If you enjoy time-traveling as much as we do, we suggest you visit some of Southern Arizona’s historic ranches that have been preserved. They date from our state’s Territorial Period (1863 – 1912).
Here are a few of our favorite ranches. Some are owned by the State of Arizona. Some are owned by well-respected organizations to preserve the history and ecology of the area. Still others are privately owned. They all have a fascinating story to tell.
The Slaughter Ranch is now a museum dedicated to the life of “Texas” John Slaughter, the sheriff (1886 – 1890) who cleaned up Cochise County after the Earps left. He was much respected by law abiding folks and greatly feared by outlaws.
If Sheriff Slaughter had to track down bad guys, he seldom brought them back to stand trial. Oh, he’d return with the bandit’s guns and boots, horse and saddle. No one had to ask what happened to the outlaw. They knew.
When General George Crook accepted Chief Naiche’s and Geronimo’s surrender in early 1886, he and his intrepid soldiers, along with a couple hundred Chiricahua Apache prisoners, bivouacked on the Slaughter Ranch.
When Generalisimo Pancho Villa needed beef for his starving soldiers during the Revolution, he thought he could steal cattle from Mr. Slaughter’s ranch. He was mistaken.
Once this was the huge San Bernardino Ranch that extended well into Mexico. In 1884, Mr. Slaughter acquired 65,000 acres of this old Spanish land grant. He later expanded his holdings to more than 100,000 acres. Here he lived with his wife, Viola, and extended family.
Southern Arizona Guide has several stories about John Slaughter and his San Bernardino Ranch. Here are three:Read More
- Arizona’s Meanest Little Good Guy
- Apache May: An Indian Girl On The Slaughter Ranch
- Road Trip: Visit To Slaughter Ranch
The picnic area at the Slaughter Ranch is included in our Top 10 Best Picnic Areas.
The Slaughter Ranch is located in the extreme Southeast corner of Arizona, 16 miles east of Douglas. Adjacent to the Ranch is the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1860’s, the Empire Ranch was established as a 160 acre homestead with a small adobe ranch house, barn and corral. A few years later, it was purchased by Edward Nye Fish, an early Tucson pioneer and successful businessman. Mr. Fish’s former home on Main Avenue in Downtown Tucson is now a part of Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block. Walter Vail and partners purchased the Empire in 1876. The Town of Vail, AZ is named for him even though he eventually made his home and ranch headquarters in Los Angeles, CA. Over the next 20 years, Vail and partners expanded the Empire Ranch to over 100,000 acres (156 sq. miles).
Today, the Empire Ranch is owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and comprises over 64,000 acres known as the Los Cienagas Natural Conservation Area. You can read the full History of the Empire Ranch here. Many movies over the years have been filmed at Empire Ranch, most notably, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, the 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma, the Outlaw Jose Wales , Oklahoma, The Cowboys, and of course John Wayne in Red River.
Don’t Miss The Empire Ranch Fall Roundup Each November
Every November there is a Roundup and Open House, now called the Cowboy Festival, well worth a visit by your whole family. Read about the Fall Roundup here and watch a slideshow of the event. Every year there is also a film fundraiser event at the Loft.
The Kannally Ranch was originally owned by two brothers who purchased this property in 1903. They were later joined by 2 sisters and a brother. No heirs were conceived, so the ranch was willed to the Defenders of Wildlife. Eventually, it was deeded to the State of Arizona, then became Oracle State Park and the Center for Environment Education.
Oracle State Park is a 4,000 acre wildlife refuge in the foothills of the north slope of the Catalina Mountains. Currently the park is open to the public from 7 am – 4 pm. The park offers day-use picnic areas and over 15 miles of trails for use by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. In addition, a section of the Arizona Trail crosses through the park.
The ranch house is a unique Mediterranean / Moorish style structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Generally, you can take a self-guided tour during the week, or take a docent-guided tour on weekends. The ranch house may be reserved for group use or weddings. From the patios you can enjoy sweeping views of granite boulder outcrops and, in the distance, the San Pedro River Valley and Galiuro Mountains to the east.
Oracle SP also serves as a Center for Environmental Education and provides programming for all ages. Interactive programs for school groups are offered by reservation. These programs are conducted along trails, so students learn about habitat and the interrelationships between plants, animals, and people. Additional public programs, workshops, tours and concerts are offered throughout the year. In 2014, Oracle State Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park.
From Tucson, if you drive east on I-10 and get off at the Dragoon exit (318), you will quickly come to the entrance of Triangle T Guest Ranch. Now you are among the huge, scenic boulders of fabulous Texas Canyon. From Triangle T, you can easily walk over to the Amerind, perhaps the finest private collection of American Indian art and artifacts in the world.
At Triangle T, you can enjoy an Old West lifestyle. It is slightly more primitive than Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, but in some way more authentic. That said, the small lodging rooms are decorated and furnished with local woods and artifacts. Several memorable Westerns were filmed here, including the 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma, Ambush at Dark Canyon, Dead Men the Series (2012). Portions of the sets are still standing.
There is a pleasant dining room for breakfast and the Rock Saloon and Grill for lunch and dinners & dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.
They have horses you can ride and facilities if you bring your own pony. In addition to the “casitas” they have hookups for RV’s as well as several primitive campsites among the boulders. Triangle T definitely has its charms.
Canoa Ranch has been preserved largely by the efforts of Representative Raul Grijalva. It is part of the Pima County’s Parks and Recreation. This area has a storied history dating back to the Hohokam. The De Anza Trail cuts through the property, but it is for its ranching history that it is being preserved.
La Canoa functioned as a working cattle ranch from 1820 to the 1970s. Tomas and Ignacio Ortiz paid $250 for the 17,000-acre San Ignacio de la Canoa Spanish land grant in 1820.
It was purchased from Ortiz in 1876 by Thomas Driscoll and cattleman Frederick Maish and worked it until 1912, the year of Arizona statehood. That year Levi Manning, former Tucson mayor and surveyor general for the Arizona Territory, bought the ranch. Before the 1940’s Levi and his son Howell expanded the original land grant to 100,000 acres and then proceeded to combine private, state, and federal lands until the ranch encompassed a 500,000 acre spread, stretching from Elephant Head on the east to the Baboquivari Mountains on the west.
Canoa Ranch was the social and economic center of the Middle Santa Cruz Valley. The ranch compound extended from the original Manning homestead, a Sonoran adobe structure, to the Manning ranch headquarters, built in the 1930s, at the north end of the land grant property. The complex included homes for 40 cowboys and their families, workshops, stables, several service buildings, a blacksmith shop, corrals, and a school.
Howell Manning’s son, Howell Jr. joined his father in running the ranch and lived there with his wife, Deezy, and two sons from the late 1940s to 1951. On December 22, 1951, a tragic accident took his life. He and two ranch employees were killed instantly in a collision with a drunken truck driver on Old Nogales Highway 12 miles south of Tucson.
Howell Sr.’s zeal for running the ranch ended with the sudden death of his son and by 1953 he began selling off parcels of land.
This sell off ended in 1994 with Fairfield Homes buying 6,400 acres, the remaining southern half of the Canoa original land grant. Fairfield Homes failed to receive zoning changes that would allow the extensive development plans they desired for the property. In 2001 the Arizona Open Land Trust, working with Pima County, conserved approximately 4,800 acres as permanent open space and wildlife habitat.
Conserving this property recognizes the beauty of the land its historic structures and colorful past as well as a significant wildlife corridor.
Owned by the George Pusch (like “push”) Family, the Steam Pump Ranch provided water for much of the surrounding area’s travelers and ranches. The first to use steam pumps in the territory to pump water, George and his partner John Zellweger, made a living out of charging to water other rancher’s cattle before they were loaded on a stock car for other parts of the country.
The ruins of the Romero Ranch in what is now Catalina State Park are sitting above an ancient Hohokam Village. These ranch ruins and the ruins of the Hohokam Village are visible on a short hike from one of the many picnic areas/campgrounds here. Francisco Romero was born at the El Presidio del Tucson in 1822, the grandson of a Spanish soldado (soldier). He began his ranch in 1865 and it remained in the family until the mid 1900’s. At one point ranching was interrupted by constant attacks from the Apaches. He died in 1905 at the age of 84. His grandson, Fabian, continued to live in the adobe home with slits for windows to fend off attacks by Apaches.
In the 1970’s attempts were made to develop the land and was met with opposition. Through a bond issue in 1980, the land was purchased by Pima County and swapped with the Arizona State Land Department. However, Arizona State Parks did not have the resources to buy the land, so it leased it from the State Land Department. In 1983 it became a State Park. In the 1990’s the land became too expensive. The Forest Service jumped in, claimed eminent domain and condemned the land, and traded it for other land in the state of Arizona. Today, Catalina State Park is leased from the U.S. Forest Service.
Faraway Ranch is part of the Chiricahua National Monument. The story of Emma Peterson and Neil Erickson is the stuff of romance novels. This is the original “Far and Away”, the movie with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Emma and Neil Erickson, however, were Swedish immigrants not Irish. The Faraway Ranch is in Bonita Canyon near the entrance to the Chiricahua National Monument. You will pass the grave site for Emma Erickson and the family along the way. Go past the Ranch and up to the Visitor’s Center where you can book a tour. At this time they have two tours a day where you can learn the story of the family and the ranch. Interestingly the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corp was camped here for a time, creating improvements to the newly formed Chiricahua Monument. Ed Riggs, husband of Lillian Erickson, was instrumental in building many of the trails in the newly established Wonderland of Rocks. It is now the Echo Canyon Trail.
The Buffalo Soldiers were also here.
Brown Canyon has been occupied by ranchers since the early 1800’s. The existing structure was built in 1906 by James and Tom Haverty. Each room in the ranch house leads out doors which is typical of houses in this era.
This area is protected by the existence of an endangered species of frog in the pond out back. The land is part of the Coronado National Forest. There are several hiking trails which fan out into Brown Canyon leading to other trails in the Coronado National Forest including the Arizona Trail. Visit Brown Canyon Ranch, learn of its history and join the Friends of Brown Canyon Ranch in preserving this sensitive area.
The Carr House which stands today as the museum dedicated to the Huachuca Mountains, was the home of Virginia Moson Martin, stepdaughter of Colonel Greene, cattle baron, landowner and owner of mining interests in Mexico and Arizona. Colonel Greene owned the San Rafael Ranch in the San Rafael Valley not far from Lochiel, AZ. It is now a part of the Arizona State Park system. It is not open to the public but is being preserved as a natural grassland.
The ruins of the Healy house are located along a short nature trail, taking you back in time to the early 20th century. Colonel John Healy and Ila Healy lived here after John retired from Fort Huachuca in 1920.
Few are alive to remember John and Ila Healy, but tales of Ila Healy after John’s death in 1970 are legend around here. She was a naturalist and a wildlife lover, and according to those that knew her, quite a character. According to locals Ila’s passion was hunting mountain lions. One story has her using a lasso to rope a young 80 pound cougar. Folks, don’t try this a home.
You can learn more about Healy Ranch, Carr House, Mining, Reef Townsite and the Huachuca Mountains at the Carr House in Carr Canyon in Sierra Vista, AZ.
The newest addition to our List of Historic Ranches is Rancho de la Osa, owned by the same people who bring you the Dude Ranches; Tombstone Monument Ranch and the White Stallion Ranch. Rancho de la Osa has a colorful history and arguably the oldest continually occupied building in Arizona, having been part of a Tohono O’odham village in the early 1700’s. It has been hostess to many famous politicians and celebrities. Read our review about Rancho de la Osa and our stay there one summer.
Each one of these Arizona Ranches has a colorful and fascinating history and so much fun to learn about and imagine what life was like.