As all of this region was colonized from Spain, the entire mission work until a very recent period was conducted by the Catholics and through priests of the Franciscan order. The earliest exploration of the territory west of the Rio Grande was made by the Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, in 1539, and it was through his representations that the famous exploration of Coronado was undertaken a year later. Five Franciscans accompanied the army, and on the return of the expedition in 1542 three of these volunteered to remain behind for the conversion of the savages. Fray Luis de Escalona, or Descalona, chose Cicuye (Pecos) for his labors. Fray Juan de Padilla, with a few companions and a herd of sheep and mules, pushed on to distant Quivira, somewhere on the plains of Kansas. Fray Juan de la Cruz stayed at Tiguex, Coronado’s winter quarters, properly Puaray on the Rio Grande, near the present Bernalillo, New Mexico. On arriving at Pecos Fray Luis sent back the message that while the tribe was friendly the medicine-men were hostile and would probably cause his death. So it apparently proved, for nothing more was ever heard of his fate or of that of Fray Juan de la Cruz at Tiguex. Of Fray Juan de Padilla it was learned years afterward that he had been killed by the Quivira people for attempting to carry his ministrations to another tribe with which they were at war.
In 1580 three other Franciscans, Rodriguez, Santa Maria, and Lopez, crossed the Rio Grande with a small escort and attempted to establish a mission at the same town of Tiguex, by that time known as Puaray, but were killed by the Indians within a few months of their arrival.
In 1598 Juna de Oñate with a strong party of 100 men, besides women and children, and 7,000 cattle, entered the country from Mexico and within a few months had received the submission of all the Pueblo tribes as far as the remote Hopi of Arizona, organizing a regular colonization and governmental administration and dividing the region into 7 mission districts in charge of a force of Franciscan friars. In 1617 the Pueblo missions counted 11 churches, with 14,000 “converts.” In 1621 there were more than 16,000 converts, served by 27 priests in charge of Father Alonso Benavides, whose Memorial is our principal source of information for this period. Another distinguished name of this epoch is that of Father Geronimo de Zarate Salmeron, missionary, philologist, and historian. In 1630 there were some 50 priests serving more than 60,000 Christianized Indians in 90 pueblos, with 25 principal mission centers and churches. To this period belong the mission ruins at Akó and Tabira, or “Gran Quivira” (one of which may be the San Isidro of the lost Jumano tribe), which were abandoned in consequence of Apache Invasions about 1675. The entire Pueblo population today numbers barely 10,000 souls in 25 villages.
About this time we begin to observe the first signs of revolt, due partly to the exactions of the Spanish military authorities, but more, apparently, to the attachment of the Indians, particularly the medicine-men, to their own native ceremonies and religion. About the year 1650 the wild tribes, known collectively as Apache, began the series of destructive raids which continued down almost to the present century. Increasing friction between the missionaries and the military administration prevented any united effort to meet the emergency. Missionaries were killed in outlying districts and several pueblos were wiped out by the wild tribes, until in 1675, after the murder of several missionaries and civilians and the execution or other punishment of the principals concerned, the Pueblo chiefs, led by Popé (q. v.) of San Juan, sent to the governor a message declaring that they would kill all the Spaniards and flee to the mountains before they would permit their medicine-men to be harmed. Conditions rapidly grew worse, until it was evident that a general conspiracy was on foot and an appeal was sent to Mexico by the governor for reinforcements. Before help could arrive, however, the storm broke, on August 10, 1680, the historic Pueblo revolt, organized and led by Popé.
Says Bancroft (Hist. Ariz. and N. Mex., 1889): “It was the plan of the New Mexicans to utterly exterminate the Spaniards; and in the massacre none were spared—neither soldier, priest, or settler, personal friend or foe, young or old, man or woman except, that, a few beautiful women and girls were kept as captives.”
Those in the south were warned in time to escape, but those in the north east, and west perished to the number of over 400 persons, including 21 missionaries. Santa Fe itself, with a Spanish population of 1,000, after a battle lasting all day, was besieged nearly a week by 3,000 Indians, who were finally driven off by Gov. Otermin in a desperate sortie in which the Indians lost 350 killed. The result was the entire evacuation of New Mexico by the Spaniards until its re-conquest by Vargas in 1692-94, when most of the missions were reestablished. The Pueblo spirit was not crushed, however, and in the summer of 1696 there was another outbreak by five tribes, resulting in the death of five missionaries, besides other Spaniards. The rising was soon subdued, except among the Hopi, who deferred submission until 1700, but only one of their seven or eight towns, Awatobi, would consent to receive missionaries again. For the favor thus shown to Christians the other Hopi combined forces and utterly destroyed Awatobi and killed many of its people before the close of the year. The Hopi did not again become a mission tribe, but in 1742 more than 440 Tigua, who had fled to the Hopi at the time of the great revolt, were brought back and distributed among the missions of the Rio Grande until they could be resettled in a new town of their own.
In 1733 Fattier Mirabal established a mission among the wild Jicarilla, on Trampas River, a few leagues from Taos, New Mexico. In 1746 and 1749 attempts were made to gather a part of the Navaho into 2 new missions established in the neighborhood of Laguna, but the undertaking was a failure. In the latter year the number of Christian Indians in New Mexico, including the vicinity of El Paso, was reported to be about 13,000. By this time the territory had been organized as a bishopric, and with the increase of the Spanish population the relative importance of the mission work declined. In 1780-81 an epidemic of smallpox carried off so many of the Christian Indians that by order of the governor the survivors were the next year concentrated into 20 missions, the other stations being discontinued. As the Indians assimilated with the Spanish population the missions gradually took on the character of ordinary church establishments, the Franciscans being superseded by secular priests. The majority of the Pueblo Indians of today, excepting those Hopi and Zuñi, are at least nominal Christians.
In the more resent historic period work has also been conducted at several pueblos by various Protestant denominations. In 1854 a Baptist minister, Rev. Samuel Gorman, began a mission at Laguna, New Mexico, which was kept up for several years. In 1894 Rev. C. P. Coe, of the same denomination, began a similar work for the Hopi of Arizona. The Mennonites, represented by Rev. H. R. Voth, had begun a year earlier at Oraibi a successful work among the Hopi, which is still carried on, being now in charge of Revs. Jacob Epp and John B. Frey.
About the year 1876 the Presbyterians, through Rev. John Menaul, established a mission at Laguna, the undertaking being afterward extended to Jemez and Zuni, New Mexico, besides an industrial school opened at Albuquerque in 1881. By means of a printing press operated at Laguna, with the aid of Indian pupils, several small devotional and reading books have been published by Menaul and Bercovitz, connected with the mission, which still continues.
With the exception of those among the Hopi, before the great revolt, the only missions in Arizona before the transfer of the territory to the United States were two in number, viz.: San Xavier del Bac and San Miguel de Guevavi, established under Jesuit auspices on the upper waters of Santa Cruz River, among a subtribe of the Pima, about 1732.
The Pima missions were a northern extension of the Jesuit mission foundation of northern Sonora, Mexico. The noted German Jesuit explorer, Father Eusebio Kino (properly Kühne), made several missionary expeditions into s. Arizona between 1692 and his death in 1710, but so far as known no regular stations were established until long after his death, the first priests in charge in 1732 being two other Germans, Father Felipe Segesser, at Bac, and Father Juan Grashoffer, at Guevavi. Besides the main establishment, several other Indian villages were designated as ‘visitas,’ or visiting stations. The Pima mission never flourished. In 1750 the tribes revolted and the missions were plundered, most of the missionaries escaping, and by the time peace was restored the contest had begun against the Jesuits, which resulted in the expulsion of the order from Spanish territory in 1767. Their place was at once filled by the Franciscans, but the work languished and steadily declined under the attacks from the wild tribes. About the year 1780 Guevavi was abandoned in consequence of Apache raids, and Tumacacori, in the same general region, was made mission headquarters. The work came to an end by decree of the revolutionary government in 1828, shortly after the transfer of authority from Spain to Mexico.