Explorations of Baja California by Padre Kappus in 17th Century

by Janez Stanonik, Professor at the University of Ljubljana

"... he is a German Father, with the name of P. Eusebius Khinus (padre Kino), and we two are the last ones in this part of the Indies. And there is nobody else in front of us but merely the pagans."



The name of Marcus Antonius Kappus is not unknown in the history of colonial America. He was one of the pioneers of the Pacific Coast. As a contemporary and close co-worker of Eusebius Franciscus Kino, Juan Matheo Manje and Juan Maria Salvatierra, who at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries as the first white men systematically explored the northwestern part of Mexico, reaching the lower courses of the Gila and Colorado rivers, he was the witness of the emergence of the regions of the present southern parts ob Arizona and California into history. Therefore the research into the life and work of Kappus may give additional new information about the early history of these areas.

Roots In Slovenia

Marcus Antonius Kappus comes from a Prosperous family which had for centuries lived at Kamna gorica, a small village situated a few kilometres South-east of Bled, the famous tourist center in northwestern Slovenia (former Yugoslavia). Here the family owned an iron foundry and an iron mine since the late Middle Ages, perhaps since the 12th century. During the 17th and 18th centuries important economic, cultural and political positions in Carniola (as was the name of the county which formed that part of Slovenia) were held by several members, of the Kappus family. Carolus Josephus Kappus, a nephew of Marcus Antonius, with the pseudonym "exquisitus", was member of the Academia Operosorum, which was founded in Ljubljana in 1693 after the example of similar academies in Italy. Sigismund (Ziga) baron Zois, the central figure of Slovene cultural revival at the end of the 18th century, was through his mother a descendant of the family Kappus, and the stepmother of Anton Tomaz Linhart, a historiographer, poet and playwright, was also a Kappus.

Marcus Antonius Kappus was born at Kamna gorica on April 12, 1657. He probably studied at the Jesuit College at Klagenfurt (Celovec) in Carinthia (southern Austria), where he entered the Jesuit Order on October 27, 1676. He taught in 1679 at the Jesuit College in Ljubljana, then for two years at Leoben in Upper Styria (Austria), and in 1681 at the Jesuit College in Zagreb. In 1683 he entered the study of theology which he completed after one year in Graz and two years in Milan and was ordained priest. With the completion of his studies he decided to go and work as a missionary in Spanish America.

Travel to America

He left Caddiz on July 8, 1687 with the ship San Roman, captain Don Pedro Ignatio Zoructa, a Basque. Juan Armental, who made the list of travellers, describes Kappus as "tall, slender, with red hair and blue eyes" ("alto, delgado, de pelo rubro, ojos azules"). The ship was a part of a larger flotilla of 23 ships with which travelled altogether 21 missionaries: 12 of them were destined to work in Mexico and 9 on the Philippine Islands. Among his fellow travellers was Adam Gilg, from the Bohemian Province of the Society - he was born in 1653 in Rymarov ("Romberstadt") in Bohemia (Moravia) - who made an extensive report of this journey. As a missionary Gilg later worked as a neighbour of Kappus in Sonora and became an important explorer and philologist. The flotilla reached Canary Islands on July 10, and on August 8 the island of Puerto Rico where they entered the harbour of AguadiUa. They passed Hispaniola (Haiti) and sailed in stormy weather between Jamaica and Cuba, seeing at a distance Cayman Island and Isla de Pinos. On September 15 they reached Vera Cruz. After a stay of three days they continued their overland journey along the usual way through Puebla to Mexico City.

In Mexico

In Mexico City Gilg and Kappus were selected to go to Sonora to help P. Eusebius Franciscus Kino who worked at the extreme border of the then known America, trying to expand his work among Pima Indians. Kappus and Gilg left Mexico City towards the end of 1687 and reached Populo, a settlement on the lower San Miguel River (also called Horcasitas River) on March 11, 1688. From Populo Kappus continued his jouney to the mission of Cucurpe, his own point of destination, which he reached on April 13, 1688.

The settlement of Cucurpe - the name signifies the place "en donde canto la paloma" "where the dove sang" - is situated in the source region of the San Miguel River which flows here as a small arroyo, growing large in rainy season. It is surrounded by sterile hills while the fertile land extends only along the arroyo northwards. These maize fields - themilpas - were contested with the inhabitants of Dolores, the next mission to the north which was inhabited by Pima Indians while the inhabitants of Cucurpe were Opatas. The pueblo of Cucurpe was spread around a plaza, with the church and the parish at one end. The low houses were partly built of adobe and their inhabitants were very poor. In the mountainous region northeast of Cucurpe, however, there were rich gold and silver mines around Saracachi whose inhabitants were Spaniards. The first missionaries came to Cucurpe in 1642, yet 1647 is usually given as the date of the formal church establishment. In 1678 Cucurpe had 120 families (329 inhabitants). Cucurpe still exists as a village, its present population is about 2000 persons. The huge ruins of the church with magnificent arches, which can now be seen in the village, are probably remains of a church which was built after the time when Kappus worked there. At the time of Kappus the church was probably a small adobe building with a dirt roof.

Cucurpe had two dependencies, both downstream the San Miguel River: Tuape and Opodepe. Tuape is situated on the flat top of a hill on the banks of the river, with no fertile land in its immediate neighbourhood. It had a church built of adobe and a small house for the priest. The natives in the village lived mainly in jacals or in minute houses built of adobe. In 1678 Tuape had 106 families (340 inhabitants). Its present population is about 200 persons. Opodepe is the southernmost of the three places, its population in 1678 was 95 families (320 inhabitants).

Cucurpe lies in the extreme northwestern comer of the area inhabited by the Indian tribes Opata and Eudebe. Kappus worked all his life exclusively in places inhabited by these two tribes. The Indian tribes Opata and Eudebe lived in central Sonora, in the valleys along the upper courses of the rivers San Miguel, Sonora, Batuc, and Yaqui. The two tribes lived together in the same settlements, and spoke two languages closely related to each other. These two languages belong to the Uto-Aztecan linguistic group which extends from the present day California and Arizona (Shoshone) along most of the western part of Mexico down to Mexico's southern border." These two languages are now extinct, although a few individuals could still speak Opata in the first half of this century. Nevertheless considerable information about these two languages is available in print. The geographic position of Opata Indians in central Sonora shows that they were of all the Indians that lived in this region the most progressive. They probably migrated to Sonora rather late. They supported themselvess with agriculture, they had permanent settlements and were known for their beautiful woollen products. Their immediate neighbours to the west and northwest were Pima Bajo and Pima Alto. This division of Pima Indians is only geographical, while the languages they spoke were identical. To the east the Opata bordered on Suma, Concho and Tarahumar Indians that lived in the mountain ranges of Sierra Madre that separate Sonora from the province of Chihuahua. In the southeast their neighbours were Jova Indians who were related to the Opata. From the north, Opateria was exposed to the raids of Apache Indians who in the middle of the18th century nearly destroyed the Spanish colonial system in Sonora.

At the Edge of the World with Padre Kino

In Cucurpe, Kappus was on the border of the then known world and of the civilization. At the time of Ms arrival there was in front of him just one more mission, at Dolores, led by Eusebius Franciscus Kino, who had come to this region one year earlier, in March 1687 to work among Pima Indians. Kappus and Kino became at once close friends and co-workers and remained such all their lives.

Kino was in his time certainly the central figure in Sonora. He was born on August 10, 1645, at Segno near Trent in Southern Tyrol, on the Italian and German linguistic border. He studied sciences and mathematics at the Jesuit college at Hall near Innsbruck where, after a dangerous illness, he made the vow to join after his recovery the Jesuit Order, which he indeed did at Landsberg in Bavaria on November 20, 1665. He continued his studies at the universities of Ingolstadt, Innsbruck, Munich, and Oettingen. He was ordained priest at Eichstatt in Bavaria on June 12, 1677. In April 1678 he was assigned for work in Mexico. He went through Genoa for Cadiz, and after a prolonged waiting in Seville he embarked the ship Nazareno in 1680, Yet the ship ran into a sand bar. Finally he departed with another ship for Mexico. One of his companions was Joannes Ratkay, from Ptuj in Slovenia, who became missionary among Tarahumara Indians. In America Kino first joined the expedition to Baja California which was led by Admiral Atondo y Antillon, yet the expedition failed because of the lack of financial means. After his return to Mexico City in 1686 he was assigned for work in Sonora. In February 1687 he reached Sonora and in March of the same year he established his new mission at Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, which remained his seat until his death.

Kino was an exceptional personality who knew no weariness in his work as missionary and explorer. At the time of his arrival in Sonora the territory beyond Dolores was completely unknown. In numerous expeditions he systematically explored the region up to the rivers San Pedro, Gila and Colorado, thus making the earliest explorations in this part of Arizona and California. Therefore he is called the pioneer of Arizona. He was fearless in his contacts with the natives, many of whom had never before him seen a white man. He founded numerous new missions in northern Sonora and southern Arizona and in this way prepared the ground for the later exploration of California during the 18th century. He supported successfully the development of agriculture and cattle breeding among Indians. It was due to him that Sonora became famous for its enormous herds of cattle. Kino slept on cow hide and had a cow hide for his cover and a saddle for his pillow. So he also died at Magdalena, on March 15, 1711, in the presence of Padre Agustin de Campos, his long time co-worker.

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