An altogether fresh approach to borderland issues. —Gary Paul Nabhan, Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona Southwest Center
Borderland immigration and drug trafficking are heated issues for most people living in the Southwest. But for Arizona rancher-author Richard Collins, who operates a 13,000 acre ranch near the Mexican border, they are a daily occurrence. Wanting to hear firsthand from those living and working in the middle of the action, Collins embarks on a horseback pilgrimage along the Arizona-Sonoran borderlands described in Riding Behind the Padre: Horseback Views from Both Sides of the Border.
In this true story, set between 2008 and 2011, Collins joins up with a congenial group of Mexican riders retracing the pathways of Eusebio Francisco Kino, the pioneering Jesuit priest who explored the same borderlands three hundred years prior. The riders, members of Los Camino de Kino, include a cross-section of Mexico's growing middle class, bonded by faith in the Catholic Church, love of family and their country, and dedicated to the cause of Kino's sainthood. Like most of their peers, they are also troubled by America's failed war on drugs and its outdated immigration policies. And they often wonder if the United States is their ally or adversary.
Each ride, called a cabalgata, takes place over a different section of Kino’s trails, and contains a unique set of problems that mirror the challenges Father Kino had to overcome– native guides to keep from getting lost, feed for horses, long stretches with no water, cooking over camp fires, and sleeping on the ground. Cowboy Kino, according to historians, rode for more than 8000 miles over today’s borderlands, often covering 30 miles each day, a pace matched by the cabalgata requiring 10-12 hours per day in the saddle. Each journey presents a new aspect of the multifaceted Jesuit: explorer, mission builder, horseman, farmer, rancher, map maker, diplomat, as well as Catholic apostle to the native people.
Along the way, each cabalgata bumps into the realities of today’s borderlands. We see the tragedies of illegal immigration and drug violence driven by Mexico’s institutionalized poverty and its criminal drug cartels that feed on America’s insatiable appetite for illegal drugs and cheap labor. The reader receives balanced views of today’s situation from both sides of the border, set against Father Kino’s legacy and the Spanish incursions, both good and bad.
By sharing Collins’ perceptions and insights, the reader comes away with a better understanding of borderland complexities and his suggestion for a difficult but workable road map for the future. With a passion for landscape, horses, and history, this modern-day cowboy adventure unfolds in the Sonoran Desert where the dangers are fewer than advertised, beauty far outweighs ugliness, and most people are still friendly and caring.
Richard Collins has worked on the ecology and control of infectious diseases in Latin America at the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Arizona. He lived in El Salvador and Guatemala from 1974-1982. He writes from the Collins C6 family ranch in Sonoita, Arizona, near the border with Sonora where he has lived with his family for the past twenty years.
Since 2017, the Collins C6 Ranch and the author have donated all proceeds from book sales to the Kino Border Initiative.
Praise for Riding Behind the Padre: Horseback Views from Both Sides of the Border, (Wheatmark, 2014)
“A history lesson of the borderland life. Our group, Los Caminos de Kino, is not formed by Mexicans or Americans; it is formed by families who share land, ecosystem, economy, and dreams. While we do have differences between both sides of the border, all people have the same dream; that their families develop in a peaceful environment. Reading Riding Behind the Padre could help governments from both countries make laws that could contribute with keeping the border’s peace and harmony.” José Luis Salgado B., Co-author of Por Los Caminos de Kino, Hermosillo, Sonora.
“For all the [mostly negative] attention the borderlands gets these days, we have few seasoned, balanced voices speaking to us who know the terrain like the back of their hands. Forget God’s Middle Finger and No Country for Old Men, the borderland dystopias that distort realities more than seeking them out. Riding Behind the Padre has writing in it as eloquent as Cormac McCarthy and Graham Greene, but it is not a drive-by shooting of border cultures, it is an immersion in the richly nuanced and often contradictory lives embedded in this region.” Gary Paul Nabhan, Author of Cultures of Habitat, The Southwest Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.
“I found Riding Behind the Padre: Horseback Views from Both Sides of the Border to be a significant work, weaving the history of Anglo involvement in the Pimería Alta through the legacy of Father Kino, with contemporary accounts of border life, both exhilarating and tragic. The book is culturally and environmentally astute, blending the author’s own remarkable knowledge of landscapes and ranching with sensitive observations on humans, nature, and of course, horses.” George B. Ruyle, Professor and Extension Specialist, Range Management. Marley Endowed Chair for Sustainable Rangeland Stewardship, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona.
Diane and Richard Collins giving a book and check to Father Pete Neeley of the Kino Border Initiative
At the Caborca Corrals - 2008
Sand River at Noon - 2008
At the trailhead - 2010
Cabalgantos sharing a meal - 2010
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
The Spanish Barb Horse
A Short History
When the Moors invaded Spain in the 8th century, they brought along a small-bodied, swift-moving horse native to North Africa’s rugged Barbary Coast. Crossing this transplant with native Iberian stock produced the Spanish Barb, a durable and courageous mount with amazing stamina and an exceedingly smooth gait. Rock-footed, barrel-chested, and easily trained, the Spanish armies conquered a large part of the western hemisphere while riding on its back.
Conventional history has it that the American West was settled from east to west during the 1800's. But for the horseman, the west really began in 1519 when Hernan Cortes unloaded his horses near Vera Cruz, starting Spain’s astonishingly rapid conquest of Northern New Spain that included the American southwest. Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor, received back word from his terrified warriors that the invaders were swift beasts with two heads and six legs, carrying sticks that spit fire and made loud noises. Rumors quickly spread that their horses fed on human flesh. Spanish settlement moved from south to north astride the sturdy Spanish Barb, so that by the 1700s, the Spanish cavalry and clergy had laid claim to a vast swath of land that included Mexico and the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Texas, homeland to myriad tribes of foot-bound indigenous Americans. As the Spanish expanded cattle ranching in the newly conquered lands, the tractable Spanish Barb became the horse used by the Mexican vaquero.
The sturdy Spanish Barb also became the foundation for most of the ponies bred by native people in the Americas, not only on the Great Plains, but also tribes east of the Mississippi River. In Texas, it was crossed with English breeds like the Thoroughbred and others, and became the foundation stock for the Quarter Horses used today on American ranches as well as for racing, horse shows, and rodeos all over the west.
Pureblood Spanish Barbs are hard to find these days. One herd still exists in Arizona, descendants of Mexican stock brought across the border to the Arivaca ranch of Eva Wilbur-Cruz. Chile was the last stronghold of the Spanish before they were driven out of the Americas, and today Spanish Barbs are prized there as work horses and for competition in the Huasco, Chile’s version of rodeo. In 2011, Diane and I climbed the Andes Mountains on their backs, crossing swift-running, belly-deep glacial rivers to look for the vanishing South American Condor. We didn’t see the Condor, but the horseback ride was exceptional. All of which brings me to the point that the horse should be America’s symbol, no offense to the bird intended. I mean, what has the Bald Eagle done for us lately?
Pure Spanish Barb horse
Chilean cowboys at the Huaso
Mexican ranch horse with vaquero - 2012
Diane in the Andes on a Spanish Barb horse
Watch the movie "¡Viva Kino!" inspired by the book
¡Viva Kino! is a documentary movie about the Arizona-Sonora borderlands as told by María, a young rodeo instructor. While traveling on horseback on the Kino Mission Trail, Maria sees the tragic changes to the desert borderlands with increased human migration and drug trafficking and the impact on the lives of the Tohono O'odham Indian people.
She finds hope by reflecting on the life of pioneer Jesuit missionary Padre Kino and his legacy - the work of the Kino Border Initiative in its advocacy for migrant families and aid to the deported. Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino (1645-1711) is described as "the noblest Southwesterner of all" by the eminent historian of the American West Lawrence Clark Powell. Kino worked 24 years in today's ArizonaSonora borderlands with the Tohono O'odham people who helped him build over 20 missions.
¡Viva Kino! is directed by Lia Giovanazzi Beltrami and produced by Andrea Morghen of Aurora Vision - the award winning Italian film production company that they founded. Many Aurora Vision documentaries take on difficult global problems ranging from human migration, global hunger & disease to the search for peace in the Middle East. In 2017 Lia Beltrami accepted the first Golden Lion for Peace (Leone d'Oro per la Pace) awarded by The Venice International Film Festival on behalf of the Women of Faith For Peace, an organization she founded in 2009.
Producer: Andrea Morghen Studio: Indie Rights Subtitles: English [CC] Audio Languages: Español Purchase rights: Stream instantly Details Format: Prime Video (streaming online video) Devices: Available to watch on supported devices
Awards and News for Riding Behind the Padre
November, 2015: Riding Behind the Padre won the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Best Political Book. The New Mexico Book Co-op, sponsor of the award, is a partnership of over 1,500 publishers and authors who are interested in showcasing and selling books about New Mexico, Arizona, and the Southwest.
November, 2015: Riding Behind the Padre received Honorable Mention in Arizona Authors Association 2014 Book Awards. AZ Authors, one of the oldest non-profit writers' organizations in the Southwest, serves as an information and referral center for the community, helping and supporting local authors statewide.
J.M. Martin reviews Riding Behind the Padre in the Arizona Daily Star. "Collins lays out his ideas, opinions and experiences in clear, solid prose."Click here to read the full review.
Ernesto Portillo Jr. reviews Riding Behind the Padre in the Arizona Daily Star. "From his saddle, Collins, a Sonoita rancher and Arizona native, sees the border region much differently from most Americans, even those living north of the line. Collins sees a rich region and a people who share common geography, history and concerns." Click here to read the full review.
Kelly Flemming reviews Riding Behind the Padre in the Patagonia Regional Times. "Riding Behind the Padre is an important work deserving of a wide audience." Click here to read the full review.
Since Riding Behind the Padre was published in 2014, I have given dozens of talks to audiences about the cabalgatas and Father Kino’s legacy. At one talk at the University of Arizona, I met through Mark O’Hare of the Kino Heritage Society, the Italian American Cultural Historian, Dr. Alessandra Lorini, and her husband Alvaro Masseini (historian, journalist, photographer and fellow fly-fisherman!). After an overnight stay at our ranch near the border, we drove to Magdalena de Kino to see Kino’s crypt where his bones are enshrined. On return, we discussed the possibility to translate Riding Behind the Padre into Italian. Kino, after all, was an Italian-borne migrant to the Americas. His legacy of compassion and generosity is much needed in today’s world where one quarter of its people are refugees or migrants. Despite what the politicians say, we need more understanding, not more border walls and armies.
Kino’s powerful legacy is alive and well on the borderlands today. It brought together an Arizona rancher with his peers in Sonora where they became friends; each to each receiving a greater understanding of the mutual problems we face. Kino’s heritage also made an unlikely team of an Arizona rancher and Italian American historian who are working together to spread his legacy of compassion and generosity. Father Kino’s spirit permeates the many faith-based efforts to alleviate migrant suffering on the Arizona-Sonoran border, notably the Jesuit-administered Kino Initiative that provides for the material and spiritual needs of migrants, including children, who are deported back to Mexico, separated from their families. All these and more are expressions of Padre Kino-type compassion and kindness toward our neighbors. I am not a Catholic and know nothing of the requirements for Sainthood. But if Father Kino’s legacy could bring about a greater measure of understanding and peace between the people of Mexico and the United States, that should qualify as a modern-day miracle.
My sincere thanks to: Dr. Alessandra Lorini who thought enough of the book to suggest an Italian version. She presented the idea to the Eusebio Chini Cultural Association in Segno, Trent, found a translator and publisher in Italy, and generally stewarded the book through the various stages of publication; Mr. Alberto Chini whose Association generously donated the cost of translation; Mark O’Hare of the Tucson, Arizona, Kino Heritage Society for his tireless efforts to keep Kino’s memory alive and well; and my friends, the Salgado family of Hermosillo, Sonora, who sponsored the rides and were the inspiration for my writing the book in the first place.
The Spanish Translation
The Spanish version of Riding Behind the Padre was translated by Juliana Salgado Félix and Jesús Armando Cázares López and published in 2018, with a separate introduction by Juliana. This version was dedicated to Jesús Enrique Salgado Bojórquez, her uncle, who started the annual rides in 1987. The translation thus benefited from the translator’s direct participation in the culture of the cabalgatas, as well as her graduate university training in both languages.
Since 2017, the Collins C6 Ranch and the author have donated all proceeds from book sales to the Kino Border Initiative. —Richard C. Collins