Don and Carolyn Honnas: Ranching on the Pocahonnas

by Mary Kasulaitis

Long time rancher Donald Honnas passed away this month in Sahuarita, where he and his wife Carolyn had retired after having lived for many years at Arivaca.  His positive influence on Arivaca for so many years merits a story, so that he is remembered.

The Honnas family arrived in Arivaca in 1960, when they bought the Las Jarillas Ranch from Homer and Dottie Osborne.  The Honnas family’s roots in Arizona go back to the late 1800s when Don’s grandmother Della and stepfather Peter Honnas arrived in the Sonoita area to do some homesteading. They had their own homestead, but also purchased others as they came up for sale by people who couldn’t make a go of it. Don’s father Cecil married Lottie Moore, who had been teaching at the Empire Ranch School in the late 1920s. Lottie’s mother, Nancy Moore, had come to Arizona about the turn of the century. Lottie was raised in Marana, where she was in the first graduating class of the high school there. Lottie and Cecil were serious ranchers who intended to make a go of it no matter what.  Cecil sometimes had to work off the ranch while Lottie took care of the horses and cattle.  But Lottie was also the mail carrier on the route to Greaterville.  Lottie and Cecil had two boys, Ray and Donald.

Don married Carolyn Pine, whose family had been in Southern Arizona for four generations. Her great-grandfather John K. Brown, built the Sahuarita School which was founded by his wife. Carolyn’s step-grandfather, John S. Brown, raised cattle at Sahuarita. Her father, Kenneth Pine was from the Box Canyon area where his mother had property.  They were among the first settlers in Santa Cruz County and donated land for the old Empire Ranch school. Carolyn was born in Morenci, but moved to Sonoita at age 4. That was where she grew up and met Don.  She has 3 brothers, Mike, Walt and Bruce.  The latter lived with them here at Arivaca after their father died.

When Lottie and Cecil decided to retire, they sold their Sonoita ranch, keeping their home there. When Las Jarillas Ranch came up for sale, they decided to buy it. Don and Ray brought their families to live on the ranch.  In those days Las Jarillas (or Jarrillas) was about 36 sections of land with a Forest Service grazing lease as well as State land and BLM land. There was 1380 acres of private land. It extended from the Mexican border to Arivaca and from the Tres Bellotas Road to the old Buenos Aires Ranch boundary on the west side of the San Luis Mountains. Ray and his family lived at the Las Jarillas headquarters while Don and Carolyn lived in Arivaca; renting until they could get their house built. In 1962, Ray Honnas left the family business. His half of the ranch with the headquarters was sold to Lawrence and Mary Jones, and now belongs to Tom and Dena Kay.

In 1963 Don and Carolyn built a new house on a hill one mile due west of the town of Arivaca, where they raised their children, Debra, Jackie and Cliff. The kids attended Sopori and Sahuarita schools.  All of them helped around the ranch. With this background, Cliff became a veterinarian and was a professor at Texas A&M University, specializing in equine science. (All the emphasis placed on education by their great-grandparents paid off.) Cliff is married to Lori Robinson. The girls also graduated from college, Debra becoming a nurse and Jackie a teacher.

Don and Carolyn are community minded, which they expressed in many ways.  Don was on the Sopori School board and Sahuarita School board. Carolyn was an EMT and was involved with other activities like the Homemakers Club. The whole family was involved in church activities. They donated the land on which First Baptist Church is built. If you needed something, they would drop everything to help you, even if it was something like pulling a calf. Don is most proud of the several times that he was able to get people to the doctor in time (before the days of ambulances and helicopters.)

After 40 years in the cattle business, Don and Carolyn decided to retire. Not wanting to see their beautiful property subdivided, they sold part of it to the Chilton Ranch. The headquarters, with its cienaga on Arivaca Creek below the town, they sold to the USFWS’s Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. That is still known as the Honnas Ranch. Down on the Arivaca creek is an old watering hole, which is still known as Honnas’ pond.

Don’s stories about ranching in Sonoita and Arivaca are now collected in a book, Happenings on the Pocahonnas:  a Southern Arizona cattle ranch.  Some of the valuable contributions of this book include: details of the cattle business, such as the screw worm eradication program, pulling calves and fencing.  He tells what it is really like to live on the border, especially since their home was inadvertently built right on an old smuggler’s trail. Of course, smuggling wasn’t a big business in the 1960s, not like it became later. Don has stories about Arivaca that contribute significantly to the history of the area in the last half of the twentieth century. It’s a little like reading a James Herriot book, with many dog and horse stories, and a few strange neighbor stories as well. Some of his stories that illustrate life in Arivaca are published here and no place else.

Don really understood animals, of all kinds. Here is one of his dog stories (edited):  “We got Old Sam fom Chris Clarke…  I had always had a liking for hounds and everyone else should have that liking as well.  He was a beautiful Black and Tan puppy. Everyone loved Sam for his loving and kissing disposition, his good carefree attitude, his company and his funny capers and especially when he bayed.  He actually thought that he was just as good as any of the other dogs but never any better. If another dog or person got mad at him, he wondered why. He would kiss a dog in the mouth and then go kiss Jackie or Cliff on the mouth, if he could get away with it, and often times he did…When he grew up he was a big dog…Old Sam also thought he was a cow dog and I told him he was not, a good many times.  When we were driving cattle he was another one of those dogs that was either in the way, way behind, right in the middle, out in the front of, or another other place he shouldn’t be. Also, when driving cattle he would stay way behind and let out a bay about once a minute. When he bayed at the cattle he always kept himself far enough away to make a good clean getaway. He thought he was helping and really enjoyed that. Other times when you were trying to corral a bunch of cattle he would be either standing, sitting or lying in the middle of the gateway or the watering trough.  I would say some choice words to him and he would just stay there looking bored like, ‘I wonder what we are going to do next.’ He had already beaten us into the corral-watering trough to cool off.  He really could mess up while going with you working cattle, but he didn’t really mean to. As he got older, he got fatter and slower, but to him he was just as important as any dog or human and he fit right in.” p. 74-75.

Don’s book is available at the Arivaca Library, just ask the Librarian.

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