As I mentioned in the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer post, there have long been stories of two “lost” Missions in California. Of the two, I don’t think La Purisima was ever “lost,” but it was certainly dropped from the list of California Missions at some point (in the 1950s the Mission still showed on maps and in guides).
The ruins of Mission La Purisima Concepción de la Virgén Santisima sit under the Saint Thomas Yuma Indian Mission on top of Indian Hill in Yuma, Arizona. It’s location is literally split in half by the border of California and Arizona making it difficult to determine which state it belongs in. However, historically it would have been a part of Alta California.
This is one of two Missions established by Father Francisco Garcés and Father Juan Antonio de Barrenche at the point of crossing on the Colorado River (which Father Garcés named). The Missions were established, but no Presidio was built or military presence available to protect these two Missions or the surrounding Pueblo. So, in July 1781, after a period of unrest where local Yumas became angry about their treatment by the Spanish and disappearance of their land, the Missions were attacked, both fathers bludgeoned to death, and hundreds of Spanish settlers killed. If you want to know more, the book Massacre at the Yuma Crossing digs into the relations between the Yuma people, Father Garcés, and the Spanish settlers; and, how this relationship deteriorated over time.
Without pulling out a map or using GPS, I used logic to find the location of the former Mission. Knowing it was likely built near the water and at the highest point, I looked up and saw Saint Thomas Yuma Indian Church and surmised this was ideal location for a Mission. What I didn’t realize is that the Church (1923) was purposefully designed to replicate what was known about the Purísima Concepción Mission.
From the book listed above, the deaths of the two fathers was rather un-dramatic, as was told by a woman who was taken hostage but survived the ordeal:
Through another Spanish woman captive, who was not with my group, I later learned that Fathers Garcés and Barreneche were not killed until three days later [July 21, 1781]. After leaving the lagoon, the fathers were discovered by a friendly Yuma whose wife was a fervent Christian. He hurried the fathers to his own rancheria, where his wife was waiting.
The enemy fell upon them as they sat in the Yuma’s dwelling, drinking chocolate. The rebel leader shouted: “Stop drinking that and come outside. We’re going to kill you.”
“We’d like to finish our chocolate first,” Father Garcés replied.
“Just leave it!” the leader shouted. The two fathers obediently stood up and followed him.
For their deaths, the two Fathers and others were made martyrs by the Catholic Church.