The Historic Robles Ranch What was once the headquarters of one of the largest ranches in Arizona is located at Robles Junction (Three Points). The old headquarters buildings are north of the highway just as you come to Three Points. They sit among large old eucalyptus trees, with barns and corrals off to the side. The ranch house was established in 1882, as a stage stop, by Bernabe’ Robles, who operated a stage line from Tucson to the mining town of Quijotoa on what later became the Papago and then the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Bernabe’ Robles was born in Babiacara, Sonora in 1857. In 1864, when he was 7 years old, he moved with his family to Tucson. He established himself as a businessman early on by delivering bread for a local bakery. Prior to establishing the Robles Ranch, which he called Rancho Viejo, Senor Robles was engaged in the saloon business, the general merchandise business, and established a stage line to Quijotoa.
The stage stop was established in the 1880s as a water and rest stop for the horses at a point on the road to Quijotoa where the road to Altar, Sonora branched off to the south. A well was dug and several adobe buildings constructed at what is now the old headquarters. The stage, ranching complex, and the settlement that grew up around it soon became known as Robles Junction. By 1885, the copper, silver, and gold views were exhausted at Quijotoa with a consequent downtown in freighting and stage business. Robles then focused his efforts on building as extensive cattle operation. At the height of the enterprise, the ranch comprised over one million acres reaching from Florence, Arizona on the north to the Mexican border over 100 miles to the south, making it one of the largest ranches in Southern Arizona at the time.
In 1917 the ranch was sold for $250,000 to the West Coast Cattle Company. The sale included some with to ten thousand head of cattle. According to the Tucson Citizen, March 29, 1917, “the sale is the first direct result of the recently defined new Papago Indian Reservation, which cut the Robles Ranch in half and interfered with the grazing of stock.” Before leaving the Robles family story, a footnote must be added about the sensational 1934 kidnapping of six-year old June Robles. Bernabe’ Robles, June’s grandfather, who was considered a very prosperous businessman, received a ransom note for $10,000 and instructions for the exchange. The exchange did not occur, and silence followed until nineteen days after the abduction when a letter was delivered to Governor Moeur giving directions as to where to find Bernabe’ grand-daughter. June Robles was found alive but buried and staked in a pit in the desert east of Tucson.
No one was ever charged and convicted of the kidnapping. Robinson Locke, a well-known rancher, and one of the founders of The Mountain Oyster Club in downtown Tucson bought the ranch in 1942. The ranch had by now been reduces in size to some 60 sections in the Avra and Altar Valleys. Mr. Locke embarked on extensive range improvements on the ranch, including seeding, fencing, and the construction of a number of windmills to supply water to remote areas of the ranch. R. C. Locke also established the Moltacqua Ranch and race track on Sabino Canyon Road where the Tack Room Restaurant now stands. In 1949 the ranch was again sold. This time to John R. Stevens of Riverside, California. Mr. Stevens, a California rancher, continued to operate the historic ranch as a cattle operation, and made extensive repairs and improvements to the buildings.
In about 1967 the ranch was again sold. This time to Ralph Wingfield who also has extensive holdings in the Santa Cruz Valley in the Tubac / Tumacacori area. In 1981 the ranch was running some 300 head of cattle on 34,000 acres according to an article in the AZ. Daily Star, [02/26/81] about Roberto Traslavina, a long-time vaquero in the Altar Valley. At the time, Senor Traslavina was living at the headquarters, and had been the ranch foreman for the past 10 years. In the mid-80’s the Wingfield’s sold the ranch, and it began to be broken up and sold off in parcels to developers. All that is now left of the once great ranch is the headquarters buildings and about six acres of land. The Robles ranch complex today is comprised of several buildings including the original ranch headquarters and residence, a recent detached carport and shed, a tack room, new stables and a riding arena, and a detached residence that may have served as the bunkhouse.
Other features that may be original include a segment of a stacked mesquite log corral, a well, and a fieldstone and concrete wall and watering trough that were noted in the stable area, west of the house. The Robles Ranch house today is a long, slightly angled adobe structure that has experienced organic, incremental growth typical of the additive tradition of southern Arizona regional architecture. Oral history maintains that the ranch house began as two separate buildings, one possibly the stage station and the other the Robles residence. Over the years, the two buildings were linearly expanded until they were finally joined into today’s ranch house. There are reported to be 17 rooms in the main house. Local residents claim this final “joining” occurred about 1949 when the Stevens were reported to have made improvements in the buildings. While additional observations and research are necessary to verify the building sequence of the structure, aerial photography suggests multiple buildings episodes judged from roof outlines. Recent exterior alterations include new stucco, new canales, a decorative burnt adobe entry, detached patio and pool and CMU planters around trees. In spite of its multiple room additions and the recent alterations, the Sonoran Territorial design has been maintained, and the building appears to have retained its essential architectural and historical integrity.
In conclusion, it may be argued that Robles Ranch is a significant historic site in Pima County that is eligible for the Arizona and National Registers of Historic Places. At this literal cross-roads, Sonoran and southern Arizona culture and economic development were brought together in ways that significantly shaped the broad patterns of southern Arizona history. More specifically, it is representative of activities and events that have shaped the development of the cattle industry, freighting, mining and travel in the Tucson area. The ranch house reflects a vernacular Sonoran style, and it is also representative of the regional architectural tradition in southern Arizona, where ranch houses grew in response to need and prosperity.