Juan Bautista Grazhoffer



Ginny Sphar

Father Juan Bautista was born on June 5, 1690, in Bleiburg, Carinthia in Austria. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus on October 27, 1710, and professed his final solemn vows at Commotau in Bohemia on February 2, 1728. He was determined to serve as a missionary among gentiles. He left Commotau on May 12, 1729, for Genoa and from there sailed across to Spain. He was tall, brown-haired with a pockmarked face. Now in his forty-second year he was finally going to see his vow fulfilled.[1]

Father Juan came to the New World with a Mission of 26 Jesuits. They came from various parts of Germany, Italy and Spain. The Mission was due to the Viceroy’s instructions of April 27, 1730, “For the conversion of those heathen Indians to our Holy Catholic Faith and for their education, 3 missions are to be erected and planted in northern Pimería Alta and entrusted to three religious of the Sacred Company of Jesus.”[2]

They sailed on His Majesty’s ship La Potencia, alias El Blandón, in 1730. On February 2, 1731, they sailed into Havana Harbor. In April they crossed over to Vera Cruz.[3] Then they climbed on muleback to Mexico, metropolis for the New World.

Three of the Jesuit reinforcements, one Swiss, one Moravian and an Austrian, set out for duty in the Pimería in mid-June 1731. These Jesuits were Phelipe Segesser, Ignacio Xavier Keller and Juan Bautista Grazhoffer. These untried arrivals were matched with the vacant missions of Guevavi, Bac and Suamca.

Nearly three decades without resident Padres had gone far toward obliterating the beginnings so carefully nurtured by Kino.[4] Because the dwellings built during Kino’s time were so dilapidated, it was decided that each of the missionaries would spend several months at the mission of a veteran learning Piman and their ways. While they were doing this, Captain Anza personally supervised the building of a small house and the planting of wheat at each of the assigned posts.[5] The natives of Guevavi were in for a change.

Within a week he would be a practicing missionary. Probably by now he knew that Guevavi meant “big spring” in Piman. He had served for several months at Tubutama with Father Rector Gallardi. He had recovered from a fever that nearly killed him, and he was, in the spring of 1732, ready to begin his ministry.

At “the place called Quino” they rendezvoused—Father Grazhoffer, Father Keller, Father Segesser, Captain Anza, a military escort, the native Captain General of the Pimas, and assorted mixed-breeds and Indians.[6]

In the early dawn of May 3, 1732, they celebrated mass. The theme was the Feast of Finding of the Holy Cross.[7] The missionary re-conquest of the northern Pimería had begun.

As members of the re-conquering expedition of 1732 approached the river somewhat south of Guevavi, they could see cottonwoods and willows before they saw the shallow water. They decided prematurely that it would not be too difficult or unpleasant to build a mission here. On the fourth of May they made the grand entry into the village. Hundreds of Pimas flocked to Guevavi.

Whether the ruins of San Martín’s little church stood nearby has not been determined. Apparently from the time of Father Juan Bautista Grazhoffer, for the next 40 years, mission “Los Santos Ángeles Gabriel y Raphael de Guevavi o Gusutaqui” occupied this one site atop a rise on the east bank of what is now the Santa Cruz River.[8] Father Kino had called Guevavi San Gabriel. Grazhoffer added San Rafael. Still another Jesuit, 12 years later, began calling the mission San Miguel. Over the years then, all three of the principal archangels, Los Santos Ángeles, were invoked to protect the mission among the Pimas. Even so it did not prosper. The Pima name “Gusutaqui” meaning “big water” evidently was first recorded by Captain Juan Matheo Manje in 1699. In the years to come it was to appear and reappear as a synonym for Guevavi.[9]

Captain Anza, mindful of the native’s love of pageantry, formally introduced them to their new Padre. A symbolic replanting of the Holy Cross and the firing of muskets were appropriate to the occasion. They elevated a single Indian and told him what to do. That they bestowed Don Eusebio the military title of “captain general” rather than the civilian title of “governor” is indicative of what the Spaniards wanted from the Pimas as a nation—a fighting buffer against the Apaches. Because Francisco of Guevavi was an old and capable and active Christian he was allowed to keep his authority as governor of Guevavi. When the lesser justicias were appointed, Captain Anza gave the order to mount up. “Leaving Father Juan in possession, we set out for San Xavier.”[10]

Like Father San Martín a generation earlier, Father Grazhoffer had come to stay. If he did not tread lightly, he should have, for he was not among friends. The hechiceros showed open hostility. However, Father Juan thought he could win them over.

If he had read a description of the Pimas by Father Kino, Father Grazhoffer must have questioned if they were the same Indians. Kino failed to mention their drunkenness, their orgies and their plural wives. Kino was a propagandist, not an anthropologist. He stressed the qualities that a European would appreciate. By deliberately misrepresenting the Pimas, in a sense he was doing a disservice to the missionaries who came later. Yet, but for Kino, they might never have come at all.

Father Grazhoffer’s task at Guevavi was more difficult than Kino’s had been. He had to confront the customs of the Indians and to oppose and destroy, if he could, whatever obstructed their conversion to Christianity. He did not come bearing gifts but moved in with a new authority. The visits of Kino and Campos led them to believe that Christianity involved little more than a few symbolic gestures, for which they received bright ribbons and steel knives. The natives of Guevavi resented Grazhoffer and grew sullen.

At Grazhoffer’s bidding a small physical plant took shape. Thanks to Anza he had a small house. Nearby the natives built a sturdy ramada beneath which he placed an altar. Such was the cabacera. Beyond lay four visitas, Sonoitac to the northeast, a half day’s ride, Arivaca a greater distance to the west, Tumacácori six leagues north and Tubac a league beyond that. He estimated that his mission had “something over 1,400 souls.”[11]

South of Guevavi, in what is now the San Luis Valley, Spaniards and mixed-bloods had settled in the big bend of the river, evidently preempting the lands around the former visita of San Luis de Bacoancas. Prominent among them was Don Nicholás Romero, who arrived in the early 1720s.[12] They were gente de razon—free but subject to the laws of the land and to the jurisdiction and tithe of the secular clergy. They were not wards of the mission but turned to Grazhoffer for their spiritual needs. Few details of Grazhoffer’s initial successes and failures are known.

Father Juan left Guevavi temporarily in mid-summer. He rode to San Ignacio to join with his brothers in observing the feast day of Ignatius Loyola, July 31. On that day the three new missionaries concluded an account of their progress to date. The result was a propaganda that would have done justice to Kino—none of the hardships or disillusionment, only the prospect of a glorious harvest of souls. How else could they show their appreciation to their patron, the Bishop of Durango?[13]

After the eight-day retreat, Father Grazhoffer and Father Keller returned to their crude missions.

Late the following spring, Father Segesser rode into Guevavi to find Grazhoffer languishing. From Guevavi on May 1, 1733, Father Segesser wrote to one of his brothers in Genoa.[14] The circumstances of Father Juan’s sickness were unusual and serious. His condition grew worse. Then on May 26, 1733, in Segesser’s arms, Guevavi’s Padre died.

After the body was buried, Segesser accused the natives of murder. They had poisoned their missionary, “a fact which later they admitted.”[15]

The mystery of Father Grazhoffer’s death did not end there. In a report written “a few years later,” the following comment appeared: “Juan Bautista Grazhoffer, deceased, whose cadaver was preserved fresh because the place of his burial was extremely moist.”[16]

Fresh or not, Guevavi's Padred was dead Father Segesser followed Father Grazhoffer at Guevavi.

[1] Grazhoffer, a native of Bleiburg, Carinthia, in extreme southern Austria, was born on June 5, 1690. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus on October 27, 1710 and professed his final solemn vows at Commotau in Bohemia on February 2, 1728. Alegre, Historia de la Companía, IV, p. 353, n. 33; Pradeau and Burrus, “Los Jesuitas.” Determined to serve as a missionary among heathens, Father Johann left Commotau on May 12, 1729, presumably traveling overland to Genoa, and from there sailing across to Spain. AGI, Contratación, 5550.

[2] El Marqués de Casafuerte, Mexico, April 27, 1730.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For a comment on the deterioration of the northern missions after Kino’s time see Miguel Venegas, s.j., Noticia de la California, y de su conquista temporal y espiritual, ed. Andrés Marcos Burriel, s.j., 3 vols. (Madrid, 1757), II, p. 524.

[5] Father Christóbal de Cañas, et al., to Bishop Benito Crespo, Pimería Alta, July 31, 1732, certified copy, Durango, November 19, 1733; AGI, Audiencia de Guadalajara (Guad.), legajo 135, microfilm, BL. A translation of another copy of the above is included in Hammond, “Pimería Alta,” NMHR, IV, pp. 227-35.

[6] Cañas, et al., to the Bishop, July 31, 1732.

[7] Ibid.

[8] If ever a specific report by Captain Anza describing the improvements he made at Guevavi, Bac, and Soamca is found, it may well provide clues tying the Kino-era sites to the post-1732 sites. Writing in 1737, Anza recalled sending such reports to the viceroy. He hinted, however, that for the purpose of “giving him an account of the sites and locations of the missions, the number of their Indians, and their suitability for subsistence,” he had merely forwarded the report of Father Visitor Cañas, et al., which he, too, had co-signed. Anza to the viceroy, Corodéguachi (Fronteras), January 14, 1737; AGI, Guad. 185, microfilm, BL; translated by Donald Rowland in “A Project for Exploration Presented by Juan Bautista de Anza,” Arizona Historical Review (Ariz HR), Vol. VII (1936), pp. 10-18.

[9] In 1699 Gusutaqui may have been a smaller ranchería two leagues north of Guevavi at the mouth of Sonoita Creek in the vicinity of a later visita called Calabazas. Because of Manje’s ambiguous statement, “we arrived at the ranchería of Guevavi or Gusutaqui, to which they give the name because here the river is joined by another stream,” the word hung on as a synonym for Guevavi. See Smith, Kessell, and Fox, Father Kino, p. 81.

[10] Cañas, et al., to the Bishop, July 31, 1732. San Xavier was more usually given to be 24 or 25 leagues north of Guevavi.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Testifying in 1752, Romero said he had settled in that area some 30 years before. San Ignacio, February 25, 1752; Ortiz Parilla testimonies, Quaderno 8, AGI, Guad., 419, microfilm BL, more fully cited below in Chapter IV, see note 14.

[13] Cañas, et al., to the Bishop, July 31, 1732.

[14] A whole series of letters written home to Europe by the observant Father Segesser, from the time he embarked for the New World until his death in Ures, Sonora, in 1762, has been preserved in the Segesser von Brunegg family archive in Lucerne. Microfilm copies, some nearly illegible, have been obtained for the Bancroft Library and the University of Arizona Library. In addition to the letter of May 1, 1733, from Guevavi, there are several others from San Xavier and San Ignacio written during the Padre’s Pimería Alta period, 1731-1734.

[15] Treutlein, “The Relation of Phelipe Segesser: The Pimas and Other Indians” (1737), MA, Vol. XXVII (1945), p. 142. This is a classic description of the daily life and trials of a missionary in Sonora. The date of Grazhoffer’ s death is given in Alegre, Historia de la Companía, IV, p. 353, n. 33.

[16] “Razon de las Misiones que administra la Comp. en esta Prov. De Nueva Spna.; WBS, 79 and 1746.


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Last updated: June 19, 2020

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