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Search for a Southern Route


Map of northern portion of Gulf of California

The first leg of the first overland route to California was pioneered by the Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. Arriving in 1687 in the Pimeria Alta--the name then applied to today's southern Arizona and northern Sonora--to minister to Indians on New Spain's northern frontier, Kino's spiritual devotion was matched by his zeal for discovery.

Of all the pioneers who trekked southwestern trails from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, Kino is most deserving of the title of pathfinder. On his numerous trips throughout present-day northern Sonora and southern Arizona, he seldom had any military escort and generally traveled with only a few Indian companions who seem usually to have been servants rather than guides. It is obvious, however, that the padre often followed Indian trails and was assisted by local Indians during his journeys.

In the early years of his ministry, Kino devoted his energies to building missions and otherwise extending the influence of the church within the boundaries of present-day Sonora. But in the year 1699, while on an expedition to the Gila River, Kino was given some blue shells that changed all that. Theshells were similar to some he had seen on the Pacific coast side of Baja California in 1685. He had never seen them elsewhere. Kino reasoned that the shells must have come overland from the coast. Though he never ceased his quest for souls, from that year the friar occupied himself most fervently in the search for a land route to California.

Kino saw good reason for opening a road between Sonora and California. The Manila Galleon--the trade ship which traveled annually from Mexico to the Philippine Islands and back--could be provisioned from the Pimeria, and the upper frontier could participate in the trade with the Galleon. A newly-prosperous Pimeria then would be able to expand its commerce with the interior of Mexico and open trade with New Mexico and perhaps even beyond to New France.

According to his own count, Kino made fourteen expeditions to' prove that there was a land passage to California and, further, that Lower California was a peninsula rather than an island. Indeed, he crossed the Colorado River to the California side in the course of his explorations. Kino eventually wrote of his findings: "I discovered the land-passage... at the confluence of the Rio Grande de Gila and the abundant waters of the Rio Colorado." As to that land lying west of the Colorado River, Kino added : "I assign the name of Upper California." Kino's dream of an overland route to California, lapsed with his death in 1711.

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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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