On a Saturday in mid-November 2022, Ms. Karen and I ventured to Tubac Presidio for a Cast of Characters Tour. This tour runs Saturdays until the end of the year but sign up early. Billed as a docent-led tour of the historical characters from Tubac’s storied past, it was led by Connie who had been here for 20 years. We paid our $10 fees and Connie led us outside of the main building to take a walkabout the ruins and archaeological museums on the Presidio grounds. On the way, we passed numerous metal sculptures and works of art, a couple of which I suggested to Ms. Karen that she should acquire for our yard. But she chose not to. Too expensive, she said. The least expensive I saw was $400. And the most expensive was $1400. They were magnificent pieces. As far as I know, they are still available for you, however.
Connie first took us to the underground area that is the excavated ruins of the old Presidio, excavated years ago by the U of A. Then we went to the museum building that houses artifacts going back 2,000 years of history, starting with Native American items and continuing on into the Spanish era, and then the Territorial Period. Fascinating!.
Included in the exhibits was one about the Baca Float of which we were unaware. I know, right?
This is the story of early Santa Cruz Valley settlers who were evicted from their homes after a decades-long real estate and legal battle.
But you’ll need to see it soon. The exhibit, dubbed “Tubac’s Pioneer Families and the CATASTROPHE of Baca Float No. 3,” ends June 15, 2023.
The display includes vintage maps and documents related to the episode. There are also photographs and household items – including a cream separating machine for storing milk, a massive scythe, and turquoise jewelry – that belonged to the evicted families.
Baca Float No. 3 is located in present-day Tubac, Tumacacori, and the Calabasas areas, and was named after Luis María Cabeza de Baca, a wealthy sheep owner in New Mexico who bought a land grant from the Mexican government in 1821. Because of terms in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Cabeza de Baca had to move, or “float,” his land to five different areas. One of those areas, established in 1863, was Float No. 3.
Legal battles over Baca Float No. 3 went on for years until 1914 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the land belonged to a group of men from the East Coast that had purchased the rights of the Baca heirs.
The decision required that all settlers, including some who had lived on the land for more than 50 years, be evacuated. Some moved nearby but others moved to other areas in Arizona and the United States. You can find a book on the Baca Float at the Tubac Presidio Store. It’s called “Landscapes of Fraud.” You can also purchase it on Amazon if you are so inclined. Landscapes of Fraud by Thomas Sheridan.
Also among the exhibits is an early printing press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in the 1850s.
Next, we walked over to Otero Hall. The Otero Family, who received the first Spanish land grant in present-day Arizona in 1797, built this building as a community center in 1914. They used the foundation from a previous building that the Spanish built in the late 1700s.
Otero Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. Within the building is a restored 1850s vehicle they called an “ambulance.” It was used for travel. Suspension allows for a more comfortable ride. This is probably the origin of the modern use of the word “ambulance.”
Otero Hall also features an art exhibition in the Shaw D. Kinsley Gallery. The current exhibition is titled “The Cavalcade of History” and is a collection of sixteen paintings by one artist, William Ahrendt. The Cavalcade of History was featured as a special 16-part series in the Arizona Highways magazine. I thought most of the paintings depicted violent episodes in Arizona history, including one particularly bloody stagecoach robbery near Benson in the 1880s.
After Otero Hall, we walked over to the Rojas House, built in the 1880s. It is a classic Sonoran “row house,” a one-story home built close to the road but moving the entrance to the back to allow more privacy.
The house sits on the early Tubac to Tumacácori road which is the road Juan Bautista de Anza, and his expedition, used when leaving Tubac to find modern-day San Francisco, California.
The Rojas house is on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes many of the furniture of Luisa Rojas, a lifelong resident of Tubac. She was born in this home or a structure nearby in 1893. Her family occupied the home for over 100 years. The original adobe structure, is now covered in stucco, and was lived in by Luisa until the early 1980s and retains many of her belongings. This is definitely a step back in time.
When we exited the Rojas House, we walked outside a gate to the adjacent road to view several other historic structures, including the house where Larcena Pennington and her family once lived. We have the story of the Penningtons on our Southern Arizona Guide. Click HERE to read about it. It’s called “A Fate Worse Than Death”.
Also, we saw an old Catholic church build after a flooded Santa Cruz River destroyed the original one.
Connie told us that folks say the Santa Cruz River during the flood was a mile wide at Tubac. Hard to imagine that little stream anywhere near that wide, but nature does what it wants.
After thanking Connie for a wonderful tour, we headed north to Tubac Golf Resort to have lunch at the Stables Restaurant. We sat on the patio in the comfortably warm sunshine overlooking the golf course. Ms. Karen’s favorite way to relax.
Ms. Karen had a cobb salad and I had a cheeseburger. Both were enjoyed, although Ms. Karen noted that the extra charge for “Protein” was odd for a Cobb Salad. Then it was time to head home to see our three-legged dog, Dozer. He had missed us. Or at least, he missed his afternoon dinner.
Visit the Tubac Presidio. Take their Characters of Tubac tour. There have been some great changes there.
1 Burrell St., Tubac
Open Wednesdays – Sundays 9 am – 5pm including Thanksgiving.