1766 Tubac map

Tracey Brasher, left, and Gary Brasher stand in front of a Spanish map from 1766 at Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty in Tubac. The map's accuracy has helped Brasher and his partners settle regulatory issues in the area.

If you've been to Tubac, there's little chance you missed the large community directly off the freeway. That community is Barrio de Tubac, and without a map from 1766, there's a good chance it and the rest of Tubac would look very different today.

Gary Brasher, the branch manager of Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty, is well-versed on the map, a reproduction of which is currently hanging in the office. In fact, he attributes the old map to saving two developments in the area – Barrio de Tubac and Santiago at Barrio de Tubac.

University of Arizona students and staff discovered the map existed, photocopied it and gave it to the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Brasher learned of it shortly after moving to Tubac in 1981 to develop residential subdivisions.  

Brasher and his partners noticed structures on the map and began to explore the area. While out there, they found tons of artifacts that you can now find at the museum.

Over time, Brasher learned the genesis of the map all began with the Presidio's commandant wanting a pay raise. To get that pay raise from the Spanish monarchy, the commandant would have to show how many people were under his command to justify the expense.

"Whether they didn't believe it or whether it was just part of their normal process, they sent what they considered a surveyor," he said. "Then, when (the map) was finished, they put it on a Spanish galleon in the Gulf of Mexico."

British privateers overtook the ship at some point and then the British navy captured the privateers and their cargo.

With the cargo in the hands of the British, the map of Tubac found itself in the British Museum. A friend of Brasher's had a digital copy of the map made while in London and Brasher used it to render the version now hanging in Tubac.

"It kind of had a sorted history, so, to my knowledge, it never made it to Spain," he said. "I don't know what happened about the poor guy's raise."

The map

A reproduction of a 1766 map of Tubac from the British Museum of Art hangs at Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty on Tubac Road. Branch manager Gary Brasher and his partners used the map when developing subdivisions in the area.

Brasher said it took a real roundabout track to end up where it began. And for Brasher and Tubac, it's a good thing it did find its way back.

Water issues

As Brasher and his partners began to develop Barrio de Tubac in the mid-1990s on land, he said they purchased around 1983; the team ran into issues surrounding water rights and regulations. Problems he said could have put the project in real jeopardy.

When breaking up a property into subdivisions in Arizona, the state requires developers to prove there is a 100-year assured water supply, he said.

The developers drilled and tested the water as part of the process, but when the tests came back, they discovered a problem. 

The water composition from the wells had similar properties to surface water despite being more than 700 feet deep, he said.

"We had a groundwater right, but now they're looking at it and saying, 'gosh, some of this is surface water, and you don't have a surface water right,'" Brasher said. "That created a real challenge for us."

The only way around the problem was to prove a surface water right.

You have to show the earliest use of surface water in history, as well as its consistent use to the present, he said. The only breaks in usage allowed were for leaving the area due to hostilities with Native American tribes, Brasher added.

He was discussing the regulations with his partners when he realized the map was hanging right in front of him.

The map showed an irrigation canal taking water from one end of the Rio de Tubac, now the Santa Cruz, and routing it back into the river downstream.

The canal made a football-shaped space in between for farming and established historical surface water use going back to 1766.

"Now we got to figure out how to show it was always used all the way to statehood," he said.

Brasher and some partners went to Washington, D.C., where they found what they were looking for in the National Archives.

At the National Archives, Brasher found detailed homestead records that traced pre-statehood farming. The only recorded breaks in water usage came from farmers taking refuge in Tucson during hostilities with Native Americans, he said.

"Through that process, which was a big stack of documents, we were able to go to the Department of Water Resources with this map and that evidence," Brasher said. "We were able to prove we had a very old right to surface water."

Saves the day again

Around 10 years later, the map would save the day again when the Santiago development began.

"We had planned on developing a couple of hundred feet away from the river, and we had a 72-lot development planned," Brasher said.

The problem was that Santa Cruz County wanted to implement a 500-foot erosion hazard setback line from the bank of the Santa Cruz River, he said.

"It would have taken about 45 lots away from us," he said.

With more than half the lots too close to the bank, the project would no longer have been financially feasible.

And then came the map.

With the help of engineers and an updated topographical overlay, Brasher was able to show the bank's erosion rate was much less than previously expected.

"What we discovered is the river, the west bank, had only moved, I think it was five meters or less in 250 years," he said.

After the county reviewed the two maps, the distance between the subdivision and the river's bank was reduced.

Historical appreciation

Brasher's family first moved to Arizona from Oregon in the 1800s by wagon and settled in the Phoenix area. 

Now, Brasher and his wife Tracey are watching his grandchildren growing up in Tubac. They are seventh-generation Arizonans.

Having such longstanding roots and encountering this map gives him an appreciation for history.

"Especially in Southern Arizona, it seems like you almost step over history every day," Brasher, 61, said.

The map's history and its modern-day practical applications have taught Brasher a lesson.

"It proves God takes care of people who have simple minds like me," he said with a laugh. "I would have never figured this out on my own."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732