Thursday, September 22, 2022

Oro Valley Historical Society: Oral History Series (Part 1)

Oro Valley Historical Society: Oral History Series
Before written language, information and stories were passed generationally via word of mouth. Oral histories are sometimes used to complement artifacts and archeological research. Oral history often gives human details to otherwise lifeless data. Oral interviews can provide narratives, social meaning and context to collected records. It is important to keep in mind that oral histories are in most cases not considered factual historical records. They can often be exaggerated, dates might be inaccurate and they might also have the storytellers biases and personal perspectives. That being said, they are invaluable resources that give meaning and experiential reference to history.

The Oro Valley Historical Society was fortunate to obtain an oral history from Henry (Hank) G. Zipf, grandson of George Pusch. This will be a four part series of Henry’s oral history of the Pusch family and the Oro Valley area.

Steam Pump Ranch (as told by Henry G. Zipf)

My Grandfather, George Pusch, arrived in New York from Germany in 1865. He was eighteen years old. He was accompanied by a friend, John Zellweger, a Swiss boy 15 years old. They were meat cutters by trade and soon found employment in the city.

They were young and eager and soon they traveled across the country to San Francisco. There Pusch, having saved his money, bought a wagon and 14 mule team and headed for Arizona. He spend some time in Prescott, which was the largest town in the territory, and headed for Phoenix. Finally, about 1874, he arrived in Tucson, a town of 3000 inhabitants.

He prevailed upon Zellweger to join him. Zellweger took a three day trip by boat from San Francisco to San Diego and then a five day trip by stage to Tucson.

There they pooled their resources and bought a portion of the CaƱada del Oro Ranch – named it the Steam Pump Ranch. Water was plentiful and close to the surface. So, they rigged up a steam pump to bring the water to the surface.

Ranchers from all over Pinal County would bring their cattle herds to Tucson or Red Rock for shipment to market and would water their cattle the night before loading at Steam Pump Ranch. Pusch got 15 cents a head for each cow that was watered.

He also ran cattle on the ranch---his pasture included a forest permit in that part of the Catalinas we now call Pusch Ridge and Pusch Peak.

Mathilda Feldman, a 20 year old girl from Drockenburg, Germany journeyed to Tucson in 1879 by train to visit her friend, Sophia Spieling, who married John Zellweger in 1883. Mathilda and George Pusch were married in 1880, one year after her arrival in Tucson. Mathilda and George had nine children…two (twins) died soon after birth. My mother, Gertrude, was the eldest of those who survived and she lived all her life in Tucson until her death in 1974.

About this time (1880) Pusch bought the PZ or Feldman Ranch. Its headquarters were located between Mammoth and Winkelman, not far from the confluence of the Aravaipa Creek and San Pedro River. The Feldman Ranch grew…at one time it stretched from the San Pedro River to Oracle Junction. Pusch ran as many as 15,000 range cattle on the ranches. The headquarters included a store, post-office, school, church, blacksmith shop, and a number of ranch houses.

Pusch used the Steam Pump Ranch as an overnight stop for the trip to the Feldman Ranch…55 miles from Tucson. He would travel in the wagon across the Antelope Plains, and on may occasions mounted Apache would circle the wagon to greet my grandfather. He never carried a gun, but instead would give the Indians sugar, flour and other provisions.

Often times the children would accompany him on the trip to Feldman…two of the youngest had long blond hair. The Apaches took delight in running their fingers through the girls’ hair. Apache hunting parties camped in the foothills above the Steam Pump Ranch near where the Garrett Plant is located….and would beat on the kitchen door to demand food from the cook. My grandmother would quickly direct the cook not to argue with the visitors.

Note: The Garrett Plant referred to was near 1st and Oracle…Rooney Ranch area.

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If you are interested in Oro Valley history, stop by the Pusch House Museum at Steam Pump Ranch (10901 N. Oracle, Oro Valley), the property noted in Henry’s oral history. The Oro Valley Historical Society (OVHS) provides exhibits and tours of the property. Visit our website for information and hours: or our Facebook page. OVHS is a 501c3 volunteer organization. Want to volunteer? Message OVHS via our website “Contact” or “Message” on Facebook. Want to donate? Visit our website and click the “Donate” button. Thank you for helping “Keep Oro Valley History Alive!”