Sopori Ranch, Part 8

By Mary Kasulaitis

In 1941 Carmen O’Neill Lee sold the Sopori Ranch to Emanuel Lycurgus (Eman) Beck, a native of Indiana, graduate of Franklin College and Indiana Law School, who had lived in Mexico City since he was a young man. Born in 1875, he married Mary Payne in 1900 and they had two girls: Elizabeth and Mary Susannah. Eman must have been gifted with a natural talent for business. Having started out selling shoes in Mexico, he became a banker and real estate mogul in Mexico City but had dabbled in ranches in Southern Arizona. Before he bought the Sopori Ranch he had owned a ranch at Vail and over the years, various prominent properties in Tucson. Within a few months of the Sopori purchase, his wife Mary passed away of the TB that brought them to Southern Arizona. Evan remodeled and extensively expanded the houses at the headquarters. Eman Beck’s family members would come and stay for a time. He never spent much time there himself, leaving the management to others, including for a time, rancher Horton Noon of Arivaca and then William DeCook. William had been with Southern Arizona Bank, where he became acquainted with Beck. After a visit to see him in Mexico, DeCook agreed to manage the Sopori, which he did for about a year and a half during World War II. DeCook and his wife and daughter lived in the main house. His daughter remembered that the home was beautiful and had a cook and chauffeur. The Hereford bulls were also well cared for, living in tiled stalls where they couldn’t hurt themselves. DeCook also had a side job: helping manage the German prisoners of war that were being housed in a camp on the Bull Ranch outside of Sahuarita. They were kept busy working on the local farms. Some of them didn’t like what they were being told to do, so DeCook got help from his friend, Fred Enke, the University of Arizona basketball coach. They bribed them with cigarettes. (Star, Bonnie Henry, Apr 13, 2009; Sahuarita Sun, May 29, 2016) In late 1945, DeCook went back to working for the bank. Walter R. (Budd) Thurber became the new manager. From a Sonoita ranch family that specialized in registered Herefords, he had more background with cattle and even went to Ft Worth to buy some prime Hereford heifers. Sopori cattle appeared frequently in livestock shows across the Southwest. In those days, Herefords were the breed of choice for most ranchers and many bought bulls from the Thurbers to improve their herds. In 1949, Budd Thurber and his wife Yvonne moved to Texas to a ranch of their own.

In late 1946, the Sopori Ranch acquired a prime piece of ranch property that adjoined it on the west side. The KX Ranch had apparently been the Rosario Brena Ranch until acquired by Robert Catlett in 1912. He sold it to the Arivaca Land & Cattle Co. which was purchased by the Boices in 1930. (Star, April 21, 1929.) In the mid 1940s the Arivaca Ranch (Boice’s CCC) began breaking up its extensive properties for legal reasons. Charlie Boice sold 2200 acres with two cowboy houses worth $50,000 to Beck. Thereafter that ranch was known as the Sopori KX. (Star, Dec 14, 1946)

Beck’s additions to the Sopori ranch property brought the acreage to around 59,000 acres. This included state and federal grazing leases all along the northwestern slopes of the Tumacacoris, some of the most inaccessible and beautiful land in Southern Arizona.

In 1950 the Becks began to sell, ten years before Eman died at the age of 86 in Mexico City. (Franklin Evening Star, Franklin Ind., Jan 22, 1960) The Beck daughters sold 3 sections down near Amado to Bob Morrison and family of Tucson in 1950, in the name of Morrison Farms (Citizen Dec 5, 1950) as well as a section to authoress Ruth Mitchell (Citizen, June 24, 1950. There was still a lot left.

The Becks sold the headquarters and the major part of the Sopori Ranch to Ann Boyer Warner, wife of movie mogul Jack Warner (Citizen, Feb 10, 1951). Jack had co-founded Warner Brothers. Reportedly, Jack thought it might be nice to have a ranch, and this one was for sale. Jack brought film crews to roundup, capturing real ranch life in the movies. John Wayne and Bing Crosby were visitors. Ann’s first husband and father of her daughter Joy was the “Cisco Kid,” actually the cowboy actor Don Page or possibly Duncan Renaldo or some other name, and he managed the Sopori in his retirement. (Kroll, Brian; IMDB database) But it was really Ann who owned it–she loved the Sopori, and although she also never spent much time there, she called frequently and was concerned that it be maintained as a working ranch until her death in 1990. In 1954, the Sopori cloud fell on ranch hand Cecil Yoas, who drowned in the lake while swimming at night. (Citizen, June 15, 1954) In those days, neighbors could (with permission) visit the Lake near the headquarters and fish and enjoy the beauty of the vegetation and the mountain views. However, the Lake was used pimarily to water the downstream fields. During the 50 years that Ann owned the Sopori there were four managers: Maurice Handman, Don Page, Jack Tucker and Jeff Cameron. Reflecting Ann’s environmental attitude, manager Jack Tucker went on record opposing the Arivaca Lake construction and the Twin Peaks lake (that didn’t happen) because they would damage the Sopori’s water resources downstream. Jeff remembered that Ann had the opportunity to sell the Sopori Ranch for an exorbitant sum and she turned it down, valuing the open space more than what she could have gotten for it monetarily.
Prescott’s Inscription Canyon developer John B. Croll purchased the Sopori ranch in 1993. His son Brian said it was just his kind of place; a dream of a ranch. But John passed away in 1999, leaving it to his children who still own it and who continue to run it as a traditional working cattle ranch. In 2009, the northern portion of the Sopori Ranch in Pima County was purchased by the County as part of its Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, taking it off potential developers’ plates. 4,135 acres of private land plus 10,480 acres of State agricultural leases were purchased with 2004 Bond Funds. This included the Sopori KX Ranch. This purchase preserves wildlife corridors and reduces threats to groundwater pumping along Sopori Wash. This is still a working cattle ranch, however, being managed by the previous owners and County staff. The rest of the Sopori Ranch is in Santa Cruz County, which in its 2016 Comprehensive Plan designated that portion of the County as Rural, very low density, thus putting a limit on housing development.

Enter the Arizona Land and Water Trust: an environmental conservation organization committed to protecting southern Arizona’s vanishing western landscapes, its heritage of working farms and ranches, wildlife habitat and the water resources that sustain them. (www.alwt.org) Beginning in 2016 and now in this current year of 2021, the “Arizona Land and Water Trust has successfully acquired 371 acres, Phase I and II of its strategic campaign to purchase and protect the Sopori Creek and Farm in Amado, a unique area with rare grandfathered water rights, irrigated farmland, a rich biotic community and a storied history.” ALWT is working to raise monies to purchase and protect the Sopori Creek and Farm, having raised $2.96M to date. Over the next three years, the Trust will raise a total of $8M to purchase a total of 1,319 acres, provide infrastructure improvements like fencing, well repairs and creek restoration needs. The funding will also be applied to the goal of making this a nationally recognized center for sustainable land use practices, with the Trust envisioning an Agricultural Apprenticeship Center on site…. (ALWT’s Facebook page posted 5/20/2021 and the AZ Daily Star, June 2, 2021) For more information and a guided tour of the Sopori Project, email Executive Director Liz Petterson at lpetterson@alwt.org

References:
Kroll, Brian. A history of Rancho El Sopori, 2003.
The Sopori Ranch in Pima County: http://www.pima.gov/cmo/admin/reports/ConservationReport/
(Retrieved June 17, 2021)

Santa Cruz County Comprehensive Plan 2016
Arizona Daily Star
June 2, 2021: https://tucson.com/news/local/trust-buys-historic-farm-south-of-tucson-once-proposed-for-residential-development/article_aa5e4630-bd80-11eb-91dd-93e5262b6c50.html (retrieved June 17, 2021)

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