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Area Guide

The History of Tubac Village

The true meaning behind the name “Tubac” depends on who you ask.  Many translations have been used over the years including “where the water comes out” and “grey adobe house.”  The Pima Indians were the first inhabitants of the region and provide us with the phonetic origin of the name.  In their language “tu” means “black” and “ba’a” means “pool of water.” 

The Oteros – the First Family of Tubac Presidio

After the Pima Indian revolt of 1751, the Spanish began to establish presidios (garrisoned forts) to protect their missions, people and assets in what was then known as the Pimeria Alta. Tomas Beldarrain was the first commandante of the Tubac presidio and he was succeeded by Juan Bautista de Anza, who is famous for leading a group of colonists across the Arizona deserts that eventually founded San Francisco.  Then in 1787 the King of Spain granted a site for a house and four farming lots on the presidio to Don Toribio de Otero.  To protect the presidio and show his appreciation Otero planted fruit trees, provided soldiers with supplies and arms, and took care of their horses.  This 500-acre land grant formed the core of what later became the largest cattle empire in Arizona.  Today it is the home of Tubac Golf Resort & Spa.

The Gadsden Purchase & the American Civil War

The Gadsden Purchase brought this part of Arizona into the United States.  Purchased in a treaty signed by President Franklin Pierce on June 24, 1853, the region bought from Mexico included present-day Southern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico.  In 1861 the American Civil War brought Tubac briefly under control of the Confederacy, but the absence of troops from either side to defend the presidio brought on a fierce wave of Indian attacks.  By this time Toribio Otero’s 19-year-old grandson, Sabino, had become head of the family.  Fearing for their safety, in 1863 Sabino took his family across the border to Buzani, where they learned to raise cattle.

The Cattle King of Arizona

Upon returning to Arizona in 1870, Sabino Otero built up his herds and supplied various other presidios that were established to fight Geronimo and the Apaches.  As the years passed and the railroads provided access to larger and more lucrative markets, ranching became incredibly profitable.  Through his partnerships and connections Sabino earned the esteemed title “Cattle King of Arizona” on both sides of the border.  He was instrumental in founding St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson and when he died in 1914, Sabino owned seven ranches and his cattle were said to “graze on a thousand hills.”

Teofilo Otero

Sabino’s younger brother, Teofilo, inherited this vast estate, but a series of droughts and increased competition made the cattle business less appealing.  Eventually Teofilo sold off all the ranches except the old family land grant in Tubac, then traveled frequently to Europe and enjoyed the good life.  He was known to have thrown parties that went on for a week at a time, and had a penchant for beautiful women and fine cars, especially the 12-cylinder Lincoln Zephyrs.  Despite his youthful indulgences, Teofilo was also good to the village where he grew up, having deeded a parcel of land for a new schoolhouse that still stands near the old presidio.

Tubac Golf Resort & Spa

The ranch changed hands several times after Teofilo’s death in 1941.  Among its owners were Joanna Shankle Davis, an early aviator who flew in the famed Women’s Air Derby of 1929, and colorful local banker and real estate baron Wirt Bowman.  Then in 1959 a group of businessmen headed by the late, great Bing Crosby (who was an avid golfer) acquired the Otero Ranch and began the operation which today is Tubac Golf Resort & Spa.  They painstakingly preserved the historic integrity of the original presidio, and today the presence of generations of Oteros can still be felt throughout the property.