Eusebio Francisco Kino: Missionary, Explorer, and Cartographer


Banquet Address presented on Friday, October 25, 2002

By Gabriel Gómez Padilla[1]

Annual Meeting of the

Society for the History of Discoveries

Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico


There is no better way to begin this talk about Father Kino than with what Herbert Bolton wrote about him:


Eusebio Francisco Kino was the most picturesque missionary pioneer of all North America—explorer, astronomer, cartographer, mission builder, ranchman, cattle king, and defender of the frontier.  His biography is not merely the life story of a remarkable individual, it illuminates the culture of a large part of the Western Hemisphere in its pioneer stages.[2]


            It is not my intention to here to present a biography, which would run much longer than my allotted time.  Rather, it is to provide a basic introduction to Kino’s outstanding achievements as a cartographer, explorer, and missionary, and to evaluate his success or failure, while at the same time showing how important he remains today.  For brevity’s sake, I will omit such important information as his scientific training in Germany and his work as royal cosmographer in California, and instead concentrate on the “priest on horseback’ (as Bolton called him), who, for twenty-four years, covered thirty thousand kilometers (nearly nineteen thousand miles) during fifty “apostolic expeditions” in the arid territory of northern Sonora and southern Arizona, then known as the Pimeria Alta.


            I have had the good fortune to accompany a group of friends from Sonora on six of these rides, following in Kino’s footsteps. Of course, we brought good maps and portable radios, and we had logistical support, including water and feed for the horses.  At night, we would sit around the campfire, and as we ate the supper our truck drivers prepared for us, we would share our admiration for this giant as the question constantly came up, why are we so tired? In fact, when I returned from my first ride, a priest took one look at me and added, “Shall I give you Extreme Unction?” and I replied, “Yes, but according to the ritual as practiced in the 13th century:  Apply the holy oils where it hurts.”


            Our next question was, where did Kino get his strength?  The answer has three parts: First: Kino lived and died on horseback in order to expand (on the strength of his faith), the “rim of Christendom.”  In fact, the eight missions and fifteen mission visiting stations, each with a complete agricultural infrastructure, constitute twenty-three human settlements that today, in one way or another, owe their existence to Kino.  Second, Kino did what he did to personally meet and become friendly with the native American chiefs in the northwest, whom he had previously contacted through “buenos tlatoles,” that is, respectful messages in which he requested permission to enter their territory, or invited them to Dolores to see with their own eyes the advantages of the life he was offering to them.  Third, Kino wanted to inform Madrid and Rome of how good this “terrae incognita” was by making accurate maps.  He covered thirty thousand kilometers throughout the Pimeria Alta, on horseback, because he was at once a messenger of God, a man with a big heart, and a true scientist.


The First Ten Years in Sonora (1687-1696)

            Eusebio Francisco arrived in Cucurpe on March 13, 1687.  He began his ministry with the support of Father Antonio de Roxas, who headed the Mission of Ures.  Father Roxas supplied him with some cattle, “a little money,” the help of two Native Americans, an interpreter, and a “temistian” or catechist, who was blind.  These were Father Kino’s most precious treasures in these first years.


            Close to 1694 a co-worker finally arrived, someone who was like a soul-mate: Francisco Xavier Saeta, a holy “mafioso” from Sicily.  Kino generously set him up in Caborca with “twenty-three mules, twenty-nine mares with their colts, one hundred head of cattle, and eighty of sheep.”  Within a short time, the two men were united by a deep friendship that held great promise for the Northwest.  However, their plans were abruptly cut short by the Tubutama rebellion, in which Saeta was killed.  It was Holy Tuesday, April 2, 1695.  Alarming reports began to arrive in Mexico City from the Jesuits and Spaniards who lived nearby: that Father Kino “saw a forest where there was only a mesquite bush, and a lake where there was puddle of water.”  The Pinteria was a barren wilderness, the reports continued, and sending missionaries to risk their lives there was a worthless endeavor.

            When Kino recovered from his deep depression following Saeta’s death, he realized that these pessimistic reports could decide the future of civilization in the Northwest Frontier, and he decided to fend off the danger.  He wrote a biography of Saeta at breakneck speed, left Dolores on November 16, 1695, and in seven weeks, during which he did not neglect to celebrate mass for a single day, he rode the five hundred leagues (some 1,250 miles) to Mexico City.


            We can read the story of Xavier Saeta as a biography, but it is much more than that:  it is not only a response to objections from the faint-hearted, but also a detailed plan for sustainable development in the Pimeria and conversion to Christianity of the friendly Indians who lived there.  Let us call it Kino’s master plan; and although it was to be successively enriched by new information originating in accumulated experience and would change its terminology several times, it remained essentially the same.  Indeed, Saeta’s biography is a jewel of the history of “missionology:” into the mouth of the martyr Kino puts his own missionary methods, which essentially consist of accepting the indigenous people as they are and not as we dream they should be.  Not only that, but to dedicate himself to working with them untiringly – a labor that conquers all – and after the bitter experiences in Baja California and Sonora, to keep a prudent distance from the Spanish army in order to maintain the missions.


            In the dedication to Philip V in Favores Celestiales (translated into English by Herbert Bolton as Kino’s Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta), Kino describes clearly the three steps of his missionary method and the many tribes that are eager to become part of New Spain:


By means of these many and repeated journeys and missions which I have made to all parts, without special expense to the royal estate; there remain reduced to our friendship and to obedience to the royal crown, and with desire to receive our holy faith, more than thirty thousand souls.[3]


            The novelty of Kino’s method lies in the order of its steps:  First our friendship, then obedience to the Christian faith.  Kino’s sense of calm offers a contrast to the anxiety of many missionaries who were convinced that salvation did not exist outside the Church.  First, he says, you must eat –live well – before being a Christian.  But, Kino says in Book Eight of the biography of Saeta:


This is neither well nor sufficiently achieved when one sits perched on his chair ordering subordinates or Indian officials to do what we should be doing personally by sitting down time and again with them on earthen floors or on a rock.[4]


            Here we see faith in God, who is undoubtedly the master of the flock.  We see the love of a father and mother for their indigenous “children” who are like “wild and ignorant colts,” and we see a man who works untiringly next to God.  In summary, our missionary (who is also an explorer, a cartographer, and a social scientist) subscribes to a method of infinite patience.


            To illustrate the biography of Saeta, Kino drew a map entitled “Theater of the Apostolic Labors of the Society of Jesus in North America.”  In the north of the continent appear the Gran Quivira, the Gran Teguayo, the apache lands of New Mexico, and even the Rio Grande, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.  Baja California appears as the largest island in the world: a long forearm that ends at the north in a hand with five utterly fictitious fingers.  Kino sent this map to the Father General, with a copy to the viceroy-archbishop Juan de Ortega y Montañés, who gave it to the Duke of Escalona, who in turn sent it to France, where Nicholas of Feer published two versions of it (Paris, 1705 and 1720), without ever mentioning the author’s name.[5]


            While Kino was in Mexico City – conferring with the viceroy and with the new Father Provincial, Juan de Palacios y Salvatierra, about how to design the Pious Fund for the Californias – many things happened.  Horacio Polici was named the Father Visitor of the missions of Sonora, and, on Polici’s orders, Francisco Xavier de Mora devoted himself to watching closely over Kino.  In all, six months of war ensued that ended suddenly when Polici realized that Kino was the only person capable of maintaining peace in the Pimeria, because “he was worth, as military men say, more than a well-governed presidio of soldiers.”

            Therefore, to Mora’s considerable surprise, Polici entrusted Kino with the fortification of the border area, and Salvatierra had to set sailalone for California on October 10, 1697.  Between December 1669 and March 1697, Kino went into the war zone seven times on Polici’s orders: four trips into Quiburi, two to San Xavier del Bac, and one to Cocóspara. (This would be the quivalent of an additional trip from Sonora to Mexico City.)  Then he accompanied the Indian chiefs from the entire Northwest to request missionaries.  I was able to cover this area in six days, crossing the Babispe River and then the Sierra del Tigre, until I arrived in Baserac, which is where Horacio Polici lived when he received, with delight, his indigenous visitors.  I spoke with the people of the village of Bacoachi, and once again their great admiration for the wonderful “Father on Horseback” was clear to me.


            Kino’s efforts to revive the morale of the Pima army and provide them with food soon bore fruit.  Their leader, Coro, conquered the Apaches and their allies on March 30, 1698.  That was the straw that broke Mora’s back.  He began to write his report criticizing Kino, in which he accused Kino of mistreating the Indians, of living in mortal sin by neglecting his parish in order to explore “terra incognita,” of being a heretic, and above all of driving Jesuits away from the Pimeria with his overbearing behavior.


The Search for the Land Passage to Baja California


            Kino replied to Mora’s report with deeds more than words.  On September 22 he and Lieutenant Diego Carrasco set off on an expedition to the summit of the Santa Clara volcano, in the “lunar landscape” region where Neil Armstrong and his astronaut colleagues trained.  “In the year 1698,” Kino tells us:

At thirty-five degrees latitude, and at one hundred five leagues northwest from Dolores, on the very high hill, or ancient volcano of Santa Clara, I saw most plainly both with the telescope and without a telescope the junction of these lands of New Spain with those of California, the head of this Sea of Cortés, and the land passage which was there at thirty-five degrees latitude.[6]


After that, from 1699 to 1701, Kino made six expeditions by land to look for the land passage to Baja California, where Salvatierra and Pícolo were anxiously awaiting cattle and grain to support the missions of Lorato and San Xavier Biaundo.


            I had the good fortune to cover Kino’s route with my friends from Sonora.  We received very special permission to enter via the “Devil’s Highway,” now a firing range for the U.S. Air Force.  We arrived at the Aguaje de la Luna (a type of reservoir), passed hundreds of 19th century gold prospector’s graves, and eventually made it to Yuma.  Later we went to Pinacate, to which Kino traveled three times.  I can assure you that during these trips on horseback our admiration for Kino grew and grew – and I repeat, with all of our logistical support – realized just what kinds of difficulties desert travel posed.  We frequently recall the verses Manje quoted in praise of Kino: “To discover lands and convert souls, these are the virtues of Father Kino.  He prays often and, without vice, takes neither tobacco nor snuff, or to the bed, or the bottle.”[7]           


            In 1699, at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers, Kino received some blue shells as a gift.  After considerable research, Kino found that the shells provided him with scientific proof of what he had seen from the summit of Pinacate.


            If the blue shells were from the opposite coast of California and the Indians did not travel on the Gulf of Cortés, there must be a land passage to Sonora.  But to confirm his hypothesis, Kino needed his Indians, and therefore he called a meeting in San Xavier del Bac on April 26, 1700.  These are his words:


To that end I dispatched various messengers in all directions, some to the east to call Captain Humaric; others to the north to call those of La Encarnación and San Andrés, of the Rio Grande, with their justices, governors and captains; and especially others to the west and northwest to call various Pima, Opa, and Cocomaricopa governors from near the Rio Colorado to learn with all possible exactness in regard to the shells and the passage by land to California.[8]


            Then, during a week’s wait for his messengers to return:


We killed six beeves of the three hundred which they were tending for me … and during the following days they planted for the church a large field of maize, which they had previously cleared.[9]


            And then Kino describes how happily all of them laid the foundation of the Church of San Xavier del Bac, fifteen miles south of Tucson and visited today by thousands of tourists.  When the messengers returned,


On the first of May, in the afternoon and at nightfall, we talked a great part of the night before, in regard to the eternal salvation of all those nations, at the same time continuing various inquiries in regard to the blue shells, which admittedly came from the opposite coast of California and from a sea which is ten or twelve days’ journey farther than this other Sea of California, on which there are shells of pearl and white, and many others, but none of those blue ones which they gave us among the Yumas and sent me to Nuestra Señora de los Remedios [Our Lady of Healing].[10]


            As was the custom, Kino put these fireside musings, with all their consequences for science, into a long letter, or plan, which in 1702, he then sent to the new Father Visitor, Antonio Leal.  In that letter, Kino gave Leal seven compelling reasons why Baja California was a peninsula.  He also included five sections listing natural and human resources in the Pimeria that would enable its sustainable development.  And he laid out six advantages for the king of supporting the missions in Sonora: for example, a shorter route to Europe – around the North Pole – rather than making the trip through Veracruz, and the sought-after return route from the Philippines for the commercial ships of the Nao de China.


            The second advantage, which is repeated in Part Five of Kino’s Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta, was,


We shall be able to continue to make correct maps of the unknown North America, for some ancients blot the maps with such unreal grandeur and feigned riches as a crowned king whom they carry in golden chairs, with walled cities, and lakes of quicksilver and gold or amber, and corals.[11]


            Let us look at the maps from 1701 and 1702, in which Kino condenses all his discoveries since 1698.  Because there were no good printers in Mexico, he sent the maps to be published in Europe.  The first map was sent to Father Bartolomé de Alcázar at the Imperial college of Madrid, and the second went to the Jesuits in France, who published it twice in 1705: in Lettres Edifiants, and Mémoirs de Travoux.  Kino sent the last map to Father Kappus, who sent it to Germany, where it was published in the prestigious journal Neue Weltbott in 1707.[12]


            A number of Jesuits working in northwestern New Spain made maps, and four stand out in particular:  Kino, Consag, Nentwig, and Linck.  However, of those four, only Kino knew how to draw maps scientifically; that is, with the latitudes correct in relation to the pole.  This map – published by Joseph Stöcklein in the prestigious mission journal Neue Weltbott in 1726 -- leaves out the meridians and places strong emphasis on the names of indigenous tribes (Christians and pagans). Thus, for Kino, the indigenous groups were what gave worth to the valleys, rivers, plains, and mountains that he traversed in his expeditions and recorded in his maps.


            In fact, we should remember that for the Jesuits, a map was a tool for work:  it showed the routes from one mission to another and the watering holes where horses or cattle could drink, and it also illustrated the reports sent to superiors in Rome and Madrid.  An image, the Jesuits understood, was worth more than a thousand words.


Years of Plenty (1703-10)


            The year 1703 was one of great activity, when churches were built in the midst of continuous Apache attacks.  It ended with the grand dedication festivals for the churches of Remedios and Cocóspera.  In 1704, Kino came up with the idea of opening up a new road from Dolores to Guaymas, in order to send cattle to California more cheaply.  Once again I had the opportunity to make this trip on horseback with my friends from Sonora:  we followed the Sonora River and then the South Pacific Railway.  On the way, we passed Fort Ortiz, the silent witness to the Mexican army’s war against the Yaqui Indians.


            In the year 1704, Kino and Adam Gilg received some letters from a distant mission in China with less than encouraging news – the case before the Propaganda Fide concerning Chinese rites was at its height.  Moreover, the            mandarins had to be bribed in order to get permission to preach the gospel.  In that same year, wrote Father Vanhame, a great mathematician sent to China from Mexico’s Tarahumara region, his parish had only succeeded in baptizing “an elderly Tartar woman.”

            Kino, who had studied mathematics and cartography at the universities of Ingolstadt and Fribourg in order to open the doors of imperial China, as did his relative Martino Martini, could not avoid making a happy comparison between his missions in Sonora and those in the Far East.  One conversion in a year when in Sonora the Indians were asking him by the thousands!  Although all comparison is odious, Kino tells us, I would not exchange my beloved Sonora for China!  Here we have a man in his prime of his life, beset by tremendous difficulties, but happy and fulfilled, since the blows given him by life have taught him that “the adversities of this world, and rightly so, have to do with the celestial favors done for us by God.”


            In 1706, Kino made his last great expedition, to the Cerro de Pinacate. He was accompanied this time by Brother Manuel de la Oyuela, who gave his legal witness that Baja California was a peninsula. During these years, Kino continued to make maps and write reports.  His report from the year 1707 is particularly interesting, because he proposes establishing a Spanish settlement on the banks of the Colorado River as the best way of containing the Apaches and consolidating Spanish dominion over upper California – which, a few years later, would be threatened by the English pirates and the “Russian bear” descending via the Bering Straight. Thus, instead of telling what happened historically between 1707 and 1709, Kino ends his Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta with a “long report” to the king.  Indeed, Kino’s embryonic remarks in the “long letter” to Antonia Leal in 1702 now reach their height.  In the twelve chapters of Book three, Kino gives Philip the Fifth twelve reasons to support the Jesuit missions in Sonora; these include to subdue the Apaches, who were continuously threatening Spanish civilization on the frontier, and to open new routes that would establish free trade with Jesuits in Canada. Kino wants the world to know about his accurate maps, which are the fruit of thirty-thousand kilometers on horseback, constantly measuring the height of the sun with his astrolabe at twenty-two to thirty-five degrees.  Book Four discusses briefly but very forcefully the many natural and human resources in the Pimeria, in order to consolidate the glory and economy of the Bourbons in “until now unknown” North America.


            To illustrate his masterpiece memoir, Kino drew his masterpiece map in 1710.  Baja California is clearly a peninsula, and the map shows the islands of San Vicente and Santa Inés.  Also present is the island at the mouth of the Colorado River, and instead of fictitious names there appear the missions of Sonora, Sinaloa, and Pimeria Alta with the Gila and Colorado rivers and their tributaries, all perfectly defined up to New Mexico and the western region of Texas.  Kino called this entire territory “New Navarra,” because he wanted to show that just as in Europe the region of Navarra united Spain with France, so New Navarra would unite New Spain (that is, Mexico) with New France (Canada).  All we have today is a copy of the original (drawn in 1724), which Father Ernest J. Burrus found in the D’Anville Collection in the National Library of France.  Along with the map drawn in 1701, this map is the most important of the thirty-one maps Kino drew (that we know of).  It is he definitive map of the region, and is today a part of international cartography.[13]


            We can know now move to evaluating Kino’s success or failure in his missionary and scientific activity, and how his rich personality has influenced our times.


            For twenty-four years, as we have said, Father Kino traveled thirty-thousand kilometers on horseback, diving in watering holes, and measuring the height of the sun with his astrolabe.  In fifteen years, he wrote ten reports that demonstrate his strategy as a missionary and the vast natural and human resources of northwestern Mexico (now the southwestern part of the United States).  He illustrated his reports with thirty-one maps of the highest scientific quality, to convince Madrid and Rome of the enormous size of the “Terra incognita” and its unlimited natural and human resources, and to get more missionaries.


            We will examine only the final point. Did the longed-for missionary colleagues arrive?  Not in Kino’s lifetime.  Except for Augustin de Campos, the rest were, as Herbert Bolton put it, “rolling stones.”

            We know that after Kino died, his missions fell into ruin.  In the mid-18th c., Juan Antonio Baltasar, a Swiss missionary who became Father Provincial of Mexico, found the lost manuscript of Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta and, upon analyzing it, realized “it is no exaggeration to say that only Father Kino did so much in his twenty-three years in the Pimeria, that in the forty years after his death all the missionaries there were unable to convert one-third of the villages that Kino had made his friends in order to bring them the Gospel.”[14]


            For that reason, Baltasar decided to raise Kino’s figure as a banner to attract new missionaries.  On May 15, 1752, he wrote “a letter to all the Fathers Provincial of the Asistencia of Spain,” requesting missionaries for Mexico.  He had considerable success, because forty Jesuits arrived in 1756.  Of these, five were assigned to the Pimeria.  However, their efforts bore little fruit, because eleven years later Charles the Third was expelled and with that came the end of the Jesuit missions in the Northwest. 


            To conclude, I would like to comment briefly on Eusebio Francisco Kino’s importance today in the lands where he was born and worked.  On February 14, 1965, Kino entered the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as the founder of the state of Arizona.  Attending the ceremony was Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, who shortly afterward informed President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz of Kino’s enormous popularity in Arizona.  Losing no time, President Diaz Ordaz called the writer Augustin Yañez, who was then minister of education, who commissioned the anthropologist Wigberto Jiménez Moreno to find Kino’s remains.  Jorge Olvera was in charge of the excavations, which achieved resounding success on May 19, 1966.  After that, Father Kino’s remains were buried, and are still located today, in the central plaza in Magdalena, since then renamed Magdalena de Kino.  In 1987, impressive festivals were held in Arizona, Sonora, and Trent to mark the tricentennial of Kino’s arrival in the Pimeria.  Mexico issued a postal stamp in memory of Kino’s entry into Cucurpe (something the U.S. Postal Service could not manage to do), and in Trent an international conference was held in Kino’s honor.


            Finally, on June 16, 1991, the third statue of Kino on horseback – by the Spanish-Mexican sculptor Julian Martinez -- was unveiled in Segno, Kino’s birthplace.


            In fact, Juan Antonio Baltasar’s remarks about Kino continues to resonate today: “Ultimately, he was and always will be an example for the workers of that vineyard of Our Lord (Sonora), and the original that all of us must imitate.  He opened the door, paved the way, and went forward as a guide for all of us who aspire to the greater glory of god and the conversion of many souls.”[15]  Arizona recognizes him as its founder; Sonora honors him as a secular hero; and Trent venerates him as a saint.  I should also mention that the cause for Eusebio Francisco Kino’s canonization was introduced in Hermosillo in 1972.


            I will close with the text of Doctor Pablo Latapi, who, on March 15, 1968, named Kino the patron of the Centro de Estudios Educativos (Center for Educational Studies), an institution of advanced research in Mexico that is recognized both nationally and internationally.


I seek a saint connected with the development of Mexico.  A saint who understands that commitment to God is in the here and now, who has a passion for social justice, and who understands his religion as a dispassionate surrender to the well-being and progress of others, above all the poor.


I seek a saint who is a scientist, a friend of the truth and convinced of the trancendence of research.  At the same time, however, he must try to use the knowledge he uncovers and have the virtue of efficiency.


I seek a saint who is manly – not because he would not, as a saint, be appropriate for women – but because what the word “manly” expresses is integrity, serenity, and perseverance; someone who loves God with a few qualifications and is realistic about his status as a man.


I seek a saint who is accepted in official circles, and who is recognized as a national hero for having promoted Mexico’s unification into one nation, neither concealing his principles nor crying out for no reason.


I seek an ordinary saint, and, of course, one who has not been canonized to express the imperfect sanctity of the Church.  A Jesuit saint who has achieved the best of the Order’s tradition; contemplation in action and action in contemplation.


            Latapi found this saint in Sonora during the planning study for the University of Sonora.  I found him while riding on horseback with my friends in the Sonora desert.  He is the missionary, explorer, and cartographer Eusebio Francisco Kino.


This document was translated into English by Trudy Balch and Maria Luisa Arias Moreno.

[1] Professor Gómes Padilla holds the Doctor in Theology degree from Gregorian University in Rome.  A former Jesuit priest, he currently is a research professor in the Department of History at the University of Guadalajara.

[2] Herbert E. Bolton, The Rim of Christendom, a Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1984, p.xix.

[3] Herbert E. Bolton, Kino’s Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta, a Contemporary Account of the Beginnings of California, Sonora, and Arizona, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, p. 88.

[4] Eusebio Francisco Kino, Kino’s Life of Xavier Saeta (translated and with an epilogue by Charles W. Polzer, S.J. and original Spanish transcription by Ernest J. Burrus, S.J. (Rome and Saint Louis: Jesuit Historical Institute, 1971, p.187.

[5] Cf. Ernest J. Burros, Kino and the Cartography of Northwestern New Spain, Tuscon: Arizona Pioneer’s Historical Society, 1965, pp. 42-46 and plate VIII.

[6] Bolton, tr., Kino’s Historical Memoir, p. 229.

[7] Ernest J. Burrus, Kino and Manje: Explorers of Sonora and Arizona. Their vision of the Future ,Rome and Saint Louis, MO: Jesuit Historical Institute, 1971, pp. 538-539.

[8] Bolton, tr., Kino’s Historical Memoir, p. 235.

[9] Bolton, Ibid., p. 325

[10] Bolton, Ibid., pp.235-238

[11] Bolton, Ibid., p. 264

[12] Bolton, Ibid., p. 264

[13] Burrus, Ibid., pp. 68-70, and Plate XIII.

[14] Burrus, Kino and Manje, 1971, p. 734

[15] Cf. Burrus, ibid., pp. 734-735

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