George Pusch, land baron

by Mary Kasulaitis

George Pusch’s name is on one of Arivaca’s main streets, which begins at the junction with Ruby Road and eventually becomes the Arivaca-Sasabe Road as it leaves town going northwest. So who was George Pusch, and why was his name on a street?

George Pusch was born in Germany in 1847 and came to the United States in 1865 along with a Swiss friend, John Zellweger. Both were trained as meat cutters or butchers. After a short while in New York, they decided to go west. It is possible that George had heard of Henry Miller, also a German immigrant, who was about 10 years older and who had made a name for himself in California. Miller’s enormous cattle ranches extended, they said, from Sacramento to the Mexican border! (See California Cowboys by Dane Coolidge) Be that as it may, he may have been the model that George wanted to follow, and he did! Perhaps not as extensively as Miller, but very successfully in southern Arizona. Most people have heard of Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina mountains, or Steam Pump Ranch in the Oro Valley area. Those are linked to George Pusch. He also had a ranch in the San Pedro Valley north of San Manuel and was a partner in the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company. He also owned many valuable properties in downtown Tucson.

After George got to California, he soon decided to go to Arizona, arriving in Tucson in 1874. Zellweger soon followed. According to George’s grandson, Henry Zipf, they pooled their resources and bought part of the Canyon del Oro Ranch, set up a steam pump and began to provided water for cattle being shipped to market. (The more they drank, the more they weighed.) They would have had a set of corrals to keep the transient cattle under control. They registered the PZ brand. Most successful ranchers had a side business such a butchering or providing a stopping place for travelers, and they were no exception. The two operated a butcher shop in Tucson for many years, providing it with cattle from their ranches. In a few years, two German girls, Mathilde Feldman and Sophie Sieling, arrived in Tucson and ended up marrying George and John. Significantly, they were always legal partners in the land and businesses that their husbands developed.

George bought a ranch located between Mammoth and Winkelman on the San Pedro River and called it the PZ Ranch. On this ranch he built a town called Feldman, after his wife’s maiden name. Zellweger sold his interest in this ranch and bought another ranch further north. George began to acquire parcels of land methodically so that he could eventually have a large ranch in private hands. Sometimes this was known as the San Pedro Ranch and sometimes the Feldman Ranch. If anything can be said about George Pusch, it is that his ability to acquire valuable land indicated a deep knowledge and understanding of land law, as it existed then, and how to manipulate it. In other words, he was a wheeler dealer.

From the 1870s through the early 1900s, there was no fencing laws nor National Forest, so having a number of cowboys was necessary for the ranch owner especially if he had several thousand head. George never called himself a cowboy, but he loved ranching and the cattle business. When he came west, it was with a pair of red cowboy boots! One story says he was in a corral when a “wild steer took after him, and as George ran for the fence his belt came loose and his trousers slipped, throwing him flat on his face. Luckily a cowboy shot and killed the steer in time to prevent injury and as George got to his feet he exclaimed, “Py Gott, dot vas close!” (Arizona Cattlelog, Jan. 1949)

To serve the cattle industry, he was chairman of the Territorial Livestock Sanitary Board. He was also involved in politics: he served in the Territorial Legislature twice, was a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1912 and was on the Tucson City Council. It was probably during these political years that he got acquainted with Noah W. Bernard and John Bogan, who owned the Bogan and Bernard Cattle Company in Arivaca. The three first got involved together in an Tucson Ice and Cold Storage business in Tucson. Then they formed the Pusch and Bernard Cattle Company (with Zellweger), under the brand BXP. When Noah W. Bernard died in 1907, Pusch and Zellweger bought out his rights, leaving his son, Noah C Bernard, with 500 shares in the company. The affiliated group then formed the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company, incorporated by George Pusch, John Zellweger, NC Bernard, John Bogan and Ramon Ahumada, who had been the mayordomo or manager. It was shortly before this point in time that the Arivaca Land Grant was disallowed, opening up the Arivaca valley to homesteading. Between 1911 and 1915 George showed his land law acumen and filed on 18 parcels of land as assignee for other individuals, none of who ever lived in Arivaca and some of whom were dead. After they were proved up, George, or his estate, owned the land. Most of the parcels were not the ordinary 160 acre homestead, but were 40 or 80 acres. However, they were in the valuable bottomlands of Arivaca valley. They had water. He then transferred these parcels into the ALCC. Most of these are now part of the 40s.

In 1915 the ALCC applied for the Arivaca federal townsite, which was like a homestead but for a town. Why they did this isn’t clear, but I would speculate that it was a way to corral squatters onto town lots to keep them off the ranch land, to make money selling lots, and/or to protect the more valuable arable land which they might acquire. (The townsite is situated on a shale outcropping and the rest of the soil is hard rocky clay.) Prior to application, in 1914, a civil engineer, E.C.Dietrich, was hired to survey the townsite. There were two public blocks: the Cemetery and the School, and these still remain as part of the townsite under the trusteeship of the Presiding Judge of Pima County Superior Court. The rest of the lots were auctioned off, over the years, up until they were all sold in 1968. But perhaps a major reason was because of some troubles that started back in 1908. In 1919 there was a hearing between the ALCC, George Pusch and the townspeople of Arivaca regarding the SE quarter of the quartersection that had been designated as a townsite. Supposedly it was issued to George Pusch in error, back in 1908. He had turned it over to the ALCC, and it was on this parcel that the Mercantile was built. However there were other people living on that parcel and the ownership was no longer clear. In 1908, Judge Kirkpatrick had designated 160 acres on which the townspeople could live, but had supposedly left out that SE quarter and it had not been included on an official map. It not being marked, Pusch had felt free to apply for it, and it was granted to him. In addition, Dr Ball had been issued 40 acres in error by the land office: this same 40. But he had magnanimously given it back to the government and received from it the 40 acres elsewhere that he thought he had applied for. By applying for a federal townsite, the ALCC could legally obtain the land. After the 1919 hearing, the southeast quarter of the quarter section remained in the hands of the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company, later the Arivaca Ranch. The Arivaca Mercantile, old Hotel, St Ferdinand’s Catholic Church, Arivaca Library and some homes are on that 40 acres. (Until 1950 the Hotel and Store were sold as one property, only being split into two after Marge Schwanderlik Prevor retired and sold the store.)

George and Matilda Feldman Pusch had 9 children, two of whom died in childhood. The surviving children were: Gertrude, George, Henrietta, Wilhelmina, Mabel, Fritz and Walter. (Gertrude’s eldest, Henry Zipf, was active in protecting the Steam Pump Ranch historical site in the 2000s.)

In 1915, George Pusch suffered a massive stroke which incapacitated him for the rest of his life. Mathilda was appointed as guardian of his many properties and interests. He passed away in 1921 but she lived until 1933. John Zellweger passed away in 1923, survived by his wife Sophie who lived until 1948. All are buried in Evergreen Cemetery. John Zellweger also has his name on an Arivaca street, along with the other owners of the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company, including George Pusch. There is no question but that George Pusch had an indelible effect on the development of Arivaca valley.

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