Gardner Canyon bears the name of Arizona pioneer Thomas Frederick Gardner, whose Apache Springs Ranch was located about 4.5 miles west of Highway 83. Boulder Crest Arizona now owns the land where Gardner’s ranch was located. “The Other Side of the Mountain” by Tom Wood and Joan Kane Wood (2007) provides a fascinating and in depth look at the lives of the Gardner family, and was a significant resource for this article.
Thomas Frederick Gardner was born April 13, 1830* in Buffalo, New York. His family moved to Michigan when he was about seven years old, and at age 16 he and a cousin headed west to Oregon Territory. Tom never made it to Oregon but ended up placer mining for gold in California where he met miners from Sonora, Mexico. Around 1854 he began mining in Sonora and by 1859, at the urging of friend and fellow miner Jesus Torres, had relocated to Arizona Territory. Tom began farming near Casa Blanca Canyon and Fort Crittenden along the Sonoita Creek. It was a dangerous time for settlers, as the Apaches, led by Cochise, were constantly raiding in the area.
In 1861 Tom married Gertrudis Apodaca, known as Tula, who was born in Santa Cruz, Sonora, Mexco. The couple had 11 children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Shortly after his marriage, Tom was shot by Cochise while driving cattle in Sonora. He was nursed back to health by his wife and mother-in-law, but the bullet remained lodged near his heart. The bullet was eventually removed around 1872 by a military surgeon at Fort Crittenden.
Between 1861 and 1868 Tom and family lived in Santa Cruz, Mexico. During the Civil War there was no military presence in the Sonoita area to protect settlers. The family returned to their farm on the Sonoita creek by 1868 where Tom’s leadership provided some protection against continuing raids. “The Indians have not made any attacks in Sonoita Valley since the 24th ultimo. All the farmers in the valley from Gardner’s ranch down, have concentrated since that time at Gardner’s ranch; sentinels have been constantly kept on the hilltops to prevent a surprise, and the force on the ranch has been kept in condition to resist an attack.” [Arizona Citizen 7/6/1872].
By 1874 Tom and Tula were living in Gardner Canyon on the Apache Springs Ranch, where he raised horses. He continued to farm along Sonoita Creek and managed the lumber mill in the Santa Rita Mountains he purchased from E.N. Fish.
Throughout his life Tom kept his hand in mining, as an operator or investor. In 1874 he and several partners patented the Trench Mine, in the Patagonia Mountains, which proved highly successful.
Tom was quite involved in horse racing activities in Tucson. He was a member of a committee appointed to raise funds to build a racetrack. [Arizona citizen, 12/12/1874]. He often raced his horse Grey Eagle and published challenges in the local papers “for any distance from 300 yards up to 1 mile, or farther if we can agree; the stakes to be $500 to $1000.” [Arizona citizen, 7/3/1875].
In 1896 Tom sold the Apache Springs Ranch to Walter Vail, owner of the nearby Empire Ranch. Tom, Tula and their youngest children, Tom Jr. and Elizabeth, relocated to Crittenden. Tom died on March 26, 1906. Tula died on January 2, 1923. Both are buried in the Patagonia Cemetery where an impressive monument, erected by the “people of Patagonia” marks Tom’s gravesite. [The Oasis, 4/7/1906].
*Thomas Gardner’s headstone lists his birth year as 1820, but consecutive census records document his birth year as 1830, and the family tree published by Tom and Joan Kane Wood also uses 1930. Another discrepancy is found on Tula’s headstone which lists her death year as 1921; her Arizona death certificate documents the year as 1923.