KGUN 9NewsAbsolutely Arizona


History and a long list of famous guests are just part of the fascination of Rancho de la Osa

Even after nearly 325 years, the future is still bright for this hidden gem in the desert
Posted: 6:24 AM, Jan 24, 2022
Updated: 2022-01-24 17:23:58-05
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SASABE, Ariz. (KGUN) — It might just be the most historically significant ranch in the state of Arizona. Rancho de la Osa is located an hour and a half southwest of Tucson, but a world away from civilization.

On an average day at Rancho de la Osa you will find manager Lynne Knox and her husband Ross Knox on horseback, cutting cattle, just like it has been done on this ranch for well over 300 years.

Rancho de la Osa cutting cattle

"Ross and I feel very privileged to be here," said Lynne Knox. "Not just for the history of the ranch, but the folks that we get to meet."

Guests come from all over the world for the scenic beauty and the horseback riding.

They leave with an appreciation for the rich history of Rancho de la Osa. A history that actually began in 1699, when Padre Kino came to the Tohono O'odham village on this site.

"He came to the village and brought a heard of cattle and sheep to the villagers," Rancho de la Osa Proprietor Paul Bear explained. "He came through the pass over here, Presumido Pass, down the pass and to the ranch. He worked out a deal to build a mission outpost here."

Jesuit priests then ran the ranchero, constructing a building that same year. You can still see part of it today.

"It's the foundation of the original building from 1699," said Bear.

He says in 1722, Jesuit priests used the foundation for a new mission outpost.

Today, the building is home to the La Osa Cantina. What a story it could tell.

At age 300, it's the oldest continually used building in Arizona.

La Osa Cantina

U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices and Hollywood stars have all stayed at Rancho de la Osa and spent time in the cantina.

A quick tour through the historic and beautiful Hacienda gives you a sense of the famous people who also once stayed here.

"This one up here's Lady Bird Johnson, out front of the cantina," Bear said pointing to a black and white photo on the wall.

Lady Bird's husband, Lyndon Johnson, loved the ranch so much, he had his own horses brought in from Texas so he could ride in the Sonoran Desert.

LBJ on his horse at Rancho de la Osa

When the ranch first opened to guests in 1924, early Western film star Tom Mix was a regular. By the 1960s, so was legendary actor John Wayne.

"He did stay here maybe even more than a lot of the ranches," said Know. "They filmed several of those films here. That's really cool to people and we do know there's a room that he did enjoy. So, it's really nice to say that that room John Wayne did stay in."

Many guests request room 10, where John Wayne stayed.

The author of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, was also a frequent guest.

Fast forward to today, and they still call guests and ranch hands the same way when it's time to eat, by ringing the bell.

Meals are still served family style.

The only thing that's changed, the backdrop of the border wall on the hillside adjacent to the ranch.

"Everyone was concerned about the wall making a big difference, it's just the opposite," Knox said. "People are fascinated. They want to come down, the want to figure out what's going on here, what's it like on the border."

Despite the pandemic, Rancho de la Osa is doing well. Occupancy is up, with visitors still managing to come from all around the world.

Rancho de la Osa guest rooms

After nearly 325 years, Paul Bear says the future is bright for this hidden gem in the desert.

"There's a lot of history here and I'm proud to be a caretaker of it."

Osa is bear in spanish. Paul Bear, and his partners, bought the ranch at auction in 2016. They soon reopened it as a guest ranch after being closed for six years.

Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.