By Mary Kasulaitis
This is the story of two pioneer teachers in Southern Arizona. They were the kind of tenacious self-sufficient teachers that used to be prevalent in the rural schools of Arizona. Of necessity, they were tough, and they didn’t let a little hardship get them down.
John Freeman McDole was born in Ohio in 1854 and attended Northern Ohio Normal School (Teachers College). He began teaching in 1877. In a a few years he married Sophia Wehrmeister and they moved to Kansas and then Nebraska where John practiced other professions and they had four children: Bess, Mathew, Hugo and Ruth. Shortly after Ruth’s birth, Sophia died. John then married Sophia’s sister, Bertha, and they had one son, Paul. John went back to teaching briefly and then he and the two older boys moved to California where he raised cantaloupes. In 1909 they all came to Tucson. Initially he worked for the railroad but then he went back to teaching until he retired in 1928. In those years he taught at Pesqueira School, Amado, Tanque Verde, Bolivia, Zinc and finally Arivaca School where they taught 3 years (1925-28) and then John retired.
Bertha was a force in herself. She had to be, because for many of the years that she and John were married they were separated, for economic reasons. Born in Ohio, she also attended Northern Ohio Normal School and began teaching in about 1876. She put in 18 years in Ohio, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. After her sister Sophia died, she married John Freeman McDole in 1893 and they raised their son and his four children. They came to Tucson in 1909, when John got a job with the Southern Pacific railroad. Apparently they kept a house in Tucson while going hither and yon to teach school. In her “Reminiscences of a Pioneer Teacher in Arizona, 1910-1930,” Bertha said she realized she would have to teach again, so she sent her credentials to Phoenix and received a life certificate to teach in Arizona. A job was advertised at Rillito (between Tucson and Marana) which she secured. After having taught in a nice high school in Missouri, she was shocked at the conditions. She remembered, “Away we sped across the desert for about two miles to a shack, the dirtiest place that I was ever in. I think all the flies for ten miles around had come to greet us. I slept in a bed with a girl about 12 years old whom I think had not had a bath since she was born. The next day I managed to get a room (of my own) about 10×5 feet, no door, just room enough for an Army cot and a few pegs to hang my garments on. I made a little coffee and ate a little canned stuff that I had brought from Tucson…There were no textbooks, only ones that had been discarded from Tucson schools. ..it was a terrible experience…the next year I went to teach in the Amado school, on the Antonio Amado Ranch. The school was in a ramshackle old ranch house infested with mice and rats, quite an improvement on the Rillito school. I was there alone. In the east end of the house was a room for me, at the west end was the schoolroom. There was a better class of children. Mr. Amado retained the middle part of the house where he and his wife stayed from time to time to look after the ranch. One night the horses on the ranch seemed to make a terrible noise. I looked out and saw the hay barn was on fire. I dressed, took my revolver and my flashlight and went to the nearest Mexican shack. I could rouse no one–the fire was raging, the horses stampeding. Finally I fired my gun. At once the whole shack was alive. The fire was finally put out but Antonio never said ‘thank you’ to me.” Bertha went on to teach in Tucson schools and also Tanque Verde, Pantano, Vail, Arivaca and the Las Moras ranch school belonging to Joe Ronstadt, in the Baboquivaris just north of Sasabe. Ronstadt was a great supporter of education. Bertha commented that he let John, who had retired, come help her teach and told them all about the historical background of Las Moras. She said, “It was the most enjoyable school we ever taught at, excepting Arivaca.” Unfortunately she didn’t elaborate on that! Bertha retired in 1930 after 20 years of teaching.
John passed away in Tucson in 1937 and Bertha in 1942, and both are buried in Evergreen Cemetery. They had been active in the founding of First Christian Church in Tucson.
In the meantime, the children were busy with their own lives. Eldest daughter Bess McDole Prather said, ” My mother and father were both teachers and they believed in women doing things. I never learned to cook or sew when I was growing up.” (Arizona Republic, Oct 22, 1973) She did other things. She and her husband moved to Casa Grande in 1920 and Bess lived there the rest of her life (except for the last years in an assisted living place in Scottsdale.) She taught elementary school, had three sons, divorced, opened a women’s accessory store, got involved in politics, was the Postmaster in Casa Grande for 27 years, retired and became a stockbroker. She became involved in women’s rights and issues, using women’s clubs as a platform, but went all the way to the national level in many of her fields of interest. She was a feminist. She lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment with Alice Paul. She helped Margaret Sanger organize birth-control clinics. She was ‘Woman of the Year” in Casa Grande in 1962. She was a Parliamentarian, which is “an expert in rules of order and the proper procedures for the conduct of meetings of deliberative assemblies.” A list of Bess’s accomplishments would be very long, all because she followed her parent’s advice to “do things.” Bess spent her last years in an assisted living place where she ran the library for the residents and read every book before she allowed it to be on the shelf. (Perhaps she didn’t realize that Librarians aren’t supposed to censor the collection!) She passed away in 1981 at the age of 96. Her three sons and their descendants survived her. There isn’t room here for the exploits of the other children, but needless to say, they were “doing things” as well. It’s a family tradition.
My thanks for these stories go to Rev. Jean Rogers of Tubac, who is Bess’s granddaughter and who does things.
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)
by Mary Kasulaitis
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the place to eat Mexican food in the Santa Cruz Valley was the Half Way Station, one mile north of the Cow Palace. Angelina Jaurequi cooked, her children waited tables and husband Felipe (Phil) welcomed the guests. The food was so memorable, especially the red chile, that many people remember it to this day. One person went to great lengths to get the recipe, (but by trial and error, not from Angelina herself.) Another person’s parents ate there several times a week, while the kids did their homework at their own table. Felipe was made for this business: hosting parties and dances. He knew everyone: he had so many friends that even people who weren’t inclined to go to bars or dances would patronize his place. Tourists loved to come there. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner and Arnold Palmer were a few of the big names. Felipe would close the place down when they came so no one would bother them. “Pablo and the Dancing Chihuahua” is a 1968 telefilm produced by Walt Disney Productions that was made at the Half Way Station. But the Jaurequis were not the first to own this station.
Back in the late 1800s, Arivaca Junction was the place where a road left the Nogales highway and went west 23 miles over the hills to the village of Arivaca. Lyman Smith brought his family here in about 1871. He homesteaded a site that bordered the Canoa Land Grant on its southwest corner. He had some cattle, a small farm, and of course, mining claims in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains. Lyman was from Kentucky, born in 1830. He caught the gold bug and went to California. On the way out he went through Yuma in about 1865 and met his wife, Isabel Ballesteros, who was from Altar, Sonora. Then it was on to the Santa Cruz Valley, where he could do some mining.
Lyman referred to his stage stop as “the Junction.” It appears on maps as “Smith’s” or just Junction. It was a waypoint on the road from Tucson to Nogales, but it didn’t become the “Half Way Station” until after he died. Among other things, Lyman was appointed Road Overseer in 1905 by the County for the whole road between there and San Xavier Mission. Lyman died in 1908 and Isabel began cooking for people, serving up good Mexican food. She may have cooked when it was still a stage stop. After it was sold, she moved to Tucson.
When Basilio Caranzano bought it in 1914, he dubbed it “Half Way Station,” and began providing gas, food and a bar. Basilio was born in 1887 in Italy and immigrated to the U.S. in 1912. In 1920 he married Anita Ybarra who was originally from Sonora, but whose family had moved to the U.S. At the Half Way Station they provided Mexican food and Italian as well. According to Gus Amado, Basilio originally was hoping to serve the Fifth Cavalry soldiers who were stationed at the Junction in 1913 to stop ammunition smuggling by various factions during the Mexican Revolution. Apparently arms and ammo had been regularly smuggled by automobile from Tucson through Arivaca Junction, Arivaca and Sasabe for some time. (Tucson Citizen, 6/22/1913) This was a profitable location for many reasons! How long the soldiers were there is not known.
Basilio built the big white building that we can still see on the I-19 west frontage road (old Nogales Highway) The restaurant was on the south side and a dance floor was on the north side of the building. He later built the adobe home next door. Angelina’s father made the tiles used on the floor of the bar. Basilio had also established a farm and sold vegetables wherever he could. Later on, he sold vegetables in Arivaca and Ruby. Since he owned the 160 acre Smith homestead, he had land up on the ridge above Half Way and also land north of it on the flat where they raced horses and which eventually became a trailer park. In 1957 Basilio sold some of this land to Kemper Marley who was building up his vast ranch holdings. Half Way Station was also conveniently close to the railroad station at Amado and a good distance from Sahuarita, besides being half way between Tucson and Nogales. And the food was good! Rene Perez, future owner of Papagayo Mexican restaurant in Tucson, shared with Alva Torres that when he went to work for Anita and Basilio around 1950: “I had the best teachers. They made that place famous. Tres Mujeres, including Dona Micaela, a sweet Indita, would come and at 2 am we would begin making the tamales and work all night to have fresh tamales for the day.” (Arizona Daily Star, 25 Jul 1989) Angelina also learned how to make the famous red chile from Anita. Basilio held horse races from time to time, bringing in a large crowd of patrons, sponsored dance programs and of course, quinceaneras and parties of all kinds. Local bands were brought in to provide music.
Felipe Jaurequi had moved from the Jerome area to Tumacacori when he was young, where he met Angelina Alegria. He served in World War II and when he got out he came back, married Angie and went to work for Basilio. They had five children. Felipe soon proved to be invaluable to Basilio. In fact, he was like a son in some ways since Basilio and Anita had no children. Soon he was running the Half Way Station himself and Basilio could retire. Anita passed away in 1956. Basilio continued to hang out there, up until he died in 1966.
Felipe put the Half Way Station up for sale in 1972, having put in 20 good years. That was also when I-19 was being constructed, meaning that business would be dropping. The exit (48) was over by the big competitor, the Cow Palace. He didn’t sell it right away, however, and finally retired in 1978 shortly after it was mentioned as the “legendary” Half Way Station in a Cafe-hopping article in the Tucson Daily Citizen. Half Way Station was being operated by Elizabeth Caryl in 1984. There were other owners, but from then on it went into a state of decay. Jessie Jaurequi thought to preserve it as a historic building but to no avail. Jessie still owns the house to the south of Half Way Station.
Big excitement interrupted its quietude in 1986 when Paul McCartney, of all people, decided to use it as a venue for a music video! The song is “Stranglehold”… …on the Press to Play album. He had planned to do it in Mexico and changed his mind. Looking around for a location, he came across the Half Way Station, which needed some work. Trevor Jones, Paul’s aide, said: “The ceiling was knocked out to get the lights up near the roof, and holes were knocked in the walls to get the best camera angles. (All fixed before we left!)” “Anyway, the flavour is discreet, onstage at least: a neon cactus, vaguely cowboy clothes, an Indian clasp at Paul’s neck instead of a gent’s necktie as worn… The audience of 180 extras can’t help being a shade Mexican, of course, living so near the border.”**
Note: the boy in the video is not local, but came from L.A. Also in the video is Linda McCartney and their 9 year old son.
See the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=wE41epNvdY4
**For more background, see the “Paul McCartney Project”: https://www.the-paulmccartney-project.com/concert/1986-11-04/
*sometimes incorrectly spelled Carranzano
Special thanks to Terry and Delia Jaurequi for their memories.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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)
by Mary Kasulaitis
In Southern Arizona in the 1920s there was an era of large ranch building, wherein homesteaders sold out to a few wealthy entrepreneurs who expanded their properties exponentially. Regular homesteads and Desert Land entries were augmented by the Stock Raising Homestead Act, passed in 1916, in which one could make entry on up to 640 acres in areas that had been designated by the Secretary of the Interior as “stock-raising lands.” Much of the rangeland was in this category. After 1912 you only had to live on a homestead for 3 years, not 5, and make suitable improvements for cattle raising, not just farming. From 1915 to the early 1920s, ranchers had been picking up State school land leases, usually 620 acres. These added considerably to the grazing possibilities, but generally not really enough to allow for very many cattle, thus there was a need for accumulating multiple properties adjoining each other. Deep wells could now be drilled and water tanks filled. The era of open range was coming to an end. The window was closing on ranch building: in 1934 the Taylor Grazing Act provided for regulated grazing on federal public lands to improve range conditions. Under this law, President Franklin Roosevelt withdrew most public lands in the western United States for classification as part of grazing districts thus effectively ending the opportunity for further homesteading almost everywhere except Alaska. (Muhn and Stewart, 1988) the 1920s a number of wealthy Easterners began arriving in the area and picking up ranches, such as La Osa, near Sasabe, which attracted more visitors and potential ranch buyers. Dude ranches began to flourish.
As the 1920s open, several thousand acres of the Sopori valley belonged to the Elias family and separately the Sopori Land and Cattle Company, which at that point had run into financial trouble, probably due to the large loan it had taken out. Evidently they couldn’t pay it back, so the land went up for sale by the Sheriff in February 1924. Grace Davis Lee, an heiress from the Robert E. Lee family whose father was a U.S. Senator from West Virginia, had moved to Southern Arizona in 1923 where her son Arthur, Jr. was going to the University of Arizona. There were two other sons, Henry and Thomas. Her husband, Arthur Lee, Sr., died in 1925. Grace bought the ranch from the widow of the mortgage holder, Mrs. A.O. Jahren. (Arizona Daily Star, April 5, 1926) But this was not all of the Sopori ranch land. In May of 1927, Tomas Elias and his wife Juana Orosco de Elias, and their children Amalia, Armida, Arturo and Federico sold to Arthur Lee, Jr. their homestead properties in the area west of Amado. (Santa Cruz County Records of Deeds.)
Besides the Elias properties, another reportedly extensive ranch was sold to the Lee Family: that of John Walter Chambers and his partner James Converse. Walter, who was from Texas, had been working for several years for the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company and gotten to know the country. In 1926, he had proved up on a stock raising homestead of 560 acres in an area west of Agua Linda ranch.(BLM Land Patents) In times past it had been part of the Sabino Otero ranch, which was one of the oldest in the Santa Cruz Valley. It bordered the Sopori on the south, so the purchase extended the ranch lands deeper into Santa Cruz County and made the Sopori one of the larger ranches in the valley. (Tucson Daily Citizen, Apr 30, 1926) James Converse was more of a real estate dealer: he had not homesteaded in this area but apparently had acquired some range. He went on to buy the Tanque Verde Ranch in 1928 from the Carrillo family, east of Tucson, and operated it as a guest ranch for many years.(Star, Feb 20, 1932; Star, Feb 20, 1957)
North of the Sopori, in the early 20s, Canoa owner L.H. Manning and his son Howell Manning, Sr. had begun buying and leasing State land to the west of La Canoa Ranch. This included land that bordered the Elias’ Sopori on the north. Jesusita Proctor Elias, along with neighbor Robert Catlett, sold out to Manning, contributing to his extensive properties which would eventually extend all the way to the Altar Valley. (Citizen, Feb 11, 1926) Earlier, Catlett had taken a dangerous fall off a stack of hay, and injured himself considerably. (Citizen, May 23, 1921) He had been accumulating properties since 1912 but this event may have led him to sell out to the Mannings and also the Arivaca Ranch, both of which bordered him. (Star, Sept 9, 1926) Catlett passed away in Tucson in 1934 at the age of 66. (Baltimore Sun, Dec 20, 1934.)
Meanwhile, at the Sopori headquarters, the Lees were building an an elaborate water development system to put 1200 acres under cultivation and purchasing purebred Hereford cattle (popular at the time). They incorporated the “Sopori Ranch.” Grace joined the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association. Grace was also completing a large Spanish style home, a showplace of the county, with Mexican builders. (Arizona Daily Star, March 11, 1927; August 7, 1927) In 1929, Grace built a rock shrine on Arivaca road, on a rocky bluff above the ranch buildings. The dedication ceremony was conducted by Msgr Louis Duval of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Nogales with a large number in attendance at the festivities. (Star, May 24, 1929) Because of the view of the mountains to the east, it was dedicated to Santa Rita, the patroness of desperate causes and miners. The shrine quickly became a place of devotion to travelers on the Arivaca road, as it is to this day.* All went well for awhile, then Grace Lee died suddenly in a nighttime car accident on the Nogales highway (Citizen, Jan 19, 1931) when the car in which she was riding sideswiped a car parked on the side of the road. Her son Arthur was apparently driving.
Arthur was learning how to be a rancher and cowboy, but he wasn’t a natural. On March 4, 1930 Arthur was working cattle and was hit in the head by some kind of …bar, rendering him unconscious for an hour. (Citizen, March 5, 1930) Doug Cummings remembered some stories about Arthur and his eccentricities, learned in his patrician home in Virginia, which didn’t set well with the cowboys. One had to do with a stolen lunch, apparently made by his family cook and which bore no resemblance to the usual food carried by cowboys. (Cummings autobiography, Chapter 14.) In a small Catholic ceremony in Tucson, Arthur Lee, Jr. married Carmen O’Neill, who was a Nogales socialite and Deputy County recorder, the daughter of Ralph L. and Dolores Avila O’Neill. (Star, March 21, 1932) Her father was a U.S. Commissioner in Nogales and Carmen was part of the social set.
For several years the Lees lived well on the Sopori, attending many social events in Tucson and Nogales interspersed with hunting trips here and there. Then, in 1937 at the age of 32, Arthur had a fatal accident during a roundup in which his horse fell and rolled on him, and then kicked him in the head as he tried to get up. One story said he frequently rode mean horses while wearing work shoes, not boots, so that when the horse fell his foot didn’t release from the stirrup. A funeral service was held in Tucson but Arthur was buried in West Virginia in the family plot. He left his wife Carmen and two children, Grace Davis Lee and Arthur Lee III. (Star, Nov. 8, 1937) Arthur’s elder brother, Henry, had had something to do with the Sopori, but he had bought a ranch in the Huachuca mountains that kept him far away and uninvolved. Henry’s second wife, Margaret, remembered Carmen as being charming and very gracious, an accomplished hostess and good friend.
When Arthur died, his estate appointed neighboring rancher Gabriel O. Angulo as manager of the Sopori until about 1942. (Accomazzo) Gabe and his father had owned the Santa Lucia Ranch just to the west, but Gabe, Sr. had also died in 1937 and their ranch was sold. In 1941 Carmen sold the Sopori Ranch to Eman L. Beck, a Mexico City Banker who was originally from Indiana. (Star, Feb 16, 1941) She moved to Tucson and remained active in the social life of town, including becoming a charter member of the Mountain Oyster Club when it was first located in the Santa Rita Hotel. (It was started to provide a place for local ranchers to associate without having to dress up). Carmen lived to the age of 83 and passed away 1978 in Phoenix. She is buried in Elkins, WVa next to her husband, Arthur, Jr. (Arizona Republic, Oct 20, 1978)
More about the Sopori next month.
*Note: in previous stories about the Shrine I wrote that Carmen built it in memory of Arthur, but his mother, Grace, was also a Mrs Arthur Lee and I was in error. Grace built the shrine.
“Gabriel Ochoa Angulo,” Betty Accomazzo, ed. Arizona National Pioneer Ranch Histories, Vol VIII, 1986, pp 1-4.
Muhn, James and Hanson R Stuart. Opportunity and challenge: the story of BLM, U.S. Dept of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 1988.
Borderline Lady by Margaret Linley, Henry Lee’s second wife (he had married first, Polly Titcomb of Nogales.)
Stories of Douglas Cumming, Santa Cruz County rancher. Typescript manuscript.
Bureau of Land Management. https://glorecords.blm.gov/
Arizona Daily Star
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
by Mary Kasulaitis
The Eliases were a part of what historian Tom Sheridan calls the Mexican elite of Tucson who had roots that went back to the Spanish era. Prior to the coming of the railroad in 1880, Tucson’s political scene was fairly integrated with persons of Mexican descent holding office alongside Anglos. After the influx of many more Anglos, Hispanic-Americans, no matter how long their lineage or prominence in this area, had trouble holding political office. Since the middle of the twentieth century, descendents of some of these folks have resumed the family tradition. Another family tradition was ranching, which the Elias family had practiced for decades at the Sopori and Punta de Agua, south of the San Xavier Mission. But times were changing. The U.S. government took this ranch in the 1880s and gave it to the Tohono O’dham, leaving them with just the Sopori. The Anglo rancher population was also expanding. There were more government regulations, land surveys and in the case of the Sopori ranch, suddenly a new County line on the northern edge. Santa Cruz County was established in 1899 and the northern boundary line, as surveyed in 1902, bordered the townships that would make up the Elias’ ranch. More or less along this line runs the Arivaca Road as it comes west from Amado.
At the Sopori, the Elias family lived in a house on the Arivaca road. Juan B. Elias, Jr. and his wife, Maria, had eight children, of which Juan B. the 3rd was the eldest. Their location saw a lot of visitors. “In 1877 two men on their way to and from Oro Blanco stopped at the Sopori ranch ‘where we put up and fed our animals…and while opening our mess-kits…Mrs. Elias, that very kind and amiable lady, invited us to breakfast’…On their return they were invited to an oyster supper with the Eliases. ‘We do not wonder that when Mr. Elias comes to town he is always anxious to get back to Sopori and good living.’ In 1891 they were raising barley and had fruit orchards, but in that July floods filled the watering places with sand and buried the crops.”(Brownell) The Star reported in 1902 that some visitors to the Elias home were served burro meat, owing to the scarcity of beef. They loved it and brought some back to Tucson to the Durazo family of butchers who also considered it a treat. The Elias family in successive generations lived at the Sopori Ranch, while maintaining homes in Tucson, into the 20th Century. They had started a school on the ranch itself, with Prof. George A Raven as teacher in 1898. Juan B Elias, Jr. passed away in 1896 at the age of 57, but his children and brothers continued to ranch the Sopori. That included his son, Juan B. the 3rd and his brothers Ramon and Tomás, Sr. Tomás and his wife, Juana Ortiz de Elias, had ten children, of which Tomás Elias, Jr. was the eldest. On October 2, 1895 the Supreme Court rejected the Aztiazarán claim on the Sopori land grant. The ranch went on the market, by homestead and cash sale. The earliest federal homestead filed was in 1903, by Tomás Elias, Jr, then Juan B. Elias, 3rd. Juana O de Elias filed in 1904, followed by Ramon in 1905, then Gertrudis, Arturo, Ramona, Federico and the twins, Amalia and Armida and several others, so that by 1914 the family had accumulated over 3800 acres of private land. In 1913 Juan B. Elias and Luis Robledo incorporated the Sopori Land and Cattle Company to develop their hold on the Sopori Ranch. They filed on water rights, an important part of any homestead in dry Southern Arizona. As recounted by Brian Kroll, “there were many disputes between neighbors, as at least seven different members of the Elias family each strategically homesteaded between 160 and 640 acres to control the three springs and the best bottomland for farming.” Water was necessary to form the basis for one of the largest ranches in Southern Arizona, in terms of privately owned land, as it is to this day.
Charles Proctor had somehow acquired 160 acres adjoining the Sopori and built a house next door to Tomás Elias. According to the Nogales Oasis, he bought this land in 1910 from Ramon Elias. Some say it happened earlier, but he could not have legally bought it until after 1895 if it was on the contested land grant. In about 1911, Charles and Jesusita Salazar Proctor moved in next door to the Tomás Elias family, living at what is now the Marley Ranch at milepost 18.5 on the Arivaca Road.
Charles Proctor (1857-1913) was one of three brothers, the others being Henry and Frank, who came as children with their family from Vermont to California. The three arrived in Southern Arizona in 1876, driving a herd of horses. Charles worked at or owned several ranches in the area, including the Tesota Ranch near Canoa, the Batamote Ranch and the Box Canyon Ranch. He was at one point or other, the manager of the Vail Ranch, the Maish and Driscoll Ranch (Canoa) in the Santa Cruz Valley and was appointed to be Sahuarita school trustee because he was well known there. He was respected enough as a cattleman to be tapped to manage one section of the annual cattle roundup that was communally operated in those days of open range. From Pima County he leased 640 acres of school land east of Sahuarita in the Santa Rita foothills in 1898. (Tucson Citizen, Dec 2, 1898) He recorded the Four Bar brand. Charles had had a store in Quijotoa (on the Res). But lest we think he was solely interested in Pima County; in 1892 he obtained a homestead in Graham County. His brother Frank was the under sheriff of Pima County and also the father in law of Col. W. Greene of the Cananea mines and cattle company. In 1896, Frank had begun to run a large herd of cattle on the Tohono O’Odham lands west of Baboquivari Peak in Fresnal Canyon. When the O’Odham absconded with a hundred or so head, Charles reported it to the Arizona Republic. He suggested that hanging or shooting them was the answer, but other cattlemen decided on a patrol system. ( 29 August 1896.) He went to visit family in California and then stayed at Yuma for a year and a half where he worked as a guard. Back in the Santa Cruz Valley, he held the Graveyard mine at Helvetia and ranched at Box Canyon. Given that Charles was all over Southern Arizona, he was aware of opportunities for acquiring more ranch properties than he had already.
Charles A Proctor had married Jesus Maria (Jesusita) Salazar in 1888, when she was 15 and he was 31. Jesusita was an adopted daughter of the Jose Salazar family from the Tesota Ranch, her own parents having been reportedly killed by Apaches. Charles and Jesusita had six children: Charles R., George, Henry, Frank, Lucinda and Marybelle. By 1913, apparently there were marital difficulties. For many years Charles had been moving around but most of the time Jesusita was not with him. But then they moved to their house by the Sopori, and Charles began to feud with close neighbor Tomás Elias Jr. over water rights. This would put pressure on any marriage, besides whatever else might have been going on. Jesusita was unhappy, as evidenced by a apparent suicide attempt using laudanum, in which she was hospitalized, a few weeks before Charles died.
An insomniac, Charles apparently often went outside at night and walked around. One night in May, 1913, he did not return to the house. The next morning he was found dead, about 50 feet away from the house, his gun near him but not fired, and blood on his mouth. Perhaps he had died of a heart attack or stroke. Some speculated that he had been poisoned, but this was not proved, since in those days there was no medical examiners’ office. One report said that he had committed suicide, but this was quickly discounted. In the end, the cause of his demise was never proved. Meanwhile, his sons had other ideas about it.
More about the death of Charles A Proctor and subsequent events, next month.
Bradfute, Richard Wells. The Court of Private Land Claims. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1975.
Sheridan, Thomas E. Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941. Tucson, AZ:
The University of Arizona Press, 1986
Brownell, Elizabeth. The Story of El Sópori, typed manuscript, dated April 14, 1973 on the occasion of
a picnic at El Sopori Ranch. Tubac Historical Society.
Redondo, Margaret Proctor, James S Griffith. Valley of iron: One Family’s History of Madera Canyon.
The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 233-274
Proctor, KK. “Proctor Pioneer.” wwwproctorpioneer.com/caphistory/. Accessed 16 May 2021.
Arizona Daily Star, many articles.
The Oasis. Nogales, AZ: December 16, 1911.
by Mary Kasulaitis
The path of ownership, occupation and development of the Sópori Ranch after the 1860s is not easy to follow, because of the long period of wait for the land grant to be adjudicated. In 1881, the Sópori land claim came before the Surveyor General of Arizona, John Wasson. Testimony in this case provides some little information about the comings and goings of persons in the area. Ferdinand Francis, a teamster, said “[Apache incursions] continued up till about 1877, and that during the years of the rebellion, from 1861 to 1865, they practically held possession of the country and drove out all settlers; and from 1865 up to 1872 there was no safety in living upon a ranch anywhere in that vicinity, so that the country round about the Sópori was practically unoccupied during those years.”
Tucson pioneer William S. Oury figures in the history of Sopori because he apparently had some kind of a land claim on the ranch in the 1860s. He was living in Tucson in 1865, however, so he invited the Pennington family* to live on the ranch as “caretakers.” Widower Elias Pennington and his children (8 girls, 4 boys) had arrived in southern Arizona in 1857 after a hazardous journey from Texas through Apache country on their way west to California. They stopped in Sonoita Valley near Fort Buchanan and stayed. For some years, they attempted to do hauling, farm in various likely places and make money from Army contracts for hay etc. One Pennington house, still standing, is near the Mexican border south of Kino Springs and is obviously built to be a fortress. For some time, they survived Apache attacks designed to steal livestock in the American inhabited areas. In late 1859, third child Larcena Pennington (b. 1837) married another intrepid pioneer, John Page. In March of 1860, Larcena and a little girl, Mercedes Quiroz, had just arrived at a pinery in Madera Canyon where John had been working felling trees and hauling them to building sites. (this is the origin of the vigas in the Smets house on the north side of Main Street in Arivaca). The next day the men went to work, leaving Larcena and Mercedes alone. A band of Tonto Apaches attacked the camp and took them prisoner, making the two walk north. Somewhere near Helvetia, when Larcena could go no further, they lanced her 16 times and left her for dead. She survived, however, and due to her injuries was forced to crawl 16 miles back to the pinery, a journey of two weeks in the snow. When she arrived back she was almost unrecognizable, but due to her indomitable spirit was able to heal (over several months) and lead a long life. Mercedes was rescued. Larcena’s husband John, however, was killed by Apaches in February, 1861 while freighting north of Tucson, leaving her pregnant with a daughter, Mary Ann. She went back to living with her father and siblings in various places. Mary Ann was born at the Mowry mine near Patagonia. In 1865, Elias Pennington moved Larcena and the family to the precarious Sopori ranch, conveniently located on the road from Tubac to Arivaca, which was also used as a trail by Apaches. They lived in a rock and adobe building on a outcrop above the creek, reportedly built around 1800 by a member of the Orosco family, a relation of the Juan Elíases. Elias Pennington fixed up a small building to serve as a schoolhouse, with the older girls teaching the younger children. Frequently the women of the family were left alone but well armed. Apaches stole Josephine’s favorite pony, but otherwise they weren’t attacked. Disease, especially malaria, was another threat: Ann Pennington died there in 1867, the first of the family to succumb to life in Southern Arizona. In 1868, two of the brothers, James and Green, were freighting lumber when they were killed by Apaches near Tucson. Then the family moved back to the Sonoita valley where Camp Crittenden had been erected to replace the abandoned Ft. Buchanan. While attempting to farm, Elias Pennington was attacked and killed by Apaches in 1869. He and James were laid to rest in the Sopori cemetery alongside Ann. The family moved to the relative safety of Tucson. In 1870, Larcena married Fisher Scott, had two children, William and Georgia, and died in 1913 at the age of 76.* The small Sopori Cemetery has markers commemorating the various Pennington family members who had died near there.
In the 1870s, with the lessening of the Apache threat, Sopori Ranch moved back into the hands of the Elíases. William Oury testified in the Land Grant case that Juan Elías, Jr. and Jesús María Elías , the sons of Juan Elías , Sr. were living on the ranch in 1881 along with another brother (Tomás), and that they had been there for perhaps 4 or 5 years. Charles Poston testified that he thought “Juan Elías occupied the old houses at Sópori and has part of the arable land in cultivation and owns quite a stock of cattle there.” Elizabeth Brownell’s “Story of El Sópori” says that Juan and another brother, Tomás Elías , sought confirmation of their claims to El Sópori in 1877, under the Desert Land Act. She said, “They claimed to have been engaged in making ‘favorable improvements’ on the land and to have compiled with the requirements of the law in paying 25 cents per acre for the land claim.” But the land claim was not decided until the mid 1890s.
Jesús María (1829-96) and his brother Juan Elías, Jr. (1838-96) were indeed well known in Southern Arizona. They belonged to the very large and many-branched family of Elías (also Elías Gonzalez), which had been in the Santa Cruz Valley since the 18th century. According to historian James Officer, who documented many of the old Hispanic families in this area, they were the sons of Jesúsa Orozco and Juan Bautista Elías, Sr. (1801-66), who was probably the son of one Cornelio Elías, a member of the Presidio garrison at Tucson. There was also the younger son, Tomás, and a number of other siblings. Juan and Jesús María had been living in Tucson, owning property there, and participating in the political life. Juan was on Tucson’s first City Council in 1864 when William S. Oury was Mayor. Later he was a member of the 6th Legislative Assembly of the Territorial Legislature in 1871 and the 7th in 1873. Jesús María was a member of the First Legislative Assembly in 1864, the Fifth in 1868 and the 8th in 1875. Besides the Sopori Ranch, both owned fields in Tucson immediately adjacent to the Convento site and Juan had land at Punta de Agua, south of the mission along the Santa Cruz River.
Pioneer families, no matter their ethnicity, had lost numerous loved ones to the Apaches in the early European settlement years of Arizona. In the late 60s and early 70s, with the return of the military, there was an attempt to sequester Apaches and other tribes on reservations. “The brutal aspects of Apache warfare,” Officer says, was shocking to newly arrived Anglos, but there were some who felt the Indians had been treated badly. Those with personal experience had no sympathy for the attitude of these newcomers, which included a sympathetic U.S. Army officer. In 1871, a group of Pinal Apaches was being allowed to live in Arivaipa Canyon (not on the reservation) and was being fed by the Army. Meanwhile, raiding was still going on in the Santa Cruz Valley. The Elíases had lost at least three members of their family in the 1850s and 60s. They became part of the home front against the Apaches. In 1863 Jesús María led a large force of Mexicans, Papagos, and Anglos into Arivaipa Canyon (nowhere near Arivaca, if you please) where they attacked the Apache camp. In what came to be called the Camp Grant Massacre, the assault killed more than a hundred Apaches, mostly women and children, since the men were gone at the time. President Grant called it murder, but the local jury exonerated the perpetrators in record time. Juan Elías had no problem getting elected to the Territorial Legislature the next year. When Jesús María Elías passed away, he was noted as being “one of the oldest and noted of Arizona frontiersmen, a daring Indian fighter and government scout. He came from a family of famous fighters.”(Nogales Oasis, 1/18/1896)
More about Sopori next month.
*Theirs is a long story: see With their Own Blood, a Saga of Southwestern Pioneers by Virginia Culin Roberts, Ft. Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1992. (Note: don’t confuse Elias Pennington with Juan, Tomas and Jesus Maria Elías, even if they have the same name.)
See also: Hispanic Arizona: 1536-1856, by James Officer, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987; They Lived in Tubac, by Elizabeth Brownell, Los Tucsonenses: the Mexican community in Tucson, 1854-1941 by Thomas E. Sheridan, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1986.
by Mary Kasulaitis
Captain Juan de Anza, and his father before him, ran cattle on the Sópori and although he didn’t live there, he maintained a mayordomo and vaqueros there. Perhaps he was issued a government land grant, which has not remained. When he died in 1788, the ranch purportedly went to his two nieces, Ana and Rosa. Shortly after 1800, they reportedly sold it to Ramona de Vildosola. According to Elizabeth Brownell’s research, Ramona gave it to her cousin Benancio Tato in 1819. In 1810, however, a document certifies ownership of the Sópori ranch by Don Antonio Narbona, Commandante of the Tucson Presidio, because the ranch had been abandoned. Abandonment due to the Apache threat runs throughout the history of the Sópori during the 19th century because it was not close enough to either Tucson or the Tubac presidios for safety. Nevertheless, due to its lush pastures and springs, with mineralized hills nearby, someone was always trying to claim it, sell it, buy it or just squat on it. There are three different land grant periods: Spanish, Mexican and American. For example, the Canoa and Arivaca land grants went through all three, but it isn’t certain there was a Sopori land grant in the Spanish period, at least not one for which valid documentation remained in 1880. After 1821, when Mexico was created, a kind of land rush by wealthy Mexicans took place in Southern Arizona because Apaches had been relatively pacified during the previous two decades.
One of those was the Elias family: it has figured prominently in the history of Sópori. An extensive and political family, its members have spread all over Sonora and Arizona. Several held officer positions in the presidios. Lt. Simon Elías Gonzalez had became commandant of the Tubac company in 1807 and held that position for a brief period. Tubac Commander Ignacio Elias Gonzalez surveyed the Canoa grant in 1821 by for his inlaws the Ortiz brothers and the Sonoita grant for Leon Herreras. Just when the Elias’ first became associated with the Sopori ranch is in question; family members claim they had some possession as early as 1816 or 1820, despite the fact that others had made their own claims. The family claims that a house of stone was built there in 1801 by one Orozco, who was possibly from Juan Elias’ mother’s family. area. Members of the Elias family went on to live at or near the Sopori in later years and some filed on a grant in the Nogales area.
After 1833, the Apache threat increased once again as the Mexican government could not continue to feed and supply them near the Tucson presidio as it had been doing. In 1843, Apaches raided a sizeable Mexican establishment of mining and ranching at El Sópori. Who these Mexicans were is not recorded.
The Mexican war and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase in 1854 brought entrepreneurial Americans into the act. Mining was the attraction. Col. James W. Douglass, William Rhodes and C.C. Dodson settled on the Sópori and started working the Sopori silver mine in 1855. Rhodes (or Rood) figures in a remarkable story in which he was wounded and then trapped by Apaches in a thicket of trees somewhere north of the Sópori on the Santa Cruz River. As they tried to reach him, he picked them off one by one with shots from his revolver. After six shots were fired, the Apaches rushed him, thinking he was out of bullets, but he had coolly reloaded after each shot, and brought down a few more. Admiring his courage, they shouted for him to come out and join them. “Oh you devils, you! I know what you’ll do with me if you get me!” he called back. After this he heard them shout: “Sópori! Sópori! And they galloped away. He gave them a few minutes and then came out of hiding and proceeded on to the Reventon, another ranch in the vicinity. Raphael Pumpelly, who recounts this story firsthand, goes on to describe what happened to Richmond Jones, superintendent of the ranch and mining company. The Apaches had kept on to the Sópori and found him unprotected. He died, pierced by lances and a pitchfork. They had then driven off the horses and cattle on the ranch. Col. Douglass had stocked the ranch with cattle from California. J. Ross Browne described it: “ at the time Col. James W. Douglass lived here the Sopori was one of the most flourishing ranches in the country. He had herds of fat cattle ranging over the pastures; fields of grain and vegetables in the rich bottom lands… and domestic animals and fowls of various kinds.” (Douglass passed away in 1859.)
Others had also settled in the mid 1850s on the Sópori. They include Frederick Ronstadt, who had acquired some papers to the Sópori in 1854. His claim included the spring and bottomlands. Charles Poston, who was part owner of the Arivaca Land Grant, claimed to have received these papers from Ronstadt in 1858. This leads up to a discussion of a complicated series of dealings by Lt. Sylvester Mowry to obtain the Sópori from whoever claimed to own it. A claim to the Sópori had been made at …some point by the family of Joaquin Astiazarán, a prominent wealthy Sonoran. Reportedly, he had made an 1838 petition to pre-empt the ranch. However, since the documents included in his claim for the El Sópori land grant were subsequently found to be forgeries, one cannot assume that there ever really was an 1838 document. In the mid-1850s, Sylvester Mowry was negotiating with the Astiazarán heirs on behalf of the Sópori Land and Mining Company, a Rhode Island Company which he had developed with the sponsorship of some Eastern investors. They had also established the Arizona Land and Mining Company. In the dealings, Mowry kept some of the land for himself. In 1858, he purchased part of the Mexican claims in the name of the company. The company also bought out Douglass and the other American “owners.” The mining company took control of the ranch, but as we have seen, fell victim to Apache depredations and after the raid that took Richmond Jones’ life, sold out to the Arizona Company. A few years later, in 1866, the Sópori Land and Mining Company, probably under new ownership, repurchased the interests and began to try to gain the title as part of the Mexican land grant settlements that were being investigated by the U.S. government.
The Sópori Land Grant as claimed by Joaquin Astiazarán’s heirs asserted ownership of land all the way from San Xavier to the Tumacacoris and from the Santa Ritas to the Sierritas, an area of 140,000 acres or 32 leagues. Valid land grants such as La Canoa were included within its boundaries, complicating the proceedings being heard by Arizona Surveyor General John Wasson in 1880-81 when he was attempting to validate all the Mexican land grant claims in Arizona. Certain criteria such as accurate boundaries and original documentation had to be provided by the claimants to be able to reclaim their grants under U.S. law. Wasson found that it was not a valid land grant. The next step was the Court of Private Land Claims where it was rejected in 1895 on the grounds that the documents were forged or antedated. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. Thus from the mid-1850s to 1895, some forty years, no one was really able to validly own the land. That does not mean no one was living there but Sópori in the 1860s remained a difficult place to live because of the Apaches.
More about Sópori next time.
References: unpublished history of El Sópori by Elizabeth Brownell; Pumpelly’s Arizona by Raphael Pumpelly; Samuel Peter Heintzelman and the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company by Diane M.T. North; Early Arizona by Jay J. Wagoner; A Tour through Arizona in 1864 by J. Ross Browne; “Tubac through four centuries,” by Henry F. Dobyns, online exhibit at the University of Arizona Library website. “The case of Sylvester Mowry: the Mowry mine,” by Constance Wynn Altschuler, Arizona and the West, Summer, 1973. Senate documents pertaining to the Sópori land grant: Senate Ex. Doc, No 93. 48th Congress, 1st Session.
by Mary Kasulaitis
Story continued from last month’s Connection:
When the Jesuits established themselves at Guevavi Mission in the 1730s they went forth to the rancherias where native people were living. Preaching and teaching, they baptized and married the local folk and tried to get them to move closer to the mission headquarters or cabecera. At Sópori in 1743, Father Torres Perea found that several had died and were buried without confession or Church services because they didn’t tell him until it was too late, and “finding out for myself hit or miss requires real effort.” He noted the diseases of which they had died, such as “yellow vomit.” As far as I can tell, there was only a village, no actual visita or mission station at Sópori, since it never seems to have a saint name associated with it. It is just referred to as Sópori or Sóporic. Harry Winter, an expert in the O’Odham language, translated Sópori as more like Shopolik or shopol, which can mean short hill or short ridge. This was corroborated by Ellie Kurtz who consulted O’Odham speakers at the San Xavier Mission.
The commonly-traveled route to Arivaca from the missions in the Santa Cruz valley went up the Sópori Creek, possibly to Papalote Wash and then across to Arivaca. After 1736, miners and settlers began moving north. A Spanish ranch was established at Arivaca, where Antonio de Rivera and the Guevavi mission ranches ran cattle and had a number of vaqueros.
Sópori and Arivaca are mentioned again in Pima Rebellion documents. In 1751, the Pimas* rebelled against the Spanish and their heavy handed controlling ways in a coordinated effort that extended from the San Xavier Mission south to the Altar Valley in Sonora. On November 20, 1751, all the communities were attacked and many of the Spanish or their workers were killed or wounded. Right after the massacre, Antonio de Rivera and some others had headed out from Tubac to see what had happened at his Arivaca ranch, using the route through Sópori, near which they encountered Pimas, had a small skirmish, and after which they retreated to Tubac. Alferez Joseph Fontes and Antonio Olguin and their troop of men were sent from San Ignacio by Governor Ortiz Parilla to reconnoiter the situation in Arivaca. They went through Sópori, which they found destroyed, the people gone and the livestock dead. When the soldiers under Fontes arrived at Arivaca on December 28, 1751, they found the bodies of nine dead. The buildings had been destroyed by fire and the village of about 15 people had been massacred. They troops decided to set up headquarters here and await orders from the Governor. He responded by sending twenty-five men, under the command of Bernardo de Urrea (founder of Altar, Sonora and justicia mayor of the Pimeria Alta, who was then living at Opodepe) and Lt. Salazar. Native ambassadors went along in a attempt to settle things peacefully. Travelling up the (Sonoran) Altar Valley via Sáric and Tres Bellotas , the troops arrived in Arivaca on January 2, 1752. They met with Fontes’ troops and made an encampment, probably a few miles west of Arivaca. After an unsuccessful meeting with the native ambassadors, the rebellious Pimas under the leadership of Luis Oacpicagigua came down from the Baboquivaris and attacked the Spanish on the morning of the 5th. Two Spanish soldiers were injured but apparently 43 of the natives were killed after which the Pimas retreated, eventually to the Catalina Mountains. The ranch at Arivaca was reportedly abandoned for several decades after this, by Spanish, if not by natives, however, in mid 1754 there were some 27 families of O’Odham living there. This may have been because they tended to move around seasonally, but there may have been no permanent population, or at least no one there regularly when Spanish soldiers went through.
In 1752 a presidio was established at Tubac, in response to the Pima rebellion. Governor Arce y Arroyo and Father Visitor Roxas toured the Pimeria Alta in mid 1754, a year after the uprising had been put down, and noted that the people of Sopori had gone to lived at Guevavi. In other records of that same year, Father Pauer noted that six children from Sópori had been baptized, but perhaps their families were the ones who went to Guevavi. By this time, Lt. Bernardo de Urrea (1710-77), apparently had the cattle ranch at Sópori. He may have acquired it from Doña Maria de Anza after her husband, Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza the elder, was killed in 1740. Perhaps Urrea ran cattle on her property. Ownership of the property is not mentioned by the priests. No one leaves a fertile valley with natural water for very long, nor any country with minerals to be found. Chances are, mission and presidio cattle ranged through the valley. South of the Sópori valley are hills in which the Spanish had already begun to mine silver. Originally the whole range was called the Atascosas, after the Spanish word for barrier, “atasco.” The northern part of the range is now referred to as the Tumacacoris, after the mission. In the northernmost foothills of the Tumacacoris there were mines that carried the name of Sópori, to which in later years was added the word “Lost.” More later about the mines, lost or not.
In 1762, Fr Juan Nentvig, the author of Rudo Ensayo, a description of Sonora and Arizona in 1764, mentioned that the Sopori ranch was depopulated. It was close to Tubac but not close enough for safety. Apaches were a problem from this time on, so it is understandable if occupation of the area was sporadic, depending on the kind of protection available.
Captain Juan de Anza the younger was the next European to ranch in the Sópori valley during the time he was commandant of the Tubac Presidio (1760-75). Brian Kroll wrote that the Spanish crown granted a title of land to him in 1751, called the Ojo del Agua de Sopori (spring). There were 80 families living there in 1771. It was through Sópori and Arivaca that Anza’s first expedition traveled on the way to settle northern California in 1774, along what he called the highway to the Pimas of the West, but what later was called the Camino del Diablo. The next year he took a group of settlers from Tubac and the Santa Cruz Valley north through Tucson and then Yuma to settle San Francisco. Anza went on to become even more famous as the Governor of New Mexico in 1777. He returned to Sonora early in 1788 to be commandante de armas for Sonora and captain of the Tucson presidio, but he died suddenly on December 19, 1788 in Arizpe.
In 1780, on May 12, Geronimo de la Rocha mentioned “Zopori” as he spelled it, in his diary of the expedition he and Brigadier Jacobo Ugarte undertook to search for possible presidio sites. He said, “the spring of Zopori has a very large pool, however, it seems to lack any sign of having a current.” This was the year in which no water at all was found at Arivaca. Rocha does not mention any occupants in the Sopori valley at that time. At that time the Presidio was in Tucson, not Tubac, so it was probably not safe to live there any more, although a few settlers still lived in Tubac. Any cattle they may have had were constantly at risk from Apaches. This situation remained for quite some time and depended, for the most part, on what was happening at Tubac.
More about Sopori next month.
Reference: Garate, Donald T. Juan Bautista de Anza: Basque Explorer in the New World, 1693-1740, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2–3.
Kessell, John L. Friars, soldiers and reformers: Hispanic Arizona and the Sonora Mission Frontier, 1767-1856. Tucson, Az: The University of Arizona Press, 1976.
Kroll, Brian. Unpublished manuscript entitled “A history of Rancho El Sopori, November 2003.”
Winters, Harry J. O’odham Place Names: Meanings, Origins and Histories, Arizona and Sonora, Second Edition, 2020.
*Prior to the time that the O’Odham publicly reclaimed their own name, they were known as Pimas by the Spanish but it was not by their choice.