San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier del Bac (9 miles south of Tucson) is the oldest Catholic church in the United States still serving the community for which it was built. San Xavier was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who established 22 missions in northern Mexico and southern Arizona. But, contrary to some legends, they never built a mission north of the Gila River.

There are many stories among storytellers about lost Spanish Jesuit Missions in the Apacheria. The Apacheria included lands above and below the Gila River. The Jesuits established many missions and vistas in the Pimeria Alta. The church missions were permanent settlement sites and were assigned a padre or priest. The vistas were temporary sites where priests could conduct marriages, baptisms and other religious ceremonies among their congregants.

Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino arrived on the “Rim of Christendom” on March 13, 1687, when he entered Cucurpe in the San Miguel Valley of Sonora. He established his first mission at Cosari northeast of Arizpe, Sonora. The Jesuits are credited with the mission building in northern Sonora and in the lands south of the Gila River.

The Pimeria Alta included the northern portion of the Mexican state of Sonora and the lands south of the Gila River that later became part of the Gadsden Purchase after the Mexican-American War of 1848. The Jesuits had no missions or visitas north of the Gila River.

Many Mexican and Pima families lived along the San Pedro and Santa Cruz in the early 1800s, and there were several small farming communities along the San Pedro, Santa Cruz and Gila Rivers by 1825. Mexican families did some prospecting and limited mining in the mountains and valleys north of the Gila River, but historical records indicate no missions were created or established north of the Gila River until after 1853 and those were not Spanish in origin.

Since childhood, I have heard stories about an old Spanish mission near Superstition Mountain. The storytellers claim the mission was located near the old Burns Ranch, just off Peralta Road, seven miles east of Highway 60. Some claimed old Henry Burns found the mission treasure and buried it near his place. He and his wife, Helen, had squatted on this land just off Peralta Road for many years.

Old Henry claimed the mission existed and the priest had a very rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains. Henry and his wife were also friends of UFO aliens who often visited them and offered to take them to another world anytime they were willing to go. Henry eventually died; however, Helen remained on the property.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Robert “Crazy Jake” Jacobs showed up on the scene, claiming there was a church mission located near the Burns Ranch property. Crazy Jake drove out to the property to visit Helen and to pick up some of his stuff. While there, Helen decided to commit suicide. She shot herself in the head. Ironic as it may seem, my wife’s uncle was the medical examiner who did the autopsy on Helen Burns and cleared Jake of any wrong-doing.

Robert L. “Bob” Ward was a friend of the Burns. He told the story of how he examined much of Henry Burns’ Jesuit church treasure. He said all the gold was authentic and he estimated Henry had about ninety pounds of gold bullion, crosses and artifacts, all stamped with the Jesuit cross.

Ward often talked about the nearby Jesuit church and the site where the church bell was found on Queen Creek. He said the bell was marked with the name of the church, but could never recall what it was. Ironically, old Bob Garman took me out to the old church site about a mile southwest of the Burns Ranch and also over to Queen Creek to see the site where the church bell was found. Bob had an old yellowish Jeep Station Wagon and had transported Bob Ward on many excursions into the area.

The church bell was found about one thousand yards from where the so-called Stone Maps were dug up around 1949.

The next occupant of the Burns Ranch was Charles M. Crawford. He was convinced the old church was a large gold mining operation, and he knew exactly where the Spaniards dug their gold. He said he had staked out claims on the spot, and his mine would soon be paying big dividends for his investors. He and Bob Ward both pointed out the gold molds near Borrego Mountain (Black Mountain), south of the mission site about four miles along the West Fence Line road.

Ward took me down to examine the grind holes. They were nothing but grind holes used by the early Native Americans to crush beans and seeds from the desert for food. These holes were far too big to cast gold ingots in. The holes were ten inches in diameter and twelve inches deep. An ingot from one of these holes would weigh between 600 – 1000 lbs. I have seen these grind holes all over the Southwest.

Gold is usually cast in sand molds, not molds out of solid rock. These men linked together many sites that fit the stories they told. There are few treasure hunters who believed the Jesuits had a mission and a gold mine in the Superstition Mountains.

All of these sites are used to promote belief in the Jesuit treasure story in this area. There is the mission church site, gold ingot casting site, the bell site on Queen Creek and nearby, the site where the Peralta Stone Maps were. The “Believers” point to these sites, claiming they prove the Jesuits priests were here mining gold and processing gold and silver for the church. Their imagination has run off with their minds and common sense no longer prevails.

I have here presented the very subjective evidence storytellers use to support the story of a Jesuit mission located near Superstition Mountain, where the priests had Native Americans working eight gold mines in the area. The alleged gold was buried near the mission when the Jesuit priests were expulsed from the new world in 1757.

Many people believe this story and totally ignore the history and the facts associated with the Jesuits in the Southwest. Several years ago I took a photo of two Jesuit priests at First Water. I asked them what they were doing, and they said they took a group of young people from their church on a hike into Brush Corral. The hard-core church treasure believing crew immediately started a story that claimed the Jesuits were using the children to pack out the church treasure buried in the Superstition Mountains.

Well, readers, this story goes on and on. Don’t invest your hard earned dollars in Jesuit treasures in the Superstition Mountains, because you have lost them if you do.

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