Dorotea’s Roses: Exploring the history of old Spanish missions

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By Gary Every

Special to the Crier

This is a story about the old Spanish missions of Tubac and Tumacacorri, just on the Arizona side of the Mexican border.  The story begins with the Tubac presidio commander, Juan De Anza, drilling his soldiers up and down the parade grounds.  There had been a Yuma Indian uprising to the west and Spanish colonial soldiers were preparing to quell the insurrection.  All of Tubac turned out to watch the soldiers drill, including little Dorotea and her family.  Dorotea was a nine year old Tohono O’odham girl who held her pet chipmunk in her arms as she watched the soldiers drill.  The chipmunk wriggled from her grasp and scurried across the parade grounds.  Horses reared and soldiers jostled.  The ground squirrel zigged and zagged; calamity and confusion following wherever he went.  The drill was disrupted and Captain De Anza was irate.

Dorotea’s father scolded her for not controlling her pet.  Her father grounded her, she would not be allowed to leave the house for an entire month.  Father Garces had asked little Dorotea to sing at the church, accompanied by a harpist but her father warned, if Dorotea misbehaved again she would not be allowed to sing at the Easter pageant.

The punishment was not so bad.  Dorotea spent her days helping her mother in the kitchen.  The nights were the worst.  Dorotea would lie down for bed at night and listen to the wind blow.  The beautiful roses in the garden would cry out for her.  Without anyone to tend to them for a whole month, Dorotea worried that her roses would wither and die. 

One of the interesting things about this story is how many of the characters are historical figures.  Dorotea is one of the few people in the story who cannot be found in history books.  Juan De Anza is a very important figure from Spanish frontier history.  His defeat of Cuerno Verde was his greatest military success.  Cuerno Verde was a fierce Comanche chieftain named for the head piece with the large green horn that he wore into battle.  De Anza is most famous for his role as an explorer, discovering an overland route to California.  For centuries, Spain could only supply her California colonies by sailing the treacherous waters along the Baja coast.  Most Spanish maps showed California as a large island off the coast of North America.  Taking the advice of some Pimas, De Anza discovered an overland supply route that followed the Gila River before crossing the dangerous deserts to reach California.

In the tale of Dorotea’s Roses, Juan De Anza and his soldiers return from a military expedition while Dorotea is still grounded.  The soldiers had been unable to discover the rebel mountain stronghold.  The colonial soldiers did return with prisoners – four young boys.  The boys were the sons of the leaders of the insurrection.  The boys were to be imprisoned in the church bell tower on a bread and water diet until their fathers turned themselves in.  As Dorotea watched through her window Captain De Anza, his soldiers, the flag bearers, and the prisoners rode past.  Dorotea thought the boys looked sad.

She was awakened that night by someone calling her name softly.  “Dorotea,” the voice whispered, “Dorotea.”

Dorotea rushed to the window and discovered Juan De Anza sitting atop his horse.

“I am sorry that you are still being punished,” the gallant captain said while his horse fidgeted, pawing at the dirt. “I have brought you a treat” and handed her a piece of chocolate.

“I brought something for your scandalous pet too,”

Captain De Anza had brought some nuts and berries.  Captain De Anza turned his horse and rode away, leaving Dorotea to sit atop her bed, enjoying her chocolate.  The chipmunk darted out the window. 

Distraught, Dorotea charged out the door, chasing the naughty rodent.  The chipmunk scampered for the rose garden.  Dorotea bent down to capture the renegade rodent when the wind gusted, rustling the roses.

The wind blew and the rose petals fluttered, singing Dorotea’s name.  How Dorotea missed her beautiful garden.  The little girl stood there with her eyes closes, her pet chipmunk in her arms, listening to the roses sing as she smelled those beautiful blossoms. 

Dorotea’s father had been awakened by all the commotion.  Some sort of fatherly sixth sense told him that one of his children was no longer asleep in the house.  Father suddenly sat upright in bed, before bolting out the door.  He discovered the footprints of a grounded little girl leading right to the rose garden.

“Dorotea!” her father scolded.

As soon as he heard the news Father Garces rushed over to console the little girl.

“Young lady,” Father Garces said.  “I am sorry to hear that you will not be singing at the Easter pageant.”

Dorotea began to weep.

“Now, now,” Father Garces patted the little girl atop her tiny head, “It is important that we respect our parents.”

Father Graces was another important historical figure in the history of New Spain’s northern frontier.  The wandering padre journeyed thousands and thousands of miles on foot, often alone, reaching regions of Arizona, Utah, and Colorado where no European had ever been.  Geographical features such as The Crossing of the Fathers were named after him.  He traveled with De Anza to California and afterwards asked the crown for permission to start a mission among the Yuma Indians along the Colorado River. The mission was intended to serve as a resupply base for the California colonists.

The tale of Dorotea’s Roses takes place in the years before De Anza’s California explorations.  Dorotea was sitting in her bed, stroking her pet chipmunk.  Everyone else in the house was sound asleep but Dorotea was restless; upset about missing the Easter pageant and worried about her thirsty roses.  Who would water her precious roses while she was grounded?  The midnight wind rustled the flower petals and the roses called to Dorotea in their parched, thirsty voices.  Dorotea snuck out of her parent’s house in the middle of the night to water her garden.  In the garden the happy roses danced beneath the moonlight. 

Suddenly Dorotea heard voices calling out to her.  It was the young Indian boys being held in the bell tower, pleading for help.  They sounded so sad and lonely.  The boys were being held captive on a bread and water diet until their rebel fathers surrendered.  It did not seem fair that the boys were being imprisoned for something their fathers had done.  Cautiously, Dorotea approached the bell tower.  The youngest of the boys approached the prison bars.  He was about the same size, same age, and same shade of brown as Dorotea.  The young boys spoke only Yuman and Dorotea knew only O’odham and a little Spanish.  The Native American children stared at each other.  The young boy pleaded softly with his eyes, motioning for food.

Looking into the sad eyes of the little boy, Dorotea wondered if perhaps the gallant captain De Anza had not made a mistake.  She snuck back into her kitchen and scavenged through the cupboards, loading the contraband food into the apron of her dress while she held it by the corners.  She returned to the bell tower where the imprisoned boys ate ravenously.

A few more nights passed and still the leaders of the uprising had not surrendered.  Dorotea was still grounded, unable to water her thirsty roses.  A midnight wind rustled the rose petals, the beautiful flowers singing to Dorotea – pleading on behalf of the hungry young boys.  Dorotea scavenged the cupboard and crept from the house, holding the corners of her dress; the apron filled with food -bread, apples, dried squash, peaches, and jerky. 

Dorotea’s father awakened.  Once again, some fatherly sixth sense told him that one of his children was up to mischief.  He spied Dorotea’s footprints leading to the rose garden.  Dorotea was shuffling slowly, her apron filled with food.  Her father was angry and moved very swiftly.  He caught Dorotea in the rose garden but he did not understand what she was carrying in her dress.

Then the boys imprisoned in the bell tower called out to Dorotea.  Her father was furious, now Dorotea was not just disobeying him but Captain De Anza as well.  He demanded to know what Dorotea was holding in the apron.  The poor little girl was so upset that she was crying, unable to speak.  She dropped the corners of her apron.

Instead of bread and apples, rose petals tumbled to the ground, thousands of brightly colored rose petals. No one was more surprised than Dorotea.  It was a miracle.

Her father rushed to the church, awakening Father Garces.  Father Garces was so excited he ran to the bell tower and began chiming the bell in the middle of the night.  During his enthusiasm Father Garces forgot to close bell tower door and the four young boys escaped, scampering behind the nearest bushes.  The entire presidio of Tubac rushed to see the commotion.

Juan De Anza came running up in his night shirt with his sword in his hand.  It was the captain who realized that the prisoners had escaped.  The conquistador dashed about this way and that, searching for the young boys, waving his sword about frantically.  He slashed at the bushes and one of the fugitive young boys squealed.  De Anza raised his sword above his head and grabbed it with both hands.

“Wait!” Dorotea screamed and explained to Captain De Anza about the rose petals.  “It was a miracle,” she stammered.

“A sign from God?” De Anza muttered as he scratched his furrowed brow.  Beautiful little Dorotea smiled up at him and Captain De Anza released his prisoners.

This story is a Tohono O’odham/ Arizona version of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  The Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most powerful icons in Latin America.  She was one of the last saints beatified by Pope John Paul II.  In that story rose petals also appear in the apron of a dress in a miraculous fashion.  The Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most important tales in the western hemisphere and Dorotea’s Roses is an O’odham retelling.

After the four boys were freed from captivity they returned to their Yuma villages along the Colorado River where they convinced their fathers to come to peaceful terms with the Spanish.  The youngest of the four boys, the one who had touched Dorotea’s heart, traveled to Mexico City with Father Garces where he was baptized and took the name of Salvador Palma.  For years Palma journeyed up and down the Colorado River, proselytizing the virtues of Christianity to his fellow Native Americans.

When Father Garces wanted to establish his mission on the river among the Yumans, opinion was very divided between the Native Americans.  By this time Salvador Palma was a grown man and a powerful cacique among the local tribes.  It was persuasive arguments among the native peoples and Father Garces debates with colonial bureaucrats that created the Spanish mission along the Colorado River as a resupply base for overland California colonizers.

The mission was to be a short lived tragedy however.  Although Father Garces remained a popular figure among the Native Americans the rest of the Spanish colonists were very unpopular with the Yuman people.  Spanish colonists expected to be fed but were willing to do little with planting and harvesting.  The final straw came during a summer drought when the colonists set their cattle grazing in the corn fields. 

Salvador Palma was away on distant business when renegade Yuma’s decided to lead an uprising.  The Indian braves had surrounded the colonial village and were preparing an ambush when a Spanish wagon train arrived.  This wagon train consisted of colonists heading overland to California.  The Yumans felt that the Spanish operated under a political system similar to their own with affiliations based on tribes and bands.  Although Spanish, the Yumans felt that these California colonists were De Anza’s people and different that the colonists at the mission.  The Yumans were at peace with Captain De Anza and honored that treaty, postponing the attack until the wagon train had left.  The morning the wagon train left the mission the Indian braves dropped from the hills and massacred the village.  During the slaughter, Father Garces sought sanctuary in the house of Salvador Palma.  Some of the rebellion leaders came to the door and demanded that Garces surrender.  Father Garces was stalling for time until Salvador Palma could return and put an end to this evil madness.  As the rebel leaders screamed at him to surrender Father Garces replied that he wished to finish his cup of hot chocolate.  The rebel leaders dragged the padre outside and clubbed him to death.  It is said that Father Garces ghost still haunts the Colorado River and that you will know when his ghost is near because you smell hot chocolate just before he appears.

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