… And I Miss That by J. J. Lamb

Excerpts from a 2004 interview with Charlotte Leon Kimball

“There are no more cattle on the Leon Ranch at all because of the golf course that came in. There’s no leasing/grazing rights, and the ranch doesn’t have enough land to sustain cattle anymore.” The Leon family has lived in Vail for over 100 years. You hate to see it (development) coming, but you know it’s going to happen, and that you can’t fight progress. It (ranching and open spaces) was good while it lasted. But electricity and running water is good now. For awhile we had to jump a curb at the edge of the new development to get home. The developer didn’t care that Leon’s had been going home this way for over 100 years. But, the paved roads in Vail are good. So what are we going to do? Change is going to come.

Jimmy (Leon) and I were married in 1954. I met him at a roping. My dad was a team roper and bulldogger at rodeos. We did a lot of team roping. I was a barrel racer and competed for Tucson High School at student rodeos. I was the first female to get a groom’s license at Rillito Race Track!  I got to exercise and cool off the race horses. When Jimmy and I married, I moved to Vail. It was a long way out in the country (from Tucson).  There was nothing out here except the Leon Ranch, the X9, the Rocking K, Mount Fagan Ranch, and La Posta Quemada, that’s about it.  No freeway, just the old two-lane Benson Highway, nothing much right at Vail except the church and a post office. It was a little adobe building. Before my time I believe there was a larger village. There’s also a little cemetery there.

Looking back, a typical day for me from 1954 on was a little rough.  We had no electricity and no running water, we hauled water. We’d heat water on the wood stove for dishes. We had a little outhouse. Our shower was a big barrel tank up in the air. In the summer time, it’s great because the water was warm.  In the winter time, we took spit baths.  When it came to washin’ I’d take the clothes to town (Tucson). (I was trying to raise five children). They were all baptized at the Shrine of Santa Rita which was attended by the ranching families more than anything. It has changed considerably since I was there. The stained glass windows with the light shining through were really beautiful. They were full of ivy. They’ve taken that all down and I miss that.

Social time for us were roundups. We all got together; each ranch would help the other ranches. The ranch that was having the roundup would feed of all the help.  It was great. I remember that the tables were huge; silverware was all in tin cans in the middle of the tables. They would put meat, beef in the oven and roast it.  They’d have beans, tortillas, and salsa. Everybody’d just chow down.  Roundups lasted probably three or four days.  If children were old enough to sit on a horse they were on a horse.  If they were babies, mothers would stay with them. Myself, I would always be on a horse.

When I first saw Del Lago there was no one living in the big main house (bulldozed by a developer in 1992). At that time Rancho Del Lago had a racetrack, stables, an air strip and fields that had been cultivated with lettuce and produce. It has changed tremendously. There’s houses where those things and open desert was.  We were in the country then. Now it’s nothing but houses, roads, noise and people.  There was a lot more water.  It (water) came probably about a half mile of the bridge over the Pantano.  On the holidays we would take all the kids for picnics. All the family would come from Tucson too. The Figueroa’s, Leon’s, Tellez’s, Lopez’s, the Escalante’s.  We’d go up Cienega Creek; we would drive up there and have picnics, play baseball and have good times.

Ranchers had to have other jobs to make ends meet. Jimmy’s dad, Santiago, worked for the State Highway Department.  Jimmy worked for the Pima County Highway Department. I think ranching is more complicated and expensive now. Land and cattle are so valuable. People are trying to take the grazing permits away from the ranchers.  Back then if you had the permit, it was yours to renew forever and ever.  Nowadays it’s kind of a cutthroat business.

There’s a lot of history here in Vail.  That church (Shrine of Santa Rita) was there and has been the mainstay for a lot of people for many years and I think that little adobe building should be preserved (1908 Old Vail Post Office).   Pretty soon we’re going to have a Circle K out here…  You hate to see it (development) coming, but you know it’s going to happen, and that you can’t fight progress.  It’s going to happen.  It’s bound to happen.  It (ranching, open spaces) was good while it lasted.” In memory of Charlotte Anne Jones Leon Kimball 1936 – 2017.

Charlotte and Jimmy Leon in 2015.

Connecting Community Through Local History is Vail Preservation Society’s (VPS) mission. Building relationships, partnerships and identifying ways that our history can be relevant now and in our future is how we meet that goal. VPS projects provide hands-on learning and lifelong skills to Cienega H.S. Construction Tech students, Esmond Station K8 Section Gang Museum Club, students at OVMS and Pantano High School service learning classes as they learn to research, design exhibits and become community curators.  Through grants, donations and in-kind VPS is funding the rehab of the 1915 Section Foreman House at Esmond Station K8 (200k). Later in 2017, we will begin the rehab of the 1908 Old Vail P.O. Events like A Colossal Fourth, build civic identity and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Working closely with Pima County, VPS has facilitated in-kind donations and provided over $32,000 in grant funding towards placing art along the Colossal Cave Road.  Murals created by students from six schools with local artist Royce Davenport will soon be installed along with an impressive V for Vail sculpture by Cienega H.S. Construction Tech students. We appreciate VPS art partners: Pima County, PAG, Southern Arizona Paving, Swaim Assoc., Schneider Engineering, Vail Education Foundation, and VUSD. We will be celebrating our local artists and art soon! VPS is invested in Vail. As we work together we build connections that strengthen community and look to the future.

Save the Dates:

 May 17, 2017 – 1915 Section Foreman House Open House from 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Esmond Station K8. Meet Cienega H.S. and Esmond Station K8 students who have been working on the rehabilitation and designing and exhibit for the house that will be completed this fall. Come and be amazed at what these students are accomplishing. We are very proud of them.

July 1-4 – A Colossal Fourth!  Four days of celebrating community and country: Block Party & Fireworks, Parade, Charron Vineyards Blessing of the Vines, Colossal Cave Mountain Park Live Music Under the Terrace, Rincon Valley Farmer’s Market’s Red, White & Blue Competition, Star Gazing & Movie, History Tour, and special promotions from one end of Colossal Cave Road to the other.

TBA – Celebrating Colossal Cave Road Art

Oct. 2017 – 1908 Old Vail Post Office rehabilitation begins.

April 2018 – Voices of Vail documentary premiere. Be part of a story over 137 years in the making. We are looking for photographs, development brochures, business postcards or advertisements, letters, etc… to scan (you keep the originals) of Vail, Corona de Tucson, Rincon Valley, Empire Mountains, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, ranches, railroad and surrounding area. Landscapes, families, and individuals at work, at play, at school, young, old, wildlife, and pets can be part of telling our story. Email us at Visit us on Facebook and at

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