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