an attack, their good intentions would fail as completely as had their bravery given impulse to their threats. The stage from Tucson that morning, had been robbed. Col. Graham had left our party on that morning and gone ahead to Tucson just before we learned of the affair, to make additional arrangements for our further travels into the southeast. We felt a little anxiety on his account. He was naturally, in lieu of his mission, laden with more or less of just such ‘‘trash’’ as would have been acceptable to these ‘‘road agents.’’ Had I myself been aware of the experience with these agents that lay in store for me on my subsequent return—my interest in the affair could not but have been vastly greater. Subsequent knowledge, however, relieved our anxieties, and the preparations we found at Tucson, on our arrival there, for our further progress, was sufficient evidence that not hide nor hair, nor the pocket, of our fore-runner had

[page 295]

been disturbed. It was the incoming stage that had suffered.

Directly south, about seventy-five miles, lies the now ambitious town of Tucson, the metropolis of the State, and at one time the capital. In visiting Tucson, one has virtually visited the phlegmatic Mexican condition of life, as completely as though he had been to Mexico, or to some hamlet of suburban Spain. The American traveler spends just time enough here to find out how many of his own countrymen have found a home within its limits, and congratulates them upon their hopes of meeting their reward in the future. Perhaps he will stay long enough to get drunk; to see a cock-fight, or go to a bailie—a Spanish-Mexican ball. To the south of Tucson, nine miles, lies the old Mission of San Xavier Del Bac, in a remarkably good state of preservation. The missions of our southwest, many of which are now in ruins, constitute a feature of attraction. They might be known as the modern ruins, as distinguished from ancient ruins applied to the evidences of unknown structures everywhere to be found over the lands of southern California, Arizona and New Mexico. Although being in a good state of preservation, and yet being opened to service for a half civilized, remnant of a mixture of the Mexico-Indian blood, it is virtually a ruin. It is, however, the best preserved in the Territory. It was founded

[page 296]

in 1690; but the present edifice was erected about the year 1785, as near as I have been able to determine by data. This would make the establishment of the mission nearly two centuries old. A description of these buildings, with their dimensions, etc., although elaborate, bold, and conspicuous in themselves, might lack interest, resembling, as they do, any grand and gorgeous Catholic church in our thickly populated cities. But contrast makes both interest and beauty. Associations make in fact, the thing itself. Take away the associations of a thing, or the condition in which, or upon which, the thing exists, and you have changed it to all intents and purposes, to something else. To ride miles and miles then, across a level country, seeing nothing but what you might conceive consisted in just the bare platform of earth placed there by the hand of nature for subsequent use, to see as if by magic, one of these structures, equal in all its metropolitan adornments, planted where it would seem there was no fruit to nourish, strikes you curiously.

All over this land you come in contact with these modern ruins of the religious zeal and fervor of the Jesuit Father of the seventeenth and eighteenth century; and in noticing the few and beggarly squads of a people who are neither Mexican, Indian or what is commonly known as an American, you see the tenacity with which religious fanaticism holds fast to itself.

[page 297]


[page 299]

Approaching one of these edifices, a person ignorant of their presence, would give vent to surprise and awe. The deserts over which he has been riding has given no sound, nor shown the work of any hand, and you have seen, in nature's almost nothing, the greatest something. In your long travels and your long absence from home and civilization, new and original thoughts have crowded upon you. You have thought as you never had thought before, and dreamed of things you never saw. Why should you not? the mental, like the mortal man, is on new soil; and is the mind not a plant? Does it not grow? Aye! and what a sad growth is this growth of the mind; for if it grows athwart, and yet, for what, nor how, the common growth knows not, 'tis hewn down, to rot, but really manures—enriches the soil for subsequent better growth. In this is its glory. On! On! you go over the vast stretch of country before you, unmindful of hidden merits and virtues. Your mind has become dreamy. You have come within the pale of some gently rising slope unnoticed. You have skirted its gentle slope unawares, when, turning suddenly some abrupt side, one of these missions—bold in contrast; asserting in spirit, and gorgeous in display, stops you short. Peace and quiet are its only companions. You go 'round it, and are anxious to confront it more boldly, and urge to get on the side which designates

[page 300]

its front. You are weary for some communal spirit. You would talk with it. But when in front, you find the doors closed, and often barred with the bolt of time and decay. But presently, while standing mute and writing your own brief history on the pages of your thought, one of the doors quietly, stealthily opens, and a solitary Peone or half breed Indian emerges from the place in all the solemnity of a person celebrating mass. Perhaps he has just finished this, or some as solemn a rite. The door is softly closed behind him. All is yet the embodiment of a perfect quiet. In the soft spongy earth, not even the tread of the worshipper is heard. Perhaps in the tower or some secluse corner of the building, there is a remaining bell which you had failed to find out. One! Two! Three! its peal breaks suddenly upon you as if moved by spirit hands. In the penetrating stillness, you had heard a sound. It re-echoed the plains and deserts wide; and in its familiar notes formed a connecting link between you and your home. Nothing could stop you from walking around and gazing for awhile upon that bell.

Each toll was a wail for broken power—each knell a cry for sympathy. Presently the door re-opened and there emerged from within a modest retiring priest with downcast head, nor looking to the right nor to the left, but keeping the ‘‘straight and narrow path’’

[page 301]

to the hut of some benighted inhabitant of the plain I shall never forget an experience of this kind in a visit several years ago, to the old mission San Juan Capistran.


© Arizona Board of Regents