by Mary Kasulaitis
The Eliases were a part of what historian Tom Sheridan calls the Mexican elite of Tucson who had roots that went back to the Spanish era. Prior to the coming of the railroad in 1880, Tucson’s political scene was fairly integrated with persons of Mexican descent holding office alongside Anglos. After the influx of many more Anglos, Hispanic-Americans, no matter how long their lineage or prominence in this area, had trouble holding political office. Since the middle of the twentieth century, descendents of some of these folks have resumed the family tradition. Another family tradition was ranching, which the Elias family had practiced for decades at the Sopori and Punta de Agua, south of the San Xavier Mission. But times were changing. The U.S. government took this ranch in the 1880s and gave it to the Tohono O’dham, leaving them with just the Sopori. The Anglo rancher population was also expanding. There were more government regulations, land surveys and in the case of the Sopori ranch, suddenly a new County line on the northern edge. Santa Cruz County was established in 1899 and the northern boundary line, as surveyed in 1902, bordered the townships that would make up the Elias’ ranch. More or less along this line runs the Arivaca Road as it comes west from Amado.
At the Sopori, the Elias family lived in a house on the Arivaca road. Juan B. Elias, Jr. and his wife, Maria, had eight children, of which Juan B. the 3rd was the eldest. Their location saw a lot of visitors. “In 1877 two men on their way to and from Oro Blanco stopped at the Sopori ranch ‘where we put up and fed our animals…and while opening our mess-kits…Mrs. Elias, that very kind and amiable lady, invited us to breakfast’…On their return they were invited to an oyster supper with the Eliases. ‘We do not wonder that when Mr. Elias comes to town he is always anxious to get back to Sopori and good living.’ In 1891 they were raising barley and had fruit orchards, but in that July floods filled the watering places with sand and buried the crops.”(Brownell) The Star reported in 1902 that some visitors to the Elias home were served burro meat, owing to the scarcity of beef. They loved it and brought some back to Tucson to the Durazo family of butchers who also considered it a treat. The Elias family in successive generations lived at the Sopori Ranch, while maintaining homes in Tucson, into the 20th Century. They had started a school on the ranch itself, with Prof. George A Raven as teacher in 1898. Juan B Elias, Jr. passed away in 1896 at the age of 57, but his children and brothers continued to ranch the Sopori. That included his son, Juan B. the 3rd and his brothers Ramon and Tomás, Sr. Tomás and his wife, Juana Ortiz de Elias, had ten children, of which Tomás Elias, Jr. was the eldest. On October 2, 1895 the Supreme Court rejected the Aztiazarán claim on the Sopori land grant. The ranch went on the market, by homestead and cash sale. The earliest federal homestead filed was in 1903, by Tomás Elias, Jr, then Juan B. Elias, 3rd. Juana O de Elias filed in 1904, followed by Ramon in 1905, then Gertrudis, Arturo, Ramona, Federico and the twins, Amalia and Armida and several others, so that by 1914 the family had accumulated over 3800 acres of private land. In 1913 Juan B. Elias and Luis Robledo incorporated the Sopori Land and Cattle Company to develop their hold on the Sopori Ranch. They filed on water rights, an important part of any homestead in dry Southern Arizona. As recounted by Brian Kroll, “there were many disputes between neighbors, as at least seven different members of the Elias family each strategically homesteaded between 160 and 640 acres to control the three springs and the best bottomland for farming.” Water was necessary to form the basis for one of the largest ranches in Southern Arizona, in terms of privately owned land, as it is to this day.
Charles Proctor had somehow acquired 160 acres adjoining the Sopori and built a house next door to Tomás Elias. According to the Nogales Oasis, he bought this land in 1910 from Ramon Elias. Some say it happened earlier, but he could not have legally bought it until after 1895 if it was on the contested land grant. In about 1911, Charles and Jesusita Salazar Proctor moved in next door to the Tomás Elias family, living at what is now the Marley Ranch at milepost 18.5 on the Arivaca Road.
Charles Proctor (1857-1913) was one of three brothers, the others being Henry and Frank, who came as children with their family from Vermont to California. The three arrived in Southern Arizona in 1876, driving a herd of horses. Charles worked at or owned several ranches in the area, including the Tesota Ranch near Canoa, the Batamote Ranch and the Box Canyon Ranch. He was at one point or other, the manager of the Vail Ranch, the Maish and Driscoll Ranch (Canoa) in the Santa Cruz Valley and was appointed to be Sahuarita school trustee because he was well known there. He was respected enough as a cattleman to be tapped to manage one section of the annual cattle roundup that was communally operated in those days of open range. From Pima County he leased 640 acres of school land east of Sahuarita in the Santa Rita foothills in 1898. (Tucson Citizen, Dec 2, 1898) He recorded the Four Bar brand. Charles had had a store in Quijotoa (on the Res). But lest we think he was solely interested in Pima County; in 1892 he obtained a homestead in Graham County. His brother Frank was the under sheriff of Pima County and also the father in law of Col. W. Greene of the Cananea mines and cattle company. In 1896, Frank had begun to run a large herd of cattle on the Tohono O’Odham lands west of Baboquivari Peak in Fresnal Canyon. When the O’Odham absconded with a hundred or so head, Charles reported it to the Arizona Republic. He suggested that hanging or shooting them was the answer, but other cattlemen decided on a patrol system. ( 29 August 1896.) He went to visit family in California and then stayed at Yuma for a year and a half where he worked as a guard. Back in the Santa Cruz Valley, he held the Graveyard mine at Helvetia and ranched at Box Canyon. Given that Charles was all over Southern Arizona, he was aware of opportunities for acquiring more ranch properties than he had already.
Charles A Proctor had married Jesus Maria (Jesusita) Salazar in 1888, when she was 15 and he was 31. Jesusita was an adopted daughter of the Jose Salazar family from the Tesota Ranch, her own parents having been reportedly killed by Apaches. Charles and Jesusita had six children: Charles R., George, Henry, Frank, Lucinda and Marybelle. By 1913, apparently there were marital difficulties. For many years Charles had been moving around but most of the time Jesusita was not with him. But then they moved to their house by the Sopori, and Charles began to feud with close neighbor Tomás Elias Jr. over water rights. This would put pressure on any marriage, besides whatever else might have been going on. Jesusita was unhappy, as evidenced by a apparent suicide attempt using laudanum, in which she was hospitalized, a few weeks before Charles died.
An insomniac, Charles apparently often went outside at night and walked around. One night in May, 1913, he did not return to the house. The next morning he was found dead, about 50 feet away from the house, his gun near him but not fired, and blood on his mouth. Perhaps he had died of a heart attack or stroke. Some speculated that he had been poisoned, but this was not proved, since in those days there was no medical examiners’ office. One report said that he had committed suicide, but this was quickly discounted. In the end, the cause of his demise was never proved. Meanwhile, his sons had other ideas about it.
More about the death of Charles A Proctor and subsequent events, next month.
Bradfute, Richard Wells. The Court of Private Land Claims. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1975.
Sheridan, Thomas E. Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941. Tucson, AZ:
The University of Arizona Press, 1986
Brownell, Elizabeth. The Story of El Sópori, typed manuscript, dated April 14, 1973 on the occasion of
a picnic at El Sopori Ranch. Tubac Historical Society.
Redondo, Margaret Proctor, James S Griffith. Valley of iron: One Family’s History of Madera Canyon.
The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 233-274
Proctor, KK. “Proctor Pioneer.” wwwproctorpioneer.com/caphistory/. Accessed 16 May 2021.
Arizona Daily Star, many articles.
The Oasis. Nogales, AZ: December 16, 1911.