by Bernard Fontana
The career of "this country band leader in Arizona" after the death of his father in 1889 has been briefly outlined by his son Edward in the introduction.
It would be impossible to overstate the impact of Fred Ronstadt and his siblings on the economic, social, and political life of southern Arizona. In addition to his accomplishments listed in the introduction, Fred was active as a Democrat in local politics and was once elected to serve a two-year term on the Pima County Board of Supervisors. He also supported for political office candidates who opposed gambling and allowing women in saloons and who favored higher licensing fees for saloon owners. "The political control in Tucson and Pima County in those days," he wrote, "was in the hands of saloon men and the gambling houses. While many of them men engaged in that line of business were good citizens, their following and the atmosphere surrounding them was bad."
More telling yet was his support of persons who campaigned against the American Protective Association (APA), an anti-Catholic organization begun in 1887 with a Tucson chapter founded in 1894. The APA pandered to prejudice against certain classes of "foreigners," targeting especially Central and Eastern European immigrants who, it was pointed out, were largely Catholic. In the Southwest, Mexicans were the principal object of the APA's scorn.
Working within the Republican party, the APA's members were most successful between 1891 and 1896 in getting their candidates elected, especially during the depression of 1894.
The Alianza Hispano-Americana was formed in Tucson in 1894 by a group of Tucson's Mexican middle-class community to combat such views as those held by followers of the APA, and while Fred Ronstadt was not a founder, he joined the aliancistas in their efforts to counter negative stereotypes. [see note 1]
Ronstadt was invited at various times to run for the territorial assembly, mayor's office, city council, and the state Senate -- all of which he declined for business and personal reasons.
With his brother José María "Pepe" Ronstadt, it was another matter. Fred tells the story:
The year that Woodrow Wilson was elected President (1913), Pepe had managed the Democratic campaign in Pima County very efficiently and later was appointed postmaster [of Tucson] by President Wilson and served with credit for eight years. He had also engaged in the cattle business and made a fine success in all his deals. He had stock in the Southern Arizona Bank and was a Director for several years until he died [of a heart ailment in May 1933]. A few years before he died, he was elected Supervisor for Pima County. During his term as Chairman of the Board [1926-1928] he worked to build the [Pima County court house].
Pepe Ronstadt was also founder in 1903 of the Santa Margarita Cattle Company with its ranch headquarters just north of the Mexican border in the upper Altar Valley. This and other cattle holdings soon ranked him among the largest cattlemen in southern Arizona.
Pepe Ronstadt led the way for his older brother in marrying into the Zamorano-Wolfskill-Dalton extended family, whose roots lay in Mexican Southern California. Again, it is Fred who tells the story:
My mother and myself had been much concerned about Pepe's interest in a girl that we did not like for a relative-in-law. I could not help thinking that when Mr. Dalton's family would return to Tucson, Pepe would be attracted by one of the Dalton girls, all of whom we admired very much, and I personally know them not only to be beautiful and intelligent but of excellent breeding background.
The very day when Mr. Dalton's family came home from Los Angeles, Pepe brought Hortense [Dalton] and [her sister] Lupe to the [F. Ronstadt Company] office and the store to show them where and how we were working. I am sure that the contrast between the girl in whom he had been interested and the Daltons had impressed Pepe plenty. Before many days he and Hortense became more than friends and in less than a year they were married [l901].
Fred, who was then married to Sara Levin, had no way of knowing at the time that two years later he would become the husband of Lupe Dalton and that brothers would also become brothers-in-law.
Fred's brother Dick also went into the cattle business in southern Arizona as well as operating a store that sold hay, feed, wagons, and farm implements. He married Matilda Martin, daughter of Dr. George Martin, Sr., an Irish pharmacist who came to the United States in 1851, and of Delfina Redondo, daughter of José María Redondo of Sonora. Martin became one of the earliest druggists in Arizona, and his and Delfina Redondo's many descendants continue to exert a positive presence in the economic and social life of southern Arizona. [see note 2]
Fred's sister Emilia married Jesús María Zepeda. Their daughter, Fresia, in turn married Robert Wood, Jr. For many years the Woods operated the old Zepeda family ranch in northern Sonora, the Garrapata, located a short distance south of the international boundary at Sasabe and not far from the Santa Margarita Ranch in the Arizona portion of the upper Altar Valley.
Pepe's and Hortense's son Carlos Edward was born in Tucson on August 25, 1903. Before he died in 1972, Carlos Ronstadt became one of southern Arizona's most prominent cattlemen and businessmen. Before Pepe died in 1933, he and Carlos organized the Baboquivari Cattle Company. After his father's death, Carlos and his mother Hortense took over operation of the Santa Margarita. He sold the north end of this "home" ranch and bought the Agua Linda Ranch south of Tucson in its place.
Carlos became a pioneer in the frozen food business in Arizona and formed Tucson Beef Feeders. He helped start the Erly-Fat Livestock Feed Company, served once as president of the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association, and was an executive committee member of the American National Cattlemen's Association. He was also a director of the Tucson Gas, Electric Light and Power Company, the Arizona Livestock Credit Production Association, and the Southern Arizona Bank.
Carlos's son, Karl Ronstadt, went into the construction business. Between 1972 and 1974 his construction company built the Tat Momolikat Dam on southern Arizona's Papago Indian Reservation -- the sixth largest earthen dam in the world.
Of the one son and three daughters by Fred Ronstadt's marriage to Sara Levin, the best known was Luisa Espinel. [see introduction] Born in Tucson in 1892, she became a singer and dancer who earned international critical and popular acclaim.
Luisa grew up in a house full of music, her father the leader of the Club Filarmónico, one of Tucson's earliest and most famous orchestras. As a young woman, she often appeared for the Saturday Morning Musical Club and even starred in a local production of the opera II Trovatore directed by Professor José Servín in 1917. But her love of music, and her desire to make a profession of it, took her far from Tucson -- first to San Francisco, and then to New York, Paris, and Madrid. Nevertheless, Luisa's Tucson childhood remained a personal touchstone throughout her career. [see note 3]
In 1946, as a tribute to her father, Luisa published Canciones de Mi Padre, a collection of Mexican folk songs. Her niece, Linda Ronstadt, would perform and record a similar collection under the same title for her father in 1987.
Of Fred's four children with Lupe Dalton, all of them boys, Gilbert and Edward were the two who remained in southern Arizona throughout their lives and who managed the affairs of the F. Ronstadt Company until turning it over to two of their sons in 1983.
Gilbert married Ruth Mary Copeman, and one of their daughters, Linda, has become an internationally renowned singer. She began her recording career in 1967, has appeared in films, and has performed in Pirates of Penzance as well as in La Bohéme. She is a recipient of the American Music Award, Grammy awards, an Emmy award, and the Academy of Country Music Award.
One of Gilbert and Ruth Mary's sons, Peter Ronstadt, served as Tucson Chief of Police from 1981 until his retirement in 1992.
Edward Ronstadt married Mary Catherine Geis, and they have twelve children. In the continuing Ronstadt tradition of public service, one of their sons, James Frederick, has been director of the Tucson City Parks and Recreation Department since 1978.
Frederick Augustus Ronstadt of Hanover, Germany could not have dreamed that his sojourn to northern Mexico would eventually bear such fruit. His immediate offspring and their many descendants have become exemplars of what is good in the culture of the Borderlands -- a region made special through its unique blending of peoples and traditions. Were Federico José María Ronstadt still alive, he would be terribly pleased.
note 1 Thomas Sheridan, Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1986), pages 111, 117, 283 note 10. [back]
note 2 See Armand Martin Ronstadt, Dr. George Martin, Sr., Pioneer Arizona and Tucson Druggist, Founder of the Martin Drug Company, The Smoke Signal, no. 56 (Fall 1991), pages 101-120. [back]
note 3 Sheridan, Los Tucsonenses, page 190. [back]