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   Chapter 7 A MODEL RANCH

Arizona Sketches By J. A. Munk Characters: 9780

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Any one who has been in Arizona and failed to visit the Sierra Bonita ranch missed seeing a model ranch. Henry C. Hooker, the owner of this splendid property, was born in New England and is a typical Yankee, who early emigrated west and has spent most of his life on the frontier.

He went to Arizona at the close of the Civil War and engaged in contracting for the Government and furnishing supplies to the army. It was before the days of railroads when all merchandise was hauled overland in wagons and cattle were driven through on foot. He outfitted at points in Texas and on the Rio Grande and drove his cattle and wagons over hundreds of miles of desert road through a country that was infested by hostile Indians.

Such a wild life was naturally full of adventures and involved much hardship and danger. The venture, however, prospered and proved a financial success, notwithstanding some losses in men killed, wagons pillaged and cattle driven off and lost by bands of marauding Apaches.

In his travels he saw the advantages that Arizona offered as a grazing country, which decided him to locate a ranch and engage in the range cattle business.

The ranch derives its name from the Graham or Pinaleno mountains which the Indians called the Sierra Bonita because of the many beautiful wild flowers that grow there. It is twenty miles north of Willcox, a thriving village on the Southern Pacific Railroad, and ten miles south of Ft. Grant, that nestles in a grove of cotton trees at the foot of Mt. Graham, the noblest mountain in southern Arizona.

The Sierra Bonita ranch is situated in the famous Sulphur Spring valley in Cochise County, Arizona, which is, perhaps, the only all grass valley in the Territory. The valley is about twenty miles wide and more than one hundred miles long and extends into Mexico. Its waters drain in opposite directions, part flowing south into the Yaqui river, and part running north through the Aravaipa Canon into the Gila and Colorado rivers, all to meet and mingle again in the Gulf of California.

Fine gramma grass covers the entire valley and an underground river furnishes an inexhaustible supply of good water. In the early days of overland travel before the country was protected or any of its resources were known, immigrants, who were bound for California by the Southern route and ignorant of the near presence of water, nearly perished from thirst while crossing the valley.

The water rises to within a few feet of the surface and, since its discovery, numerous wells have been dug and windmills and ranch houses dot the landscape in all directions; while thousands of cattle feed and fatten on the nutritious gramma grass. Its altitude is about four thousand feet above the sea and the climate is exceptionally fine.

The Sierra Bonita ranch is located on a natural cienega of moist land that has been considerably enlarged by artificial means. In an average year the natural water supply of the ranch is sufficient for all purposes but, to guard against any possible shortage in a dry year, water is brought from the mountains in ditches that have been constructed at great labor and expense and is stored in reservoirs, to be used as needed for watering the cattle and irrigating the fields. The effect of water upon the desert soil is almost magical and even though the rains fail and the earth be parched, on the moist land of the cienega the fields of waving grass and grain are perennially green.

The owner has acquired by location and purchase, title to several thousand acres of land, that is all fenced and much of it highly cultivated. It consists of a strip of land one mile wide and ten miles long, which is doubly valuable because of its productiveness and as the key that controls a fine open range.

The original herd of cattle that pastured on the Sierra Bonita ranch thirty years ago was composed of native scrub stock from Texas and Sonora. This undesirable stock was sold at the first opportunity, and the range re-stocked by an improved grade of Durham cattle. The change was a long stride in the direction of improvement, but, later on, another change was made to Herefords, and during recent years only whitefaces have been bred upon the ranch.

Col. Hooker has a strong personality, holds decided opinions and believes in progress and improvement. He has spent much time and money in experimental work, and his success has demonstrated the wisdom of his course. Just such men are needed in every new country to develop its resources and prove its worth.

He saw that the primitive methods of ranching then in vogue must be improved, and began to prepare for the change which was coming. What he predicted came to pass, and the days of large herds on the open range are numbered.

Many of them have already been sold or divided up, and it is a question Of only a short time when the r

est will meet the same fate.

When this is done there may be no fewer cattle than there are now but they will be bunched in smaller herds and better cared for. Scrubs of any kind are always undesirable, since it has been proved that quality is more profitable than quantity. A small herd is more easily handled, and there is less danger of loss from straying or stealing.

The common method of running cattle on the open range is reckless and wasteful in the extreme and entirely inexcusable. The cattle are simply turned loose to rustle for themselves. No provision whatever is made for their welfare, except that they are given the freedom of the range to find water, if they can, and grass that often affords them only scant picking.

Under the new regime the cattle are carefully fed and watered, if need be in a fenced enclosure, that not only gives the cattle humane treatment but also makes money for the owner. The men are instructed to bring in every sick or weak animal found on the range and put it into a corral or pasture, where it is nursed back to life. If an orphan calf is found that is in danger of starving it is picked up, carried home and fed. On the average ranch foundlings and weaklings get no attention whatever, but are left in their misery to pine away and perish from neglect. The profit of caring for the weak and sick animals on the Sierra Bonita ranch amounts to a large sum every year, which the owner thinks is worth saving.

Another peculiarity of ranch life is that where there are hundreds or, perhaps, thousands of cows in a herd, not a single cow is milked, nor is a cup of milk or pound of butter ever seen upon the ranch table. It is altogether different on Hooker's ranch. There is a separate herd of milch cows in charge of a man whose duty it is to keep the table supplied with plenty of fresh milk and butter. No milk ever goes to waste. If there is a surplus it is fed to the calves, pigs and poultry.

During the branding season the work of the round-up is all done in corrals instead of, as formerly, out upon the open range. Each calf after it is branded, if it is old and strong enough to wean, is taken from the cow and turned into a separate pasture. It prevents the weak mother cow from being dragged to death by a strong sucking calf and saves the pampered calf from dying of blackleg by a timely change of diet.

Instead of classing the cattle out on the open range as is the usual custom, by an original system of corrals, gates and chutes the cattle are much more easily and quickly classified without any cruelty or injury inflicted upon either man or beast. Classing cattle at a round-up by the old method is a hard and often cruel process, that requires a small army of both men and horses and is always rough and severe on the men, horses and cattle.

Besides the herds of sleek cattle, there are also horses galore, enough to do all of the work on the ranch as well as for pleasure riding and driving. There is likewise a kennel of fine greyhounds that are the Colonel's special pride. His cattle, horses and dogs are all of the best, as he believes in thoroughbreds and has no use whatever for scrubs of either the human or brute kind.

The dogs are fond of their master and lavish their caresses on him with almost human affection. In the morning when they meet him at the door Ketchum pokes his nose into one of his master's half open hands and Killum performs the same act with the other hand. Blackie nips him playfully on the leg while Dash and the rest of the pack race about like mad, trying to express the exuberance of their joy.

In the bunch is little Bob, the fox terrier, who tries hard but is not always able to keep up with the hounds in a race. He is active and gets over the ground lively for a small dog, but in a long chase is completely distanced and outclassed to his apparent disgust. Aside from the fine sport that the dogs afford, they are useful in keeping the place clear of all kinds of "varmints" such as coyotes, skunks and wild cats.

How much Col. Hooker appreciates his dogs is best illustrated by an incident. One morning after greeting the dogs at the door, he was heard to remark sotto voce.

"Well, if everybody on the ranch is cross, my dogs always greet me with a smile."

There appears to be much in the dog as well as in the horse that is human, and the trio are capable of forming attachments for each other that only death can part.

The ranch house is a one-story adobe structure built in the Spanish style of a rectangle, with all the doors opening upon a central court. It is large and commodious, is elegantly furnished and supplied with every modern convenience. It affords every needed comfort for a family and is in striking contrast with the common ranch house of the range that is minus every luxury and often barely furnishes the necessaries of life.

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