By Susan Cypert
Ranching traditions in central Arizona run deep.
When Marion Perkins, family patriarch, arrived in central Arizona from Texas with his family and stock in November of 1900, his oldest son Rob recalled the challenges of traveling to Springerville and Holbrook. Lightning caused cattle to stampede. Wranglers spent days looking for horses and cattle that wandered off. The few watering holes they came across were filled with alkali, and a mule was almost lost to quicksand. Feed was in short supply.
But once they reached the Verde Ranch, their new home, they found a wide open range with no fences except around ranch buildings and gardens. Ranchers turned their cattle out to graze together, and when it was time to gather the cattle, they all worked together. Notices were posted in newspapers in Prescott and Williams, and most ranches sent cowboys to help with gatherings that often took weeks and covered hundreds of miles.
Nick Perkins remembered gathering cattle from Granite Mountain in the west to the Dugas ranch in the east, beyond present-day Cordes Junction. They rode as far north as Williams and Ash Fork and as far south as Mayer. Each cowboy had his string of horses, and a chuckwagon was a key part of every crew.
Working together and depending on each other allowed cowboys to become good friends. According to Tom Perkins, after the Taylor Grazing Act of the early 1930’s brought fencing to the open range, the ranching community no longer had the same kind of neighborliness.
In the earliest days of the renamed Perkins Ranch, they sold beef to feed miners in Jerome. Cowboys gathered and drove herds along the banks of the Verde River to loading pens in Ash Fork or Del Rio Springs. In 1912 when the Santa Fe Railway built a spur from Clarkdale to Drake through the Perkins homestead, the cattle could then be shipped right from the ranch. The depot built near the ranch headquarters came to be called Perkinsville.
Another large ranch northwest of Prescott near Seligman was the O RO, originally called the Baca Float. Purchased by Edward Perrin in 1880, it was sold to the Greene Cattle Company in 1936. The Greene Company, founded in 1901 by Colonel (self- appointed) William Cornell Greene, was left to his wife when he passed away in 1911. She later married Charles Wiswall, the company’s manager. When the company acquired the Baca Float in 1936, Wiswall sent Robert Sharp, Greene’s son-in-law, to check on it as well as to look at the adjoining Mahon Ranch for possible purchase.
In his book “Bob Sharp’s Cattle Country: Rawhide Ranching on Both Sides of the Border,” he recalled being atop nearby Mount Hope where “I sat motionless in wonder…There, spread out before me…was a tremendous span of bright, clean serene rangeland-one that was still pure”.
Sharp, and eventually Greene’s youngest son Charles, managed the ranch until it was sold in 1973 to the JJJ corporation headed by John Irwin II. Currently the ranch is owned by his son John Irwin III and his daughter Jane Irwin Droppa. At 257,000 acres, the O RO is one of the largest, roughest and most remote Arizona ranches. The Irwins and Droppas believe in doing things the old way where “men know the ways of cows and a horse.”
The O RO still rounds up cattle on horseback. Because of the ranch’s rough terrain, the horses used for the roundups are raised on the ranch and accustomed to the terrain.
They also “roll the wagon” for the spring and fall gathers which last from two to three months. Today, however, the chuckwagon is a WWII 6 X 6 Army truck equipped with a chuck box.
Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to email@example.com. Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or assistance with photo requests.