Eusebio Francisco Kino

The Spanish missionary, explorer, and cartographer Eusebio Francisco Kino (1645-1711) was the foremost pioneer in Baja California, Sonora (Mexico), and Arizona and the first to reconnoiter in detail and map accurately large sections of this vast area.

Eusebio Kino was born on Aug. 10, 1645, in Segno, Italy. He attended Jesuit schools, and in 1663, having fallen seriously ill, he vowed that if he recovered with divine aid he would join the Society of Jesus and devote himself to work in foreign missions. Having recovered, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1665. During 13 years of additional study in Jesuit institutions, he displayed a special interest and ability in mathematics and geography.

After his requests for a missionary assignment had been repeatedly turned down, Kino and a German companion were accepted for foreign service; one was to go to the Philippines, the other to Mexico. Unwilling to make the choice, the two men cast lots, and the result of this "pious lottery" was that Kino drew Mexico. Because of various mishaps he did not arrive in Mexico until May 1681.

During his stay in Mexico City, Kino published a pamphlet ascribing the character of a portent to the comet of 1680; this provoked a reply from the Mexican scholar Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora, whose Libra astronomica assigned a purely natural origin to the phenomenon. Meanwhile, Kino had left Mexico City to serve as missionary and cartographer on the Atondo expedition to Baja California of 1683. Food shortages and Atondo's rash attack on friendly Indians caused the failure and abandonment of this missionary and colonizing venture.

In 1687 Kino began the peaceful conquest of the region then called Pimerìa Alta (modern northern Sonora and southern Arizona). This land of deserts and mountains was inhabited by the Pima Indian tribe. From his base at Mission Dolores in the southern part of the region, Kino, assisted by a few coworkers, pushed northward, establishing missions in one river valley after another until his network of missions extended into Arizona as far as the Colorado and Gila rivers. The intense, driving Kino personally baptized some 4,500 Indians; a few years before his death he estimated that he and his colleagues had brought more than 30,000 souls into the Church.

A born planner and organizer, Kino provided a sound economic base for his missions, teaching the Indians not only Christian doctrine but cattle raising and the cultivation of new crops like wheat. He was himself a largescale rancher, supplying livestock both to his own missions and to those in Baja California, to which the Jesuits returned in 1697. The combination of sound economic planning and a broad tolerance for Indian customs was a major reason for Kino's success in his campaign of peaceful conquest.

Kino found time amid his apostolic labors to explore Arizona as far north as the Casa Grande ruins and the Gila River and westward to modern Yuma and the Colorado River. His westward journeys convinced him that California was not an island, as was then commonly supposed. His maps, showing that California could be reached overland from Mexico, prepared the ground for the Spanish 18th-century missionary and colonizing thrust into that area. Kino was a prodigious letter writer; many of these letters, relating his achievements and trials, have been preserved and published. He was also the author of an autobiographic work, Favores celestiales (Kino's Historical Memoir of Pimeria Alta, 1919).


Further Reading on Eusebio Francisco Kino

The standard life of Kino is Herbert E. Bolton, Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific Coast Pioneer (1936). Consult also the comprehensive bibliography by Francis J. Fox, S. J., in Fay J. Smith, John L. Kessell, and Francis J. Fox, Father Kino in Arizona (1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Bolton, Herbert Eugene, Rim of Christendom: a biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific coast pioneer, Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1984.

Polzer, Charles W., Kino guide II: a life of Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J., Arizona's first pioneer and a guide to his missions and monuments, Tucson, Ariz.: Southwestern Mission Research Center, 1982.