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Otho Kinsley


Mr Kinsley, who earned the $40 down payment for the 600 acre ranch 35 miles south of Tucson by working on a highway gang during the depression, sold 480 acres of the ranch in 1959 for $421,000.

A big man--Mr. Kinsley stood six-foot-three and weighed 280 pounds--he was known as a person who kept trying his hand at new ventures, from border skirmishes with Pancho Villa's army in the Mexican revolution to developing one of the few lakeside highway properties in southern Arizona.

He also was an acknowledged practitioner of the much fabled but seldom mastered skill of water witching.

Born in 1899 on a ranch near Bishop, Calif., the son of farming people who had migrated west from Michigan. Mr. Kinsley moved to the San Raphael Valley of southern Arizona with his family in 1915.

The Mexican Revolution was being fought just across the border while he was a young man. Looking for excitement, he rode into Mexico on several occasions and one night was shot in the right side by one of Pancho Villa's men. The wound, which left him unable to ride for long periods cut short any ambition he might have had to become a cowboy.

During the depression he built highways on a work gang and in 1930 purchased the Kinsley Ranch property.

Although livestock was not Mr. Kinsley's primary concern at the ranch -- most of the land was later in cotton and the tavern-restaurant-grocery store-gas station he built was at one time the only place to stop between Tucson and Nogales--he took pride in his horses and cattle.

On at least two occasions the Kinsley Ranch furnished livestock for the Tucson rodeo. Mr. Kinsley was particularly proud of one bucking bull, an old speckled Brahman that had tossed all comers. He bet many times that no man could stay on the bull, and he won until Dick Griffith took him up on a $2,500 wager. Griffith, was the world champion cowboy at the time, weathered the bull long enough to collect the cash.

Mr. Kinsley dug two adjoining lakes at the ranch and later added a swimming pool and a skating rink-dance hall.

Other ventures included regular rodeos and auto races. In 1946 he added a landing strip, bought three airplanes and started an air service to Mexico. It was curtailed because of hoof-and-mouth disease.

He was skilled in water witching--the ability to discover water with a forked willow branch --but didn't like to talk about it--"People laughed at the idea," he said. Nonetheless he found water on many ranches in the area, including the Calishaw Ranch on the Patagonia Rd., the Reeves Ranch in the Rincons, the Ely Ranch on the Arivaca Rd., and others.

And then there are those two well-known lakes that look so refreshing on the middle of the long, hot drive between Tucson and Nogales.

On his death
Otho V. Kinsley, developer of the Kinsley Ranch between Tucson and Nogales, died of a heart attack yesterday afternoon. (p) The 62-year old business man-rancher suffered the fatal seizure while sitting in his car, parked at a farm he purchased last year near his home in the Catalina foothills. He had been in poor health for several years, his family said....(p) He is survived by his wife, Helen; a daughter, Mrs. Thelma Stewart, of Amado; a son, Lt. O. V. Kinsley Jr., stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Bermuda; and two brothers, Elbert, of Casa Grande, and Irmin, of California. (p) Funeral arrangements are being made at the Arizona Mortuary
From the Arizona Daily Star, 1961

Tales my Father Told Me

On graduating from Bishop High School--he finished high school in three years.

On living in Patagonia--they always wore guns. That was the normal thing to do.

The road from Patagonia to Nogales in part winds along the mountainside above a stream. Otho and Irmin were driving along in a Model A (?). The nut holding the steering wheel on was loose--Irmin took the steering wheel off and handed it to Otho. Otho looked at it, said, "What's this?", and tossed it out of the window.

Not mentioned in the obituary was Otho's beginnings as a well driller. He drilled the holes and placed the dynamite that loosens copper ore at an open pit mine. The drop bit well drilling rigs were the only kind he ever used. Otho remembered the terrific headaches resulting from absorbing nitroglycerine from the dynamite.

The races were profitable for Otho. And then a race car left the track and hurt some folks watching the race--so much for races.

The lakes were bulldozed out and then pigs were housed in the area for some time to compact the soil and seal the bottom of the lake. And then you sell the pigs for a profit. This seemed like a great business. Otho repeated raising pigs -- but nobody had mentioned hog cholera. So much for raising pigs.

Otho loved flying but was not a pilot. That was back in the early days of flying. He recalled fondly flying along the light lines. Beacons atop mountains in Arizona were placed frequently enough that you could see more than one strung out like brilliant beads across the desert. Otho proudly recounted the time he landed in San Diego, CA, going backwards. The explanation was the high winds making the ground speed a negative number. The pilot, Skeets, became an instructor pilot at Marana airbase during World War II. (Please email information about Skeets if you have any - ovk)

Part of Otho's flying was in search of uranium. He was a gold and uranium miner and witched for these metals by putting samples of the metal (copper penny, for example) on a witching stick and watching the response to the terrain below. One place to hunt for uranium was in the canyons of northern Arizona. The pilot on one particular flight said, "Otho, you're the only one I know who could sleep flying through here." Here being below the rim of narrow canyons hardly wide enough for the airplane.

Along with the restaurant, bar, etc., at Kinsley Ranch, Otho had an official jail. However it was made of adobe and at least one prisoner dug his way out.

The farm was mostly in cotton. A couple of acres were planted to gladioli to supply flowers directly to grocery stores in Tucson. That was a lucrative business the first and second years but fine print details of raising glads then became evident. You have to dig all the bulbs up and replant them to sustain the production. So much for raising gladioli.

Crop dusters sprayed the cotton. Telephone wires at either end of the cotton field forced the airplanes to drop down to cotton plant height after one set of wires and pull up abruptly at the other end to miss the other set of wires. They are spectacular to watch--even from right underneath where you would get dusted too (no OSHA in those days). One crop duster dropped just a little low and caught his wheels in the cotton and was slowed so much he just settled into the cotton. His plane caught fire. He was heard cussing up a storm as he watched, "I could have saved it, with just a little fire extinguisher." plus other choice phrases.

Otho, after an earlier crop duster crash, related that the severely injured pilot was more concerned about the speedometer as they sped to a hospital in Tucson than on his injuries.

Otho died in his car. Undoubtedly a Pontiac. He was a Pontiac man who averaged one hundred miles a day. Where did he go? To visit the well rig which could be up to a hundred miles away. To prospect for gold or witch the next well site. To Phoenix to pick up specialized tools for the well rig. To Tucson to get parts for a refrigerator. Or to Nogales for supper.

He was quite a driver. Unlit cigar (doctor said don't smoke any more)clenched in his teeth . Or if no cigar, he would methodically search shirt pocket, car seat, dash and more to find a non-existent cigar. And repeat the search ten miles down the road. Car windows open, radio blaring western music to be heard above the rush of the wind, and Otho singing along.

Quite a driver. One story in the Arizona Daily Star was headlined, "Kinsley car kills another." Today we have school buses with flashing lights and strict laws that say no passing. But this wasn't always the case. And Otho hit a school child near Continental. And much later, in Tucson, a person came out from behind a parked car. Because Otho could see, under the car, the legs of a person walking, he had the brakes on before he saw the person but that was too late. An officer at the scene said that was about as good driving as could have been.

Otho had his share of bumps and bruises from the rodeo business. And was taken to the hospital at least once after a bull got to him. In addition to the unrideable bull mentioned above, there was another notable bull, Phillips 66-named after a brand of gasoline. It had its picture in Life Magazine as the Picture of the Week. This Ballerina Bull seemed to be on one front leg pirouetting with the rider still on board. (PS--if anyone knows what issue of Life this is in please email me.)

Water witching is done by many. Otho may or may not have believed in it. He said that a professional geologist once said, "You're the best darned jack-leg geologist I have met." Otho did know his geology. A line of trees might indicate a subsurface fault--water on one side, none on the other and Otho noticed those details. Otho would bet a customer for a well double or nothing (but admitted to me--"There's water almost everywhere.") But then again: If you take the witching rod and let it bob-the number of bobs is the depth to water. Otho had the well casing pipe cut before reaching water--and it was the right length. And again, Otho witched the site of a well to be on a bluff above a dry creek bed. You could siphon, not pump, water from that well into the creek bed below. Hmmmm.

Parker, Meriweather, Canoa, Amado, Bell -- there are many names that influenced early development along the Santa Cruz. We hope to find and bring you much more about the area than just the activities of Otho Kinsley, Sr.

Otho, Jr.

Assembled by ovk. Last updated 6/21/2002.
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