Back in the late 1800s, Ajo Way went by a different name: Robles Road.
Robles Road was a dirt path that went west from Tucson through Robles Pass near Cat Mountain, and led to the Robles Ranch at Robles Junction, also called Three Points. The name likely was never made official by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
The road was named for Bernabe S. Robles, who was born August 24, 1857 to Bernabe Robles and Rafaela Romo in Baviácora, Sonora. It's believed that his father came to Tucson in 1863 and set up as merchant. The 1864 Census of the Arizona Territory lists the elder Robles as having been a resident of Arizona for one year and having a family residence of Sonora. He was also a wealthy man whose estate was valued at $4,000.
In 1864, his family traveled by burro from Sonora to Tucson to join him. At some point he apparently left Rafaela and began a second family in Sonora with wife Josefa Romo de Robles (likely a sister or cousin of Rafaela Romo). Their first child, born in 1867, was Jose Manuel Bernabe Robles, known as Manuel. Among their children was Jose Bernabe Robles, born in 1869 and known also to his father as "Bernabe."
When the elder Robles died on July 2, 1873, he left all of his real estate and personal property, amounting to $2,530 (minus a $103 debt to Tully, Ochoa & Co.) to his second wife and their children. Nothing was left to his first wife or their children. He was buried at the National Cemetery on Stone Avenue and Cemetery Street (now called Alameda Street) and his remains were reinterred at All Faiths Memorial Park cemetery due to construction of the Pima County Joint Courts Complex.
As a child, Robles, Jr. helped his mother's family make ends meet by selling his grandmother's cookies and pan de huevo on the street corners of Tucson. Later he learned retail clerking. He lived for a time in Florence and might have been a merchant there.
Robles took a contract to deliver mail by buckboard wagon from Tucson to Gunsight, Arizona, a small town near Ajo. He eventually set up a stage line that delivered mail and travelers, from Tucson to Picacho, Gunsight and another town called Quijotoa. It's likely he also went to Ajo.
According to his son Fernando, who was interviewed many years later, it was during this time that his father went looking for a shorter route to Gunsight and discovered the pass, near Cat Mountain, on present-day Ajo Way/Ajo Highway that would come to be called Robles Pass.
Fernando said that the Robles Ranch (also called "El Rancho Viejo") started as a watering stop for horses on the mail route from Tucson. Bernabe had his brother Jesus obtain a homestead of 160 acres in 1882, at present-day Three Points. A well was dug to 180 feet so water was plentiful and an adobe building or two was built. Jesus lived at the ranch/stage station while Bernabe lived in Tucson and ran the mail route back and forth.
The Robles brothers gained the goodwill of the local Tohono O'odham by letting them water their horses at the Robles Ranch. In exchange the O'odham brought them wood and would return stray cattle to them when found.
On May 3, 1884, the Arizona Weekly Citizen announced: "Mr. Pedro Aguirre has purchase(d) from Mr. Robles his stage line outfit, running from Tucson to Quijotoa, and requests the traveling public to get up early as his stage leaves Tucson every morning at 6 o'clock."
During the time of the mail route and for a few years after, Bernabe also ran a saloon and general store on Meyer Street, now Meyer Avenue, in downtown Tucson.
On March 5, 1888, he married Joaquina Suastegui in Pima County. His bride had been born to Leonardo and Joaquina (Carbajal) Suastegui on June 23, 1867, in Hermosillo, Sonora, and came to Arizona when she was 14 years old. They had eight children between 1888 and 1904: Maria (called Marie), Bernabe (called Barney), Joaquina, Rafaela, Mercedes (called Mercy), Alfonso and twins Fernando and Carlos. The daughter Rafaela died at 15 of Typhoid Fever.
In 1889, Robles left his Tucson businesses and moved out to the Robles Ranch. Bernabe didn't like the ranch life, but he liked the income it brought in. His wife enjoyed the quiet offered by ranch life.
Over time he acquired a total of six ranches: the Lavra Ranch 5 miles closer to Tucson than the Robles Ranch; San Joaquin Ranch north of the Robles Ranch toward the Tucson Mountains; Las Tortugas Ranch, 10-15 miles northwest of the Robles Ranch; Las Granadas Ranch a few miles east of Sahuarita; Rancho del Burro in the Santa Catalinas near the Rincon Mountains; and the Tanque Verde Ranch in the Cebadilla District.
At the height of his career he may have controlled as much as 1 million acres between Florence and the U.S.-Mexico border, making him one of the largest ranchers in southern Arizona.
On May 5, 1890 the Arizona Weekly Citizen reported that, "A very enjoyable dancing party was given by Bernabe Robles at Carrillos' Garden last evening, at which was seen many of the best people in the city. The pleasant grass, odorous flowers and lively girls made it an enjoyable affair."
On Dec. 10, 1890 Robles became a U.S. citizen.
When his children got old enough to attend school, the family moved back to Tucson, living at 300 N. Court St. (now part of the parking lot across the street from El Charro Restaurant). Their home was on one of three lots his mother had purchased years earlier, all three for less than $10.
Around 1916, Robles purchased a large, two-story brick house at 157 W. Franklin St. Dorothy Fitzpatrick, a granddaughter of Robles who was born in 1922, remembers that Robles occupied the bottom floor, with his wife and children on the second story.
In March, 1917, a drought left many cattle dead and the expansion of the Tohono O'odham reservation cut the Robles Ranch in half and interfered with the grazing of stock. Robles sold out for $250,000, although he retained the Las Granadas Ranch, Tanque Verde Ranch, and likely Rancho El Burro.
Sometime after the sale of his property near Three Points/Robles Junction, he got involved in the money lending business. According to his granddaughter Dorothy, "He didn't trust the banks and kept his money in a vault, in his office, at home. Most of his clientele were poor Mexican-Americans who had trouble obtaining loans from the local banks. During the Great Depression, many people weren't able to pay back their debts and Robles acquired a lot of property in town, especially along Sabino Alley (formerly Gay Alley), located where the Tucson Convention Center is now at. He fixed many of the houses up and rented them out, becoming a landlord."
In 1934, in an event that gained nationwide attention, Robles' six-year-old granddaughter June Robles, daughter of Fernando and Helen (Mauler) Robles, was kidnapped while walking from Roskruge School to the home of her aunt Joaquina (Robles) Kengla. Nineteen days later she was found alive and in good health.
During his lifetime Robles also was involved in helping others in various causes including the victims of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20). He died in 1945 and his wife Joaquina followed in 1950.
Each of their children received an even portion of the estate. The remaining ranches were sold off, Fernando said, ending the ranching empire their father had created. In an interview done in 1983, Fernando said all the original buildings on the Robles Ranch had been torn down and newer ones built in their place.
Note: In 1929, Bernabe Robles, along with others, was involved in an attempt to create a road from the Stone Ranch, near the ghost town of Helvetia, "northwesterly about 10 miles connecting with the Nogales Road at Robles Ranch (Las Granadas Ranch)." Road #186, or the Robles-Stone Ranch Road, was established in name by the Pima County Board of Supervisors but it appears the road was never built.