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The Valenzuelas of Phoenix

8-30-Times-pastOn Sept. 15, 1918, a young soldier, who expected momentarily to be sent overseas to fight the Germans, had himself photographed at Camp (now Fort) Dix, New Jersey, and sent the result on a postcard addressed to Rosa Gold of Phoenix. 

Rosa was the daughter of Martin Gold, a businessman who was prominent in the Mexican-American community of Phoenix.

The soldier was Francisco “Frank” Valenzuela, son of a Mexican immigrant who first settled in what became Phoenix in 1877. 

Francisco Corosco Valenzuela, Frank’s father, was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, and came to Phoenix at the age of 16, intent on making a living and starting a family. 

According to the Homestead Act of 1862, any homesteader who made improvements and who worked the land for one year was entitled to 160 acres, and this came to include anyone who intended to become a citizen. 

Some ambitious ranchers expanded their own holdings by grubstaking adjacent homesteaders, and later finagling them out of their land.

Someone tried that with Francisco Corosco Valenzuela, but he prevailed and on May 4, 1885, registered 160 acres between 67th and 75th avenues and Buckeye Road and Lower Buckeye. He became a citizen in 1887. 

He returned to Mexico in 1890 for Emelia Calzuda Montenegro, and they were married at St. Mary’s Church in Phoenix in 1894. Their eldest child, Frank Jr. (shown above), was born on May 5, 1896.

He was one of nine children, all of whom attended Fowler Elementary School through the eighth grade. The three oldest boys left school to farm after eighth grade, but the two youngest boys and all of the girls attended either St. Mary’s or Phoenix Union High School in downtown Phoenix. 

After Francisco and Emelia died, the family land was parceled out; Frank’s share was a farm of 40 acres. For many years it was flanked by family property, the parcels inherited by his brothers and sisters.

When this photograph was taken in 1918, Frank was at Camp Dix on his way to Europe to fight in World War I. At the time most Americans believed the war would last at least another two years. But in the fall of 1918, the war slowly ended with the collapse of Germany. Even so, Frank was shipped to France in the aftermath of the war. He returned with photos of Mont Saint Michel, which many years later he proudly showed to his children.

The Valenzuela farm, which stood at 75th Avenue, was typical of family farms of the time. Frank grew alfalfa and milo (maize for chicken feed) and raised dairy cows and horses as well as scores of chickens and turkeys.

He married Maria Delores Curiel, and they had four children. But despite his best efforts he was unable to make a profit farming. Every year he had to borrow money for the next crop and he came to realize that, in the long run, the farm was too small to support his family.

To make ends meet he began leasing out 20 acres and working for the State Hospital on Van Buren Street, first as a gardener and eventually as a custodial guard.

His daughter Wilma was born in 1935 and remembers the farm’s 40 acres being divided in the middle by a lane. Around 1948, her father leased 20 acres for a holding pen for captured wild horses; they frightened the young girl with their loud and bloody fights as they kicked and bit one another.

Small disasters were associated with those horses. One apparently got stuck in the mud and died. 

Worse, one day Wilma and her sister Consuela were walking down the lane toward the bus that took them to Tolleson High School, when they saw a foal being born. The mother had not ripped open the birth sac, and the girls knew that the foal, which was encased in the quickly drying sac, would die. They were unable to tear open the sac and called for their father. He sent them on to school, and when they returned that afternoon, they found the foal indeed had died. Their father had been unable to free it from the birth sac in time to save it.

Frank was at heart a cowboy, who loved to ride horses and felt at home on the farm, and family photos show him looking the part. But he was able to adapt as Phoenix grew. 

His job at the State Hospital brought him into town regularly, and so prepared him in some way for the disaster that befell him when the farmhouse burned to the ground. He was 65, and that event made him decide to move into town, where he bought property with three lots at Wilshire and 21st Avenue.

He personally built three houses and a duplex on the lots and spent his remaining years managing them. 

He died Jan. 6, 1977, leaving his remaining 20-acre farm to his three surviving daughters. 

 — Gary Weiand. Photo courtesy Art Killeen.

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