If you live in Santa Cruz County, you probably know a descendant of the De La Ossa family. If they have the name Gardner, Padilla or Quiroga, they may well be descended from the original pioneers, Antonio Maria Flugencio and Carolina Llanos De La Osa, who immigrated from California to the San Rafael Valley in 1880. As an indication of their modern day numbers, a 2017 family reunion at the Sonoita Fairgrounds drew over 370 De La Ossas.
Part 1 of the De La Ossa family story was featured in last month’s PRT. In Part 2, we take a look at Onofre and Maureen De La Ossa. Onofre was one of the eight children of Antonio and Carolina’s grandson Abel Garcia and his wife Armida Elias De La Ossa. Born in the San Rafael Valley between 1937 and 1957, they are Adelina, Arnulfo, Ophelia, Onofre, Elsa, Oscar, Anita, and Martha. Seven of the eight siblings are still living, and six still call southern Arizona home.
Theirs was a rugged rural life. Abel Garcia worked as a cowboy at Colonel Greene’s R-O Ranch, first while living at Abel Tomas’s family homestead in Lochiel, and then at a cowboy camp in Parker Canyon with their three young children and one on the way. Several years later they settled at “the rock house” in Duquesne. There, Abel worked the local mines, as well as keeping his own cows on several leases.
Onofre (Ono) De La Ossa, the fourth of the eight children, was born in 1942 at the cowboy camp in Parker Canyon. He grew up in Duquesne with a growing number of siblings.
Maureen Sullivan of Rochester, NY, was two years old in 1945 when her dad, Jack, got the notion to become a cowboy. And the only place to be a cowboy, to his thinking, was Arizona. So, he and his wife Frances loaded up Maureen and their infant son John and headed west, ending up in Patagonia. An inquiry at a local bar led Jack to a job offer as cowboy on Johnny Jones’s ranch in Parker Canyon. And where did they settle into their new life in the San Rafael Valley? The same house where Onofre was born four years before.
Eventually, Jack became a line rider for the U.S. Government. He rode the border fence to keep the cows on the U.S. side from coming in contact with the Mexican cattle, as there was a raging epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease south of the border. A program was underway to eradicate the disease in Mexico and keep it from crossing the border into the United States. The countries worked together through vaccination and slaughter, a controversial program that devastated the livelihood of Mexican ranchers and caused sometimes violent protests. Later Jack served as Patagonia Marshall and Deputy Sheriff for Santa Cruz County.
Maureen knew the De La Ossa kids before entering school in Lochiel, where she went to first grade. They attended school together in Patagonia and, by high school, she and Ono were dating. They attended their junior-senior prom together and after a few years apart, Ono drove to Flagstaff where Maureen was living and “fetched her” back to marry him in 1964. Maureen used to joke with Ono that she’d been following him around since she was a toddler at the house in Parker Canyon.
In their first years together, Ono worked as a cowboy at the Heady-Ashburn Ranch. On Labor Day 1965, when Ono asked for the day off, the boss refused, and Ono quit.
The couple moved into Patagonia and began planning their cattle import business. They decided to import Mexican corriente cattle, a breed used for team roping and bull dogging, and sell them to rodeo contractors. They pulled together the funds to start the business with Ono’s father, Abel, and became the first to raise native corriente cattle, on a large state lease on desert south of Tucson.
“Ono had a knack for conformation,” Maureen said. “From all his years working with cattle, he had a way of recognizing good structure, size and breed characteristics. The corriente cattle were well suited to the desert; not being beef cattle, they didn’t need to put on weight, and they thrived there.”
While raising their five children in Patagonia, Maureen took a part-time job at the Patagonia Post Office in 1979. “I loved it, because I could send the kids off to school, walk to work, and be back before the they came home. We lived in our house on Sonoita Avenue, which Ono built from plans he made in his head; there was never a blueprint.”
After his father died in 2002, Ono and Maureen sold off some of the state lease. In 2009 Mark and Laurie Butler, who had bought the San Antonio Ranch (aka: Heady-Ashburn Ranch), asked them to manage the ranch. They also continued to run their desert ranch. They said they had come full circle, back to where they first started their married life in 1964.
Maureen became Postmaster in 2000, serving until 2007. “I loved caring for a small post office in the community where I was raised, and where we raised our kids. When you know everyone, you’re not going to stand on ceremony – if an older neighbor wants to buy two stamps, you’re not going to insist they only come in sheets. And you’re going to do everything you can to get the mail out on time for people.”
Ono died in 2012 of heart complications.
“A while after having heart surgery, we were transporting a cow to the desert ranch when he collapsed,” she said. “He was always doing – building, teaching the kids, fixing this and that, developing the business. He wouldn’t have stood being sedentary.”
A much-loved member of the community and the cattle industry, his funeral in Lochiel saw a gathering of over 400 people.
Maureen divides her time between Patagonia and the San Antonio Ranch, where she still helps out with ranching operations. She says if she ever questioned the sanity of having five kids, now she knows why they did. “Since Ono passed away, they have been everything to me. They help me in so many ways, and they and our 12 grandchildren give me reasons to keep going.”
The De La Ossa clan that descended from Antonio and Carolina are found all over southern Arizona and far beyond. Whether they still call Arizona home, like Ono and Maureen’s five children, or have spent little time in the state, many feel a great connection to the San Rafael Valley. Maureen says, “Every time I top the head of the San Rafael Valley, it takes my breath away. It never loses its pull on my heart.”