Early Arizona Ranching

Boots & Saddle

Early Arizona ranching artifacts, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott, AZ

Ranching quickly followed the defeats of the Apache, Yavapai, Pima, and other Indians in post-Civil War Arizona Territory.

Apache Moccasins

Apache artifacts, Cochise County Courthouse, Tombstone, AZ

Beginning in the Prescott area, and spreading through the Mogollon Rim country of the White Mountains, native grasslands were quickly converted to range for herds of Texas Longhorns and other cattle, as well as sheep and horses.

Valley & Dragoons

Sulphur Springs Valley looking west at Dragoon Mountains, south of Pearce, AZ

Some of the best grazing lay in southern Arizona, such as in the rich Sulphur Springs Valley, where the historical fantasy novel APACHE PORTAL takes place.


In 1880 Arizona, during the last days of the free Apache, sixteen-year-old Caleb Harned stumbles upon a lost and injured Indian girl. Resolving to help, he hides her at his family’s ranch.                              
       But hostile forces gather—cavalry chasing renegade Indians, bounty hunters, and townsfolk who threaten the couple’s budding love. Then the young woman vanishes, and Caleb is heartbroken.
       His search for her leads him to the Dragoon Mountains, where the Apaches are converging, and then into danger as he fights to steal her back. But will her people open the way for him—the son of a white man—and share their deepest secret?
        He only has until the moon is full, or he’ll lose her forever.
        APACHE PORTAL is a historical fantasy, brimming with Western adventure, romance, and mystery.

While today the wide valley, stretching 70 miles from Willcox to the Mexican border, is largely dry scrub — intermixed with some irrigated farming — in the late 1800s tall grass grew unbroken, equal to the Kansas prairie.

Distant Valley

Sulphur Springs Valley, viewed through a cleft in the Dragoon Mountains, with the Chiricahuas in the distance.

This valley, bounded by the Chiricahua Mountains to the east and the Dragoons to the west, had been part of the land allowed Cochise and his Chiricahua people in the treaty of 1872. Negotiated in the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains by General Howard — and Tom Jeffords, who would become the area’s fair and respected Indian Agent — the deal raised the ire of President Grant for being too generous to the Apaches. 

Mountain Meadow

The reservation was permitted to exist for only two years, until after Cochise’s natural death in 1874.

The Indians were soon after removed to San Carlos Reservation to the north, opening the land to settlement.

Faraway Cabin

Cabin at Faraway Ranch, Chiricahua National Monument

Typical of the Arizona Territory, early ranchers in Sulphur Springs Valley were a rugged breed, driving their cattle in from elsewhere, as there were no rail lines yet, and constructing their first homes entirely of local stone and logs from the mountains.

Adobe brick construction was also common, and in the early years grass huts were sometimes built for ranch workers.

Pearce, Arizona 2

Author Carl Grimsman at the ruins of an early adobe ranch house near Pearce, AZ

Frontier Bedroom

Authentic furnished room, Tombstone, AZ

In the first years, up until 1880 or so – the year APACHE PORTAL is set, on a ranch near modern day Pearce – the ranchers grazed their herds in a vast common area, and cooperatively cut them by brand as needed for sale or other operation.

Faraway Ranch

Faraway Ranch, established in the 1880s in the Chiricahua Mountains; ranch now part of Chiricahua National Monument.


The silver mining town of Tombstone was a ready market for beef produced on southern Arizona grasslands.

Many sold their steers for meat on army contract at one of the frontier forts, such as Forts Apache, Bowie, and Huachuca – or drove them to the infant boom-towns rising around mine strikes, including Tombstone, soon Bisbee, and a dozen near-forgotten towns since crumbled into the landscape.

OK CorralThis was a dangerous period in the history southern Arizona. Renegade Apaches still traversed the valley, holed themselves up in the mountains, and killed the occasional cow – or rancher.

GallowsThere were also rustlers such as the Clantons – participants in the 1881 OK Corral gunfight – who staked a ranch in the adjacent valley, along the San Pedro River. These and others of the infamous Cowboys gang would often slip into Mexico to steal cattle or horses and herd them over the border to sell.

So along with the increasing hordes of miners working or searching for silver, copper, and gold, the Cochise County ranch country quickly became a bustling locale.

Barbwire Display

Historic Barbed Wire displayed at Cochise County Courthouse, Tombstone, AZ

Soon also the ranchers were fencing their ranches, like they were beginning to do in other parts of the Territory – destined to become the State of Arizona in 1912 – and across the entire west.

Almost overnight, it seemed, “Don’t fence me in” became barbed wire, roads, rails, towns, wells, followed by telephone and electric lines and the motor car.

Pearce Tractor

Tombstone ClothesBut the grit and resilience of the early Arizona rancher still exists today in their spirit and their offspring, many of whom are still living and working on this dry and rugged land.

This is the third in a series of articles exploring The World of APACHE PORTAL.

Photos and text Copyright 2014 Carl Grimsman, All rights reserved.