Thursday, January 12, 2023

A Bit of History: Cattle Ranching in the Greater Oro Valley Area

Cattle were brought to North America
Cattle ranching is so predominant in the United States that it is easy to forget that cattle were not native to North America. 

Gregorio de Villalobos first brought cattle to Mexico in 1521. In 1540 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado while passing through the San Pedro Valley in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, brought cattle, sheep and horses. Missionaries as well as the Spanish policies of appeasement supplied the Native Indians with livestock and so, ranching grew.

Ranching began in 1854
After the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, Anglo-American immigrants arrived and established ranches in southern Arizona. Shortly thereafter, the railroad lines connected the west to eastern markets and allowed cattle to be easily shipped further increasing ranching interests. 

Water a challenge
Early ranches in our local area were technically established on public land. Most cattle were managed on open range ranches that were located along streams and washes that could provide water.  

Unfortunately, ranchers found it difficult to have profitable operations due to the lack of grazing area and the unpredictability of the water supply. 

Ranching at Steam Pump Ranch
The first non-native rancher in the area was Francisco Romero, who established his homestead in about 1869 in what is now Catalina State Park. His son, Fabian, continued to ranch in the area and made land claims when they became available. The Romeros were followed by George Pusch, John Zellweger, William Sutherland, Francisco Marin, Teodoro Marin, Jesus Elias, and Ramon Gallega.

Ranching had its ups and downs
Much like the general U.S. economy, ranching was impacted  World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.  After WWII, renewed interest in local ranching took hold when Easterners with a love of the Western lifestyle amassed land from federal grants as well as ranch sales by destitute owners. Some of this new wave of ranch ownership, did not personally ranch the land, but hired foreman to oversee the operation. 

Prominent Oro Valley Ranchers located along Oracle Road gave way to development
Some of the prominent Oro Valley ranchers were Walter McDonald, Joseph McAdams, Jack Procter, Lloyd Golder Jr., and Laurence Rooney. Many of these ranch properties were located along the Oracle Road corridor. As suburbia took hold in the late 1950s, the value of the land for development outweighed the value of ranch productivity. Little by little the land was sold for commercial and residential expansion and today we have the Town of Oro Valley.
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Reference material: Claiming the Desert – Settlers, Homesteaders and Ranchers in Oro Valley, Arizona 1865-1965 by James A. Williams. This book can be purchased on Amazon or at the Oro Valley Historical Society booth at the Farmer’s Market, Saturdays from 9 to Noon. 
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If you want to know more about “Cattlemen, Cowboys, and Ranching” visit the Oro Valley Historical Society exhibit at the Pusch House Museum at Steam Pump Ranch 10901 N. Oracle Road on January, 7, 14, and 28 from 9 to Noon.
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We hope you will support the Oro Valley Historical Society and attend a fundraising event on Sunday, February 19 at the Oro Valley Country Club. Author Wynne Brown will discuss her book “The Forgotten Botanist – Sara Plummer Lemmon’s Life of Science and Art.” Tickets can be purchased on our website