by Mary Kasulaitis
The story of any ranch is the story of the acquisition of various parcels of land that, when put together, become a working ranch. Prior to around 1900, obtaining property was relatively simple, but became more bureaucratic as time went on, especially after statehood. The acquisition methods might involve squatting, buying, filing County land claims (Territorial days), leasing and/or homesteading land. The Federal Land Office (now Bureau of Land Management) issued homesteads that were commonly 160 acres but could be less if the applicant wanted the particular parcel bad enough (if it had a spring, let’s say). It could be a Desert Land entry which was 320 acres but was not blessed with surface water. In this desert, one could not support a ranch on one homestead. Once the government surveyed the territory into township and ranges, parcels were generally marked or acquired as quarter sections, half sections or full sections (640 acres) and sometimes Lots. There are 36 sections in a Township. Once someone had proved up, or was officially issued a homestead or a patented mining claim, it was private land to be disposed with at will. (For land patents arranged by Township/Range, see Bureau of Land Management land patents database: https://glorecords.blm.gov) Besides land, and perhaps more important, you need legal rights to the surface or underground water so that you can water your cattle, horses and crops. Without water, there is no ranch.
The whole area around the Sopori Ranch and in the valley upstream was commonly referred to as “the Sopori.” It was well known. Besides the Elias family which had been working the Sopori for years, there were a number of prominent ranchers who had land nearby, including Sabino Otero, Tucson merchant Rosario Brena, Tomás Bustamante, Gabriel Angulo, the Moyzas, Robert Catlett, Charles A Proctor, Levi Manning and the Amados. Jose Maria Orosco was also adjoining, but was a relative of the Elias’. Water rights were one of the major reasons for acquiring a homestead. Tomás, Jr had had a water rights conflict with Juan B. and Ramon Elias in 1902. In any large family there will not always be agreement.
Charles A Proctor had purchased land adjoining the Elias’ property in 1909 from Tomás Elias, Sr and his wife, Juana Orozco de Elias.* (T20S, R 12E, Lots 10, 11 Sec 5. 50.37 acres, and a 1902 water right by deed belonging to Thomas Elias, Sr. He also then bought from Albert Steinfeld Lots 7,8,9, or 116.75 acres, which Elias had sold to Steinfeld in 1910.) This gave Proctor a good piece of property west of and next door to the Elias’, on which he built a white house, still standing. Allegedly, Tomás, Jr., had not been on the best of terms with Charles Proctor, and it had to do with water rights. Some time after Charles’ death in 1913, his widow Jesusita was courted by Tomás Elias, Jr., and they planned to marry. Jesusita’s sons (Charles R., George M., Henry P, and Frank M. Proctor) were reportedly opposed to the marriage because they believed that somehow Tomás, Jr. had been responsible for their father’s death, although the Sheriff had not found evidence of murder. Tomás Jr. was reportedly somewhat of a ladies man, with a temper. He had allegedly threatened the sons. Nevertheless, Jesusita Proctor and Tomás Elias, Jr. were married in September of 1915.
Four days after the wedding, the Eliases were at home at the Proctor Ranch by the Sopori. According to a detailed story in The Oasis, a Nogales newspaper, and Santa Cruz County Superior Court testimony, on the morning of September 13, 1915, Tomás was getting some horseshoes in a vacant building used for storage when George and Frank Proctor shot him. They may have come in when he was already there, or they may have been waiting for him. At least two different guns were apparently used and at least four shots hit him. There were bullets in the wall behind the place where Tomás had been kneeling. In court testimony, Frank said he shot him and George did also, thus accounting for the two guns. George said he alone was responsible, having shot with his own gun and then using Frank’s, perhaps because he wanted to protect Frank. Charles R. Proctor was in Tucson, newly married, and was not involved, nor was Henry. Both George and Frank claimed that when they confronted Tomás, he was about to shoot them, so they fired in self defense. They related several incidents in the past in which they said Tomás had threatened them. In one case Tomás had allegedly suggested settling water rights with a duel. But Tomás’ gun was in his pocket, thus giving rise to another version of the story which was that the Proctor boys ambushed him. Tomás lived several hours but his severe head wound ensured that there was no chance that he could have survived. George immediately went to Amado (then called Amadoville) and called the Sheriff of Santa Cruz County, confessing that he had shot Elias. Frank went to Tucson, but sent word to the Sheriff that he also was involved. Attorneys were hired. The case went to court in October 1915 in Nogales, with County Attorney S.F. Noon prosecuting. In the trial, much detail was given about the way in which Tomás was shot, and there was no doubt as to who had done it. But apparently the person on trial was really Tomás and his reputation. The court allowed testimony involving some of his past actions. The defense witnesses included several men who had had confrontations with Elias and a man who claimed Tomás took away his wife, too. After the testimony of many witnesses and character witnesses, the jury was out only a few minutes before it found the verdict of not guilty, by reason of self defense. (The Oasis, 30 Oct 1915) Living now in the legal milieu of the twenty first century, a murder conviction seemed likely. But no one on the jury had a Hispanic surname and most were acquainted with the Proctors. The Border Vidette said: “Public sympathy was strong for the accused boys.” (6 Nov 1915) So it seems that Tomás’ own reputation was on trial here as well as perhaps his ethnicity. Things legal and otherwise were very different in 1915. The results complicated matters in terms of the future of land ownership in the Sopori valley.
Tomas’ father was devastated. According to great-grandson Charles Jimenez, Tomás, Sr. never felt the same about the Sopori Ranch as he had before. There was always a bad taste about the whole place. Jesusita Proctor Elias, with her two small girls, was on her own, and estranged from her sons, but she soldiered on and filed on a homestead in 1916, proved up in 1921. During this time she became acquainted with the bachelor neighbor, Robert Catlett, who had arrived in 1912. On Jan 7, 1912 the Citizen had reported that Catlett had bought the nearby Rosario Brena ranch (the KX) for $30,000. (see also Star, 21 April 1929) A newcomer to the area, he was also appointed a Deputy Sheriff of Pima County. Over the next decade he added neighboring property from the Bustamantes, B.M. Jacobs and James Shults, besides acquiring two homesteads and State land leases of his own. He provided Jesusita some support in terms of her property, motives unknown. She thought he had more interest in her than he apparently did.
Charles R Proctor, the eldest son, was working at the other family properties in Box Canyon and at a mine near Helvetia. He sold his rights at .the Batamote Ranch, northwest of the Sopori and later homesteaded near Madera Canyon. Henry Proctor went into the service to fight in World War I, and after he got out of the military he also homesteaded property in the Santa Ritas. Both Frank and George also served in WWI after which George moved to Tucson and Frank to California.
The Elias family kept on at the Sopori Ranch. In 1916, the siblings of Tomas, Jr., Federico, Arturo, Armida and Amalia, filed on homesteads on unclaimed parcels in the vicinity of or adjacent to those of Tomas, Sr., all proved up in 1921. Ramon also made final proof for a Desert Land Entry in 1921. The Sopori Land and Cattle Company had a change of Directors: in 1916, Juan Elias sold out to Ramon Elias who became President, Jose Camou, Secretary, and Luis Robledo stayed on as Treasurer. Tomas Sr. also sold some of his property to the Company in 1917. The Sopori Land and Cattle Co obtained a large mortgage of $50,000 in 1916: apparently it was for an irrigation water system (McFallen Report). In Sahuarita and Tucson wells were being sunk and farms expanded as never before, with new pump systems and irrigation canals being developed. By the early 1920s, the area around the Sopori springs and up and down the Creek was owned or claimed. In 1915, ranchers had to contend with the newly organized… …Arizona State Lands Department, which began apportioning leases to ranchers as they applied for them. Nothing was as simple as it had been before 1900. Open range was going away and grazing homesteads of 640 acres could be obtained. Changes were in the wind for the Sopori. La Canoa, the big ranch to the northeast, was expanding under the ownership of Howell Manning, son of the local tycoon and former Tucson mayor, Levi Manning. They had eyes on the land adjoining the Sopori.
(More about the Sopori and water rights next time.)
Cosulich, Bernice. “Scenic Charm and Tragic history may be found along Southern Arizona roads,” Arizona Daily Star, 21 April 1929.
Redondo, Margaret Proctor. ” Valley of iron: one family’s history of Madera Canyon.” The Journal of Arizona History. Vol. 34, No. 3, Autumn, 1993.
McFallen, H. General Land Office report on Sopori Land and Cattle Co, approved Feb 18, 1916. Special thanks to hydrologist and historian Phil Halpenny.
The Oasis (Nogales, AZ) and Border Vidette (Nogales, AZ)
Arizona Daily Star. In those days, land transfer records were frequently published in the newspaper.
Tucson Daily Citizen
*Santa Cruz County Records, 25 Nov 1902, Misc or Min bk 2, p. 454-456
Same as sold by Tomas to Steinfeld 27 April 1910 (See SC Co Deeds 7:66)
**Proctor Pioneer website: http://proctorpioneer.com/caphistory/
For Sopori, KX, Rancho Seco and the Marley ranch stories