Por Los Caminos de Kino
In 1984, three Salgado brothers from Hermosillo, Sonora—Enrique, Arturo, and José Luis—decided to ride the 150 miles from Hermosillo to Caborca where the family patriarch lived. Enrique, the oldest, said “we had grown apart, so we made this first ride to become brothers again.” The next year, the three brothers rode from Father Kino’s home mission of Delores on the San Miguel River to Cerro el Nazareno, overlooking the Sea of Cortes. Afterward Enrique, an aficionado of Sonora’s colonial history, came up with ingenious idea of annual rides (cabalgatas) to highlight the remarkable accomplishments of pioneering Jesuit priest, Eusebio Francisco Kino, promoting the cause of his sainthood. And every year since, they have retraced a section Kino’s trails that meander over a vast tract of the Sonoran Desert he called the Pimería Alta after the Pima speaking native people who inhabited the land for thousands of years prior.
Kino entered the region in 1687, and during the next 24 years the energetic and affable Jesuit established eight missions, ranging from Delores in the east, to Caborca in the west, and San Xavier del Bac (Tucson) in the north. But Kino was much more than an apostle to the native Pima-speaking people. He introduced cattle, horses, and wheat. He discovered a new land route to the Pacific Ocean; he proved that Baja California was a peninsula and not an island; he made maps of the region that guided travelers for the next two hundred years. He was the first large-scale rancher of the southwest. By 1701, Kino was running 4200 head of cattle and several hundred horses and mules on his mission-based ranches. Kino was the cowboy missionary, a horseman par excellence, often riding 30 miles a day and more for weeks at a time. In fact, Cowboy Kino rode so long and hard that his followers had to tie themselves in the saddle to keep from falling from exhaustion.
For several years, my friends Oscar and Lea Ward had invited me to ride, but work on my own ranch, horses, and borderland violence kept getting in the way. When I finally was able to go I was delighted with the landscapes and the people, as well as the well-mannered, sturdy horses we were given to ride. I found that the cabalgata was truly a family-based enterprise devoted to the principles of self-reliance, generosity, and compassion as exemplified by Father Kino. And though not a Catholic, I whole-heartedly endorsed these values. To a Mexican, family is their most important institution (perhaps even ahead of the church). Often, family is the only institution they can trust, as I had learned decades ago while working in southern Mexico and Central America.
For decades, Por Los Caminos de Kino has championed the cause of Father Kino’s beatification. In 1987, they rode the Camino de Diablo over the scorched landscape of the Cabeza Prieta wilderness in order to say midnight mass at the Aguaje de la Luna (Moon Springs) discovered by Kino in 1699. On another adventure, they retraced Father Kino's ride over the Sierra de la Giganta by crossing the Sea of Cortes on a ferry boat and then rode borrowed mules and horses over the Baja peninsula to the Pacific Ocean. In 2006, they delivered the volumes of research required for beatification to the Vatican and were rewarded by the Church’s naming Kino a Servant of God, the first step in the very long process of canonization. The recent selection of a fellow Jesuit as Pope Frances, a humble servant of the people like Father Kino was, has boosted their hopes. But Saint or no Saint, Father Kino is not an abstraction or an academic curiosity to the Por Los Caminos riders. Instead, his legacy is deeply embedded into their everyday lives.
Blessing the riders - 2013
Cabalgantes sharing a meal - 2009
Leaving Boquillas Camp - 2010
Vaquero guide - 2012
Rideout at Tumacacori - 2013