Monday, November 1, 2010

The Empire Rises Again

by Ben Small

One of the reasons I enjoy living in southern Arizona -- other than the weather and fantastic Southwest food -- is the cowboy tradition, even though the term "cowboy" here was originally a slur, covering the cattle rustlers who dominated this region during the heyday of the 1880s.

Everybody knows about Tombstone, and I've written about its history. Few people, however, know about Empire Ranch, just twenty or so miles away from Tombstone. It's a working ranch, but you've seen it. Over thirty movies, some of them, like Winchester 73 and Red River, epic have been shot at Empire Ranch, along with television programs such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza**. Indeed, you might recognize the twenty-two thousand square foot frame and adobe ranch house, no longer occupied, which now serves as a museum of days gone-by.
Empire Ranch Vaqueros circa 1890
Founded on one hundred sixty acres of homestead land in 1876, Empire Ranch went through numerous owners, some British, some who fled during the wild period between 1878-1888 and vowed never to return "to this bloody country again." But through every ownership change, the ranch grew. At one time, Empire Ranch covered more than a million acres, all of it set between the beautiful Santa Rita and Whetstone mountain ranges, the area now known as Sonoita, in Santa Cruz and Cochise counties. This region features rolling hills, sudden canyons, disappearing streams and vast fields of waving golden grass. The mountain ranges in the background appear as islands in an endless sea of bright blue sky. And because there's altitude gain south of Tucson, Empire Ranch is much cooler and receives more rain than most of the Sonoran Desert.

Over the years, the Depression, taxes and rising feed and material costs have caused pieces of the ranch to be sold off. In 1988, through a public-private land swap, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acquired the ranch lands, which were designated the Empire-Cienega Resource Conservation Area. In December 2000 the U.S. Congress established the area as Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (LCNCA), encompassing 45,000 acres. Since then, two families have run the ranch under a BLM grazing lease.

In 1997, a group of private citizens formed the Empire Ranch Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ranch preservation and history. The Foundation works in partnership with the BLM to determine the future uses of the buildings and public education about rural life in southeastern Arizona.

Rebecca and I attended the Foundation's annual Empire Ranch Roundup this year, a fundraiser held late in October. And what fun it was. Great food, cowboy and Mexican music, roping demonstrations, period costumes, cowboy shooting contests, stagecoaches, buggies Apaches, horse-breaking lessons and demonstrations of everyday life in the 1880s Wild West, all set in a background of flowing golden grass, gnarled Mesquite trees, trickling streams and treeless mountains.

Spectacular setting and loads of fun.

Some pictures I shot follow.

Mexican gaucho

Calvary accoutrements
A funny moment...
I don't think horsey liked the salute she gave me. Look at his eye...

Need I say I beat a hasty retreat?

**Movies and TV series filmed on or near the Empire Ranch.
Red River, John Wayne, Montgomery Clift (1948, Howard Hawks)
Red River, James Arness, Bruce Boxleitner (1988 TV, Richard Michaels)
Oklahoma!, Gordon McRae, Shirley Jones (1955, Fred Zinneman)
Duel In the Sun, Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten (1946, King Vidor)
The Big Country, Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston (1958, William Wyler)
Gunman’s Walk, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, James Darren (1958, Phil Karlson)
3:10 to Yuma, Glenn Ford, Van Heflin (1957, Delmar Daves)
Broken Lance, Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark (1954, Edward Dmytryk)
Hombre, Paul Newman (1967, Martin Ritt)
The Last Hard Men, Charlton Heston, James Coburn (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)
Monte Walsh, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance (1970, William Fraker)
The Outlaw Josie Wales, Clint Eastwood (1976, Clint Eastwood)
The Young Pioneers, Linda Purl, Roger Kern (1978 TV series, various directors)
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming (1957, John Sturges)
War Arrow, Jeff Chandler, Maureen O’Hara, Jay Silverheels (1953, George Sherman)
Last Train From Gun Hill, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn (1959, John Sturges)
The Young Riders, Stephen Baldwin (1989-92 TV series, various directors)
Night of The Lepus, Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun (1972, William F. Claxton)
Bonanza, Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, several shows (1959-73 TV series, var. directors)
Gunsmoke, James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake, several shows (1955-75 TV series, var. directors)
Tom Horn, Steve McQueen (1980, William Wiard)
The Cowboys, John Wayne (1972, Mark Rydell)
Winchester ‘73, James Stewart, Shelley Winters (1950, Anthony Mann)
The Furies, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston (1950, Anthony Mann)
The Wild Rovers, William Holden, Ryan O’Neal (1971, Blake Edwards)
Pocket Money, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin (1972, Stuart Rosenberg)
Hour of the Gun, James Garner, Jason Robards, Robert Ryan (1967, John Sturges)
Gunsight Ridge, Joel McCrea, Mark Stevens (1957, Francis D. Lyon)
Return of the Gunfighter, Robert Taylor, Chad Everett (1967, James Neilson)
A Star Is Born, Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson (1976, Frank Pierson)
Posse, Kirk Douglas, Bruce Dern (1975, Kirk Douglas)
Desperado, Alex McArthur, Yaphet Kotto (1987 TV, Virgil W. Vogel)
Ruby Jean and Joe, Tom Selleck, Ben Johnson (1996 TV, Jeffrey Sax)
Posse, Mario Van Peebles, Stephen Baldwin (1993, Mario Van Peebles)


KK Brees said...

Loved the post. Incredible number of films shot there and I've seen many of them.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Beautiful country and such rich history.I've also seen many of the films from that area.

Anonymous said...

That's an impressive list of movies, Ben, but what really impresses me are your photos. They are excellent. You should think about a second (third, fourth?) career as a photographer.
Pat Browning

Jaden Terrell said...

Ben, the roundup sounds like great fun. I love the antics of the little bay horse. You did a great job of capturing the character of the place and the event--and the horse.

I agree with Pat about your photos.

Unknown said...

Thank you Beth & Pat, I bought a professional camera before my last trip to Croatia, so that I hopefully could catch a cover shot for my next book. Don't know yet if I got one that good, but as I learn more about the camera and about photo editing, the pix get a bit better. I still have much to learn, but as they say... take baby steps. :)

Jean Henry Mead said...

From a photojournalist: you're shooting quite well!