in memory of Albert and Clara Schmitmeyer.
Located near Quitaque, Texas (in the Texas Panhandle; about 90 miles Southeast of Amarillo)
The Padre on Horseback
by Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer
Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary, astronomer and explorer, arrived in Mexico in 1681. He soon set to work mapping parts of Island of California determining, definitively, that it wasn’t an island at all! A skilled horseman, Kino introduced cattle to the region and established the beginning of ranching. He helped native people expand their farming methods by cultivating wheat and imported fruits and vegetables. According to one Arizona historian, “He fashioned a whole new economy in the harsh, sun-baked land.” Flourishing Missions It was a 1,500 mile horseback journey in 1687 that took him from Mexico City to a new assignment in the Primeria Alta, the high desert of present-day northern Sonora, Mexico and southern Arizona. Kino quickly scouted out his new territory and reported that all the people he met “received with love the Word of God.” Within a week, he had visited a seventy-mile area and established missions in four tribal villages. These were the first in what would be more than twenty mission he founded during the next 25 years. His first mission, Nuestra Senora de Los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) became his home base and crowning achievement. By 1695 it included more than ninety families and functioned as a self-sustaining center of religious and economic life complete with a church, carpenter shop, blacksmith forge and water mill. Padre Kino’s love of God, gentle approach and attractive personality broke through every barrier. Through genuine love and respect, he won the hearts of the people.
Defender of Indian Rights
Padre Kino was a community-builder and a diplomat. His influence served to create links and foster unity between diverse peoples and tribes. He viewed the expansion of the Spanish empire as a great opportunity for evangelization. Padre Kino’s loyalty to Christ, however, proved greater than his loyalty to the king. His sense of justice put him at odds with any Spaniard who failed to treat the indigenous people with respect. He did not hesitate to confront mine owners and others looking to exploit Indian labor. Once, hearing that a Pima Indian was to be executed the next day, Kino made a perilous seventy-five mile night ride to rescue him. In April 1695, after an uprising that left several missions destroyed and one priest martyred, Kino stepped in as a mediator to prevent further bloodshed and correct the abuses that prompted the unrest.
The “Cowboy” Priest
Father Kino knew how to handle a horse! Even in his sixties, he could do thirty miles of hard riding a day for weeks at a time. On March 15, 1711, while celebrating the first Mass in a new mission chapel, the padre felt ill. He died before midnight. His friend and successor, Padre Luis Velarde, wrote that Kino died as he lived, “with extreme humility and poverty.” His deathbed consisted of two calf skins for a mattress, two blankets such as the Indians use for covers and a pack saddle as a pillow. It was the type of bed he used most his life. Fr. Kino was buried in that chapel and, in 1966, the site was rediscovered in Magdalena, Mexico. It has become a popular destination for pilgrims who, when they arrive, offer a special prayer for the successful completion of the beatification process. If those prayers are answered, Padre Kino will become our first cowboy saint. Thanks to Louise Perrotta, writer of “A Late-Blooming Cowboy Saint” (The Word Among Us, July 2003). Her words provided inspiration and information for this article.