Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is home to 2,000 years of history. It is Arizona’s first State Park and is the site of the oldest fort and European village in Arizona. When you visit the Tubac Presidio, you’ll experience the incredible history of American Indians, Spanish colonials, Mexicans, and U.S. pioneers.
The Tubac Presidio features a noteworthy museum, an underground exhibit of the centuries-old Presidio ruins, the 2nd oldest schoolhouse in Arizona, historic buildings, and an extensive gift shop. Family picnic areas are located near the Tubac trailhead for the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail, which spans 1200 miles, ending at San Francisco Bay.
The upper Santa Cruz Valley boasts evidence of a long prehistoric presence, and Tubac is a melting pot of Hohokam and Trinchera cultures. Tubac was part of an extensive pre-Columbian trade network through Arizona. Tubac was home to the O’odham, a Piman people who lived and successfully practiced agriculture in the area. The O’odham village of Tubac was first mentioned in 1737. It remained the home to the O’odham until 1751, when the “Pima revolt” against the Spanish, caused the area to be abandoned. Later the O’odham would return as Spanish soldiers, occupying the Tubac Presidio in 1787. Conflict with Apaches slowly transformed into cooperation among some bands, and by 1849 the majority of citizens in Tubac were reported to be Apaches from the Aravaipa and Chiricahua people.
Tubac’s historic significance is heightened by the rarity of presidio (Spanish fort) sites. San Ignacio de Tubac is one of only three presidios in Arizona. The recreated San Agustín del Tucson is in downtown Tucson and the other, Santa Cruz de Terrenate, lies in ruins near the ghost town of Fairbank in Cochise County.
In 1751 some O’odham rose up against the Spanish. Missions were damaged and destroyed, and settlements were abandoned. Tubac, a O’odham village site, and Tumacácori Mission, just to the south, were abandoned. Months later the O’odham surrendered. As a result the Tubac Presidio was built in 1753 and a town quickly grew to the south.
In 1775 the Spanish sent Lt. Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza to create a presidio and mission at San Francisco Bay. The expedition of approximately 240 people officially launched from Tubac in October of 1775. In late fall of 1776, the Tubac garrison was moved north to Tucson, leaving the Tubac pueblo vulnerable to Apache raiding. In 1781 the Tubac town site was abandoned.
In 1787 Tubac came alive again. A company of O’odham soldiers had been enlisted and reopened the fort at Tubac, changing its name to San Rafael de Tubac.
Mexican independence in 1821 brought little change to Tubac. The American War with Mexico barely touched the area, except to remove much needed troops to the south. In 1849 the presidio faced another loss of citizens and troops, but this time it was lure of the California Gold Rush. The Mexican populace was not immune to the illusive promise of riches.
In 1851 the Presidio was once again garrisoned, but it had become a dreaded posting. Most campaigns were met with little success and regular disaster. The faltering central government did not provide pay or rations with any regularity. The majority of Tubac citizens were peaceful Apaches. The Tubac garrison finally withdrew in 1857 to the town of Santa Cruz, southeast of Tubac in present-day Mexico. Tubac’s story, for the moment, was over.
The Americans Come
Men and women came from the eastern United States after the War with Mexico. Gold in California drew them and almost 60,000 gold seekers passed through Tubac. Cattle drives, enroute to growing California, stopped to water in the Santa Cruz River.
In 1854 the Gadsden Purchase extended Arizona to the present-day border and the stream of Yanquis, or Yankees, was non-stop. With the arrival of the Americans came Charles D. Poston, who established the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company in Tubac. Poston, known as the Father of Arizona, performed marriages, granted divorces, officiated baptisms, and printed his own money to pay his employees. He established Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859 and brought in the first printing press. The following year, Tubac became the largest town in the territory.
The prosperity was not to last. The American Civil War drained the populace from the countryside. Tubac was nearly abandoned due to Apache raiding.
In the mid-1870s Tubac began to grow again. In 1885 an adobe schoolhouse with a peaked roof opened. A town plat was drawn up and the future looked positive. Only an 1886 raid in the Santa Cruz Valley by Geronimo momentarily stopped hearts and progress.
The end of World War II transformed the sleepy ranch town into and artist colony. The Tubac Presidio became a State Park, thanks in large part to interested and generous residents of the community. Frank and Olga Griffin were active in preserving local history and made the initial donation of three lots to the State Parks Board. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park was dedicated on Sunday, September 28, 1958.
Since 2010 the Park has been operated by the Friends of the Tubac Presidio and Museum in a public-private partnership with the state of Arizona and is a 501(c)3 non-profit. The Park is supported by well-trained community volunteers and one staff member.