Candy Moulton: Reading the West 11-5-12
November 12, 2012
Carved out of the rugged landscape of southern Arizona, the Empire Ranch started as a homestead, and has survived well over a century as a cattle ranch.
Walter L. Vail and Herbert R. Hislop purchased the Empire Ranch homestead in 1876, paying $2,000 for the land, which was operated by the Vail family until 1928 turning it into a cattle ranching empire. From 1928 until 1975 the Boice family operated the ranch, raising Hereford cattle. Changing ownership and management in 1975 the Donaldson family used innovative range management techniques during their tenure on the land from 1975 to 2009.
Today the ranchland — still a working cattle operation — is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The story of this ranch is told in the new "Images of America" book on the Empire Ranch, written by Gail Waechter Corkill and Sharon E. Hunt and published by Arcadia.
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Gail Corkill is an educational consultant who developed and directs the Empire Ranch Foundation's "Wild About the Grasslands!" ecology and Western heritage education program for youth. Sharon Hunt is a freelance editor and author who has written about cattle ranching in Southern Arizona and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
There is a saying that a photograph is worth 1,000 words, and if that is true, then this book's is valued at 200,000 words because it is a story told through the images of the Empire Ranch — more than 200 of them.
You may have seen this ranch, even if you have never been to southern Arizona. It was a setting for the Western film Red River and other Hollywood productions including the 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma, and Gunfight at the OK Corral. Also filmed on the ranch were the films "Duel in the Sun" (1946) and "Oklahoma!" (1955). Episodes of the television shows "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975) and "Bonanza" (1959-1973) also had scenes filmed on the Empire Ranch, and there are photographs in this book of some of those film productions and the actors involved in them including John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, and Burt Lancaster.
In 1988 the ranch was involved in a land swap that put it under control of the U. S. Bureau of Land Management. At that time it was designated as the Empire-Cienega Resource Conservation Area. Further protection was provided in 2000 when it was designated as the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. But cattle ranching operations continue under lease to the Tomlinson family of the Vera Earl Ranch in Sonoita, Ariz.
Like I say, this is a book primarily of photographs, and there are some dandies beginning with an 1880s-era photo of the headquarters with dozens of cattle and horses grazing nearby.
Photographs of the family members who called the Empire home include women on horses, with their children, and checking the herds. There are images of Empire kids working, playing, roping and riding everything from horses and Hereford bulls to the family dog! A final section depicts the men working on the ranch: branding, roping, riding, sorting cattle.
The Rodeoing Simons
Meet another true ranch family in "The Rodeoing Simons from Limon," written by Erma Jean Simon Wayt, who shares a personal account of the rodeo activities of her family, beginning wither first memories in Idaho in 1936, when she was camped with her family at the rodeo grounds and she got an invitation to attend a birthday party for a local girl.
Erma went to the party, but was quite frightened when it was time to return to the rodeo grounds. The man who was giving her a ride drove a "big black car that was one hundred feet long if it was five." She just knew the man was a policeman taking her to jail, so you can imagine her relief when the car stopped at the rodeo grounds and she "escaped" to run to her family.
These stories cross the country from Idaho to South Dakota, from Minnesota to Kansas. They are a bit home-spun, and depict an earlier life on the rodeo road. ❖