GUEVAVI--The Native Settlements
THE MATERIAL ON THIS PAGE IS COPYRIGHTED AND SHOULD BE APPROPRIATELY CITED (C) 2007-2017, Deni Seymour
Guevavi is a unique site for a number of reasons. For one, it was important enough to the Spanish that it saw the construction of three
churches in the same general area. The first was completed in 1701. When Kino came to see what Father Martin had accomplished under
his directive Kino recorded his impression in his journal, referring to the completion of the "neat little house and church." Kino also noted his
request to have it whitewashed, as was typical for European-built structures at the time. Questions had persisted about what happened to
this church for it was not mentioned again, and later two other churches were constructed. Archaeological investigations indicate that natives
(probably rebellious O'odhams, possibly the Sobaipuri) burned the feature to the ground.
The natives referred to Guevavi as "big well," suggesting that it had a reliable source of water nearby. Plus, this was a location on the Santa
Cruz River where underground water is pushed to the surface causing the Santa Cruz to flow because of a narrowing of the channel where
bedrock is exposed. This assisted with irrigation for the O'odham and other historic and modern farmers. Remnants of canal and field
systems have been charted, some of which were likely started in the prehistoric and historic periods. This is inferred because several periods
of use and rebuilding can be seen and also the historic record indicates the area was under cultivation and irrigation by the native occupants.
Further geomorphical and archaeological research should be conducted on the canals themselves to ascertain dates of construction and
differences in construction techniques and system characteristics through time.
Guevavi clearly was a focus of activity by relatively large groups of native O'odham, probably brought on by the selection of the site by the
Jesuits as the cabecera, or head church for the region. But this place was not as important to the O'odham as it was to the Spanish.
Apparently this is because the location was considered unhealthy. The O'odham tended not to live in areas where water accumulated and
became stagnate, but there is no indication that this place exhibited those characteristics, especially given the nature of the river channel.
Whether or not these Upper Pimans really saw this place as unhealthy is not known. It is possible, even probable, that they used this excuse
to further their own purpose. Many did not want to settle down in the European-overseen settlements. They used illness and bad water as
excuses when they were retrieved from their preferred residences in other locations and brought back to Guevavi by the sometimes-resident
missionary. They also suggested illness and bad water were to blame when the missionaries took ill, suggesting that the location itself was
unhealthy. In reality it was probably intentional poisoning by the O'odham that led to the ill health of the missionaries, as one native later
admitted to poisoning an especially Germanic missionary.
There are six loci of Sobaipuri settlement in the immediate vicinity of Guevavi Mission. The native part of the settlement near Kino's "neat little
house and church" shows a site layout different from all other excavated and mapped sites of this period. Houses are paired as they always
were but they are situated extremely close together and they are arranged differently than they had been for centuries before. The layout
adopted here was probably designed this way for defense. This seems to be one of the primary settlements at which O'odham culture
changed irreparably, probably owing to the need for defense but also because after awhile the missionaries were present for extended
A series of distinct clusterings of O'odham houses are present in several areas across the site, suggesting the site saw a long series of
occupations through time. Many houses are superimposed over one another, suggesting that people stayed here a long time and refurbished
houses either as people died or as the houses wore out.
The site was burned before it was abandoned, suposidly for the final time in the 1770s, although there are numerous signs that indigenous
occupation continued there after the 1775 period. A late date on an uppermost house and also late pottery attest to this. In two loci at least
almost all the houses show evidence of buring. It is likely that the Apache or unconverted O'odhams, objecting to increasing Spanish
influence (see Native Life), attacked this site for the final time.
Read more about this site:
Kessell, John L., 1970 Mission of Sorrow: Jesuit Guevavi and the Pimas, 1691-1767. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Robinson, William J., 1976 Mission Guevavi: Excavations in the Convento. The Kiva 42(2):135-175.
Seymour, Deni J., 1993a Piman Settlement Survey in the Middle Santa Cruz River Valley, Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Report submitted to
Arizona State Parks in fulfillment of survey and planning grant contract requirements. On file at the Arizona State Museum.
Seymour, Deni J., 1997 Finding History in the Archaeological Record: The Upper Piman Settlement of Guevavi. Kiva 62(3):245-260.
Seymour, Deni J., 2009 Father Kino's 'Neat Little House and Church' at Guevavi. Journal of the Southwest 51(2):285-316.
Seymour, Deni J., 2010 Beyond Married, Buried, And Baptized: Exposing Historical Discontinuities in an Engendered Sobaípuri-O’odham
Household. Chapter 12 Engendering Households in the Prehistoric Southwest, edited by Barbara Roth. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Seymour, Deni J., 2011 Where the Earth and Sky are Sewn Together: Sobaípuri-O’odham Contexts of Contact and Colonialism. University of
Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Reconstruction of the "neat little house and
church" by Al Dart, Old Pueblo Archaeology
The "neat little house and church" after