Our stories, local history, lore, and special places help us connect to each other and find our way in a changing world. They allow us to understand the place we live and the people whose lives and intentions shaped it. With the support of Arizona Humanities, The Vail Voice, and building on the 2018 documentary film Voices of Vail, the Vail Preservation Society is now working with OVMS students to research, write stories, and create illustrations based on Vail’s local history. These middle school students are placemakers: storytellers and artists who share stories of our past that can inform our future.

The Monthan/Tattersfield Family

By Kamila Velasco and Marita Hall, Mr. Newton’s 2019 Placemaking Literacy Class, OVMS

A little over 100 years ago, the Monthan-Tattersfield family lived where Rancho del Lago is today. They started off living a very happy and wealthy life. Jeremiah Tattersfield from England married Alma Monthan from Sweden. They had a beautiful home and a successful woolen blanket weaving business. They had five sons, Harold, Guy, Carl, Oscar and Eric. Sadly, they lost everything when less expensive blankets became available. They lost their home, and had to move. First, they moved to Canada to start over by raising cattle on a ranch. They decided it was too cold there for them. The family sold almost everything they had left to buy wagons and horses so that they could move somewhere warmer to ranch. They were thinking about Argentina, but it was too expensive for them to cross the border when they got to Mexico and they had to turn back. Then they found a place called Vail, and found welcoming people. They purchased land and every member of the family also decided to Homestead.

Eventually they had 600 acres under cultivation. Their farm grew fresh produce which they sold in Tucson. Alma Monthan Tattersfield wrote letters to friends in Sweden telling how hard the work was and what life was like in Arizona. When WWI began, all of the Monthan-Tattersfield young men wanted to fight in the war. Their father had died in 1915 so that meant their mother would have to be alone with a farm if they all left. Alma decided that they would draw straws and whoever got the short straw would have to stay in Vail. Guy Monthan got the short straw. Carl, Oscar, and Eric went off to military training. The war ended before they could be sent over. Oscar stayed in the Army Air Corp after WWI as a test pilot. He was flying as the co-pilot when he was killed in an accident. Davis Monthan Air Base is named after Oscar Monthan.

The Monthan-Tattersfield family made some pretty cool changes to the land around their farm including making a lake and stocking it with fish. Even after they lost everything and had to move from England by ship, and then by wagon from Canada, they didn’t give up.

Author’s Notes:

We live in Rancho Del Lago and were curious about the history of where we live. We can relate to this family’s story because both of us moved to Vail from places that we liked.

  • My mom and I moved to Vail from a place that had farms and I miss that. We moved in with my grandparents and my mom got two jobs day and night. She did what she had to do, and we are doing better. I like knowing there were farms where I live now. And, that others also had to work very hard to make their life better.
  • My connection with them is that just like they did, I moved here. Obviously not as hard, but it was a big change moving from Douglas about two hours away from Vail. They are very different places and have a different culture.

The environment has changed very much where the Monthan-Tattersfield family lived. The golf course and Rancho del Lago homes are where their farm was, but we should still remember them. If you want to move to someplace in Vail, it would be a good thing to learn about the history of where you live. So that you can understand how hard other people worked to make a place the way it is today. Understanding this makes us feel more at home. This can help anyone feel more at home.

Mysterious Colossal Cave

Frances Schmidt and her two dogs are ready to welcome visitors to Colossal Cave c1934. Frank Schmidt, operator and caretaker of Colossal Cave, was Frances’ father. Pencil drawing from a historic photograph by Ms. McMorrow’s OVMS Advanced Art Class.

Written by: Tyler Wardell, Mr. Newton’s 2019 Placemaking Literacy Class, OVMS

Colossal Cave is a mysterious place filled with a rich history. Around 900 A.D. the Hohokam people moved to the Cienega Watershed. It is a mystery where the Hohokam people came from. They used all resources from Cienega Creek to Colossal Cave. We know this because of the artifacts they left both in the cave and elsewhere in the park. They had a seasonal migration route that utilized different plant species depending on different climates.

Colossal Cave was important for ceremonial purposes and as long-term food storage. Although some of their art forms consisted of shell etching, common in the Gulf of Mexico, it is likely they had shell as a result of trading. Sobaipuri O’odham and Apache also used the area. The Hohokam stopped using the area, including the cave, around 1450, possibly due to environmental factors such as drought, or pressure from other tribes, causing them to move on.        

In 1879, Colossal Cave was rediscovered by Solomon Lick, a Civil War Veteran, who gave it the name “The Mountain Springs Cave.” He built a hotel and ranch on the property. A Tucson newspaper described The Mountain Springs Ranch as “the finest summer and winter resort.”

In 1884, a group of four men held up a train for $72,000. The bandits hightailed towards Colossal Cave. Sheriff Bob Leatherwood trailed them into the cave and was met with gun fire. The next morning, the Sheriff entered the cave and only found burn marks of a fire; he saw no gold or money. A few days later the Sheriff heard that the bandits were partying in Willcox. The bandits escaped through a previously undiscovered entrance of Colossal Cave. Although the Sheriff captured them no gold or money was ever found. To this day, this story is known as the Colossal Cave Bandit Legend. It is a legend, but it is based on real events.

In 1923, a man named Frank Schmidt saw that people and bandits vandalized the cave by breaking off parts of it for souvenirs. Frank could not post no trespassing signs because he did not own the property. So he had to buy a mining claim on the property where Colossal Cave was located in order to protect the cave. Frank Schmidt worked hard to have the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) come to Colossal Cave in the 1930s. The young men in the CCC lived in a Camp just south of the Cave. They built the impressive stone buildings there and the walkways, hand railings, installed lights inside Colossal Cave.

The second manager of the property, Joe Maierhauser, found a number of items in the cave that had belonged to the Hohokam. Later his son found many more artifacts in the cave, including two arrowheads that belonged to the Sobaipuri people. Martie Maierhauser, Joe’s wife, still lives behind the Colossal Cave property. Over many years Joe and Martie helped protect more of the land that is around Colossal Cave Mountain Park so that it will be there for wildlife and for us to enjoy.

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Lucretia Free