Neto’s Tucson

History lover found plenty to chronicle about on his own storied family

2013-09-22T00:00:00Z History lover found plenty to chronicle about on his own storied familyBy Ernesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Armando C. Elías loved local history. He studied it, talked about it and wrote what he discovered.

Most of the history was about his family, the Elíases of Sonora and Southern Arizona. The family, which descended from Spanish colonizers, was among the first residents in the Tucson Presidio. Members included Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles in the 1920s, 13 Mexican governors and numerous generals and high- ranking politicians. The current governor of Sonora, Guillermo Padres Elías, is part of the storied list.

“He was very proud of his family history,” said Mike Weber, former state director of the Arizona Historical Society, who worked with Elías.

Elías, who lived in Vail and was a retired state employee, died Sept. 16. He was 86.

In addition to his genealogy work, Elías was a founding member of Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson, a group committed to celebrating local history. He also was a member of the Arizona Historical Society, which he served as president.

Elías was born in Douglas but grew up on the family ranch in Fronteras, Sonora, which in the Spanish colonial period was the launchpad for exploration of the Pimería Alta, today’s Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, and upper California.

The first Elías to venture into what is today’s Tucson was Francisco Elías González, a Spanish captain. In 1762 he persuaded a large group Sobaipuris, a Pima Indian tribe, to relocate to the foot of the black mountain, more commonly known as Sentinel Peak, on the west side of the Santa Cruz River. He named his short-lived village Señor San José de Tucson.

This was 13 years before the founding of the Tucson presidio on the east bank of the river.

In 1788, Francisco’s grandson, the young soldier Simón Elías González, arrived at the Tucson presidio. There have been Elías families in Tucson ever since.

This history has been documented by historians James Officer and C.L. Sonnichsen. Like those professional historians, Armando Elías spent considerable time in documenting his family’s history.

“All his life he made it a point to make numerous trips to Mexico City, Guadalajara and Spain to meet family members,” said Armando’s brother José Luis Elías of Yuma.

Armando Elías authored two books about his family’s history dating back to the 1700s: “Compendio de datos históricos de la familia Elías.” (Compendium of Historical Date of the Elías Family) and “Historia de la Familia Elías/The Elías Family.” He spent more than 20 years researching and writing the books, his family said.

Armando had a lifelong interest in the family history, added his brother. He collected family dates, names, stories and memorabilia. As the family chronicler, other family members would call him for family history.

“He loved that,” his brother said.

But Armando’s interests were not limited to his family’s history.

A veteran of the U.S. Army during World War II, he was active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion.

He worked at the Yuma Proving Ground, was the executive secretary on the Board of Examiners for the Civil Service Commission and worked for the Arizona State Employment office in Tucson, Douglas and Yuma.

Weber said Elías, who had dual citizenship, was equally at home on both sides of the border. “He was truly binational,” Weber added.

On a more personal level, Annie Lopez, a friend of Elías’, said he was outgoing and social. He enjoyed his work and friendships with Los Descendientes, and he loved to show visitors to his home all the memorabilia that hung on his walls or perched on shelves.

“He always talked about history,” Lopez said.

Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at netopjr@azstarnet.com or at 573-4187.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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