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Borderman: The Memoirs of Federico José María Ronstadt

Introduction
by Edward F. Ronstadt

In May of 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt looked down from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. "Leave it as it is," he said. "You cannot improve upon it. What you can do is keep it for your children and your children's children, and all who come after you."

These words might well apply to the reminiscences of Fred Ronstadt, one of the founders of the Ronstadt family of Tucson. Before his death in December of 1954, Fred Ronstadt penciled his memoirs in cursive script on the face and backs of sheets of Ronstadt Company stationery. They detail much of his life and times in warm, yet straightforward, prose, including his childhood and youthful activities in Sonora, Mexico, and in neighboring Baja California. These are a part of our Mexican and American heritage. Except for the integration of otherwise repetitive sections, a rearrangement of the parts in chronological order, and the occasional addition of needed punctuation, his script has been left precisely as he wrote it. Because his memoirs were written piecemeal over a period of several years, he sometimes forgot what his previous narrative had contained.

At family gatherings, Papa used to tell stories about his early days in Tucson, California, Sonora, and Baja California. We urged him to write these stories down on paper. It was during the last years of his life, from about 1944 to 1954 and while vacationing in California, that he wrote many pages of manuscript. While he failed to commit to paper all he might have wished, and their ending is abrupt, what he did accomplish fulfilled his hope of leaving his family his memoirs. In the process, he also left present and future students of history and of U.S./Mexico borderlands culture with a rich legacy.

Fred Ronstadt was a collector of many bits and pieces of historical memorabilia, and he asked my mother to preserve these items for future generations of historians. For many years I have worked with his papers and photographs, most of which are now deposited in Special Collections in the University of Arizona Library. Shortly after his death, some material of his father, Colonel Frederick A. Ronstadt, was placed in the archives of the Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society -- now the Arizona Historical Society -- in Tucson.

Grandfather Ronstadt, Frederick Augustus, was a native of Hanover, Germany, having been born there in 1816 or 1817. He received his education in mining engineering at the University of Hanover and came to the New World about 1839 or 1840, landing at Buenos Aires, Argentina, and crossing the Andes to Chile. My father told us that in 1841 grandfather was in Lima, Peru, and from there traveled to San Luis Potosi, Mexico. He became a naturalized citizen of Mexico in 1843.

It is possible Frederick Augustus came to the New World to get away from the militarism sweeping over Europe in the late 1830's. In 1839 there was a new king in Hanover, the Duke of Cambridge, uncle of Queen Victoria of England. The new king abrogated the liberal constitution his predecessor had granted his subjects, bringing on vocal protests from some of the professors in the universities. My father also told us that when grandfather Ronstadt was being considered for military service in the United States, he informed the American authorities that he had previous military training while in Germany. However, he spent some twenty-three years of his life in the military service of his adopted country, Mexico, becoming Colonel of the National Guard of the State of Sonora and, at one time or another, Military Prefect of every district in the State of Sonora. His Acciones de Guerra (Military Service Record) is in the archives of the Arizona Historical Society.

The first marriage of Frederick Augustus Ronstadt was to Concepcion Quiroga, and they had four children, two boys and two girls. She died when the children were young, and he remarried in 1867 in Altar, Sonora. His new bride was Margarita Redondo, a member of a well-known and widely-respected Sonoran family whose forebears had arrived in Northern Mexico in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Among the early Redondo arrivals in Sonora was Don Francisco Xavier Redondo who came north from the Valle de Sinaloa as a soldier in the service of Spain. He came north to the newly established Presidio of Altar, 1753, accompanied by soldiers whose family names continue to be prominent in southern Arizona and northern Sonora: Angulo, Elias, Moreno, Ramirez, Sotelo, and many others. Francisco Redondo must have completed his military service by the end of the eighteenth century, because in 1792 he obtained a large grant of land from the crown for the Ocuca property located halfway between Altar and Santa Ana in Sonora. His brother, Santiago, was also granted a large tract of land extending from Altar northeast to Saric and Tubutama.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Redondos were well known in the Altar region. Margarita's father, José María, was serving as Prefect of the Altar District in 1857 at the time of the infamous filibustering expedition led into Caborca, Sonora, by Henry Alexander Crabb.

My father, Fred Ronstadt, was the oldest son of Frederick Augustus Ronstadt and Margarita Redondo. He was born January 30, 1868 at Las Delicias. This was a hacienda which belonged to Ignacio Pesqueira, sometimes Governor of Sonora. It was located just south of the community of Banamichi on the Sonora River. His father had just completed a period of military service and was working some mines of Pesqueira located nearby. He was christened Federico José María, and Ignacio Pesqueira was his Godfather.

In March of 1882, when Fred was fourteen years old, he and his father traveled in a mountain wagon from Magdalena, Sonora, to Tucson, Arizona Territory, where Fred was to learn the blacksmithing and wagon trade. As his memoirs indicate, he did so successfully. And in 1890 he married Sara Levin, daughter of Alexander Levin, owner of Levin's Park and Brewery in Tucson. By this marriage he had four children: Luisa, Laura, Fred A., and Alicia. In 1902, while Sara was expecting her fifth child, she became a casualty of a scarlet fever epidemic and died at the age of thirty-two.

One of their children, Luisa, was destined to enjoy a long and successful career as the internationally-known singer, Luisa Espinel. After an extensive tour of the Spanish countryside during which she lived "with people from all walks of life, learning their traditional songs and dances," she came home to the United States. Here, "she transformed herself into more than just a singer, weaving music, acting and dance into memorable vignettes that captured something of the soul of the Spanish people themselves. During the early 1930's, she toured the nation, performing in theaters and on college campuses, winning praise for musical integrity as well as her talent." [see note 1]

In 1933 Luisa reminisced about our father for a reporter from the Arizona Daily Star. "There were summer evenings I remember when the moon shadows of the grape leaves latticed the arbor, and my father sitting there, his face illumined, would accompany his songs on his guitar and later tell us marvelous stories of when he was a little boy. ... The most vivid memories of my childhood are interwoven with music and mostly the music of my father, who loved it. It was his whole life in those days; his business was a secondary consideration." [see note 2]

Given Papa's love of music and the fact that he was founder of what probably was Tucson's first orchestra, the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense, it is not surprising some of his children should have shared that love. My brother Gilbert and I continue to sing songs our father taught us. Several of Fred's grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue the tradition. Best known among them is one of Gilbert's daughters, Linda Ronstadt, who has appeared as a singer in concerts throughout the world, in movies, and on television, and who is one of today's premier recording artists.

The year after Sara's death, in 1903, Lupe Dalton, daughter of Winnall A. Dalton, applied for a position at the Ronstadt Company as bookkeeper. Her father was the son of Henry Dalton and Guadalupe Zamorano. Henry Dalton, an Englishman, had arrived in California in 1845 when it was still part of Mexico. He bought land near Mission San Gabriel and became mayordomo (secular administrator) at the mission. He subsequently bought the Santa Anita rancho, land which, after passing through several owners -- including his son-in-law Luis Wolfskill -- was purchased in 1875 by Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin. Henry Dalton's wife was Guadalupe Zamorano, daughter of Don Agustin Vicente Zamorano of Monterey who in 1834 introduced the printing press to California. [see note 3]

Shortly after Lupe Dalton's appearance at the Ronstadt Company, Fred Ronstadt fell in love with her and she with him. She was twenty-two years old at the time. They were married on Valentine's Day, 1904, and had four sons by their union: William, Alfred, Gilbert, and Edward. The Ronstadt house located at 607 North Sixth Avenue in Tucson, now listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, was built by Fred in 1904 as a present for his new bride. Its architect was Henry Trost, designer of many of Tucson's fine homes. [see note 4]

The Ronstadt wagon and carriage factory was prospering in 1901 when it was incorporated as the F. Ronstadt Company. [see note 5] This name continued until the 1930's when it was changed to the Ronstadt Hardware and Machinery Company, a short-lived operation which went into receivership because of poor management. Fred Ronstadt, who was 65 years old at the time, had been planning to retire and had made plans to sell the business to three of his associates. While he and Mrs. Ronstadt were traveling in Europe on a well-deserved vacation, mismanagement on the part of these associates, coupled with effects of the 1929 stock market crash, practically ruined the business. When the receivership came to an end, Fred was still hoping to retire, but his son Alfred urged him to continue because of the possibility that some of his sons might want to go into the business. Fred had sold his property on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Broadway in 1929 to Jack Martin and Dr. Meade Clyne, and with some of the money from this sale, he was able to buy the business from the receiver and bring in J.W. Briscoe as a partner.

Briscoe had worked for the company as a machinery salesman and had not been involved in any of the mismanagement that was responsible for the receivership. Fred sold a substantial part of his stock in the business to Briscoe, and Briscoe became the general manager.

In the years following 1900, the business expanded its scope of operations and carried a line of general hardware, tractors, farm implements, and repair parts, road building and construction machinery and equipment, and industrial supplies. In the early 1900's Ronstadt became Tucson's first Oldsmobile dealer, and later he handled Studebaker, E.M. Flanders, and several other lines of automotive equipment. The automobile lines were discontinued, but the company continued to handle automotive parts and tires as well as a gasoline station where, in 1929, one could buy a gallon of gasoline for $.17 cents.

In 1935, the firm incorporated under the name of F. Ronstadt Hardware Company with Fred Ronstadt, President, Gilbert Ronstadt, Vice President, and J.W. Briscoe, Secretary Treasurer and General Manager. The improved economy of the New Deal era, coupled with the years of World War II, helped the expansion of the business. Success was further a product of good management.

Fred Ronstadt continued to be active in the business up to the time of his death in 1954. J.W. Briscoe became President. In 1965, Briscoe retired and my brother Gilbert and I assumed the principal offices and management of the company. The F. Ronstadt Co. went out of business in 1985.

Throughout his life in the 20th century, Fred Ronstadt continued his many civic activities. He was Chairman of the Water and Agricultural Committee of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Tucson Rotary Club, and he took part in many musical endeavors. He was among the organizers of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and in the mid-1920's he directed a production of Victor Herbert's Red Mill. He was an active member and onetime president of the Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society.

My mother, Lupe Ronstadt, died on October 10, 1974. She was 92 years old.

In his later years, Papa told us there was a cold spell when he and his father traveled north en route to Tucson in 1882. As they passed Calabasas, Fred's father turned to him and said: "Now you are in the United States of America, without any question the greatest country in the world. You will enjoy great liberty and protection under the American Government and you must always feel and show deep affection for that. When you become a man, you may want to establish yourself in the United States. See that your life and your conduct are such as will entitle you to the privilege of American citizenship."

Papa never forgot his father's words. Sixty-seven years later, when he was 81, he wrote down these comments for a talk to his employees at Ronstadt's store: "We still know that no other country in the world can compare with ours. I say this not only because I know it, as every other American, but because of the gratitude that I feel for the liberty and protection that I have enjoyed here for 67 years under the flag. I wonder how many of us fully appreciate the wonderful privilege of being a citizen of the United States?"

Notes

note 1 Thomas Sheridan, "From Luisa Espinel to Lalo Guerrero: Tucson's Mexican Musicians Before World War II, Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 25, no. 3 (Autumn, 1984), pages 287, 289 (Tucson: Arizona Historical Society). [back]

note 2 Quoted in Sheridan, "From Luisa Espinel to Lalo Guerrero," page 287. Sheridan also writes about Luisa Espinel in Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1986), pages 188-191. [back]

note 3 Susanna B. Dakin, A Scotch Paisano in Old Los Angeles: Hugo Reid's Life in California, 1832-1852, Derived from His Correspondence (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1978), pages 119, 147, 300. For Agustin Zamorano, see James D. Hart, A Companion to California, revised edition (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1987), page 576. [back]

note 4 See Lloyd C. Engelbrecht, Henry C. Trost: Architect of the Southwest (El Paso: El Paso Public Library, 1981). The Ronstadt house is described on page 20. [back]

note 5 A well-illustrated and detailed history of the F. Ronstadt Company and its wagon-making operations, one which includes quotations from the memoirs which follow, is by James E. Sherman and Edward F. Ronstadt, "Wagon Making in Southern Arizona," The Smoke Signal, no. 31 (Spring, 1975), published in Tucson by the Tucson Corral of the Westerners. [back]

Acknowledgements | Foreword | Maps | Introduction |
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 |
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