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Historical Ranches in Arizona

Ranching has been a rich part of Arizona’s history. The Spanish missionaries introduced ranching over 300 years ago, and it became one of the early reasons people came to Arizona. Years ago there were double the number of ranches there are today, but from then until now, ranching has been an integral part of the industry of Arizona. Several of the ranches are historical gems that still operate in some form.

Empire Ranch

Empire Ranch is located on the Santa Rita Mountains in Las Cienagas Valley, southeast of Tucson. This cattle ranch was first occupied by Edward Nye Fish, but shortly after, was bought by Walter L. Vail and his business partner Herbert R. Hislop. They developed it into a cattle ranch. Later, to increase on their investment, they took another partner, John H. Harvey, and gained the nickname the “English Boys’ Outfit.” Indian raids were an ever-present threat, and nearby ranches stopped operation. The Empire, however, remained to fight for their land and their horses (which were considered the prize to the Indians), and they only suffered significant loss once during a trip to purchase more cattle.

The procurement of a mining company, Total Wreck, helped with expanding the ranch. The property was completely sold by 1951 to Frank Boice, and the ranch was featured in many western films. The ranch was sold twice after that: once for a proposed real estate development and then for mining and water. Neither plan materialized, though, and it remains a cattle ranch. The land became public, and the Empire Ranch Foundation worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to restore and preserve it for educational and recreational opportunities; it was then combined by Congress with the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.

Triangle L Ranch

In the 1880’s, land once inhabited by the Apaches was claimed as Boot Ranch where the owners made leather. It was later converted to a cattle ranch when purchased by the Ladd family; it was regularly visited by Buffalo Bill. In 1924, it was bought again by William Trowbridge, who turned it into one of the first dude ranches in Arizona. It served as a retreat for visitors, his private residence and a cattle ranch for many years. In 1978, it was purchased again and restored and continued to serve as a guest ranch. Another change of hands in 2001, to Sharon Holnback, an artist, sent the ranch into another evolution. It is still a guest ranch, but now showcases art exhibitions and installations tying to nature, a gift shop, farmer’s markets and a two-day GLOW festival.

San Bernardino Ranch

This ranch is located in San Bernardino Valley in Cochise County, Arizona. It is more commonly known as the Slaughter Ranch and is part of the beginning of cattle ranching in Arizona. In 1911, it was established as United States Army camp during the Border Way. The name Slaughter Ranch came from an Old West gunfighter, John Horton Slaughter, who purchased a portion of the original Perez grant in 1884. He lived there with his second wife, her parents and his children from his previous marriage. Slaughter’s parents-in-law managed the property during his time as sheriff. He had many foster children on the ranch, most famously Apache May Slaughter, whom he adopted after finding her abandoned. With so many children, a school was built on site. After his death, the property was sold and became a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

You can be part of the long tradition of ranching in Arizona. The Brooks Companies have been developing ranch land since 1969.