Alonso Ignacio Benito Espinosa


Ginny Sphar

Father Espinosa was from the Canary Islands. At the time he met with the Padres of Pimería, Governor Arce y Arroyo and Father Visitor Roxas at San Ignacio, who were assessing the threat of revolt, he was on his way to Caborca. Now he was 34 years old, with an uncanny affinity for bad luck.[1] This was about April 1754.

On May 20, 1754, Father Alonso went with the Governor and the Father Visitor to Caborca. Father Espinosa, assigned there, sampled the Indians’ mood and then returned to San Ignacio to await a more favorable time to be the Padre of Caborca.

By June 1754 Father Espinosa was still at San Ignacio and had not ventured back to Caborca because of unrest, partly because of his health and partly that he might be killed. Utrera reported that Espinosa had the idea that if there were several Padres in a mission “they would be less likely to excite these unruly and fickle natives.”[2]

At least they would not send him back to Caborca. Instead, Utrera assigned Espinosa to Bac. While the natives of Bac were building him a house, he was to operate from Guevavi, along with Father Pauer who had once again taken up residence.

Evidently in December 1755, at the invitation of Father Pauer, Father Espinosa baptized a native boy and signed the mission book of Guevavi on the last day of 1755.[3] He was passing through Guevavi on the way to Bac. If he was able, Father Pauer probably joined Governor Mendoza’s caravan and took part in the installation of Father Espinosa. Father Espinosa’s presence at Bac relieved Father Pauer of a great burden.

Early in 1756, it was rumored that the old chief of the Gila Pimas, Jabanimó, was going to incite the Papagos, the native people of Guevavi and Bac. By his very presence at San Xavier, Espinosa may have brought the attack down on himself. It occurred in early fall about the time of the harvest festival. It may have been that he tried to suppress the habitual “immorality and drunkenness.”[4] Whatever the provocation, Jabanimó and his warriors, including some of the mission Indians, fell on San Xavier, sacking and pillaging, and intent on killing Espinosa.[5] Somehow he escaped to Tubac. Ensign de Oliva and 15 soldiers rode to Bac and put the enemy to flight. Three soldiers were slightly wounded.[6]

Governor Mendoza was not one to overlook such an outrage. He organized a punitive expedition of soldiers from various presidios and also natives. His second in command, Captain Elías of Terrenate rode north during November. They picked up Espinosa en route and re-established him at Bac.[7] The entourage followed the enemy to the banks of the Gila, where they had a running battle, which Father Middendorf described blow by blow.[8]

On the way back, Mendoza did “with great edification” lay the first stone for the new church Father Espinosa intended to build at San Xavier del Bac.[9]

In 1763 Father became one of the few Jesuit Visitors to reach “the last mission” of San Xavier del Bac. There, thanks to the good works of “a true apostle,” the enduring Alonso Espinosa, he was able to sleep in a livable house and say Mass in a new church.[10]

In the spring of 1765, Espinosa lay paralyzed. Father Aguirre instructed Father Pauer to have the ailing Espinosa carried 130 miles to San Ignacio. If he recovered, he could go to Atí.[11] He eventually served at Atí and then at Caborca, which a decade earlier had terrified him.

At the time of the Expulsion, Father Espinosa was at Caborca. He made the final entries there by a Jesuit.[12]

[1] Roxas to Calderón, Arizpe, July 3, 1754; AHH, Temp., 17.

[2] Utrera to Calderón, San Ignacio, October 24, 1754; AHH, Temp., 17.

[3] Mendoza did tour the Pimería in January 1756. Donohue, “Jesuit Missions,” p. 281. Whether he saw to Father Espinosa’s installation personally at San Xavier is not certain. Later that spring, Father Roxas reported that Espinosa was indeed serving there. Roxas to Calderón, Arizpe, May 30, 1756; AHH, Temp., 17.

[4] Dobyns, Pioneering Christians, p. 11. Dobyns maintains that this was indeed the cause, apparently following Pradeau, Expulsión, pp. 139-40, 178. Both of these authors suggest that Father Bernardo Middendorf shared the blame for provoking the attack. According to them, Middendorf founded a mission at Santa Catalina near Bac in September 1756. Actually, the innocent Middendorf did not set foot in the San Xavier-Santa Catalina-Tucson area until after the attack. He had only just arrived in the Pimería when he was named chaplain of the punitive expedition of November 1756. In December he apparently returned to San Ignacio where he waited with several companions for a permanent assignment. Sedelmayr to Balthasar, Mátape, December 6, 1756; quoted in Arthur D. Gardiner, “Letter of Father Middendorf, s.j., dated from Tucson, 3 March 1757,” The Kiva, Vol. XXII (1957), p. 1. At the base of this confusion seems to be a statement by Father Och: “Father Middendorf established a new mission among the Papagos in Santa Catalina, but the Indians were soon tired of it because they were barred from their vices, nightly dances and carousing. . . .” Treutlein, Travel Reports of Joseph Och, pp. 43-44. It was not until early in January 1757 that Middendorf went among the Indians of the Santa Catalina-Tucson area to found his ill-fated mission.

[5] Dobyns and Pradeau credit Luis Oacpicgigua with an active part in Jabanimó’s attack. At this time Luis, a prisoner of the Governors of Sonora since mid-1754, was either languishing in jail or already dead. He died, according to Father Peña, “at the beginning” of Mendoza’s administration. “Convite Evangelico,” 12. Mendoza assumed control in July 1755.

[6] “Breve Resumen de los desastres.” This coup by Ensign Oliva quite naturally went down in his record. Nearly 20 years later, however, when Colonel Oconor cited the incident, Oliva’s adversaries were said to have been 200 Apaches. The number of them he was credited with killing remained at 15. “Extracto de Revists de Ynspeccion pasada por el Coronel de Ynfanteria d.n Hugo Oconor . . . al expresado de S.n Ygnacio de Tubac,” 1775, Quaderno 1; AGI, Guad., 515.

[7] Sedelmayr to Balthasar, Mátape, December 6, 1756.

[8] Middendorf to Balthasar, San Augustín de Tucsón, March 3, 1757; in Gardiner, “Letter of Middendorf,” Kiva, XXII, pp. 3-8. From Middendorf’s letter one might easily be led to believe that Mendoza’s force had fought Ensign Oliva’s San Xavier battle in which 15 of Jabanimó’s braves were killed, when actually the governor’s punitive expedition did not arrive until several weeks afterward, and failed to kill anyone. Both Donohue, “Jesuit Missions,” p. 281-82, and Dobyns, Pioneering Christians, p. 11, seem confused on this point.

[9] Burrus, Misiones Norteñas, p. 70. For the next five years Espinosa worked on the new church at Bac.

[10] Ibid. Espinosa’s annual lists of needs for 1763, 1764, and 1765 were crammed with requests for vestments, furnishings, and statues for his church. Donohue, “Jesuit Missions,” p. 289; memorias cited in AHH, Temp., 323. See also Donohue, “The Unlucky Jesuit Mission of Bac, 1732-1767,” AW, Vol. II (1960), p. 135.

[11] Aguirre to Zevallos, Bacadéguachi, May 18, 1765; AHH, Temp., 17.

[12] Zelis erred in listing 29-year-old Pedro Rafael Díez as the Padre of Guevavi at the time of the expulsion. He incorrectly placed Ximeno at Caborca. Catálogo, pp. 134-35. Díez had reached the Pimería during the Jesuits’ final spring. Father Visitor Nentuig assigned him not to Guevavi, but to Sáric to relieve the ailing Gerstner. Nentuig to Gándara, April 13, 1767. Father Díez seems to have been serving at Atí when Urrea began the expulsion. He was the last Jesuit to sign the Atí Libro de Casamientos on July 12, 1767, less than two weeks before the expulsion. In the surviving Caborca books of marriages and burials Father Alonso Espinosa, not Ximeno, made the final entries by a Jesuit. Parish Archive, Altar, Sonora; microfilm, Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tucson. Ximeno’s fragmentary marriage entries in the Guevavi book carried through to June 14, 1767.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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