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Canoa Ranch cattle baron loses grip on money, wife

Citizen Staff Writer


Citizen Staff Writer

Frederick Maish shared a malady with a sizeable number of other wealthy and successful pioneer Tucsonans: An inadequate grip.

Like freighter Estevan Ochoa, politician Charles Poston, farmer/rancher “Pete” Kitchen, miller Solomon Warner, merchant John B. “Pie” Allen and many others, Maish couldn’t hold onto his money.

In an era when some families survived on a few hundred dollars a year – or substantially less, the man who once pulled $60,000 in cash from his hotel safe to pay overdue government livestock import fees lived, at the time of his death in May 1913, in a hovel on Meyer Street.

A couple of decades earlier, he and long-time partner Thomas Driscoll owned thousands of head of cattle that grazed on the vast Canoa Ranch along both sides of the Santa Cruz River, on the 17,000-acre Buena Vista Ranch and the Fresnal Ranch that extended for many miles from Fresnal to Gunsight on what now is the Tohono O’odham Nation.

They also owned the Palace Hotel, which boasted 100 rooms, a popular saloon and billiards parlor.

Maish’s stature was such that he was elected to a two-year term as Tucson’s mayor in 1889, and again in 1891. And he was the one entrusted with $4,000 in gathered funds and sent with it to “treat the boys” (bribe legislators) during Tucson’s ultimately unsuccessful pitch to have the territorial capital located here.

Maish was born Oct. 12, 1834, in York County, Pa., though he and much of his extended family had moved to the Frankfort, Ind., area before he struck out on his own and headed west.

He brought with him some grandiose plans, and after his arrival in the Old Pueblo in 1869, went to work to make them reality. Trying his hand first at ranching, he soon settled in as a Tucson butcher.

He was a shrewd businessman and likely had some wherewithal when he got here, listed in the 1870 U.S. Census as having $5,750 in personal property. Two years later, he formed his partnership with Driscoll.

Soon after, in January 1872, the two businessmen accused another Tucsonan, Francisco Borques, of having stolen a large quantity of lard and other items from them, and asked Justice of the Peace Charles H. Meyer to prepare an arrest warrant.

Unable to find a law enforcement officer to serve the warrant (they said they were told “there’s no money in it”), they were given permission by Meyer to make the arrest themselves.

Though details are scant, the three men reportedly “had words” outside Borques’ house, and Driscoll pulled his pistol and shot the alleged thief in the abdomen. Borques died the following day. Whether he was armed and whether he fired a weapon isn’t known, but the shooting by Driscoll was ruled justified.

Seven years later, Maish himself was the intended victim of another shooting, awaking in his house on Meyer Street to noises outside. He opened the door to investigate and was confronted by two men who attempted to enter his house.

One of the would-be intruders fired a shot, but missed, as Maish retreated into the interior of the building. Another shot was fired through a window, also missing its intended victim. Three men were seen fleeing from the scene. The purpose of the attack was not determined.

In 1880, Maish arranged to buy the Canoa Ranch from Tomás Ortiz, giving him $200 in cash and agreeing to make payments of $35 monthly until it was paid off. Ortiz died before the full price was paid, but Maish paid a daughter, Rosita, a substantial sum.

He and Driscoll initially claimed 46,969.2 acres, but subsequent court findings in the matter granted them only 17,203 acres.

For the next decade, the partners prospered. The 1881 Tucson City Directory lists Maish as a “capitalist” living at 418 S. Meyer St. A November 1882 newspaper item noted that Maish and Driscoll were selling 4,000 head of “fat beef cattle.”

By 1891, newspaper accounts indicated they were running thousands of head of cattle in Avra Valley and having additional “vast holdings” in southern Arizona and Sonora, including several large land grants.

Though apparently a bachelor most of his life, Maish decided to get married on April 3, 1899, at age 64. His bride, Basilla (whose name was spelled variously in different accounts) Velasquez, was 24.

The couple apparently had no children, and records indicate Maish’s wife instituted divorce proceedings against him in 1908. One account shows that Maish retaliated by drawing up a will leaving his estate to a nephew and niece, James and Annie Maish.

Tucsonan Jim Maish, a descendant of Maish’s brother, said records are scarce, but family hearsay paints an interesting picture of the Maishes’ marriage. Divorce proceedings apparently were precipitated when Maish came home to discover his wife in a compromising situation with a Swiss-born milkman.

He said the enraged husband reportedly chased the interloper through the backyard, and fired a shot after him as he scaled a back wall and fled.

The family has pieced together some background on Mrs. Maish, as well, who apparently had a colorful past of her own. She was said to have been born in February 1875 in Mexico and struck up a romantic liaison with a Mexican army officer while in her teens.

Accounts of the era indicate the couple had a falling out, and she fled to Nogales to escape his persistent attentions.

The ex-boyfriend followed her, bringing a contingent of troops with him to Nogales to try to force her to return with him to Mexico.

He reportedly was arrested for the armed border incursion and sentenced to be shot – and would have been, save for the intercession of President Cleveland.

Basilla Velasquez later moved to Tucson, where she gained some notoriety and a nickname: the “international girl.”

Despite newspaper accounts of Maish’s living in poverty and without medical attention shortly before his death, two nephews later insisted that a neighboring family was being paid to care for him.

His body was returned to Frankfort, Ind., for burial. His nephew, James Maish, was to accompany the body, but died in El Paso while en route.

Basilla Velasquez Maish died Feb. 17, 1915, and is said to be buried at Holy Hope Cemetery.

Paul L. Allen may be reached at 573-4588 or pallen@tucsoncitizen.com. For more history coverage, visit the Citizen’s web site at: www.tucsoncitizen.com/history.

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