Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Kannally Ranch

by Rain Trueax

Fire and water from the well
Simple gifts but freely given
In the house where good men dwell
 words etched  in wood in the Kannally home

Because of the popularity of historical romances and westerns, we have an idea of what Old West ranching was like. The reality was often quite different. An example is Arizona's Kannally Ranch.

Like other westward seekers, in 1902, 23-year old Neil Kannally (probably a nickname as there is a Cornelius M. Kannally listed in the cemetery with the rest of his family) left his home in Illinois, with the hope that sunshine and a drier climate would heal his damaged lungs. Because of a lack of definitive records, it's difficult to know for sure (a reason for that will be revealed later), but his father might've been Michael Kannally, who since 1857, had built up a prosperous grocery business in Sterling.  

If so, it could explain how Neil could afford to go west and stay at a health resort in Oracle, 38 miles north of Tucson, at about 4000 feet in elevation, which specialized in healing those with tuberculosis. The sunshine, higher elevation, and treatment helped, and a year later he urged his brother Lee to join him.
In 1903, the two purchased the 1880s McCarius homestead of 160 acres, good land for cattle with room to expand. 

Here's where the romance comes in, right? I mean two bachelors-- they'd have to be handsome and strong if they hoped to operate a ranch. Wouldn't they want wives? It is possible that Lee was on the young side for that as records put his date of birth as 1888, which would've made him 15. Not that unusual for youths to head west-- hardly an age for marriage-- at least of men.

Whatever the case, the brothers set out to work their land. They slept in a small adobe cottage that had come with the property. From a second-generation, Irish Catholic family, the young men eventually asked more siblings to join them. Vincent (possibly 28), 30-year old Mary (sometimes called Molly in articles), and 7-year old Lucille came to the Kannally ranch. Is it possible the parents had died for a child to come that far with her siblings? To accommodate the growing family, the brothers added onto the original adobe and then built cottages for their sisters. They all filed for homesteads and expanded the ranch land.

Surely now there'd be a romance-- well, if there ever was one for any of the five, it never came to fruition. None of the Arizona Kannallys married or had children. The thing is the information on them is sparse and sometimes mixed up for names or dates. This was done deliberately at Lucille's request after her death in 1976. As the sole surviving sibling, she requested all family historical records be destroyed. What mysteries might they have revealed-- we'll never know nor will we know her motivations. Imagination has to do the work now for what the dynamics were for these family members.

When WWI came along, articles said that Lee went to war. I checked service records on Ancestry and there were quite a few Kannallys that served-- including a Captain Vincent Kannally. Was this the Vincent who had come west with his sisters? Was it one of the things family members did; and of course, Neil could not go given his lung damage. In the war, Lee suffered nerve gas damage that afflicted him the rest of his life. He took up painting as a way to find peace. 

The beautiful home on the property was built between 1929-1933 of adobe, designed by a Kentucky architect, H. Newkirk. It was neither planned nor paid for by the ones living on the ranch, but by two other brothers, who had followed different paths. 

Although William and Michael visited the ranch, they never lived there. The home was the dream of William, who was in the lumber business, and partially financed by Michael, a Chicago lawyer. The four-level Mediterranean home with its Moorish influences was Italianate in its inspiration. [Photos of the Historic Kannally Ranch Home]

Here comes another of the mysteries that the family's story is full of, possibly due to Lucille's decision. Some articles claim Lee was a self-taught painter and never thought highly of his work. Others say he studied in Paris with the impressionists... Whatever the case, Lucille valued his impressionistic paintings (with a feel of DeGrazia another Arizona artist). Today, they are hung throughout the home. 

Living on the ranch, the brothers and sisters were not recluses. They held formal dinner parties, entertained the bishop of Tucson, and Magma Copper executives. Lucy also threw lavish luncheons for her lady friends. It is certainly a home well set up to entertain.

Interestingly though, the home had no bedrooms. At night the family went, even when icy, down the path to the original homes where they slept.

There may be mysteries in their relationships or else why destroy the papers, but it appears they won't be revealed now. I read that there was a history put together by locals in 1986 but that the facts didn't agree. 

The one certain fact is they grew that ranch into a major cattle operation, with nearly 50,000 acres, which included what would one day be the mining town of San Manuel. They sold the bulk of the land in the 1950s when possibly ranching became more than the brothers could handle with health and aging issues. 

One might imagine that Lucille was a great outdoors woman, since in her will, she left the remaining property to Defenders of Wildlife. It is said that wasn't the case. The home was her domicile. She and her sister liked to
wear beautiful dresses. Their brother Michael had paid for them to travel to Europe, and it's said they wished to have been fashion designers.

As an interesting tidbit, with no certain place for where to put it, Lucille traveled to Machu Picchu in 1976, became ill, returned home, and died a month later. What led her, a woman who loved being in her home, to want to travel to that distant but fascinating place? It's not the usual thing for someone 78 years old (especially back then) due to high elevation and difficulty of getting there.

For the ranch's final destination, in attempting to find the right use, the Defenders of Wildlife donated the home and land to the Arizona State Parks Board. Today, it is Oracle State Park, a 4,000-acre wildlife refuge, picnic area, historic home for tours, and environmental learning center.

Stories like those of the Kannallys are of great interest to writers-- followed by great frustration, as finding motivation is a writer's stock in trade. Curiosity goes right along with it. Sometimes, with all of that, there is no real way to find the story-- at least historically speaking


  1. Fascinating. There were so many people from Illinois and Ohio who traveled west. I agree, so much of the story is left to the imagination. Doris

  2. I always like the history of ranches. So many were corporate or banking owners but this was a family and stayed a family-- just not one we think of when we think of ranching empires.

  3. What a fascinating post, Rain. I can't imagine why their home didn't have bedrooms. It does make one wonder about the reasons.

    1. I went looking for it, thought I found it, but didn't end up revealing the reason lol

  4. The real stories of the west are fascinating. As it is often said, the truth is stranger than fiction. If we wrote it, no one would believe it. I'm glad you stumbled onto this family. Still scratching my head as to why no bedrooms. I wonder if TB had something to do with it. Yes, great fodder for stories. :-)

  5. I can't figure out why either as it's unusual but maybe they found more comfort in the cottages. Hard so say.

  6. In Tibet we visited a home made up of seperate buildings. The kitchen was seperate and the Tibetans lived in the the small kitchen during the coldest times. There was an outdoor out house. The main building had a livingroom where we were served tea and barley balls. The livingroom included a GE refrigerator and land line phone. Next to the livingroom was a small office and upstaris was a chapel and bedrooms. This building did not have heat. Only the small kitchen had wood stove heat. They boiled water on a solar dish outside on the walled terrace. At the Sodderly Mansion in Rhode Island there were many buildings. The kitchen was seperate from the entertaining rooms and the bedrooms upstairs. There was one fireplace to heat the entire building.
    In the case of the ranch, Maybe they had heat in the house and preferred to sleep in the cold.

  7. homes in Arizona often had bedrooms separated by a patio-- actually not that uncommon in the west lots of places. I think there is logic to it but this one had a path down a slope that I wouldn't like much especially with rattlers as a factor as well as winter ice. Still, it worked for them. Given the early deaths, I believe this was a family devastated by TB. My dad had lung problems as a child and they had him sleep in an unheated porch, which ended his problems. Our overly tight homes are not probably that great for health but they are encouraged by cost of heating or cooling.


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