Rodeos, Wranglers, and Respectable Ranchersby John Scott on Feb. 22, 2012, under Uncategorized
As the Tucson Rodeo bucks on and entertains the masses, we are reminded of a time when the cowboy was a vital part of America. Without them, cows wouldn’t have gotten to the railheads in the north, and thus wouldn’t have provided for the country.
Every year I speak to school children about the importance and history of the cowboy. There is a great joy when you educate them about the hard work (for little pay) that went into their job. The kids also leave with a knowledge of what the bovine provides us. I ask questions like, “Besides hamburgers, what else do cows give us?” I receive answers like “bacon” or “chicken fingers”. Sometimes, when I get lucky, one will say, “ice cream.”
Besides their obvious fixation on food, the other thing the children walk away with is a respect for the hardships cowboys endured. They learn why these men and women wore what they did and how they lived in an America much more primitive than today.
Tucson has an interesting cowboy history. In speaking with a gentleman born and bred here, I was informed about the area north of Fort Lowell road that was largely unpopulated up until the latter half of the 20th century. Where once stood ranches that raised cows and horses are today covered by supermarkets and housing developments. This gentleman worked for a local rancher who taught him how to rope.
Now, this was in the 1940′s. A good jaunt on the timeline for the Old West. But that doesn’t minimize the fact that southern Arizona has quite the ranching history. By 1880, there were more than 135,000 head of cattle in the state.
Many ranches dotted the landscape. Too many to list on this entry.
Empire Ranch, Sierra Bonita Ranch, and the Tanque Verde Ranch (to name a few) were some great southern Arizona cattle ranches during the late 1800′s. These places are still standing today and are committed to keeping the spirit of the old west alive. If you are interested to see the original structures of an 1800′s cattle ranch, head to Empire Ranch in Sonoita. Volunteers are constantly working on it, keeping the structures secure for future generations to enjoy. There is a bunkhouse, stables, and the main house to explore. Looking out among the structures and grasslands, you’ll get a feel for the what the 1880′s cowman woke up to every day. A visit to the Arizona Historical Society Museum will present you with the clothing and tools they used. Watching the Rodeo parade will open your eyes to the vehicles that were available to them on the ranch.
So when you are at the Tucson Rodeo this coming weekend, think about the old wranglers and vaqueros while you are watching today’s cowboys fight the battle between man and beast. Tip your hat to them. Appreciate them. They are iconic Americans dedicated to keeping alive one of this country’s most significant professions.