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La Canoa ranch has long history in the Tucson area

Different angle view of the land from the mound
Different angle view of the land from the mound
Kim Kloes

Within approximately 30 minutes of Tucson in Green Valley, La Canoa Ranch is a landmark spot to visit. It is of interest to locals and to tourists. There are many ranches that were of importance to the development of the culture of this area...the culture of the cowboy and the rugged, self-sufficient west.

Looking over the mid Santa Cruz River Valley
Looking over the mid Santa Cruz River Valley
Kim Kloes

This amazingly beautiful area is located geographically along the middle of the Santa Cruz Valley. It has been inhabited, beginning with the Native populations, from about 10,000 B.C. to the present.

Starting with the Paleoamericans, small, highly dispersed, family groups hunted the big game --- at that time bison and mammoth. Around 8,000 B.C., the big game disappeared and the population shifted to a farming culture. During what is known as the Archaic Period, the people were considered hunter-gatherers and early farmers. They lived in pit houses, remains of which can be seen today in various areas around Tucson, and once their food ran out, they moved their families where they could find more substantial means of surviving.

From about 6500 B.C. to 3500 B.C., the area was sparsely populated due to changing environmental conditions. There is another big gap in our history, and then the Hohokam are farming and settling in the area in the period from about 250 A.D. to 1150 A.D. They were planting fields and even building huge irrigation canals. As time passed, they developed more substantial houses and eventually moved to building with adobe.

For an unknown reason, around 1450 A.D., the Hohokam disappeared. Some scientists believe that they adapted to the climatic changes and became the people known as ‘River People’ - Sobaipuri and the ‘Desert People’ - Tohono O’odham. These are the people who would have first greeted the Spaniards that arrived in our area. Also, around the 15th or 16th century is when the Apaches make their way into this part of the country.

The arrival of the Spaniards Marcos de Niza in 1539 and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540 hearlds the dawn of the historic period. We also hear of Father Eusebio Kino in about 1691 who is busy establishing villages along the Santa Cruz River and converting the native people to Christianity.

The first historic mention of the area that would become the ranch was in 1775 when Captain Juan Bautista de Anza from Tubac camped at the rancheria. It lay between New Spain and Tucson. De Anza and his group were on their way to found what was to become San Francisco. It was Friar Francisco Garces who named the land La Canoa because the Pimas would hollow out large logs into troughs and water would seep up into them.

In 1820, Tomas and Ignacio Ortiz paid $250 for a 17,000 acre Spanish land grant which was to become the ranch. Rancher Thomas Driscoll and cattleman Frederick Maish bought the ranch from Ortiz in 1876. The year Arizona became a state, 1912, the ranch changed hands again.

Levi Manning, big in personality, former mayor of Tucson and surveyor general, purchased the ranch. With his son, Howell, the Mannings expanded the area until they had a 500,000 acre spread.

The Mannings made the ranch the cultural center of the Santa Cruz. Irving Berlin visited the family as their honored guest. The complex also included homes for 40 plus cowboys and their families, workshops, stables and even a school.

Howell Manning, Jr. joined his father running the ranch. His wife, Deezy, was the socialite of the time. But tragedy struck the family on December 22, 1951. Howell Jr. and two ranch employees were instantly killed in a drunk driving accident on Old Nogales Highway. Howell Sr. was devastated and no longer cared about much of anything. By 1953, he was selling off parcels of the land. The glory days of La Canoa were over.

In 2001, the Arizona Open Land trust, in conjunction with Pima County, conserved about 4,800 acres of land as permanent open space.

The master plan now in effect is to preserve and protect the area, while encouraging tourists to visit the site to learn more about life in this area and most particularly, about how ranching is part of culture of the area.

Check the web site for directions and hours. Visitation is limited currently and the place is staffed with volunteers.