Oscar Monthan, from Rancho del Lago to Aeronautical Engineer

zHcUIsUiqlrBJ42IVKau_4wEzNCTXSXqCLRB571BEgU,GfiSQksF26HHztlnfezaQ7gswxDohkBqh_JnjcwggPoOscar’s journey to become an aeronautical engineer began with the drawing of straws at Rancho del Lago in Vail, Arizona. It was April 1917 and, like many young men, the four remaining sons of Alma and Jeremiah Tattersfield all wanted to go ͞over there͟ to join the fight in the ͞War to End All Wars.͟ Alma was widowed by this time and told her sons that one of them would have to stay with her to help run the ranch. She took four straws of equal length and broke one in half. Making sure the tops were even, she held them out for each son to choose one. Guy drew the short straw. The brothers all promptly changed their last names to their middle names of ͞Monthan,͟ then Eric, Carl, and Oscar signed up and shipped out. All had become American citizens a few years earlier and were eager to fulfill their patriotic duty toward their new country.

Oscar’s presence in Vail was a long story that began much earlier in England, where he was born. His mother Alma Monthan was from Sweden, and his father Jeremiah Tattersfield, from England. The family owned a woolen mill and lived on a beautiful estate called Kilpin Hill. Unable to adapt to rapid changes in technology, the mill failed, so Jeremiah and Alma decided to immigrate to Canada, which was in the British Empire and required no passports. After ranching in Calgary for two years, the unaccustomed cold drove them to make a long wagon trek south toward the warmer climate and more favorable ranching conditions in Argentina. But, in the end, they found those conditions in Arizona, so in 1902 they settled in Vail. They purchased land, homesteaded additional sections, and named their new home, first, La Cienega Ranch, then, Rancho del Lago.

nOi_8sQLOp3NMjLZVYqwbAwnibwX_CtlxDgkK357pO0,zIEdjL47e97BDJfNfw-mv_VYbqsIvpNfjD0PKJALyKg,w-BQ9kfUl7TCtpOc3vN02WKQpON3VH04RsKXVxrZrIYAfter leaving Vail in 1917, Oscar began officer training at the Boston School of Technology. The following year he graduated from the school and learned to fly at Wright Field in Alabama, where he flew the famous WWI-era ͞Tommy͟ and in short time received his wings. He never flew over the battlefields of WWI due to the length of his training, but he quickly became one of the leading aeronautical engineers in the Army. In 1920, he was Chief Engineering Officer at the aviation school at Rockwell Field in San Diego, and by 1921, he was in charge of the Air Service’s engineering school at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio.

Fishing was one of Oscar’s favorite pastimes. The lake at Rancho del Lago was always well stocked with fish, and sometimes his friend General Billy Mitchell came to Vail to visit. Billy Mitchell once boasted that he had caught 400 fish from the lake – but he had released them all, so he probably caught some fish twice!

In 1922, Oscar married his sweetheart Mae, an Army nurse. Within the year, they moved to Hawaii, where Oscar was stationed as the Chief Engineering Officer at Luke Field on Oahu. On March 27, 1924, his life was cut short when he was killed in the crash of a Martin B-2 bomber when it took off into unfavorable wind conditions. Oscar was co-pilot that day. On September 23, 1927, Charles Lindbergh dedicated the new Tucson municipal air field (that later became Davis-Monthan Air Force Base) to honor the service of Tucson pilots Lt. Samuel Davis and Lt. Oscar Monthan, who were killed in separate military air accidents.

Monthan is a Swedish name and pronounced ͞Mon-tan.͟ Alma was very particular about that, but with the wave of newcomers to Tucson after WWII, its pronunciation gradually changed it to ͞Mon-than.͟ Oscar Monthan’s remains returned home. Like Samuel Davis, he is buried in Tucson at Evergreen Cemetery.

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J.J. Lamb