José de Torres Perea

Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi


Ginny Sphar

Father José de Torres Perea was the youngest missionary ever sent to Guevavi. He was also the only Mexican-born Jesuit to serve regularly at Guevavi. He followed Father Rapicani.

He was born in Chalchicomula, Puebla, Mexico. Father Torres Perea entered the Society of Jesus in 1729 at the age of 16. By 1737, he was studying second-year theology at the Colegio Máximo in Mexico City. Soon after his ordination he set out for the missions. He must have noted, as he traveled north through Mayo and Yaqui country, the devastating results of native rebellion.

Father José arrived at Arizpe, on the upper Río Sonora, on the last day of January 1741.[1] The missions of Guevavi and San Xavier del Bac had been vacant for some months. Father Visitor Carlos de Roxas told him they were his if he thought he could handle them.

By mid-February of 1741, this inexperienced, newly ordained Father in his late twenties was at Guevavi.[2] Probably Father Keller, soon to be Father Rector of the Pimería Alta, saw to his proper installation.

Judging from the entries in the Guevavi books, Father José’s ministry was very active.[3] In addition to Guevavi and its four visitas and Bac, he offered services to the natives of widely scattered rancherías—Bacocut, Tutup, Toacuquita, Concuuc, Sopoc, Taupari, Bacuacucan and Toaczoni. He either invited them to come to him or he rode out to meet with them. Several dozen consented to Holy Baptism during his first months. Others, he said later, ran and hid.[4]

Because of the Planchas de Plata, the mineral-oriented people had been drawn north. Some stayed and planted crops and let their stock graze in the hills. Some prospected. The settlement pattern of the gente de razón within the mission jurisdiction had changed. No longer were they confined to the area along the river south of Guevavi. Seven leagues north of Guevavi at Tubac there were others. Also, near Arivaca, non-natives had begun preempting watered land and good pasture. Even the foreman of Guevavi, Andrés Martín Cobarrubias was evidently not Indian.

In theory, all of these gente de razón belonged to the parish of Nacozari, 120 miles southeast of Guevavi. To the curate they owed their tithes. But because the seat of their parish was so far away, they sought Father José for marrying, baptizing and last rites. He collected no set fee, but perhaps a few chickens, a bushel of wheat or some very fine squash.

For the various offices filled by Indians, Father José and his predecessors tried to choose natives who commanded respect. The duty of the governor was to act as intermediary between the Father and the people. He settled minor disputes and conveyed the Padre’s orders. He must not, however, administer punishment without the Padre’s consent. Rarely did Father José whip his Indians, it was poor psychology. He would have been the sole object of native resentment. Instead, through the governor, he handed down a sentence to fit the crime. In this way, a semblance of order was maintained.

The week before Christmas of 1741, Father Torres jogged on horseback along Sonoita Creek with a detachment of soldiers. It had long been the opinion of the Padres and the frontier society that a presidio was needed in the Pimería Alta. Fronteras was too far away to send an escort every time the Father went to Sonoita. Daily, word of the Apaches’ growing boldness was heard in Sonora. One and a half years had passed since they had scalped Captain Anza.

Although Father José didn’t realize it as he rode to Sonoita, plans for founding a new presidio were being acted on by the royal bureaucracy. It was to be at the place known locally as Terrenate. Because the Viceroy had suggested that the new garrison be placed somewhere near Guevavi and in his decree had referred to it as the presidio of Guevavi, that name stuck and proved a source of confusion to the officials in Mexico City.[5] The new presidio San Felipe de Terrenate would be only 19 leagues away.

Father José spent a lot of time in the saddle. During the July of his first summer at Guevavi, he rode to Soamca to repay a visit by his superior, Father Keller. As was customary for a visiting Padre, he baptized several children. In the following year, in Keller’s absence, he was back at Suamca, burying two women.[6] On October 13, 1743, he was back at Suamca.

In the meantime, he had his own vast territory to look after. Like many of his successors, Father Torres Perea felt the sprawling mission should be divided into two.[7] He tried hard to cover it all. Christianity spread thin was better than none at all.

Just before his superiors transferred him from Guevavi in the spring of 1744, Father José de Torres Perea set down on paper the state of the mission and of Bac as well. Every Jesuit who served in an administrative capacity, from missionary to Provincial, was required to submit periodic reports. From Guevavi, only this one is known to have survived.

In addressing the decline of the native population, which caused him some alarm, he cited some reasons. Guevavi’s climate was unhealthful. The women were sterile. The milk of those who did deliver dried up, causing the babies to die.[8] It probably never occurred to him that if the Indians had been less interfered with, they would have done better. After all, they had survived for dozens of generations without outside advice. Another reason was the shamans or hechiceros. He was very concerned about the lack of Padres at other missions, notably Bac. “Because of the distance and dangers of the country it is not possible for the Fathers of Guevavi to do all that is necessary for the full instruction and proper administration of the Indians of this mission.” Until they were provided with a Padre of their own, for whom apparently at this stage they were not asking, the natives of Bac would regrettably remain “Christians in name rather than in fact.”[9]

In February 1744, Father Peña came to Guevavi, either to learn from Father Torres Perea or perhaps Father José was ill and needed a companion. At any rate he turned over the mission books to Father Peña.[10] Later in the spring, Father Torres Perea rode out of the village. He was on his way to Caborca. He was nominated by Father Visitor Duquesney on July 8, 1744, for the office of Father Rector of the Rectorate of Los Santos Mártires del Japon in east-central Sonora.[11] Had he assumed this position, which he apparently did not, he would have been the immediate superior of his predecessor at Guevavi, Alexandro Rapicani.

Three years later, on August 8, 1747, Father Torres Perea died at Caborca.

[1] Pradeau and Burrus, “Los Jesuitas.”

[2] Torres Perea baptized young Augustín on February 19, 1741. There are three earlier entries on the same page dated only “the same day” referring to a date on the previous page, now lost.

[3] A number of pages of Father José’s entries are missing. It can hardly be a coincidence, noted Father Stoner, that the baptismal, marriage, and burial records for the same period, January 1742 to December 1743, have been torn out.

[4] Torres Perea, “Informe de la Mission de los Angeles de Guebavi alias Guzutaqui de la Pimería alta del Norte,” Guevavi, March 16, 1744; “Cartas de las Misiones . . .” cited above in this chapter, note 35. Of the many reports required of the Padres at Guevavi this is the only one that has yet turned up. Note 35. Keller, Informe, Soamca, July 9, 1744; “Cartas de las Misiones de la Compañía de Jesús en la Baja California y Norte de México,” a collection of documents found by Father Burrus in Barcelona, Spain; microfilm, (UAL). On an undated sketch map Keller drew of his immense domain, he used only the name “Gusutaqui” not Guevavi.

[5] Despite the name, the new garrison was never stationed at or near the mission of Guevavi. Kessell, “The Puzzling Presidio: San Phelipe de Guevavi, alias Terrenate,” NMHR, Vol. XLI (1966), pp. 21-46.

[6] Soamca, Libro de Casamientos y Entierros, 1735-1768; CPA.

[7] Torres Perea, Informe, March 16, 1744.

[8] Nearly 200 years later a Papago woman recalled her own experience: “The children came so fast. I was always nursing one while another was coming, and the nursing one died.” Underhill, Autobiography of a Pápago Woman, p 48.

[9] Torres Perea, “Mission San Xavier del Bac,” Pimería Alta, March 16, 1744; BL, Mexican Manuscripts (M-M) 1716, doc. 48, with a transcript and translation in BRP.

[10] Peña recorded no marriages while at Guevavi. He wrote his first baptismal entry in February, but failed to give the day, and his last on May 14. His burial entries, if he made any, are missing.

[11] Pradeau and Burrus, “Los Jesuitas.”

To learn more about Padre Torres Perea go to Mission 2000 by clicking (here) and following the blue ID numbers. To return to Jesuit Missionaries, click (here).

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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