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Two Forgotten Missions

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While rummaging around in some old maps I came upon a 1956 AAA map of The Missions, Presidios, Pueblos and Some of the More Interesting Ranchos of Spanish California. I was surprised to see 23 Missions listed instead of the normal 21. The two additional Missions were near Yuma, in California by the Colorado River. Further research shows this was not an error on the map; there were two additional Missions founded in 1780 in that area. While the padres associated with these Missions came with the de Anza colonizing expedition for the coastal Missions, the two Yuma Missions are probably more closely associated with the Sonoran chain of Missions.

The two were built without protecting Presidios and within a couple of years were overrun by the local Quechan Indians who resented the incursion into their territory. There is nothing left of the two Missions except some markers; and the correct location of the markers as a reference to the location of the Missions is in doubt. Indeed, even calling these two locations Missions is doubted by some historians; they prefer Quasi-missions or Pueblo-churches because of the lack of the protecting Presidio a "normal" Mission would have. I'll leave the term Mission because that's how the AAA map designated them and it's clear from the diaries of the de Anza expedition which went through the area that at least one Mission was planned for this area...

...after traveling half an hour or a little less we halted at the place where Captain [Chief] Palma lives and where he is doing what is necessary for the fathers who are remaining. Here we halted for the night. The rest of the day was devoted to finishing the cabin already mentioned, and to separating the provisions and other things which are being left for the maintenance of the two missionaries mentioned for more than four months.

de Anza Diary, 3 December 1775

...just be aware I might be pretty-much alone in this. [smile]

The two "forgotten" Missions are included here for reference. I do not plan to personally visit the site but have obtained permission to use the pictures found on Douglas G. Detling's site about the area.

Mission La Purisima Concepción de la Virgén Santisima

Picture courtesy of Douglas G. Detling - used with permission.

Founded in October 1780 by Padres Juan Antonio Barreneche and Francis Tomás Hermenogildo Garcés (the famous explorer), this Mission was located on the California side of the Colorado River near where the Gila River joins the Colorado.

In current terms, the Mission location is thought to be on land occupied by St. Thomas Church, beside the Indian Museum on Winterhaven's Indian Hill. California Historical Landmark No. 350 is located at Winterhaven's Mission St. Thomas near a statute of Padre Garcés.

Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer

Picture courtesy of Douglas G. Detling - used with permission.

Founded in October 1780 by Padres Juan Diaz and Matias Moreno, this Mission was located on the California side of the Colorado River just south of where the American Canal takes water from the Colorado.

A memorial plaque is located below an old cemetery about a mile south of Laguna Dam near the All-American Canal. This location is not universally agreed to.


From the Web de Anza historic site we can look at a map of the Yuma area with the de Anza trail highlighted (in orange below) and with today's road network superimposed. An excerpt from that map shows the best guess for the location of the two Missions...

Yuma area map

Sadly, with no protection from a manned Presidio and the Quechan Indians upset because promises made by de Anza were not kept and they resented the appropriation of their crops and fields by settlers and soldiers, the Missions did not last long. The straw that broke the camel's back (so to speak) was a large group of colonists with some 1,000 head of cattle who arrived in 1781. While these colonists were heading for Los Angeles, the Indians thought they had come to settle and attacked on 18 July of that year. Chief Palma, a known friend of the padres and chief of the village closest to La Purisima, did not take part in the raid and arranged for a search for his friend Padre Garcés. Sadly, he gave the task to a member of the Nefora tribe which did not have as good a relationship with the padres. When Padre Garcés and his associates were found, this Indian ordered that they be killed. Thus, on 19 July 1781 Padres Francis Tomás Hermenogildo Garcés, Juan Antonio Barreneche, Juan Diaz and Matias Moreno became martyrs. The Indians also killed Captain Don Fernando Rivera and most other males at the two missions. All-in-all, more than 100 Hispanic settlers were killed, and 74 were held captive until ransomed by Governor Pedro Fages in 1782.

The Missions did not survive after that raid.


  • California Discovered page
  • Web de Anza historic site
  • Weber, Msgr. Francis J. Encyclopedia of California's Catholic Heritage. St. Francis Historical Society and The Arthur H. Clark Company. 2000.
  • For a biography of Padre Francis Tomás Hermenogildo Garcés see "Soldiers, Scoundrels, Poets & Priests"

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