A Beautiful, Cruel Country was published in 1987 when the author, Eva Wilbur-Cruce was in her 80's. This is a story of her youth on a Southern Arizona ranch near Arivaca in the early 20th century. It is the story of a young girl, being educated by her father in the harsh realities of life and the beauty that surrounds her. At this time the Tohono O'odham still inhabited the non-reservation land around Arivaca, Arizona.
In Eva's world in this remote part of the desert, Indians were an integral part of life on the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch. Festivals and holidays such as the Feast of the Holy Cross and Harvest were celebrated together.
The Indians departed for the reservations sometime around the time Arizona became a state. It seemed to Eva that this was the beginning of the end of the lifestyle she loved. When the Indians left for the reservation, part of the heart of the land left with them. ( I have yet to find an exact year or documentation of this event, but Eva remembers that time vividly.)
I found out about this book while on a guided hike up Brown Canyon, part of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and with a lovely view of Baboquivari. The Wilbur-Cruce Ranch is now also a part of the BANWR as well, and you can still visit the ruins, along the Arivaca Creek Trail, just west of Arivaca 2.2 miles.
A fire decimated the house in 2004, but much remains to visualize what life was like back then with the help of this book.
A Beautiful, Cruel Country is a rare glimpse into a bygone era, seldom experienced at such a personal level. After reading it, I found myself wanting to know what happened next, but the book was not about that. In the epilogue, it appears to have been about sharing life with the Indians and critters amidst the rare beauty and harshness of the country that is Southern Arizona. Or at least that is what seems to frame the book's timeline.
Things have changed, but the country around Arivaca is still as wild and beautiful today.
In 2017, Ms. Rosemary and I traveled out to the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch. It is a short hike from the trailhead, less than a mile. Then turn right up the hill the second chance you get, the creek on your left. That much is well traveled and marked. The remainder of the trail is not well marked. We ended up following a bunch of cow paths and patties. We found our way back by a climbing a hill where we spotted the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch in the distance.
Dr. R. A. Wilbur, "Grandfather", founder of the Wilbur Ranch, was a Harvard educated physician who landed a job in Arivaca as physician to the Cerro Colorado Mining Company. He had arrived in Arizona Territory sometime in the 1860's with Charles Poston, the man who is widely considered to be the Father of Arizona. (You can find Poston's gravesite monument on top of a hill just outside Florence, AZ.)
When the Cerro mining operation failed, Dr. Wilbur began homesteading. His ranch grew from 140 acres to some 472 acres and 1170 leased acres. In 1989 Eva sold the ranch to the Nature Conservancy. The ranch ended up in the hands of the Buenas Aires National Wildlife Refuge, BANWR.
Eva writes about the horses of the ranch. The story of the Wilbur-Cruce horse is also an interesting one. The horses were brought to the Wilbur Ranch in 1885 from Rancho Delores in Sonora Mexico by Grandfather Wilbur. Rancho Delores was one of the Mission Ranches that Father Kino had founded. These "Rock" horses were direct descendants of the Spanish "Barb" horses brought from the Old World to the far Northern Frontier of New Spain by Father Kino. These horses were bred for their strength and stamina. These descendants were almost extinct until it was discovered that Eva had over 100 of them. Here is an interesting story about the legacy of the Rock horse here. From time to time the Tubac Presidio State Park presents talks about the origin of this horse. Some of these horses are used in the Anza Day Festival in Tubac.
When Eva sold her Ranch to the Nature Conservancy the horses had to go, as it is the Nature Conservancy's job to protect the lands. So Eva donated her precious Rock horses to the American Minor Breeds Conservancy, later known as the American Livestock Conservancy. Eva stipulated that their Spanish bloodlines be protected. These horses had maintained their bloodlines due to the remoteness of the land and the isolation of the herd. A portion of this herd is currently maintained by Robin Collins of Rancho Del Sueño in Madera, CA and another here in Southern Arizona. Last year they appeared at the Cowboy Festival at the Empire Ranch, reportedly the same ranch that Eva got in a land war with. (See the Tucson Weekly's Archives below.) What remarkable horses they are.
Read the book, it is insightful and haunting. After visiting the ranch, even more so. A Beautiful, Cruel Country
After reading this book, I wanted to know more. Perhaps I should have stopped there. There is much more to the life of Eva Wilbur-Cruce, which reads more like the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys than the romanticized picture of the tough upbringing of the wild young girl painted by Eva in her book. After reading these accounts, certain things about her development become more clear though, much of it hinted at by her own words. She was bone tough.
The truth of the war between the Wilbur-Cruce Ranch and the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company (aka Chiricahua Ranches Company) which purchased the Empire Ranch in 1928), will most likely never be known. The truth assuredly lands somewhere in the middle and may be lost to the winds. Undoubtedly, it involves grazing rights, land rights, water rights, even women's rights. By this time the Indians had lost their rights. In any case, you decide. It is a tale more interesting than fiction. I for one, fell in love with this woman's character. She left an indelible mark on my psyche.