Sheep at Calabazas

If you haven’t heard the name Calabazas you are about to learn a little history of the state of Arizona and the sheep industry. Calabazas was also known as San Cayetano de Calabazas.  It is only a ruin today sitting on the banks of the Santa Cruz River, in a suburb of Nogales, Arizona.  The information about this site comes from a little eight-page pamphlet picked up at the Tumacacori Mission Site. Other  information comes from Arizona and the Grand Canyon State, a two- volume book covering each of the 15 counties within the state and many notable Arizonans and their biographies.

The first record of Calabazas came from a record of a baptism that occurred there on April 20, 1756. Other sources list the baptism date as June 2nd. The same year is given so the exact date is not that important since this is not about that baptism. Calabazas means gourds or squash a species that grew wild in the area. Calabazas and another obscure place, Guevavi, were visitas of Tumacacori meaning they would be visited by a priest but the priest was not stationed at either place. Calabazas wasn’t located on a permanent spring or source of water but located above the Santa Cruz River. Just like today the river was considered to be an intermittent stream.  

In 1844 Calabazas, Guevavi and Tumacacori were owned by Manuel Gándara who paid $500 for it and for more than 50,000 acres. In Arizona and the Grand Canyon State, it states that “Soon cattle stood shoulder-deep in grass on the river bottoms once more, and thousands of sheep grazed the hillsides.”  In 1853 Gándara leased the land to Payeken, Hundhausen and Company, a corporation mostly owned by Germans. They raised large numbers of sheep and goats on the property. The number of sheep and goats is unknown.

The story unfolds more. Calabazas was a mission ranch and had cattle, sheep, horses, a few goats and burros according to the park service’s little pamphlet. A drawing in the pamphlet shows cattle being herded one direction with sheep being herded the opposite direction It goes on that cowboys lived here with their families and “rode herd on mission livestock.” The Apaches caused the visita trouble with their raids. But the story that was the most interesting about the place comes from Arizona and the Grand Canyon State. Quoting from the book, “A member of an 1854 survey party, after a cold snowy night encampment along Sonoita Creek, witnessed a noon-time raid on the Calabazaz. The Commandante of the presidio at Tucson, having  been tipped off to the impending Apache attack, had concentrated 60 Mexican cavalrymen and 40 ‘tame’ Indians at the ranch. When the alarm sounded, women and children ran screaming toward the buildings and herders frantically tried to crowd 6,000 sheep into the corrals.”

We thus learned a little about the sheep industry that occurred in Southern Arizona. We know that at one time there were 6,000 sheep in the area of Calabazas. From Arizona and the Grand Canyon State we learn that by a tour taken between 1885-1886 by Lieutenant John Bigelow of the 10th U.S. Cavalry, i.e., the Buffalo Soldiers, Calabazas was nothing but a ruin. Most settlers had left when the soldiers were withdrawn from the area to fight the War Between the States which allowed the Apaches to attack the settlers, killing them and their livestock or rustling their cattle and sheep.

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