3. Garcés' Franciscan Mission Branch, 1768–1779


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WHEN THE MEMBERS of the Society of Jesus were expelled from New Spain, civilian commissioners took charge of the physical assets of their missions. The viceroy asked other religious orders to provide missionaries for the former Jesuit frontier Native American missions. The Franciscan College of the Holy Cross at Querétaro accepted the challenge to operate the Upper Pimería missions. Friars started for the Sonoran missions on 5 August 1767.1One of them was destined to win considerable contemporary and enduring fame for his exploratory exploits on this frontier.


The “Children's Priest” at Bac

Francisco Tomás Hermenegildo Garcés Maestro was born at Morata del Conde in the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon on 12 April 1738. He was the fourth child of Juan Garcés and Antonia Maestro. Although Juan Garcés farmed, his brother Francisco served the local count as personal chaplain, and his brother Domingo was rector of Chodes, a short walk from Morata. The latter reared Francisco.2At 15, young Garcés entered San Cristóbal de Alpartir convent of the Franciscan Order.3 In 1762, he volunteered for the mission field, and sailed for New Spain shortly after his ordination in 1763.4 At the College of the Holy Cross in Querétaro, Garcés became known as the “Children's Priest,” being considered simple and artless.5

Yet the clerical leaders of the College of the Holy Cross recognized the potential of Francisco Garcés as a missionary to Native Americans. Quite possibly they stereotyped Indians as being like Spanish children, and inadvertently chose the best possible friar for the farthest frontier. They assigned him to Mission San Xavier del Bac, the most remote post on this rim of Christendom. Thus, Garcés assumed ecclesiastical responsibility for the Northern Piman Indians of Tucson. Within a month of his arrival at Bac, the friar wrote a courtesy note to the commander of Tubac, the nearest military post. He described the Indians at his new mission to Captain Juan Bautista de Anza from the point of view of a fresh recruit to the mission field:

Don Juan Bautista de Anza

My Dear Sir:

I arrived at this mission the 30th of June having been at your house en route, where your wife and servants elegantly put into practice their


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charity as you have instructed and accustomed them to do. There is nothing new here.

The Indians expect to be advised to go out to campaign. They are very wild, without doctrine even in their own language, because, although they pray together, no one by himself understands. Even the most advanced respond with any word, so I endeavor to get them to come to catechism. Yet it is not achieved unless it is in the greater number of youngsters who do it well. On the contrary are those who have already reached adulthood: these only attend on feast days. They say that they have always been reared so that adults go to the fields and the children to catechism. For the present I do not urge earnestly until I see how things are.

The Tugsones gave me to understand that they have not wanted any other priest than me, having understood the goal I impose on them that the priest does not come so that they might work for him, etc., with which they are rather happy. They have already built me, a little hut among their own. Three times I have been there and I have told them that in the coming month of August I am going to stay some fifteen days, and that they are my children like those of San Javier, and it appears that they are in a good humor.

The soldiers behave divinely, giving a good example in calling these people to the doctrine as any good Christian is obligated to do.

In my harvest time, I expect illnesses and other hardships which everyone has predicted for me. Yet right now only the flies and mosquitoes have moderated. As for the rest, you know how things can go with me.

The Jesuit fathers of San Javier, with all their cows, fields, horses, etc., were occupied with labors, but with my stipend I shall not be, good sire. I commend it to God who alone is able to bring you here, but may it be as soon as possible that we may together enjoy this carefree existence. Here they call one room that of the captain. Thus it has been and shall be, and not for a poor house of St. Francis have they to leave. I await news, and if God aids our arms and some captains or troops are in Pitíc, I should like to know it.

God Our Father, etc.

FR. FRANCISCO GARCÉS6

San Javier. July 29, 1768.

In a letter to the governor of Sonora written the same day, Garcés more fully described the situation he perceived at his mission and its branch. Those portions of this missive dealing with Bac and Tucson bear translation here. They add to the evidence as to how rapidly Garcés learned facts pertinent to his ministry, such as the presence of San Pedro River Sobaipuris in Tucson and the extent of Jesuit christening of Papagos not living in the mission or its branch pueblo:

… These missions of San Xavier and of the Tugson are quiet. The Indians are content to see that our King wants them as people and not as slaves. As regards doctrine: in the Tugson, none. They have not prayed nor have they a fiscal. In San Xavier, a little less than none, because they do not know it either in Spanish or in their own language.


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They have never known it in their own tongue. This is not the worst, because here it has never been possible to assemble the married adults, not even on most occasions our own partisans. Consequently, with great diligence I succeeded in gathering the young people, but few married persons among them. I did not employ violent means to overcome their resistance because things are as they are, and so that I might test other methods. Everyone goes to live in the maizefields and plantings, which they greatly love. This pleases me because thus they eat and halfway clothe themselves. I trust in God that He shall succeed in teaching them the Doctrine with the measures that may be taken.

In the beginning neither children nor adults came until I personally went twice to their ranchos, by which means I explained things to them and persuaded most of them to come. The Governor and the justices tell them to come and will make them come, because it is convenient thus. By force or by free choice they must come. Yet I am not inclined to be rigorous. I only threaten the children, and I have begun to spank them so that they should not play hookey. In order to do so, I quieted the scruples of the Governor, who put himself up to telling me that he had read a letter that said that one could not strike Indians. In a word, I am not discontented. The young people do well. If Your Lordship should approve, the adults will be treated a little more forcefully.

The people of the Tugson are content. They told me that they wished no other priest than me — but only when they were well informed that the priest would not make them work as had the Jesuits, that the King greatly cares for them, and that they would not be less than the others. They are a bit flexible. Having closed the old site of the pueblo because of the Apaches, they have made me a little hut at my request. They have given me a youth to instruct. I have told them that in August I am going to spend eight or fifteen days with them and that I shall alternate [between Bac and Tucson]. They do not seem to me to put on a bad face [at that].

The governor and residents of Santa Cruz who are in the Tugson say that they are content, that they live well, plant and remain here happily. This they told me after asking me if [the authorities] wished to remove them from the Tugson. I have assured them that the King wants them to live well and to have a priest, but that he will not treat them violently so that they would go elsewhere.

There are people, but not as many as it seems. The Papaguería makes the population bulk large. Now that the Papagos have gone to their lands, however, one sees that there are not so many. Those whom I have recognized at San Xavier do not number sixty families to date, but there could be more. In the Tugson, there are that many more huts for the inhabitants, which is better to my way of thinking, outside of two rancherías. As they say, there is no doubt that there is a baptized multitude from West of this Mission to the North of it, inasmuch as they are mentioned and evidenced by the registers. The 1,108 baptized yields a great discrepancy from the 213 deaths, 246 marriages, and 500 confirmations, all these since the year 1755.

Some of the country people have given me hopes that they will join the Mission. I have promised that if they are sick and call me to hear their confessions, I will go. I promised that I will go to see their ranchos that they say are lacking in water.…7


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After six weeks on the frontier, Garcés wrote to the guardian of his college, “I think they will behave better in Tugson than in San Xavier.” The priest found that the Tucson social structure reflected the migration of Northern Piman Indians to that settlement, for he encountered no less than “three Governors who are natives of three former pueblos.”

These leaders flattered the new missionary by telling him that they had never before allowed a priest in Tucson — a patent falsehood that Garcés passed on to his superior — but that they wanted no other priest than Garcés now that he had arrived. The fledgling missionary possessed peasant wit enough to perceive that Tucson's governing trio thus complimented him only after they were “well informed that the Father was not going to bother them and that he would feed himself from his stipend.” In other words, the Franciscan would not force them to labor as they claimed the departed Jesuits had.

Besides building the priest a hut among their own, the Tucson people assigned him the youth mentioned in Garcés letter to the governor. This boy was to be instructed by the missionary and trained to act as a mission official. Probably the native leaders employed this young man as a spy to provide them with information about the priest.

Garcés clearly suffered from cultural shock after six weeks of dealing with Native Americans behaving in terms of conventional understandings quite different from those the missionary shared. He urged the guardian of his college to assign a full-time missionary to Tucson partly on the grounds a third priest on the Santa Cruz River would greatly “console” the two already there.8 So great was this initial impact on Garcés that he repeatedly returned to this concept, with rather marked success, as his reputation as an explorer brought him recognition in civil as well as ecclesiastical circles.

One suspects that along with cultural shock, the staunch Catholic conscience of Friar Francisco bothered him because he enjoyed frontier life as much as he did. Later he would venture into the wilderness for long periods during which he seems not to have observed the basic clerical rituals.

After only six weeks among the Northern Pimans, Garcés seems to have perceived his ideological peril. Those very qualities which made him the “Children's Priest” generated in Garcés prompt sympathy for the Northern Pimans. He quickly recognized his personal tendency to identify with these Native Americans. So he pled for clerical reinforcement that would maintain his allegiance to his Order and culture.

If Garcés carried out his intention of spending one or two weeks in Tucson, perhaps that experience reduced his psychological stress from cultural shock. Whatever the explanation, within two months of his arrival, Garcés considered things well enough in hand at Bac and Tucson to embark on the first of the exploring trips which brought him fame.9 He did so despite a warning from an army officer that the Papagos had rebelled, a report Garcés considered false.

Leaving on 29 August 1768, guided by four pagan Indians, Garcés traversed Papago territory to the Gila River, preaching through the interpreter he took with him. He returned in October, having traveled as long


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as he had spent at his mission, and fell violently ill.10 Unconscious for 24 hours, Garcés later suffered severe chills. The Franciscan at Guebavi moved Garcés there to recuperate. While he was gone, Apaches raided Bac, killed its governor and carried off Garcés' two-trooper escort.11 After Garcés returned to Bac, Apaches again raided it on 20 February 1769.12

By March of 1769, however, Garcés was again on the move. Following this second journey, apparently into the San Pedro River Valley, he became ill again. Then Apaches struck Bac in April and on 3 July of 1769. After two weeks of alarm, the ensign of the Tubac garrison led a scout force of 20 soldiers and citizens, 10 Pimas from Bac, 5 from Guebavi “and some who go from the Tugson” to the Gila River. Writing to the governor of the province, Garcés cited a recent bad example of Indian hostilities as a distinct possibility at his mission unless security arrangements improved:

… I say that what happened at Santa María will happen here unless there is a miracle worked by the hand of the Omnipotent. It is not a question of the ordinary goods of the missions, but of the holy vessels and the mission. It seems to me that these would be more valuable than that the presidial remount herds have two, or three or four soldiers, more or less. With regard to this Mission, there have been thought necessary for it at various times twenty, fifteen, ten or five and perhaps fewer troopers when the Sobaipuris were still in their territory. Now, five or six would not be too many, with the responsibility of dividing up, so that even though I might go to the Tugson, [this mission] would still be defended. Now, however, if I should be disposed to travel there, I ought to take with me precisely the present escort, leaving this mission all by itself. In the Tugson there is neither earthen wall nor hut. This is worse than that of the residents so it does not seem prudent to me to go alone and live alone as I did last year.

Having wintered in the Tucson area and learned more about Northern Piman subsistence, Garcés urged on the governor a more authoritarian role for the missionary than he had himself wanted when he arrived in 1768.

As I wrote to you last year when I had recently arrived, it gave me pleasure to see the maize fields of the residents, and how content they and I were. Having now seen the hunger of the winter, the abandonment of the pueblo and the thievery at the mission, I find myself forced to inform you that although in other areas the Indians can govern themselves, it is not so here unless the priest should govern and other measures be taken than Your Illustriousness ordered. I say this because it is better to struggle with the spiritual and temporal affairs rather than see a poor minister. Those of the Tugson would not object either to having the priests govern the Indians. These poor Indians were so hungry that I told them that if they wished they should plant maize communally. They cleared the ground at once, planted, and it appears that the crop will be lost from too much water. They say that they will sow much wheat.

The measures taken by the Lord Visitor are necessary on the frontier, and benefit the Indians. They do not benefit the merchants and Spaniards,


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who are unable to do with a priest what they can with an Indian. For this reason, I know not what events may occur with the temporal affairs. As I say to myself of this land, although I will chant the Te Deum laudamus if all the priests there are between here and San Ignacio were to come up here, possibly there would be talent and disposition to develop conversions and found missions with priestly governance. [I have seen] Command and fear where one ought to see love and respect on the part of the recently converted Indians for their minister. I hope to see you. After writing you so many “buts,” I shall see whether this disposition [of the Visitor] will have more force and achieve greater observance than that which has achieved such great success in both Americas for these two hundred years!

Finally, the Tugson merits the piety of Your Lordship in order that a priest might come there as I have asked his Illustriouness. Yet the report of the Lord Governor is the most [important]. I also charge you in the name of Jesus Christ, who of course has worked so much personally and with eloquent reports for the good of the Province, that He may render you the greatest service, aiding you to make many new conversions, and [insure] that the missionary fathers, curates, soldiers and merchants remain so that we do not make an end to the sad province. Your Lordship knows very well how many parrots we have in all the estates. Thus it is that this mission has no more than three yokes of tame oxen which are not enough by a wide margin for San Javier much less the Tugson. The plantings appropriate to the two pueblos cannot be made. There are 150 families in these two pueblos, and it is necessary for them to sow like people. It will, therefore, be necessary to have recourse to other missions. If not, the temporal life of this mission may suffer many agonies, and no commission will produce any special effect.13

Reading Garcés' correspondence with colonial officials, one sometimes wonders how they reacted to his rather bitter sarcasm. Little wonder that Garcés' ecclesiastical superiors at the college considered him artless!


Factionalism Brings a Church

Friar Francisco Garcés' initial impact on the Tucson Native Americans changed the relationship between them and San Xavier's missionary. Despite Garcés' frequent absences on exploratory trips, his tenure at Bac produced considerable changes in the Tucson community. The Sobaipuri refugees from the San Pedro River Valley who had settled at the ranchería of Tucson in 1762, and feared that Garcés had come to remove them in 1768, were by 1770 thinking of moving to the Gila River. Their leaders claimed that they had always had this thought in mind, although it may have been a purely retrospective interpretation. Part of their disenchantment with Tucson apparently arose from Garcés' failure to subsidize them sufficiently to suit their notions.

Garcés, or someone, got word of the Sobaipuri discontent to Tubac post commander Juan Bautista de Anza early in 1770. Anza was fighting Seris on the Gulf of California coast under Colonel Domingo Elizondo. The expeditionary commander released Anza 60 presidial troops so that he could deal


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with Spain's Northern Piman allies.14 Anza hurried this command north to Tubac and left there on 17 April for Bac and Tucson.

Three families had already departed for the Gila River settlements four days before Anza arrived at Tucson. Factionalism clearly had reached some sort of peak. Anza persuaded the Native Americans still at Tucson to remain there. He also ordered the governors of the village to make the three migrant families return. Anza picked out a place for the people to construct a protective wall, which they agreed to do. Building the rampart was the first large-scale community project these Native Americans had undertaken in many decades — perhaps within the lifetimes of all those then resident at Tucson. It was the first major European-style construction at Tucson, the first house the natives built for Garcés' use having been a rather humble structure erected in Northern Piman style.

The Sobaipuri refugees also complained to Captain Anza that they had no church. He told them that was because they themselves had not wanted one enough to build it. The Native Americans offered an alibi. They had long wanted a church and told their missionaries so, but the latter never provisioned them. Anza conveyed this demand for a food subsidy to Friar Garcés. The latter promptly granted the Indians all their own wheat from the church field at Tucson (ten bushels) and half of that from Bac.15 While the army officer may well have placed Garcés in a position where he could hardly refuse to embark upon church construction at Tucson, the effect was that Friar “Pancho” Garcés significantly favored his Tucson charges over those at Bac.

Whatever measures the Tucson Native American governors may have taken to persuade the migrant families to return from the Gila River, Garcés himself in the end had to try to carry out Anza's orders. Undeterred by previous illnesses, Garcés left Bac on 18 October 1770 to hike to the Gila River. He went to reassure the Pimas, whose numbers were being decimated by a measles epidemic. The friar also wanted to try to bring back a woman who had fled his mission. Possibly she was the carrier who had transmitted the contagion to the Gileños. Garcés returned to Bac on November fifth,16 after a brief three-week absence.

Apparently the Northern Pimans at Tucson worked on the defensive wall while Garcés was absent, or he kept them at it when in residence. In addition, they completed an adobe structure with towers by 1 February 1771. That afternoon the Tucson people utilized the new complex to repel an Apache attack, although the enemy killed two boys and stole cattle, sheep and horses.17

On August 8, when the 1771 rainy season was well advanced, Garcés left Bac to explore westward across Papaguería to the Colorado River. This three-month trip became crucial to his later exploratory exploits, for it served to lay the foundation for expeditions across the Colorado River to upper California. On such journeys, Garcés not only explored Northern Piman territory, but he also began to recruit Papagos to move to Bac and Tucson to replenish their diminishing riverine populations. The wandering missionary returned to the colonial frontier at Caborca Mission on 29 October.18


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In 1772 a priest at another mission wrote a general description of Sonoran missions apparently based on inventories and enumerations of population that had been made when the Franciscans arrived or soon thereafter. Friar Antonio de los Reyes reported that San José del Tucson had no church nor house for the missionary, concurring with Garcés' own earlier report that he had only a native-style hut.

Reyes noted that some of the Native Americans were still not converted,19 suggesting that already there had arisen a form of factionalism in addition to that occasioned by the differences between the Santa Cruz River Valley natives and the San Pedro River Sobaipuri refugees. By this time the Native Americans at Tucson had probably been in frequent enough contact with Jesuit missionaries and lay Catholics for somewhat Christianized “progressives” to start being married by the priest, as indicated in Torres Perea's report a generation earlier, wearing cheap crucifixes, telling rosaries of trade beads or at least wearing the beads, adopting some Spanish clothing made from red bayeta cloth supplied by the missionary, possibly burying their dead in an extended position in the church cemetery, and sneering at the unconverted “conservatives.”

The Reyes report written in 1772 was, however, almost obsolete for Tucson, evidently based on an earlier Garcés report. That missionary himself reported in 1772 that a church was being constructed and that the fortified village was ahead of Bac.20

Tucson apparently can thank Friar Francisco T. H. Garcés Maestro for making Saint Augustine its patron saint. The Franciscan friar seems to have dedicated his church to Saint Augustine. That inference can be drawn from references to Tucson during this part of Garcés' ministry there. Friar Antonio de los Reyes called Tucson “San José del Tucson” in his 1772 report, using the name Captain Francisco Elías Gonzáles had bestowed a decade earlier. In 1774, on the other hand, a Franciscan inspector visited “San Agustín del Tucson” with Garcés' substitute, Friar Juan Gorgoll.21

“Pancho” Garcés clearly found Native Americans beyond the colonial frontier congenial and exciting people. Yet, whether in effect forced by Captain Anza or not, Garcés was also a sun-dried brick and mud-mortar friar, at least at Tucson. This Aragonese peasant priest could turn his hand and mind to whatever task demanded doing.


Effects of Franciscan Manpower

Part of the secret of Father Francisco Garcés' success in speeding up the process of cultural change among the Indians of Tucson was the quality of political support and/or competition he received from the young, energetic captain at Tubac. Another part of the secret was Franciscan manpower. Unlike the earlier Jesuit missionaries at Bac, Garcés had assistants and substitutes. This is indicated in numerous documents.

When Garcés first reached Bac and began to learn how to deal with Northern Piman Indians, a civilian commissioner conducted business affairs. Garcés wrote to Governor Pineda on 29 July 1768 that “The Commissary


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says he will inform Your Lordship of everything”22 Garcés had a royal commissary for company during his first year as a new missionary. Not until 3 June 1769 did Visitor General José de Gálvez “order each and every one of the Royal Commissaries in whose care the temporal administration of said Missions was provisionally placed that they should immediately turn over to the said Fathers Missionary all the effects, goods, cattle and other things managed by them, with individual inventories.”23

At the end of Garcés' Tucson ministry, a passage in a military report of 1779 referred to “the two apostles of the Holy Cross of Querétaro who continually are found in the nearby missions of San Xavier del Bac and >Tupson.…”24

When Garcés accompanied the first Anza expedition to California in 1774, Friar Juan Gorgoll, missionary stationed at Atí, temporarily replaced him at Bac and Tucson. Garcés left at the end of the first week of January and returned to Bac on 10 July 1774 after six months of exploration.25 It is worth noting that Gorgoll, like missionaries previously stationed at Bac, still complained that the Tucson people wandered too much. He noted that they went “in search of food,”26 but his cultural conditioning prevented his tolerating their aboriginal economic adjustment. Seasonal movement did help to insulate the Northern Pimans against the catechism!

Another Franciscan substitute came to Bac in 1775 when Garcés went off again with Anza's second California expedition. This was Félix de Gamarra,27 a Cantabrian born in 1747 who came to New Spain in 1770 and was ordained at Querétaro before being sent to the Native American missions. After filling in for Garcés, Gamarra went to Tumacacori in late 1776.28 He later moved to Tubutama Mission, where he died from a fever in May of 1779, aged only 32 years.29

On this major expedition, Garcés departed Bac on 21 October 1775 and did not return until 17 September 1776, almost 11 months later.30 Then he spent much time at other missions preparing reports. A week after returning to Bac, Garcés wrote to the guardian of his college from Tumacacori Mission.31 After a short while he probably went on to San Ignacio to write up his nearly year-long fantastic travels over unknown trails among aboriginal peoples far beyond the colonial frontier.

The Father President of the Pimería Alta missions sent Friar Juan Bautista Belderrain to Bac, evidently when Gamarra returned to Tumacacori. When Garcés asked that a second priest be sent to Bac — probably when he went to San Ignacio — the president sent Friar Joaquín Antonio Velarde to reinforce Belderrain.32 By 3 January 1777, Garcés had completed his report with the aid of other friars at Tubutama. He reported to the guardian again on that date.33 Garcés probably returned to Bac soon after, and Velarde moved to Tumacacori.

Such frequent changing and reinforcing of mission personnel clearly evidences the fact that the religious Order charged with the spiritual mission to the Northern Pimans after 1767 possessed the manpower to keep sending priests into Upper Pimería with a prodigality that the expelled Jesuits had never achieved. Consequently, the missionary assault on traditional native religion became continuous and much more effective than it had been during the Jesuit period.


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In addition, these Franciscans had regular financial support. Missionaries received an annual stipend of 350 pesos paid them from the royal exchequer. They sent this money (paid to them at Arizpe) to the city of Mexico, along with whatever profits they realized from the sale of mission farm produce and cattle once they took over temporal administration from the temporary royal commissaries, to a purchasing agent who procured supplies for the churches and Native American converts.34

Thus, Garcés and his alternates really brought the frontier mission institution to bear with full force at Bac for the first time, with significant increase in missionary effort at Tucson. They changed the patron saint of Tucson, and under military pressure supervised construction of a European-style church and defensive works there.


Garcés' Departure for the Quechan Mission

During 1778, Garcés presumably labored at Bac and Tucson. In January and February of 1778, he wrote to the viceroy and guardian of his college from Tucson. Noting Velarde's return to Tumacacori, Garcés commented that his companion, Friar Belderrain, was “applying himself diligently to [learning] the Pima language.”35 Given Garcés' early preference for the people at Tucson over those at Bac, he conceivably divided the evangelical tasks with Belderrain so that he spent more time at Tucson and left Belderrain to learn more Northern Piman and deal with the people at Bac. The presidial garrison had moved to Tucson from Tubac by this time, so the company of other Europeans was available just across the Santa Cruz River from Tucson. There are many indications that Garcés was human enough to enjoy the recognition his explorations won from colonial officials, so that he welcomed contact with Europeans. Moreover, he was urging and planning the establishment of new missions to advance the colonial frontier, so proximity to military communication lines was convenient.

For another year, Garcés likely labored at his assigned mission. In the spring of 1779, however, he was again on the move toward martyrdom. He wrote to the viceroy in mid-March from Los Siete Principes de Atí Mission.36

By late March Garcés was churning up affairs at Altar presidio, preparing the mission-founding expedition to the Colorado River Yumas specifying which Tucson soldiers and citizens he wanted as colonists.37 In August, Garcés left Altar to advance the rim of Christendom to the Yuma crossing of the Colorado River separating Sonora from upper California.

Exigencies of imperial involvement in international warfare producing the independence of the United States from England kept the Colorado River effort small. As a principal architect of the Spanish advance and a missionary with warm relations with the Yuma Indians, Francisco Garcés won assignment to one of the two missions founded across the Colorado River from the mouth of the Gila River, in 1779. There he died two years later in 1781 at the hands of Yuma Indians rebelling against Spanish treatment. Thus, Native Americans on New Spain's northwestern frontier lost a nearly unique friend in colonial councils. Imperial Spain lost one of its great explorers and Christendom one of its gentlest advocates.

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