Juan and Juana Telles, ca 1908. Photo courtesy the Telles Family

Three miles south of Patagonia, on the east side of Highway 82, is a highway turnout with steps leading to a shrine in a natural niche in the rock cliff. The shrine, dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, was constructed in 1949 by Juan Telles for his wife Juana to fulfill a promise she made when her sons Ralph and Richard left to serve in World War II and the Korean War respectively. Juana had vowed “that, should [her sons] be returned safely, a perpetual shrine would be built to honor the power and glory of right. ‘It wasn’t for me alone,’ said Mrs. Telles in her age-old rock-walled home, ‘that I made the vow. It was for mothers, wives, and families of all men who serve in freedom’s name.’” [Arizona Republic, 11/30/1953]. The Arizona Department of Transportation later constructed a stairway to the shrine and paved a parking area at the foot of the stairway. “In November 1988 the Pimeria Alta Historical Society declared the Telles Family Shrine a historical monument and had a bronze plaque made. The shrine was dedicated on San Juan’s Day June 24, 1989.” [The History of the Telles Family Shrine by Carl Etchart, 2002].

The Telles family’s Arizona roots date back to 1875 when Jose Epifanio Apolonio Telles came to Bisbee from Mexico. The 1900 U.S. Census lists Epifanio as living in Bisbee with his wife Ruth and six children. 

Epifanio and Ruth’s second son, Juan Telles, was born on February 14, 1888 in Bisbee. In 1907 Juan married Juana Diaz, who was born on June 1, 1889 in Tombstone. The 1900 U.S. Census lists Juana and her mother, Theodora Diaz, living in the home of Daniel and Manuela Hughes. Juan and Juana were living in the widowed Mrs. Hughes’ household in Tombstone in 1910. Juan’s occupation was as a teamster. 

By 1920 Juan and Juana and their growing family were settled in Elgin farming on Juan’s 311-acre homestead claim in Section 15, Township 21S, Range 18E. Juan was issued title to the land on June 9, 1919. This is in the area now designated the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society.

The couple had nine children: Ruth, born in 1909; Dora, born in 1910; Anita, born in 1912; Margaret, born in 1914, Lila; born in 1916; Ralph, born in 1918; Fred, born in 1922; Richard, born in 1924; and Elvira “Boots,” born in 1926.

Juana Telles and her children. (From left) standing: Fred, Boots, Ruth, Dora, Anita, Ralph, Richard, seated: Margaret, Juana, Lila, circa 1936. 
Photo courtesy Delma Robey

By 1930 the family had moved from their homestead to a ranch just north of Elgin in Section 29, Township 20S, Range 18E. The children grew up in Elgin, attending local schools. 

Juan died in 1951 and Juana continued to live on the family ranch, with her youngest son Richard, until the 1960s when she moved to Tucson. She died in 1971, age 82. 

While she lived, and for many years after, the Telles family gathered annually at the shrine to maintain it and to picnic on land now part of the Nature Conservancy Patagonia Sonoita Creek Reserve. Juan and Juana are buried in Holy Hope Cemetery in Tucson. Most of the Telles children remained in the SE Arizona area throughout their lives and several of their descendants live here today.

The author is grateful for the assistance provided by Telles family members who shared family memories and photos for this article.