Neto's Tucson: Otero family leaves lasting mark in S. AZ

2010-10-24T00:00:00Z 2010-10-24T01:03:19Z Neto's Tucson: Otero family leaves lasting mark in S. AZErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 24, 2010 12:00 am  • 

On Jan. 10, 1789, the commandant of the Tubac Presidio signed a land grant in the name of the Spanish king, Charles IV.

The recipient of the generous gift, hundreds of acres surrounding Arizona's first presidio, was Don Toribio de Otero. The land grant made him the first individual land owner in what was then known as the Pimería Alta.

While that land grant disappeared in the ensuing 220 years, the Otero presence in Southern Arizona remains strong.

On Saturday about 100 Otero descendants, now into the 10th generation, gathered in Tubac to celebrate their common heritage, share some history and historical mementos, and meet new family members.

"It's an honor to be part of a big family," said Manuel Quijada Otero Jr., a Tubac resident, a few days before the reunion.

Manuel Jr. was born and raised in Tucson but his father grew up on the Otero ranch in Tubac. As a child, Otero said his father often told stories of growing up on the ranch, which is today's Tubac Golf Resort.

Otero is the great-grandson of Teofilo Otero, one of two Oteros who were early Tucson pioneers, leaders and philanthropists. Teofilo's older brother was Sabino Otero, and together they were known as "Arizona's Cattle Kings."

Elgin resident Martha Green, great-granddaughter of Brigida Otero Castro, takes pride that the Otero brothers pioneered cattle ranching in Southern Arizona, making it one of the region's identities and economic foundations.

Sabino's and Teofilo's herds grazed from Sonora, Mexico, to Casa Grande. Sabino Canyon is named after Sabino Otero.

But like many Otero descendants, Green was unaware of her family's imprint. The Otero family history and contributions had all but been wiped away over the generations.

Later in life she learned Sabino helped finance the founding of St. Mary's Hospital, the state's first public school in Tubac, a Tucson orphanage and that he built the first house outside of the walls of the Tucson Presidio. The city eventually razed it to build the Tucson Convention Center.

Other notable descendants include Jesus Otero, an early Phoenix pioneer and businessman; Sister Clara Otero, who in 1988 was inducted into Arizona's Hall of Fame as one of the first Arizona women to enter a religious order; and Altagracia Otero, who has the distinction of being the eldest female incarcerated in the Yuma Territorial Prison, the family's website says.

The Otero family reunion was not the first. In 1989, celebrating the family's bicentennial presence in Southern Arizona, Oteros from the region, other parts of the country, Mexico and Spain gathered in Tubac.

From that reunion emerged the idea of collecting more information about the Otero family, tracing the family lines and collecting family memorabilia.

The result is TheOteros.com, an online genealogy project organized by Diana DeLugan, an Otero descendent from Phoenix, in cooperation with historical societies in Tubac, Tucson, Nogales and others.

For nearly two years, DeLugan has been organizing the Otero family project, collecting information and artifacts and putting family members in touch with their past. In addition to the reunion Saturday in Tubac's Otero Hall, the family provided copies of the Otero Family History Collection to the Tubac Historical Society and the Pimería Alta Historical Society in Nogales.

Green said she is pleased that the Otero family history is being collected and shared. And the mother of three children will do her part.

"I'll make sure they know everything," she said.

Ernesto Portillo Jr. is the editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at netopjr@azstarnet.com or at 573-4187.

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