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Father KinoFather Eusebio Francisco Kino

[kE' nO] the first European to visit the Casa Grande Ruins; founder of 24 missions in Arizona and Mexico

Eusebio Francisco Chino was born in Segno, Italy. While still a boy he was sent to the Jesuit College at Trent in the Tyrol (Austria). He continued his studies at Hala, near Innsbruck on the German frontier. At the age of eighteen he was struck by a life-threatening illness and made a vow that if he lived he would enter the priesthood and become a missionary. He did indeed live, and went on to spend twelve years in the Jesuit order. He was ordained a priest at Eistady, Austria, on June 12, 1677. He also studied in numerous German universities, where he proved exceptionally good at mathematics and astronomy. He hoped for a mission to China, where mathematics was highly respected, but was instead sent to New Spain.

In 1678 Kino and seventeen other priests boarded a ship in Genoa and sailed for Cadiz, Spain. The priests were not, however, able to find a suitable ship to New Spain until January of 1681. They arrived in Mexico that June. It was about this time that Father Chino changed his name to Kino, because chino in Spanish meant Chinamen and was often used as a derogatory term for any half-breed or low-caste individual.

The missionary group initially settled in Baja California, where Kino participated in the first exploration of the peninsula. It was soon found, however, that the rocky mountainous region would never support agriculturally self-sustaining missions, so the government ordered the Jesuits to vacate the peninsula.

From Baja California the missionaries went to Sonora, an area rich with mining and cattle-raising settlements. Although there was a considerable Spanish population scattered over the area, the majority of the inhabitants were Native Americans, and most of them were of the Pima culture. Kino, who spoke the Pima language, came to truly enjoy his life among these people and was equally admired by them. He set up his headquarters at Cosari, which he named Nuestra Senora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows).

Soon after he established Dolores, Kino began exploring the lands to the north and west. One of his first major discoveries was the Casa Grande Ruins near present-day Coolidge, Arizona. Having heard the natives talking of Great Red Houses built by people ages ago, he traveled from Dolores to Bac on the Santa Cruz River, then on almost to the Gila River, where he discovered the ruins in November of 1694. He was the first European to record a visit to this now famous ruin.

Two years later Kino traveled into the Canelo Hills, then along the Babocomari Creek as far as the Pima villages along the San Pedro River. One of these villages was Quiburi, the home of a chief who became Kino's ally and friend. The people along the San Pedro were often attacked by other Indians, and the village had constructed an earthen enclosure to protect itself. Kino gave them cattle and mares for sustenance, gaining their friendship and loyalty.

From Quiburi, Kino and his party followed the San Pedro northwest. He then followed the Gila to revisit the Casa Grande Ruins, and then headed south to San Agustin (now Tucson) and Bac. The entire expedition lasted about a month, from November 6 to December 2, 1697.

Over the subsequent years Kino traveled whenever he was able to get away from the day-to-day chores of the missions. He explored the Papago lands west of the Santa Cruz River and traveled as far as Yuma and the Colorado River. He was able to prove that Baja California was a peninsula, not an island, and that Alta California was reachable by land.

In addition to his work as a missionary, explorer, and map-maker, Kino brought improvements in agriculture and building to the people he ministered to, as well as introduced cattle, horses and mules. He was a skilled rancher who provided the seed herds that formed the later core of ranching in Sonora, and he introduced wheat to the Pimas, as well as to tribes as far away as Yuma.

Father Kino died at the age of sixty-six in the mission he had founded at Santa Maria Magdalena de Buquivaba (now Magdalena de Kino), where his body rests to this day.

In total, Father Kino established 24 missions in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. A statue of him represents Arizona in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall.

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The New Southwest >> Arizona

This page was last updated on January 20, 2017.