Tubac is a census-designated place (CDP) in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, United States. The population was 1,191 at the 2010 census. The place name “Tubac” is an English borrowing from a Hispanicized form of the O’odham name, which translates into English as “rotten”. The original O’odham name is written Cuwak. The first syllable is accented. When first taken into Spanish speech, it was spelled Tubaca. Finally over time, the last “a” was dropped. Tubac is situated on the Santa Cruz River.
Tubac was the original Spanish colonial garrison in Arizona. It was depopulated during the O’odham Uprising in the 18th century. During the 19th century, the area was repopulated by miners, farmers, and ranchers, but the town of Tubac is best known today as an artists’ colony.
Established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, the first Spanish colonial garrison in what is now Arizona, Tubac was one of the stops on the Camino Real (the “Royal Road”) from Mexico to the Spanish settlements in California.
Tubac’s most famous Spanish resident was Juan Bautista de Anza. While stationed at Tubac (1760–1776), de Anza built the chapel of Santa Gertrudis, the foundations of which lie beneath today’s St. Ann’s Church.
Apaches attacked the town repeatedly in the 1840s, forcing the Sonoran Mexicans to abandon both Tumacacori and Tubac.
Tubac was the scene of a four-day siege in 1861, between Tubac’s male population, Confederate militia and Apache warriors.
In the 1930s – 1960s Tubac became an art colony. Painter Dale Nichols opened an art school in the small desert village in 1948 and restored some of Tubac’s historic buildings. Students included watercolorist Al Romo and sculptor Bob Brisley. In 1961, the Santa Cruz Valley Art Association was formed with 80 members and the group founded the Tubac Festival of the Arts in 1964. Other significant artists in the Village included Sophie and Harwood Steiger, Hal Empie and Hugh Cabot.
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Photo by Frederick D. Nichols