Pioneering Padre on Horseback: Eusebio Francis Kino (1645-1711), Part II

Eusebio Francisco Kino, an Italian-born Jesuit missionary, made major contributions to the exploration and mapping of the American Southwest during the late eighteenth century, and established numerous missions among the Indians in the region. A member of the first Spanish exploring party to cross Baja California in 1684-85, he established the first Spanish mission in California at San Bruno, explored the California gulf coast, worked among the Pima Indians in Pimeria Alta in northern Sonora and southern Arizona, and made maps of the regions he explored which he sent back to Europe and were copied thereafter by European printers.


California Depicted As An Island
For almost a century until Kino's time, California had been depicted by cartographers as an island, and it was Kino who first concluded that instead it was a peninsula. In 1700, during his construction of the first mission of San Xavier del Bac, he noticed the presence of blue shells of a type that he had originally noticed on the Pacific side of California, as well as on his two expeditions to the Colorado River.

In March of 1700, while searching for a land route to California, he proceeded as far as Yuma. It was at this time that a native official of the Cocomaricopas Indians who lived along the Colorado River sent Kino a cross decorated with a string of blue shells. It was an unusual gift, and Kino puzzled over the strangely familiar shells. Finally he recalled that he had picked up similar shells along the sandy beach of Baja California on the Pacific slope in 1685. Where did the Cocomaricopas obtain them? Such shells were not to be found along the Colorado River nor in the Gulf. Could these Indians take him to the Pacific Slope again, this time north of the 32nd latitude? Was it possible that there could be a land passage to the Pacific?

Kino determined to go inland, and on April 21 he left Mission Dolores accompanied by ten Indians and with fifty pack animals, arriving at del Bac several days later.

He called for a council meeting of all the leaders of the various tribes in the region, and queried them about the shells. He learned that the blue shells came only from the Pacific Slope of California. He crossed the Colorado River into California several times, and finally in 1702, after he had descended the Colorado to the Gulf, he wrote triumphantly in his diary, "California is not an island, but a peninsula." It was the presence of the blue shells that had led him to the conclusion that California was a peninsula, which he described in a map which was published several times in Europe. Kino's map did much to prove the fact to Europeans, and his writings provided a basis for the ethnic and natural history of the regions in which he had worked.

When Kino returned to Mission Dolores from the Colorado River, he was fifty-six years of age.
Although he tried to settle down to the quiet routine of pueblo life, he was restless and his last ten years were spent in constant activity, often traveling more than thirty miles a day to visit his flocks. He was largely responsible for changing the Southwest from a barren desert to a self-sufficient agricultural region. As Andrew Rolle wrote, "The cattle industry of our Southwest dates in great measure from the disparate ranches established by him [Kino] throughout a path 250 miles wide. At the missions he founded, Kino not only introduced several varieties of livestock, including cattle, fowl, sheep, goats and horses, but also European grains such as wheat, maise and beans, and such fruits as melons, grapes and pomegranates."

No portrait of Kino is known. Representations are purely conjecture. A description by one of his contemporaries, Father Luis Velarde, stated that Kino "prayed much, and was considered without vice. He neither smoked nor took snuff, nor slept in a bed. He was so austere he never used wine except to celebrate Mass, nor had any other bed than the sweat blankets of his horse for a mattress, and two Indian blankets. He never had more than two coarse shirts, because he gave everything as alms to the Indians … When violent fevers were lacerating his body, he tried no remedy for six days except to get up to celebrate Mass and to go to bed again. And by thus weakening and dismaying Nature he conquered the fever."

In addition to having been an important early New World explorer, Kino attained international fame as a cartographer, for a number of his maps provided the first accurate delineation of the whole region of the Southwest. He chose to use the Castilian league for the scale of his maps, and they were as accurate as the technology of his times made possible. By using his maps, almost any site appearing on them may be located today, although some may occasionally requiring reference to his writings as well.

Made Several Compass Sundials
There is no description extant of Kino's compass but it is a matter of record that while in C‡diz he purchased a compass, probably a compass sundial, and that during the same period of waiting he made several compass sundials. In an entry in his diary, however, he referred to it as a mariner's compass. In addition to his map-making tools, which consisted of a compass, a telescope, and a mariner's astrolabe, Kino also was equipped with a copy of Adam Aigenler's Tabula Geographic-Horologa Universalis, to which were appended the tables of latitude and longitude from Book 9 of Tabula Geographiae et Hydrographia Reformata by Giovanni Battista Riccioli, published in Bologna in 1661. This work is specifically mentioned in Kino's diary.

Although magnetic variation was known before his time, there is no evidence that Kino made compensation for it, yet his observations and maps do not contain the errors that would occur if compensation had not been made for such variation. The assumption is that he probably made approximate corrections since he was dealing with a relatively small area, by comparing magnetic north (determined by means of his magnetic compass), with true north (determined by taking a sighting on Polaris). The difference observed was then applied to all magnetic bearings taken thereafter, providing a relatively valid true north anywhere in the area. Kino provided no description of his telescope except that it was portable, and that he had used it at sea. It was probably a refracting telescope made in the second half of the seventeenth century, and characteristically it was probably equipped with an objective not more than 2 inches or so, magnification not greatly in excess of 10, and a resolution of probably 3 seconds of arc. He may have mounted it on a tripod for field work.

All of the latitudes that Kino recorded were measured by means of the mariner's astrolabe. This instrument, standardized by 1550, consisted of a main plate with a loosely mounted suspension ring, an alidade attached to the plate at its center, and an erect sight at each end. The latitudes on Kino's maps were determined by the meridian altitude method, using Aigenler's Tables for declination corrections; his results suggest that his astrolabe may have had an index error of some 11 minutes of arc around the 60E point. Kino had few resources for determining longitude, and inasmuch as undoubtedly he had adequate mathematical and astronomical knowledge, it is likely that he may have attempted to use lunar eclipses for determining longitude.

Latitude Determined from Lunar Eclipses
According to the Canon der Finsternisse, forty-three lunar eclipses occurred during the period that Kino was working in Sonora, between 1685 and 1711. Of these, five total and four partial eclipses with an index point at Tenerife were visible at Dolores between 1689 and 1708. Lacking a clock and a suitable local index and instruments and tables adequate for eclipse observations, however, Kino's longitudes were less than accurate, and his attempts to make observations of the lunar eclipses for the purpose undoubtedly resulted in failure. Nevertheless, his maps were as good as was possible by the state of the cartographer's art in his time.

Kino took his last ride on his horse in March 1711, from the Sonora village of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores to the Pima village of Buquivapa, or Santa Maria Magdalena, to dedicate a new chapel to his patron saint, St. Francis Xavier. While conducting the dedication, he became desperately ill, and was forced to retire to the local priest's dwelling. There he lay without undressing, with only two sheep skins for a mattress, and a pack saddle for a pillow. His life lingered on until midnight of March 15th, 1711. He was sixty-six years of age. The Magdalena's Book of Burials recorded that on the next morning, he was "buried in a coffin in this chapel of San Francisco Xavier, on the gospel side where the second and third chairs [steps] are located."

Eusebio Kino has been memorialized in various ways. In the region that he explored, Kino Bay and Puerto Kino on the Gulf of California were named for him, as well as the 4,200 foot Kino Peak in southern Arizona's Growler Range. In 1936 a modest monument was erected to his memory in a small park behind the town hall of Tucson, Arizona. A bronze plaque depicts the missionary on foot being led by an Indian boy across the desert. In 1965, in accordance with a bill signed by the late President John F. Kennedy, Eusebio Francisco Kino took his place among the nations founder's by means of a bronze statue by the sculptor Suzanne Silvercruys, which was unveiled in Washington, D.C. in National Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol.

Reference Note: The most comprehensive biographical sources on Kino are several works by H. E. Bolton, including Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific Coast Pioneer (New York: Macmillan, 1936). The source concerning the scientific aspects of his mapmaking is Ronald L. Ives, "Navigation Methods of Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J.," Arizona and the West, Vol. II, No. 3, Autumn 1960, pp. 213-43.

About the Author

  • Silvio A. Bedini
    Silvio A. Bedini
    Silvio A. Bedini was a Smithsonian Institution historian who specialized in the history of scientific instruments and mathematical practitioners. A former deputy of the National Museum of American History, he has authored over 20 books and was Historian Emeritus with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He was also a contributing author at the magazine for many years.

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