By Scott Dyke
Recently I was recruited for a field trip to the venerable ghost town of Ruby. This newspaper’s assistant editor and ace reporter David Rookhuyzen wanted some company for his research of the various cemeteries in Southern Arizona. He included editor Dan Shearer, whose only function, near as I can remember, was to buy lunch
We hit the Cow Palace in Amado on the return leg. The place has a storied history.
Otho Kinsley was born in 1899 on a California ranch, and the family moved on to Southern Arizona when he was a teenager. It was here, as the family tells it, that Otho became engaged with the troops of Pancho Villa. Riding in Mexico seeking some fun, he was shot by one of Villa’s men. He survived it.
This was the first example of a man who was bigger than life, in more than one way, as he grew to 6 feet 3 inches and a solid 280 pounds.
Otho labored on a highway work crew in the early Great Depression years. He saved his money and bought a large parcel — 600 acres — in Amado where the Cow Palace sits. In time he developed a complex that included a store, restaurant (Cow Palace), grocery store, gas station, swimming pool, dance hall and lakes.
He also built a jail. Stories have it that some who were put there dug
their way out through the adobe.
He loved cars, mostly Pontiacs. Otho would drive 100 or so miles a day visiting well-digging projects and mining sites, always with a clenched cigar in his mouth. The rodeo business brought a fair share of medical treatments.
Oh yeah, he sold part of the ranch for $421,000 in 1959. Not a bad return for his initial forty bucks.
His death was appropriate as well, dying behind the wheel from a heart attack in the Catalina foothills, survived by his wife Helen, daughter Thelma, and son Otho Jr.
His interests also included livestock and crops, cotton being the main staple. He also practiced the ancient and mysterious trade of water witching. He would take out his willow stick and walk lands in search of underground water. Not a bad ability to possess in these parts.
Otho also learned the well drilling business. Otho Jr. tells about his mining for gold and uranium with a witching stick.
Dianne Dryer Thompson’s father was Otho Kinsley’s bookkeeper. She recounted the man from her childhood. He loved to dance, and the dance hall he built was prosperous. The charge was a dime a dance and crowds flocked to the place for entertainment.
Once, a sailor got out of hand and Ortho dragged the swabbie out of the hall and tossed him into the lake, where he probably put to good use his water experiences.
One singer’s start
The dance hall also featured a young budding country and western singer. Her name was Laverne Davis.
Laverne had this talent. She could sing up a storm at an early age. Born in Douglas to a hunter father and a circus performer mother, she had the genes for entertainment. It all started at small barn dances in Nogales, Benson, Patagonia and, of course, the Otho Kinsley ranch. Her standard rendition that always drew raves was “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”
“I loved a lot of songs; it is hard to pick a favorite,” she said. When I asked what was the most memorable event for her, she told me it was her long engagement at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.
“Just imagine the thrill of performing there when I was barely 21!” Laverne also sang to audiences in Reno and Lake Tahoe. She quit the business to raise a family and now offer her talents to special groups. Still gracious, Laverne Davis Lawrence and her husband, David Lawrence, reside in Tucson.
Incidentally, this column originated with a phone call from Rodney Waller, an over-the-road Illinois truck driver whose father tended bar at the Kingsley Ranch.
Otho Kinsley left a giant footprint here. His flamboyance and special gift for enterprise carved out a lifetime of accomplishment. He hobnobbed with western stars who visited; Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard were considered friends. He owned a lion. He ran a rodeo. He often rode airplanes in the search for uranium.
The likes of him are gone now. All that remains of his ranch is the Cow Palace.
The landscape changed when Arizona became a retirement lure. The lake disappeared when the interstate was built.
Scott Dyke is a Wyatt Earp historian, writer, western lecturer and researcher. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Article appeared at the Green Valley News and is republished here with the permission of the author.
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