History of Tubac
Tubac's historic past evolves into a world renown artist destination
Father Kino, an Italian Jesuit priest, began the exploration of “New Northern Spain” in 1691. This land is now the state of Arizona, part of northern Mexico, and part of the great Sonoran high desert. It is home to the only sighting of jaguars in North America.
Father Kino arrived in what is now Santa Cruz County, Arizona with enough seeds, goats, horses, cattle, and soldiers to begin colonization. Father Kino encountered friendly hunter-farmer natives known as the Tohono O’odham. They also encountered the Apache, a fierce and nomadic tribe. In 1691 the Spanish built Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi Mission and Presidio (fort). It was to be headquarters for the continuing Spanish exploration into New Northern Spain. An Apache attack killed all but two of the fort soldiers and forced the abandonment of Guevavi. Its ruins stand today.
The Spanish traveled northwest and established Mission San José de Tumacácori. The mission was never really completed; the Apache forcing its abandonment. In 1752, just north of Tumacácori, the Spanish built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac. The Spanish offered land grants to prominent citizens to form the first European settlement in the west. Ten years later the Apache forced the abandonment of the Tubac Presidio and the settlement. The Spanish moved north to Tucson, returning to Tubac, only after the defeat of the Apache.
The ruins of Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac stand today upon land that is now Arizona’s first state park. The park hosts a first class museum, various exhibits and gardens depicting the life the settlers and soldiers lived. The Spanish settlements in Santa Cruz County survived revolts from the O’odham and violent incursions from the Apache.
The history of Tubac would not be complete without mention of the extraordinary explorer Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II. Anza was given the Spanish Crown’s charge to establish missions along Alta California and lay claim to land Russia was attempting to settle.
Remarkably, Anza left Tubac on January 8, 1774, with 3 padres, 20 soldiers, 35 mules, 65 cattle, 140 horses, and 300 men, women, and children. The expedition traveled on foot, following soldiers on horseback, on the 1,000-mile trek. This brave and daring undertaking led to the 21 missions that comprise California’s Historic Mission Trail and the formation of San Francisco. Anza’s advance stopped Russian attempts to annex what is now the west coast of the States of America.
Only 30 years after Arizona was admitted as a state, Dale Nicolos, an American landscape artist came to Tubac to paint. His influence as a painter and illustrator of rural landscape paintings, attracted prominent artists Hal Empie, Hugh Cabot, and others to Tubac. In 1948 Nichols opened an art school and restoration of the settlement began yet again.
Today, Tubac, remains a village, in the high Sonoran desert, with clean air and beautiful wildland but packed with dynamic galleries, artist, potters, restaurateurs and history.
Statue of Father Kino and artist rendition of the Tubac Presidio