Doña Maria Eulalia Elías González Romo de Vivar was born February 12, 1788, in the small, Sonoran agricultural town of Arizpe, Mexico.
She grew up in the large Elías-González enclave that at one time owned at least 30 large land grants and thousands of acres of ranching land stretching from Sonora into what would become Southern Arizona. A refined Spanish woman, Eulalia along with her brothers, was responsible for the financial well-being of the family empire and often rode with her siblings to survey their vast holdings.
In 1828, Eulalia and her brother Don Ignacio Elías González purchased from the Mexican government 8 sitios (roughly 54 square miles) of land along Babocómari Creek near present-day Fort Huachuca. Initially called San Juan de Babocómari, the ranch’s was eventually changed to San Ignacio de Babocómari. Eulalia and her brothers brought in hundreds of head of cattle and horses to range across 130,000 acres of verdant fields of grass, abundant cottonwood groves and almost continuously flowing streams.
Receiving the deed to the property on Dec. 25, 1832, the family began construction of an adobe stronghold along Babocómari Creek.
Since she was responsible for managing many of the family’s ranches, as well as the Elías’s agricultural and mining interests, Eulalia and another brother, the priest Juan Elías, undoubtedly often rode up from Arizpe to oversee the formation of the 15-foot walled fort at Babocómari.
The old adage, “El hombre en la calle, la mujer en la casa” (men in the street and women at home) certainly did not apply to Eulalia and it probably did not represent the true nature of most Mexican women at the time. Eulalia never married, but she personified the grit and determination of many Elías women, often staying for long periods on some of the family’s isolated, remote ranches.
From the late 1700s, this multi-generational family built a vast empire across northern Mexico and Southern Arizona. Family members involved themselves in governmental, military and religious endeavors in addition to ranching. Few families of the time could match their power and influence.
Construction of the fortified hacienda along Babocómari Creek was completed in time to celebrate San Juan’s Day on June 24, 1833. Many of the Elías women rode from Arizpe, a distance of almost 140 miles, to admire the new structure. Ignacio proffered casks of brandy and wine for the hardworking laborers.
The 100-square-foot enclosure, which resembled a small presidio, had only one entrance along the east wall. The fortress was lined with large rooms while the flat roofs, along with watchtowers on the east and west corners, allowed the occupants to watch for approaching invaders. Warring Apaches posed a constant threat to landowners in this sparsely populated part of the country.
By 1840, Babocómari was running about 40,000 head of cattle and Eulalia had a say in many aspects of managing the prosperous ranch. Her brothers called their energetic sister a proud woman and sometimes difficult to deal with, but she was determined to run the Elías-González properties with an astute yet firm hand.
For two decades, this powerful family controlled much of the land between the Santa Rita Mountains and San Pedro River, with Eulalia a partner in managing the finances and daily operations.
Large herds of livestock roamed this vast stretch of land containing desert, riparian and wooded regions. Other Spanish ranchers also took advantage of the opulent, water-abundant acreage. Tucson historian Thomas Sheridan described these estates as “little more than adobe islands in a desert sea — isolated, vulnerable, easily destroyed.” Apaches repeatedly swooped in to demolish property, run off livestock and take the lives of those who stood in their way.
By the late 1840s, Apache raids drove many Spanish landowners back into Mexico. Eulalia lost two brothers in Apache raids. By 1849, fear penetrated almost every household in the region, including the Elías family. Abandoning their Babocómari holdings, they fled back to Arizpe.
Around 1860, Eulalia’s brother Jose Elías tried to sell the property but had few offers. That same year, on Aug. 6, the irascible and still untamed Eulalia died in Arizpe at the age of 72. She is buried next to her brother, Ignacio, in the Arizpe graveyard.
In 1866, the old walled Babocómari fort housed units of the U.S. Cavalry and became known as Camp Wallen. The property was abandoned in 1869 and remained uninhabited except for a few desert nomads who found refuge among its ruins. By 1877, the acreage was again used as a cattle ranch but succumbed to overgrazing. The Babocómari Ranch is now in the hands of the Brophy family, who has introduced conservation efforts to preserve this historical land.
Today, only a small, crumbling foundation confirms the site of the original Elías fortress that Eulalia determinedly hoped to maintain and grow into another of the family’s grand and prosperous rancheros.