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  • Preservation, family history come together with Canoa Ranch fence work

    Every time Tony Salcido wires sections of the horizontally laid mesquite fencing of the massive retaque corral at Canoa Ranch, he is preserving another piece of his family’s history.

    Salcido grew up on Canoa Ranch. Now called Historic Canoa Ranch, it was purchased by Pima County in 2001 with voter-approved bond funds, and is managed by Pima County’s Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department (NRPR). The ranch is a 4,800-acre remnant of the original 1821 San Ignacio de la Canoa Spanish land grant that covered 17,000 acres, and much of what is now Green Valley and Sahuarita.

    Over the years, a succession of ranching families worked and lived on the Canoa grounds, among them U.S. Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva, as well as Salcido and his cousin Frank Salcido. Now, the Salcidos are traveling to Canoa a couple of times a week Tony Salcidoto help Simon Herbert, the architectural preservationist on site at Canoa, with the seemingly endless job of repairing the retaque fences.

    “It’s a big project because it’s difficult to maintain,” Tony said, leaning against a shovel during a break in repairs. The fencing and posts all come from the trees grown on the property, “because we’re interested in keeping the original look,” he added.

    When Tony was a kid, back when Canoa was a working ranch and farm, the corral had to be strong enough to keep cattle and horses penned in. Cowboys ran roundups and herded cattle, some of which were housed at Canoa by Tucson Rodeo operators. 

    “The retaque fences had to be built strong,” Tony said. “Those bulls were rough and liked to kick.”

    The word “retaque” is derived from the Spanish word retakar, meaning to “stack-up.” The method of construction was simple. Pairs of vertical mesquite posts were driven into the ground spaced about 24 inches apart, and every five feet to form the fence line. Carefully selected mesquite branches were then laid inside the posts and overlapped to form a continuous, tightly interlaced wall of wood six feet high. At the mid-point and top, heavy wire tied the posts to prevent outward movement. Canoa’s retaque corrals are extensive, and contain 52 heavy wooden gates.

    Tony has fond memories of spending the 1950s and ‘60s growing up on the ranch. It was hard work tending and irrigating the wheat and alfalfa they grew, but the reward was lazy days spent fishing in the lake, located on the ranch. 

    The kids attended the old Continental School, which today serves as a community center operated by NRPR and houses a satellite office of the University of Arizona/Pima County Cooperative Extension. When Tony went to high school, it meant boarding a Greyhound bus for the ride to Tucson’s Sunnyside High School. 

    Tony doesn’t mind making the twice-weekly drive to Canoa Ranch from his home in Tucson to work on preserving a piece of the ranch’s history. Canoa Ranch’s Herbert appreciates the skill and care the Salcidos bring to their volunteer work. 

    “The problem is a lot of these skills are not passed along generationally,” he noted. “For a county to go this far in preserving a ranch like this is remarkable.”

    Tony’s glad to be part of the preservation process. “It means a lot. My family had a lot of vested interest in Canoa Ranch and now that I’m retired, it helps me give back to the ranch.”

    Visit pima.gov/CanoaRanch to schedule a tour, volunteer, donate or learn more about the ranch.
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