By Mary Kasulaitis
Although it was only there a few years, you old-timers may remember Bell’s Bar as a stopping place on the Arivaca Road. Paul and Irene Bell are recalled by many more of us as the Sopori School bus drivers in the 40s and 50s. They lived in the old Elias house near the Marley Ranch headquarters.
Paul Bell was one of those adventuresome men who were comfortable just about anywhere in the world. He was born in Germany and came to the United States at the age of 18 in 1910. From New York he went to the Midwest where he had relatives. He joined the U.S. Army and served in the 5th Cavalry, F Troop, when the cavalry still had horses. He came to Southern Arizona to patrol the border during the Mexican Revolution, serving from 1911 to 1914. He got out just before World War I. In those early years he was very active: he learned to fly airplanes, which were biplanes in those days. He spent time barnstorming around Mexico. He stayed in a German settlement there for several years before returning to the U.S. One time when Paul came to Southern Arizona it was on a motorcycle, but those were the days when part of the road from Yuma to San Diego was made of wood. He liked the area around here and decided to stay.
Paul homesteaded north of the Arivaca Road on the Marley (Proctor) Wash in 1935. His neighbor, Howell Manning’s ranch was mostly in Pima County, as was Paul’s homestead, but Howell owned one of the Elias homesteads in the Sopori Valley in Santa Cruz County. He and Paul agreed to trade properties, which gave Paul an old adobe house in one of the best mesquite bosques in the area. It only had two rooms in those days, so Paul brought adobes he had made for his homestead house and used them to expand the house. Bill and Ellen Kurtz bought the house from Paul many years ago and still have the forms Paul used to make adobes.
In 1936 Paul married Irene Lee Hackett, whom he met in Oracle, AZ while he was driving an ore truck up the back side of Mt. Lemmon. Irene was born and raised in Oracle where her family had a place. She came from pioneer families: Lee Street in Tucson is named for her father, James Lee and other relatives included the Maish family that once owned the Canoa Ranch. Irene had married Clarence Hackett and had three children, Alice, Jimmy and Eddie. Clarence died when the children were very small. Irene married Paul Bell and they had a daughter, Lee.
Lee remembered growing up at the house on the Sopori Wash where they had horses and a few cows and chickens. She talked about going to school at Sopori School in an interview that is posted on the Internet at https://parentseyes.arizona.edu/node/924, along with an interview with her sister, Alice Hackett Pesuti. Lee’s first grade teacher was Eulalia “Sister” Bourne, the rancher-teacher-writer who spent most of her teaching years in the Altar Valley. In each school, she had the children write a little newspaper called “The Little Cowpuncher,” since most of the children were from ranches in those days. The newspapers are posted on a University of Arizona Library web exhibit at: http://digital.library.arizona.edu/cowpuncher/. The little newspapers document many of the happenings on the ranches in those days, along with who was there, providing us with an invaluable local historical resource. Stories and pictures by Lee and her brothers and sister are preserved there.
In the 1930s, when the Romo sisters taught at Sopori, Paul drove the school bus to and from Amado. Then when the Arivaca school district was annexed to Sopori in 1953, Irene drove the Arivaca bus. Paul also did a lot of prospecting. In the mid-1960s they opened Bell’s Bar in part of their home. It was there only a few years before Irene became ill and they had to close it. She passed away in 1969. Paul sold the house to the Kurtz’ in 1974 and came to stay with Lee in Oracle. He died in 1981 at the age of 89, leaving a big family and many friends who remember his escapades and interesting life.
Thanks to Lee Bell Taylor, Ellen Kurtz and the late Susie Willard James (who learned how to drive in Paul Bell’s jeep)