Friday, October 28, 2022

Arizona Ranches in History – Part 1 – beginning to 1849 By Donna Schlachter -- with Giveaway

Credit to Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, History and Archives Division

This month, I’m sharing information about the history of ranching in Arizona, the early years. I’ll save the later years for another time.

For me, this was a real eye opener. When I think of Arizona, I see desert. Dry, arid, nothing but cactus and coyotes. Or I think of Flagstaff, which, the last time I came through, boasted the worst snowstorm I’ve ever driven through. So I think of mountains, snow, cold. Neither of these extremes sounds like it bodes well for ranching.
Hayes Ranch -- Arizona State Library records

When I was writing the original story A Prickly Affair, which I later re-released as Cactus Lil and the City Slicker, I did my research, and learned that cattle ranching has a long and colorful history.

While records are a little fuzzy, around 1540 would-be conqueror Coronado led an expedition that included 150 head of cattle toward the New World and the Seven Cities of Cibola, located on the border of Mexico and Arizona. Coronado intended to use the cattle to feed his troops, but he ended up abandoning some near Sinaloa. No doubt these original cattle spread out, starting wild cattle herds across the southwest.

Next, a missionary named Francisco Kino immigrated to Mexico in 1681 and began a chain of missions across the Sonoran Desert in 1687. One reason the local inhabitants accepted him was because he brought cattle, which he often gifted to Indian tribes throughout the region. The Indians left the cattle to fend for themselves, foraging on open range and breeding in large numbers.

As far back as the 1690s, even more Spanish settlers introduced cattle. Imagine landing on either the east or west coast of the country, and driving your cattle thousands of miles inland. While this was likely accomplished in stages and over a period of years, the trek was tough on man and on beast. Many were likely introduced through Mexico, shortening the journey. Most of these ranches were temporary and followed the water and the weather to ensure the best grazing for the cattle.
Sita Ranch, Empire AZ -- credit Arizona State Library records

The 1790s to 1800s were golden years for Spanish colonists in Arizona. The number of settlers increased, as did the number of farms, mines, ranches, and cattle. With ranchers wanting to increase the size of their herds came land grants that helped establish permanent locations for ranching families, which meant they no longer had to follow the seasons and the water.

Unfortunately, this land grab also meant increasing hostilities with local tribes and original peoples, and cattle ranching decreased as most Mexican ranches in Arizona were abandoned and the settlers relocated to Tucson. Animals were left to fend for themselves, and over the next twenty years or so, the herds were almost wiped out by Apache tribes.

Leave a comment, and I’ll draw randomly from both posts for one winner of a print (US only) or ebook of Cactus Lil and the City Slicker. Please remember to cleverly disguise your email address so you don’t get phished. For example: donna AT livebytheword DOT com

Question: The number of cattle per acre a rancher can sustain depends on water, grass, and weather. In Arizona, the number is up to 1 per acre of pasture. How many cattle could you sustain per acre in your state (on average)?

About Cactus Lil and the City Slicker

A rough-and-tumble cowgirl, “Cactus” Lil Duncan longs for true love, but is afraid to let down her prickly exterior when a city slicker from New York City, with less-than-honorable intentions, tries to win her trust and her hand.

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter. Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!



  1. Thanks for posting today. I had no idea of the answer to your question so I had to Google it, of course. The suggestion I found was 1:1, one cow per acre. I couldn't find out what the source of that ratio was. bcrug AT twc DOT com

  2. Thanks, Connie. Just think, before Google, we'd have had to make a trip to the library, or pull out the Encyclopedia Americana our parents bought at some point :)