People from diverse cultures have inhabited the Santa Cruz Valley from the end of the last ice age. Native American cultures of the Pima, Apache, Yaqui and Tohono O’odham, the Colonial Spanish, Europeans (including the French, German, Irish and Basque), Middle Eastern, Chinese and migrant Americans, have from antiquity, contributed to the colorful and violent history surrounding the Canoa Ranch. When Arizona was colonized by Spain, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza’s troops camped on the San Ignacio de la Canoa Land Grant during his historic 1775 expedition that led to the colonization of Spanish Alta California.
According to exquisitely precise Spanish records, the father of Tomas and Ignacio Ortiz of Tubac settled on this area in 1812 and made claim for the tract of land. In September 1820, a year before Mexico became independent from Spain, Tomas and Ignacio petitioned the Spanish Provincial Governor of Sonora for four “sitios” for the purpose of raising cattle and horses. (A “sitio de ganado mayor” is a square league measuring 4,388.9 acres defined as a land grant specifically for grazing cattle and horses). Four sitios equals more than 27 square miles along the Santa Cruz River. In 1821 the 17,000-acre land was granted to the Ortiz brothers.
The Santa Cruz Valley was a dangerous place to live all the way up through the 19th century because it was where many cultures converged and was one of the primary Apache “plunder trails,” coming down from the mountains killing and marauding all the way to Chihuahua. During the 1830s and 40’s these raids, which drove off livestock as well as people, caused most of the large land grant ranches in Arizona to be abandoned. According to the 1848 census report at the end of the Mexican War, survivors only lived in two places: Tucson (pop.760 residents) and Tubac (pop. 249). While Spain honored a 1786 a treaty with the Apache, appeasing them with food, alcohol, and cheap guns, the new Mexican Republic did not try to mollify them. The Ortiz brothers still owned the Canoa Ranch during the 1850s when American settlers were arriving on portions of the huge land grant. The Ortiz ranch then became part of the US Arizona Territory with the Gadsden Purchase of 1854. Unfortunately, Ignacio was killed in 1857 by the Tohono O’odham.
Ironclad Pete Kitchen settled on the huge Canoa Ranch in 1857, obstinately refusing to be driven out by raiders and banditos. Kitchen was one of the sturdy few who held firm against the marauders at the eruption of the Civil War. In 1861, the US Army was moved out of Arizona to fight in the in the East. Kitchen fortified his house into a fortress with adobe walls and fought off the attacks of the lawless opportunists who ravaged all southern Arizona settlers. The ancient road that passed by Pete’s ranch (the only safe place between Tucson and Magdalena) was baptized in blood called “Tucson, Tubac, Tumacacori, To Hell.”
After the Civil War, the Apache were moved to reservations and the Canoa Ranch changed hands several times. The Ortiz family sold the 17,000-acre ranch in 1876 to Frederick Marsh and Thomas Driscoll, cattle ranchers. By 1910 the ranch had been linked to Tucson by railroad and it was purchased by Levi Manning, mayor of Tucson 2 years later developing it into one of the best cattle ranches in the southwest growing it to 355,000 acres.
Hacienda de la Canoa is the name given in the 1920s by Levi Manning to the 30-acre ranch headquarters. His son Howell took over operations in 1922 until his death in 1966. The ranch was used as the set for the 1955 production of “Oklahoma.” The corn field seen in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s opening number, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” was planted by the Mannings to be “as high as an elephant’s eye’ especially for the filming and the Green Valley vistas of Santa Rita Mountains can be seen in the scene “Surrey With the Fringe On Top.”
Today, Green Valley and surrounding communities lay within those ancient boundaries of the San Ignacio de la Canoa Ranch which first put the “green” in Green Valley. The Raúl M. Grijalva Canoa Ranch Conservation Park encompasses 4,800 acres of the original San Ignacio de la Canoa Grant and is open to the public. The Canoa Ranch offers tours and environmental education programs such as bird walks and stargazing. The Historic Hacienda de la Canoa Ranch is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.