Arivaca Town Founders: Don Pedro Aguirre

by Mary Kasulaitis

It could be said that Don Pedro J. Aguirre, Jr. founded the town of Arivaca as we know it. Although the area had been occupied by Native Americans, Mexican ranchers and Anglo miners for many years, when Don Pedro and his family settled here civilization arrived. They began the establishment of a real town, complete with officials, a school, post office and perhaps a church.

Don Pedro, Jr established a store in Altar, Sonora, a town on the stage route. It was there that he met and married Doña Ana Maria Redondo, the daughter of the former governor of Sonora. Dolores, Pedro’s sister, was married to Mariano Samaniego, pioneer Tucson businessman, also from Chihuahua. Eventually the Aguirres were related by marriage to many of the prominent families in Southern Arizona.

Around 1859 the Aguirres began a freighting business between Tucson and points south. Arivaca was an important stage stop on this route. It was on one of these trips that Epifanio was killed by Indians near Sasabe in 1870. Epifanio was married to Mary “Mamie” Bernard, of Westport, Missouri, which was on the Santa Fe Trail. She would later make a name for herself as an authority on Native American folklore and as an instructor of Spanish at the University of Arizona. In the 1870s her brothers, Noah W. and A. C. Bernard, followed her to Arizona. Noah soon moved to Arivaca, and with the help of his in-law Don Pedro Aguirre, Jr, began a long career as a merchant and rancher. Don Pedro and then Noah had a store in the long gray building (built in 1858) across the street from La Gitana, which has had many occupants since that time.
Meanwhile, Don Pedro had established a ranch and named it the Buenos Ayres (original spelling Ayres). He had the pick of all the land in the territory, and chose the land for his home that is now the headquarters of the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. Originally a stage stop, this ranch was to become a showplace of the Territory. In the early 1880s he built a lake, which enabled him to irrigate crops of corn and beans. He raised both cattle and sheep. In June 1891 he obtained one of the first homestead patents in the area, and by 1903 he had 1100 acres of patented land in the Altar Valley.

In the 1870s the Aguirres were living in Arivaca. Ana Maria and Don Pedro had two daughters, Margarita and Beatriz and a son, Jose Maria. Ana Maria died in 1886. Beatriz married Robert Wood and Margarita married Manuel Redondo. Jose Maria married Carlota Garcia and they had a boy, Pedro and a girl, Anita. Sadly for poor baby Anita, her father died in a fistfight in 1904, three days after she was born and during the party that celebrated her birth. Anita grew up to marry Leonard Hamilton and became the mother of Diane Charlotte Hamilton Caviglia, after whom our Caviglia-Arivaca Library is named.

Another of Don Pedro’s brothers, Indalecio, had established himelf in Arivaca. Don Pedro built a home in Arivaca or, according to one source, renovated an existing house. This house was unfortunately razed to make room for the (new) Post Office but we have a photo of it.

In 1870 he reportedly presided over a meeting in Arivaca in which a council, marshal and other town officials were chosen. There was an attempt to locate, map, and incorporate a townsite in 1879. Don Pedro’s civic interests extended to Pima County, and in 1878 he was elected to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. He was one of the first members of the Arizona Pioneer’s Historical Society.

There was a statewide move to establish schools spearheaded by Governor A.P.K. Safford. In 1879, Don Pedro was instrumental in establishing the Arivaca School District and built the Arivaca School at his own expense. Mary “Mamie” Bernard Aguirre may have been the first teacher, but we don’t have documentation. She had moved to Arivaca about that time from a previous post near Benson where Apaches were raiding. However, she was recorded as teaching at Arivaca in 1884. According to the 1880 census, there were about 300 people living in the area at that time; many of them single men but there were enough children to warrant the presence of a school. Later Pedro was responsible for the…building of another school at the Buenos Ayres Ranch.

Don Pedro’s business interests were extensive. In 1882 he was involved with the establishment of the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company and a suit to clarify title to the Arivaca land grant, but was not able to acquire any land as a result of it. It took till 1902 for the Supreme Court to make a final decision, and they disallowed the grant. Sometime in the early 1880s, the Aguirre family apparently left Arivaca and moved to the new hacienda at the Buenos Ayres Ranch. As was the custom with many ranchers who could afford to do so, they also had a home in Tucson. Left in Arivaca were Noah W. Bernard and Yndalecio Aguirre, who carried on with the businesses started by the older Aguirres. The widowed Don Pedro (age 66) married Magdalena Ortiz (age 16) in 1901 and had two more children, Elena and Amalia. At his death in 1907, Don Pedro was eulogized as one of the most prominent pioneers of Southern Arizona. The two older girls, Margarita and Beatriz, and his wife Magdalena inherited the Buenos Ayres Ranch and sold it to La Osa Land and Cattle Company.

Friends of the Arivaca Schoolhouse and Historic Townsite, Inc. is the custodian of Pedro Aguirre’s old Schoolhouse, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

(Let’s hope we can keep track of all the Pedro Aguirres that appear in this story. For an interesting account of the greater Aguirre family, see Echoes of the Conquistadores by Yjinio Aguirre, Journey of the Heart by Annette Gray and “In the land of good winds: an informal history of Buenos Aires Ranch,”by Betty Leavengood, The Journal of Arizona History, Vol 47, No. 1, Spring 2006.)

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