Arivaca Ranch in the 1920s –
By Mary Kasulaitis
As the 1920s open in Arivaca, the 10th Cavalry was still occupying a barracks on Main Street, but it would soon pull out. The population of Arivaca was predominately (85%) Spanish speaking people, most of whom had origins in Sonora. They homesteaded for themselves or worked on ranches and in the mines. Almost everyone else spoke Spanish as a second language. The Mexican Revolution and World War I were over, but almost immediately there were two things that impacted the residents. One was not man made: a year without rain in 1920 impacted the cattle business in a drastic way. If you can’t feed them, either they die or you get rid of them. The Arivaca Ranch (largest ranch in the area) lost a lot of cattle and in those days you couldn’t just sell them easily the way you can now. The Cienaga wasn’t fenced, so cattle went into the mud and got stuck and died. After that, a downturn in the cattle industry in the nation at large made it difficult to sell the ones that had survived. Eugene Shepherd was a part owner of Las Jarillas ranch, which soon was consolidated with Arivaca Ranch (Arivaca Land and Cattle Co.) which he managed. He then homesteaded Tres Bellotas ranch. The Arivaca Land and Cattle Company had issued more stock in 1922 in the interest of development, as well as buying 4500 more head of cattle, but this was to no avail due to the national downturn of the agricultural industry. Other partners in the ALCC, John Bogan and Ramon Ahumada, passed away in the late 20s. In 1927, Shepherd held a big rodeo and BBQ at the Arivaca Ranch with 500 people in attendance and participating. Most men in Arivaca were employed as cowboys and they loved to show off their roping and riding skills. Nevertheless, Shepherd lost the ranch, but it was held together by those who held the mortgage until 1929 when it was sold to Border Land and Cattle Company.
In those days, Arivaca was closely tied to the mining camps in the area. A less well-known mining operation was of great benefit to the economy of Arivaca in the 1920s. Under the management of L.P. “Doc” Merriman, the Oreona Development Company came to town in about 1922 and began working claims at the Ajax, two miles south of town. They built a large (75 ton) mill just west of town where the Amado mine is, hiring many locals. (Evidence of this millsite is still visible) Merriman and James Kelso ran this operation until 1929 when it was sold to a California syndicate. What effect the national economic downturn had on this syndicate isn’t known. Jim Kelso has blessed us with a number of photos of Arivaca that he took during this period, provided to us by his son, who was also a good storyteller.
More well known is Ruby, 13 miles away, which later became the largest mining operation in the area in the 1930s. On February 27, 1920 the Ruby store was attacked by two bandits who murdered the storekeepers, Alexander and John Fraser. The bandits came up from Mexico through California Gulch and attacked the men in the store. Right before this happened there were 10th Cavalry soldiers stationed at Arivaca, Casa Piedra and Bear Valley, on the routes used by people going and coming from Mexico. But they had recently been pulled out. Possibly they would have deterred the murders. But in the next few months there were more depredations, stolen cattle and apparently an incident of “shooting up the town” which led the Arivaca people to ask for two rangers who could remain in the area and enforce the law. The Pima County Sheriffs’ department did not have the funds to do this so it was denied. (AZ Daily Star, 2/7/21) A few months later, the next Ruby Store owners, Frank and Myrtle Pearson, were killed by seven bandits on August 26, 1921. (See Ruby, Arizona: Mining Mayhem and Murder, for details of these murders) This led to a demand for more law enforcement. On 7 March 1923, W.L. Carpenter was sworn in as Deputy Sheriff at Arivaca, for which he received $35 a month. According to the newspaper, it was necessary since Arivaca was so remote and the residents had petitioned for law enforcement.
Many people had moved from Mexico into the U.S., fleeing the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20. Immigration became a concern at the national level because of a great influx of people from Europe and China as well as Mexico in that decade, leading to the Immigration Act of 1917, followed by quota laws in 1921 and 1924. Mexican agricultural and mine workers were waived from this, at the request of employers, but enforcement was also lax. People without the proper papers were still taken advantage of and many who had settled in the U.S. for years lost their property to unscrupulous land grabbers. The Roman Catholic chapel, El Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, built in the early part of the 20th century, was demolished in the early 1920s by the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company due (probably) to a land ownership dispute.
Prohibition had a major impact on Arivaca and Ruby. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution made the selling, transportation and making of liquor prohibited in the United States. Of course, this was not a popular law, and immediately people began making their own in stills, or importing it from Mexico now that the military was gone. The road up California Gulch was a handy way to bring it in. One of the most important things was that people with no jobs or money immediately had a ready source of income in bootlegging. Prohibition had a negative impact on the country as a whole because it made people feel as though they didn’t have to obey laws they didn’t like. Since drinking was a traditional and popular activity for many subcultures in the U.S., many people ignored the law. This encouraged the growth of organized crime in the larger urban areas. Not until 1933 was the 21st Amendment passed to repeal Prohibition.
Prohibition, illegal immigration, and border related crime were behind the establishment of the Border Patrol, created on May 28, 1924. The new immigration laws had to be enforced. Later that year, the government advertised in the Tucson papers for potential agents, who had to have law enforcement or military experience. Soon a cadre of officers were on the job. In February of 1925 a pack train of 11 horses and a mule loaded with liquor, led by 6 men (all Mexicans) came up California Gulch, across to Bear Valley and up to Twin Buttes, where they were caught by Border Patrol officers, all of whom happened to be locals who knew the country. On Aug. 31, 1926 one Caledonio Mendoza died while resisting arrest. He was shot about a mile from Arivaca at a traffic stop held by Border Patrol officers on a Saturday night. He swung his car around and someone shot at the officers. They returned fire and hit Mendoza. The troubles facing Arivaca people in the 1920s were mostly created by the agricultural woes and the new federal laws on immigration and the prohibition of liquor. Laws that no one had to worry about before. But there were as yet few regulations on banking and stock market speculation. The weaknesses of laissez-faire capitalism were surfacing. In October 1929, the stock market went into a severe decline, helping create an economic downturn that would ultimately affect Arivaca.
In other happier news, the population of Arivaca in 1920 was about 320 people, many of them children. Arivaca’s two-room school had 55 elementary school students in 1922 up 17 from the year before. The teachers during most of that decade were Bertha and JP McDole in the early years and then Alice and WJ Barnett from 1926-1932. Many Arivaca children were awarded health certificates as a result of a program established by President Hoover in 1929. Arivaca also benefited from a newly constructed Pima County road from Arivaca Junction to Arivaca and then across to the also new Sasabe road (286). A bridge was completed in 1921 across Arivaca creek about 7 miles northwest of Arivaca. Heavy rains that summer immediately put it to the test, which it passed.
Next time: Arivaca in the 1930s.