Joe Garcia grew up listening to his mom, Polly, reminisce about the years she lived in a one-room ranchito 20 minutes outside Duncan, bathing outside in a hand-dug watering hole and being led around as a 4-year-old by her father on a horse.
It was the early 1930s, and her father, Pablo Rodriguez, homesteaded the land just over the border in New Mexico and rounded up cows and broke horses for the Lunt family.
In his late teens and early 20s, Garcia, 69, began to travel to the ranchito with his cousin Roger Rodriguez. They’d look for Indian pottery and petroglyphs, and watched the home slowly fall victim to the elements, rats and to vandals who stole the sandstone rocks that made up its walls.
Two years ago, Garcia said his Tio Martín had had enough. He told his nephew Roger that something had to be done. Roger got permission from the land owner to rehab the house and enlisted Garcia’s help.
For a couple of days, the men drove out to the area, found the same sandstone cache used to build the ranchito, and jackhammered new slabs for the walls. They marveled how Pablo would’ve had to use a horse and wagon to haul the slabs to the site instead of a pickup truck.
They then arranged for a family reunion. At least 15 cousins showed up with water, tools and camping supplies and made the 20-minute trek through dry washes and over dusty, steep roads in their four-wheel drives to the ranchito.
With Steeple Rock looming over them, they got to work.
They mixed cement using creek water, hauled more rocks to site. They used 2X6 lumber Roger had purchased to shore up portions of the building and donated tin for the roof.
“It took about a day and a half to put it back together because there really wasn’t much of it left,” Garcia said. “People had hauled a lot of the stones out of there.”
When it was done, Garcia picked out the perfect boulder and took it back to town with him. Thinking it might prove to be a deterrent to looters, he had it engraved: Pablo Rodriguez, Est. 1932.
As for Polly, the 93-year-old has only seen pictures of her former home.
“I really didn’t go because I’m a crybaby,” she said. “I couldn’t go because of that.”
She still has no intention of visiting, she’s just thrilled to know that her family cared enough to take the time to restore it.
“I’m so glad because it’s memories for the ones who are coming up,” she said. “I tell them stories all of the time, about how my dad would put us on the horse all the time, riding around. I remember one time looking down and it was so far down my dad had a hard time putting me on the horse again.”
Polly said her great-grandparents, Florentino and Leonarda, were from Virden, New Mexico, and when the copper mine opened in Morenci, he went to work there and raised his family along the Gila River.
When she was a toddler, her father and her uncles (her father had eight siblings) worked for the Lunt family on their ranch and farmland. The Lunts gave her father a small house on what is now called Rodriguez Lane in Duncan, in exchange for his work.
When the government offered her father a chance to homestead, he took it and built the ranchito, she said.
“Every day when he went to work he’d dig a hole for water and it would last the whole day,” Polly said. “We used it for our drinking water and to bathe with and the next day he’d dig another hole.”
She remembers playing outside all day and literally making cups with mud. Just one year separated her and each of her six siblings.
“Since it was just ourselves and no neighbors, we got along real good,” she said.
When the state threatened to throw her father in jail for not having his children in school, Polly said her father traded his homestead for the house in Duncan.
After she got married to her late husband, Jose, they would sometimes picnic at the ranchito, she said.
She now has 20 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren spread all over and she hopes they’ll continue to picnic and explore the area when they’re here.
Garcia said he and Roger still go adventuring out near the homestead. Often, he takes cans of oil with him.
“I spray the boards with motor oil so they don’t rot and deteriorate,” he said.
“We did it for my mom and her brothers and sisters who are still alive, but we also did it for my grandpa,” Garcia said.