Arivaca Yesterdays – Arivaca in the 1930’s

Mary Kasulaitis

July 2017


Arivaca in the early 1930s


What we think of as the Depression era of the 1930s began years before with a depressed agricultural industry all across the U.S. that had lasted a decade. Without price supports or controls (which came later) farmers unknowingly planted more and more crops, thus driving the prices down. There were many small farms in those days, with starving farmers who knew no other livelihood. This was one of the reasons for the stock market crash of 1929. Lack of regulation of banks and the stock market was another. Despite the fact that the Federal Reserve was established as far back as 1913 to protect against the frequent “Panics” or depressions that had been occurring since the 1850s, regulation was not yet sufficient to control speculation.

The “Roaring Twenties” was a time when stock market speculation went wild and economic prosperity seemed endless. “The era saw the large-scale adoption of automobiles, telephones, motion pictures, radio and household electricity, as well as unprecedented industrial growth, accelerated consumer demand and aspirations, and significant changes in lifestyle and culture. The media began to focus on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars.” In Arivaca, life went on much as it had before, with the addition of the automobile and radio.

The stock market crash in 1929 was just the beginning of the depression. In those days there was little imagination to remedy the problems that occurred.  Despite the fact that President Herbert Hoover was a progressive Republican, the predominant “laissez faire” mentality of the party (and previous President Coolidge) did not allow for federal government intervention.  Hoover held office until 1932 when things had gone really downhill.  By then it was obvious that pulling yourself up by the bootstraps was not within the ability of everyone in America.

More and more people were out of work and hungry, but during the Hoover era there was still an attempt to have relief provided by local charities unattached to the government or by state and local government, rather than federal.  By the middle of 1933, Pima County was having to deal with a great increase in the number of indigents, many of them now white middle class people, more than they ever had before. The number of people now unable to pay their property taxes had exacerbated the problem. Veterans (World War I and Spanish American War) had been having compensation and pension cuts, throwing them onto the public welfare rolls as well.  Two Arivaca teachers, Helen Noon and Nina Fay Adams were asked to act for the Tucson Organized Charities as distribution agents of local indigent relief. They had to make a survey of their district as to the number and condition of people in need and forward the information to the group who would provide relief services. The Board of Supervisors was anxious to work closely with state agencies since their own resources were overwhelmed.  An increased budget was sent to the Arizona State Board of Public Welfare in Phoenix.

Franklin D Roosevelt, a Democrat, was elected President and took office in March, 1933. He immediately began to forge a different path to stability. Within his first 100 days he and his team had created a number of federal government programs to provide immediate relief.  The slogan was: Relief (for the unemployed and poor), Recovery (of the economy) and Reform (of the financial system.) The New Deal was a series of programs that created government controls and regulations to provide stability and promote prosperity, in an attempt “to orchestrate the general welfare out of a myriad of competing self-interests.”  Since the federal government had not done this before in any organized way, it was new ground.  It was trial and error, but the conditions for many people in America were so desperate that any effort brought some hope.  The terrible desperation in the South and in the farming heartland of America was so extreme as to be unimaginable today. Imagine if the only affordable food available was “splits”: broken pinto beans that were culled in the sorting process. Perhaps some were lucky to have even that.

Back home in Arivaca, people were surviving on traditional Sonoran food: beans and tortillas, along with whatever they could grow in their gardens and wild plants.  If you worked on a ranch, beef might appear on the menu as well.  According to a census, there were 511 people in the area with 21 farms (or ranches), however the 1930 census showed more like 350 people in the town, with 80% being Spanish speaking.

One of the big changes for Arivaca was the purchase in 1931 of the 300,000 acre Arivaca Ranch by the Boice brothers, Henry, Frank and Charlie.  In those days it included the Tres Bellotas and Jarillas Ranches and Rancho Seco, besides what we think of now as the Arivaca Ranch.  Later they bought the K-X. Charlie was named as the manager, and he set to work making changes all over the valley, which meant keeping people employed. He built dikes across the Arivaca Cienaga, diverting the water away from the townsite and building the pond.  Using mules and wagons to haul equipment and cement, he built water catchments all over the remote areas of the ranch.  He moved the Tres Bellotas road up onto Black Mesa. After the death of Agustin Wilbur in 1933, when his daughter Eva moved back to town and took over their ranch west of town, Charlie demanded she take her 700 straying horses off his adjoining property.  When she did not, or perhaps would not,  he had them shot. A feud ensued which lasted until 1950. Some of the 21 smaller ranches mentioned above were purchased by Charlie, expanding the ranch to its largest extent ever.

Agustin Wilbur was not the only well known person to pass away during the early 30s, with their children taking over the family businesses. His mother, Rafaela Suastegui de Wilbur, had died in 1932. Dr. Adolphus H. Noon passed away in Nogales in 1931, but his son Arthur was already managing the Oro Blanco ranch.  Bernardo Caviglia passed away in  1932 and his son Angelo took over his many properties.  Angelo had always wanted a saloon, so he built a dance hall on the SE corner of Main Street and Ruby Road.  Prohibition had been repealed in 1933, just in time for Angelo’s business to take off.  For years he held dances and fiestas, horse races and parties, fueled by the Ruby folks who came down in droves.  In 1934, on the way home to Ruby at night, one Ramon Redondo died when the car he was riding in went around a curve and his door flew open.  He fell out and broke his neck. A marker is still there roadside  to commemorate his death.

Crime did not avoid Arivaca.  In 1931, a domestic feud between Frank Cortez and Santiago Padilla culminated in a shootout in the cienaga, in which Padilla was killed.  Cortez was found guilty of manslaughter (although tried for murder) and sentenced to the maximum 9-10 years. In late 1932 one Jose Villasenor was convicted of importing and concealing cocaine and sentenced to 18 months in prison.  The defense said he was a victim of entrapment by three narcotics agents from three different agencies.  The cocaine had been stashed somewhere along the Arivaca Road, but the seller was from Nogales. Villasenor was apparently from California. In another crime, the Arivaca Mercantile, owned now by the Boices, was broken into and robbed on February 24, 1933.

Mining continued in the area, with new work going on at the Yellow Jacket gold mine, briefly.  Over in the Guijas valley, north of town, a 50-ton tungsten mill was being installed in 1930.  Tungsten was the mineral with the most interest, and during the 30s General Electric bought the mine and operated it for some time. The Montana mine at Ruby had started up in 1926 by the Eagle Picher Company but had to close down in 1931 due to the depression. However development work was ongoing in anticipation of reopening,  which did happen in 1934. In the meantime many folks were out of work. Some began prospecting for themselves, hoping to find some salable ore, especially gold.  Panning in the local creeks became a constant pastime.

The United States went off the gold standard in 1934 because “adherence to the gold standard prevented the Federal Reserve from expanding the money supply to stimulate the economy, fund insolvent banks and fund government deficits that could “prime the pump” for an expansion.” Other countries had been doing the same. The Depression was world-wide, not just in the U.S.  This also meant that prospectors could get far less for their gold than before.  However, the same thing had happened to silver in 1893 when the U.S. went off silver. Both metals had been mined in this area. The Montana mine was a lead and zinc mine but gold and silver paid the bills. (continued next month)

Refs include articles from the Arizona Daily Star and Freedom from fear: the American people in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy)




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: