33. Tabira—The Gran Quivira
The Gran Quivira, as it has been called for over a hundred years, is by far the best known of the Salinas pueblos, and in fact is the most celebrated ruin in all of the Southwest. This is not strange, as it is altogether the largest ruin of any Christian temple that exists in the United States; and connected with it from the first, there has been the glamor of romance and the strange charm of mystery, which adds tenfold to ordinary interest.
How and when it first received its deceptive title of “Gran Quivira” we may never know; there are dozens of traditions and theories and imaginings. From the days of Coronado the name of “Quivira” had been associated with the idea of a great unknown city, of wealth and splendor, situated somewhere on the Eastern Plains; and it is not at all unlikely that when some party from the Rio Grande Valley, in search of game or gold, crossed the mountains and the wilderness lying to the east, and was suddenly amazed by the apparition of a dead city, silent and tenantless, but bearing the evidences of large population, of vast resources, of architectural knowledge, mechanical skill, and wonderful energy, they should have associated with it the stories heard from childhood
GRAN QUIVIRA—RUINS OF ANCIENT CHURCHthe Salt Lake region or even any recollection of their existence.
Meanwhile the true history of Tabira,—the real name of the Gran Quivira,—was not difficult; but it was slow in being known. In reality it was not greatly different from that of the other Salinas pueblos with which we are already familiar. Tabira was the most southerly outpost of the Piros or Tompiros division of the Pueblo civilization, and in direct contact with the Jumanos and other Indians of the Plains. This region was first revealed to European knowledge at the end of the sixteenth century and opened to Christian influences by the Franciscan missionaries in the beginning of the seventeenth. A little more than half a century covers the whole portion of its history with which we are acquainted.
GRAN QUIVIRA. RUINS OF PART MISSION CHURCHfinally, not far from 1650, the foundations were laid of the great church and monastery, whose ruins are still among the wonders of the western world.
From then until the present—much more than two hundred years—the great stone structures, monuments to the industry, the skill, and the devotion of the old inhabitants, have stood, in sunshine and in storm, exposed to the ceaseless disintegration of time and the elements, but by the massiveness of their architecture almost defying those agents of destruction.
There is no more impressive sight on American soil than the outlines of those great buildings, silent and alone, against the evening sky; and it is no wonder that stories of the marvelous and the supernatural should cluster around them.
Every traveler to the Southwest has almost exhausted language in their description; but we prefer to use again the plain words of Major Carleton, because they antedate the changes of more recent days, and also because to him belongs the credit of being, so far as this region is concerned, the first of American explorers.
GRAN QUIVIRA. RUINS OF PART OF MISSION CHURCHbuildings had been constructed of the dark blue limestone which is found in the vicinity.
“There is also what might be called an entablature supporting each side of the gallery and deeply embedded in the main wall of the church; this is 24 feet long, by 18 inches or two feet in width; it is carved very beautifully, indeed, and exhibits not only skill but exquisite taste in the construction of the figures. The beams are square and carved on three sides.
“The stone of which the great church was built was not hewn nor even roughly dressed, but the smoothest side of each piece was laid to the surface with great care. We saw no one piece in all the ruins over a foot in length. The walls of the church are now about thirty feet in height. It was estimated that originally the building was all of fifty feet in height.
“The chapel is 130 feet from the church. It is 118 feet long, outside, and 32 in width; its walls are 3 feet, 8 inches in thickness; it is apparently in a better state of preservation than the church.”’’