HERITAGE GUIDE: Steam Pump Ranch: An Overview

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The Ranch known as “Steam Pump Ranch” was established by George Pusch and John Zellweger in 1874. The two young men had come from Germany and Switzerland respectively and, after living on both the east and west coasts, they found a place to put down roots north of Tucson. They bought land and cattle, and registered the “PZ” brand. They also purchased a steam pump to pump water into holding tanks. It was housed in an adobe building with an adjacent blacksmith shop. This ready supply of water, for both people and cattle, led to the name the property retains today.

The 1870s were a difficult time for new settlers along the Canada del Oro drainage. Apache raids, primarily for cattle and horses, occurred on a regular basis. Bands left the confines of the reservations in an attempt to regain their freedom and traditional way of life. The “Apache Wars” did not end until after Geronimo’s final surrender in 1886.

During the 1880s numerous ranches were established in southern Arizona. Steam Pump Ranch became a favorite stopping place for ranchers taking their cattle to the railroad stockyards near Tucson. Pusch charged 15 cents per head for water. A stage line stopped at the ranch on a route from Tucson to Florence, and the Calvary from Ft. Lowell also camped there on at least one occasion during Apache scouting operations.

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Pump house and Blacksmith shop in 1928
Pump house in 2007 with Jim Kriegh
Pump house in 2007 with Jim Kriegh

By 1891 lands in southern Arizona had become heavily overgrazed and a drought led to the loss of many cattle herds. Pusch and Zellweger seemed to prosper, having opened a butcher shop and ice storage facility in downtown Tucson. Zellweger had sold his interest in the ranch to Pusch in 1883, but the two continued as partners in other business ventures. Pusch was also active in politics, serving in two Territorial legislatures. In 1910 he was a member of the Constitutional Convention that led to Arizona statehood. After that his health failed and his son took over management of the ranch. The family also established the Pusch Land and Cattle Company to manage their properties. Pusch died in 1921 at his residence in Tucson.

Pusch Family at the Ranch, circa 1900s
Pusch Family at the Ranch, circa 1900s
Pusch family at the Ranch, early 1900s
Pusch family at the Ranch, early 1900s

 

A new era for Steam Pump Ranch began in 1933 when John Monroe “Jack” Procter purchased the largely abandoned ranch from the Pusch estate after Matilda (George’s wife) died. Procter had moved to Tucson in 1932 to manage the exclusive downtown Pioneer Hotel, a position he held until 1962. Procter is said to have called the ranch “my best diversion”. In addition to ranching and breeding prize bulls as a hobby, Procter built a new house, associated ranching structures, and a long row of chicken coops. He raised chickens to provide meat and eggs for the hotel dining room. Over the years the family often used the ranch as a leisure retreat from the city. Jack died in 1972 and ownership of the ranch passed to his grandsons.

Jack Procter and a prize bull in 1941
Jack Procter and a prize bull in 1941
Pioneer Hotel downtown Tucson
Pioneer Hotel downtown Tucson

The ranch continued as a family residence, and also became a boarding place for horses. While the original ranch spanned thousands of acres its headquarters remained near the Canada del Oro crossing throughout its existence. A 15 acre parcel containing the two major residences, ranch out-buildings, and the remains of the original pump house now belongs to the Town of Oro Valley. The property was acquired in 2007 with Pima County Bond funds for historic preservation and interpretation. It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (Patricia Spoer12011).

HERITAGE GUIDE: Steam Pump Ranch: An Overview

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