Saturday, February 21, 2015

History comes to life at Tucson Presidio Museum

Mural at Tucson Presidio Museum
History travels back to the days when the Spanish ruled Tucson when as soldados fire muskets and a cannon, and then walk through downtown Tucson, Arizona.

This happens the second Saturday of every month from October through April when the Tucson Presidio Museum hosts its “living history” days. Volunteers become Spanish soldiers, dressed in blue and white uniforms; other volunteers don costumes as they portray other residents of the Presidio San Agustin del Tucson.

The presidio was founded in Tucson on August 20, 1775, when soldiers stationed at the Tubac Presidio south of Tucson left only a handful of soldiers there and moved the troops north.  These same troops would later travel overland to California and up the Pacific Coast where they founded San Francisco.

Foundation remains
The current “presidio” is a recreation of the original presidio, or fort, that sat on 11 acres of what today is downtown Tucson. The Spanish abandoned it when Tucson came under American rule in 1856. The presidio site was eventually turned into a parking lot and high-rise office buildings. About 10 years ago, a group acquired the parking lot and built an interpretive center on the site; this presidio is owned by the City of Tucson.  A bit of foundation of the original presidio was found under the asphalt.

The presidio museum is open for self-guided tours Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors can see soldiers’’ quarters, the foundry and food storage areas. A small museum is inside the entrance building.

Spanish "soldados" fire muskets
The presidio, however, really shines on living history days. Some volunteers explain what foods the soldiers brought with them from Spain and what foods were available in the New World. Other volunteers bake bread in a domed adobe over, churn butter and make fresh tortillas and pozole, a chili-like stew made from hominy corn instead of beans. All these dishes are available for visitors to sample.

Volunteers at other tables explain items used by the soldiers on a daily basis, such as cards and tobacco tins. Nearby a woman sits at a loom, weaving cloth, while two men sweat away at a foundry, one making nails by hand and the other fashioning a fork. These items can be purchased by visitors.

The piece de resistance is, however, the gun show. Following instructions given in Spanish, the soldiers take aim and fire, with white smoke billowing out of the muskets. A little later, they’ll demonstrate the firing of a brass cannon. The noise is deafening, though an announcer explains the charge was only about a third of what the Spanish really used. The charge used by the volunteers was spiced up, with the addition or oatmeal and powdered coffee creamer to make the blast flash.

Tucson Presidio Museum is located at 133 W. Washington Street, though the address is sometimes given as 197 N. Church Street, perhaps because the presidio is located at the intersection of Church and Washington. Parking is limited in the immediate area and is metered on weekdays. There’s a parking garage across Church Street.




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