History of Tubac

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. He encountered friendly hunter-farmer natives known as the Tohono O’odham. 

He also encountered the Apache, a fierce and nomadic tribe.  In 1691 the Spanish built Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi Mission and Presidio (fort) as 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 of the settlers and soldiers.  Over a 30 year period, the Spanish settlements in Santa Cruz County survived revolts from the O’Odham and violent incursions by the Apache fighting to protect their tribal homeland.  Apache leader Geronimo surrendered to U.S. government troops in 1886.

The history of Tubac would not be complete without mention of the extraordinary explorer Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II.  Anza was given the charge by the Spanish Crown to establish missions along Alta California and to claim the Pacific coastline. The  Russian military was attempting to colonize the same for the Russian Empire, making time of the essence for Anza’s advance.

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. During the 1,000-mile trek, the expedition traveled on foot, following the soldiers on horseback.  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 are now the western states of the Pacific coast of the United 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 other landscape artist to Tubac.  In 1948 Nichols opened an art school and restoration of the Tubac settlement began, yet again.

Today, Tubac, remains a village, in the high Sonoran desert, where abundant wildlife still roam among beautiful hills and mesquite trees.  Its destiny changed forever, the village now hosts a dynamic environment of art galleries, artist, potters, restaurateurs and its incredible history.