In the far south of Arizona not many miles north of the boundary of Sonora, there stands, near the Gila River, the noble ruin which the Spaniards call Casa Grande, or Great House. It was a building of large size situated in a compound of outlying buildings enclosed in a rectangular wall; no less than three other similar compounds and four detached clan houses once stood in the near neighborhood. Evidently, in prehistoric days, this was an important centre of population; remains of an irrigation system are still visible.
The builders of these prosperous communal dwellings were probably Pima Indians. The Indians living in the neighborhood today have traditions indicated by their own names for the Casa Grande, the Old House of the Chief and the Old House of Chief Morning Green. “The Pima word for green and blue is the same,” Doctor Fewkes writes me. “Russell translates the old chief’s name Morning Blue, which is the same as my Morning Green. I have no doubt Morning Glow is also correct, no doubt nearer the Indian idea which refers to sun-god. This chief was the son of the Sun by a maid, as was also Tcuhu-Montezuma, a sun-god who, legends say, built Casa Grande.”
Whatever its origin, the community was already in ruins when the Spaniards first found it. Kino identified it as the ruin which Fray Marcos saw in 1539 and called Chichilticalli, and which Coronado passed in 1540. The early Spanish historians believed it an ancestral settlement of the Aztecs.
Its formal discovery followed a century and a half later. Domingo Jironza Petriz de Cruzate, governor of Sonora, had directed his nephew, Lieutenant Juan Mateo Mange, to conduct a group of missionaries into the desert, where Mange heard rumors from the natives of a fine group of ruins on the banks of a river which flowed west. He reported this to Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, the fearless and famous Jesuit missionary among the Indians from 1687 to 1711; in November, 1694, Kino searched for the ruins, found them, and said mass within the walls of the Casa Grande.
This splendid ruin is built of a natural concrete called culeche. The external walls are rough, but are smoothly plastered within, showing the marks of human hands. Two pairs of small holes in the walls opposite others in the central room have occasioned much speculation. Two look east and west; the others, also on opposite walls, look north and south. Some persons conjecture that observations were made through them of the solstices, and perhaps of some star, to establish the seasons for these primitive people. “The foundation for this unwarranted hypothesis,” Doctor Fewkes writes, “is probably a statement in a manuscript by Father Font in 1775, that the `Prince,’ `chief’ of Casa Grande, looked through openings in the east and west walls ` on the sun as it rose and set, to salute it.’ The openings should not be confused with smaller holes made in the walls for placing iron rods to support the walls by contractors when the ruin was repaired.”
One of the best-preserved ruins of one of the finest missions which Spanish priests established in the desert of the extreme south of Arizona is protected under the name of the Tumacacori National Monument. It is fifty-seven miles south of Tucson, near the Mexican border. The outlying country probably possessed a large native population.
The ruins are most impressive, consisting of the walls and tower of an old church building, the walls of a mortuary chapel at the north end of the church, and d surrounding court with adobe walls six feet high. These, like all the Spanish missions, were built by Indian converts under the direction of priests, for the Spanish invaders performed no manual labor. The walls of the church are six feet thick and plastered within. The belfry and the altar-dome are of burned brick, the only example of brick construction among the early Spanish missions. There is a fine arched doorway.
For many reasons, this splendid church is well worth a visit. It was founded and built about 1688 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, and was known as the Mission San Cayetano de Tumacacori. About 1769 the Franciscans assumed charge, and repaired and elaborated the structure. They maintained it for about sixty years, until the Apache Indians laid siege and finally captured it, driving out the priests and dispersing the Papagos. About 185o it was found by Americans in its present condition.
The boundary-line which divides Utah from Arizona divides the most gorgeous expression of the great American desert region. From the Mesa Verde National Park on the east to Zion National Monument on the west, from the Natural Bridges on the north to the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert on the south, the country glows with golden sands and crimson mesas, a wilderness of amazing and impossible contours and indescribable charm.
Within this region, in the extreme north of Arizona, lie the ruins of three neighboring pueblos. Richard Wetherill, who was one of the discoverers of the famous cliff-cities of the Mesa Verde, was one of the party which found the Kit Siel (Broken Pottery) ruin in 1894 within a long crescent-shaped cave in the side of a glowing red sandstone cliff; in 1908, upon information given by a Navajo Indian, John Wetherill, Professor Byron Cumming, and Neil Judd located Betatakin (Hillside House) ruin within a crescent-shaped cavity in the side of a small red canyon. Twenty miles west of Betatakin is a small ruin known as Inscription House upon whose walls is a carved inscription supposed to have been made by Spanish explorers who visited them in 1661.
While these ruins show no features materially differing from those of hundreds of other more accessible pueblo ruins, they possess quite extraordinary beauty because of their romantic location in cliffs of striking color in a region of mysterious charm.