The Rothrock family made their first Arizona home in Elgin sometime after 1912, taking advantage of the Homestead Act which allowed a man or woman to claim first 160 and later 320 acres. By building a home, raising crops, and improving the land for five years, the claimant would receive title to the land. The Rothrocks were encouraged to move to Arizona with the promise of “free” land by George A. Beebe, who also homesteaded in Elgin. Beebe offered to “meet prospective settlers at the train, take the visitors to his home and show them all available parcels until they found one they liked, all for a fee of $150.” [Barr, Arizona Cattlewoman, p. 13].
Oliver Rothrock Sr. was born in 1854 in Pennsylvania into a farming family. He was a school teacher in Kansas in the 1880s and married a fellow Pennsylvanian, Ella Sarah Mohler, in 1884. They had eight children, five boys and three girls. By 1900 he had returned to Pennsylvania to farm and by 1910 was farming in Chico, CA. Oliver, Ella and their 2 youngest sons, Oliver Jr. and Ira then moved to Elgin to their 320-acre homestead.
Bruce Rothrock, Oliver Sr.’s adult son, also homesteaded 320 acres. He was married to Esther Swigart, who later encouraged her two sisters, Carrie and Rhoda*, to homestead in Elgin as well. After Bruce and Esther proved up their homestead, they moved to Patagonia, before returning to Pennsylvania by 1920. By 1930 they had moved to Oregon.
Oliver Jr. and Ira grew up in Elgin. Oliver Jr., at age 19, “was seriously injured when an automobile operated by George Beebe…overturned near Patagonia.” [Bisbee Daily Review, 4/19/1922]. Doctors were forced to amputate his leg.
The family resided in Elgin until Oliver Sr.’s death in 1925. The 1930 census lists Oliver Jr. as living in Patagonia with his mother. Ira, his wife Margie, and their one-year old son Vance were also living in Patagonia in 1930. He and Margie married in 1927. Sadly, Ira died of pneumonia at age 27; his obituary noted that “He was active in civic entertainments, being a member of the Patagonia orchestra…. At the time of his death he was employed by R. C. Blabon, of the East Side garage.” [AZ Daily Star, 3/10/1935].
Oliver Jr. became the Patagonia school bus driver in 1926, a job he held until 1940. “Rothrock, this year, completes 14 years of driving school children to and from Patagonia High School. His route is not a smooth one, over unpaved mountain roads, through sand washes, and dirt roads twice a day. The daily trip for education is the longest school bus route in southern Arizona. The distance covered in 14 years, during the school period, has been over 218,720 miles, or about eight times around the world without an accident.” [AZ Daily Star, 4/24/1940].
Oliver Jr. was Patagonia’s Justice of the Peace from 1944 to 1978. One of his most notable cases was the Herman C. Bender killing described “as the most brutal murder in the history of Santa Cruz County.” Bender’s body was found at the bottom of the “Big Jim” mine shaft south of Patagonia. [AZ Republic 5/6/1945]. Bender’s wife and her two teenage nephews were charged and convicted for his murder. [Arizona Republic, 5/11/1945]. Bender’s son-in-law, Manuel Calixtro, was also charged, but the charges were dismissed after two trials resulted in hung juries. [Arizona Republic 9/24/1945].
Oliver’s mother, Ella, lived with him until her death in 1942. In 1947, at age 43, he married Marie J. Lyon, a divorcee from Iowa. Oliver and Marie supported many community activities in Patagonia, Sonoita, and Nogales. She died in 1976 at age 72; Oliver died in 1984 at age 81.
Seven Rothrock family members are buried in the Patagonia Cemetery.
*Betty Barr’s book: Arizona Cattlewoman: The Remarkable Life of Carrie Swigart Fraizer, Brocking J Books, 2017 is highly recommended for more in-depth information about homesteading life in Elgin.