In 1905, my grandfather, Deming Welch Isaacson, dropped out of college. He had been a student at the University of Cincinnati for two years, suffering from one cold after another in the harsh Midwest winters. With three high school friends he took a train to somewhere in Wyoming. Their plan was to ride from the Canadian border to Mexico to find the prefect ranch. My grandfather had inherited money from his mother, Zelinda Welch Isaacson, who had died when he was very young, and now that he had reached the appropriate age to access those funds, he was looking for a cattle ranch to buy. His father and stepmother evidently did not approve of this plan. They considered it a risky and unorthodox business venture.
Deming’s father, William Joseph Isaacson, was a self-made man who had come to America in 1851 at the age of two from Christiana, Norway. He grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and had been a drummer boy in the 20th Connecticut Volunteers during the Civil War. He served at Gettysburg and was also on Sherman’s March to the Sea. He married Zelinda Welch, who came from a New Haven watch making and banking family with numerous connections to Yale University. Zelinda’s father, Harmanus Welch, had built Welch Hall for the university. This building is one of the freshman dormitories today.
William quickly became a successful businessman in the pig iron industry. After living in Liverpool, England where he learned the iron business and where Deming was born in 1886, the Isaacsons moved to the Avondale district of Cincinnati, bringing with them Deming’s English nanny. Backed by British investors, William became Managing Director of The Daytona Coal and Iron Company, which had mines and blast finances in Dayton, Tennessee and offices in Cincinnati. In spite of his business success, William never forgot his own immigrant roots. He drove his buggy by the poorhouse each day on the way to his office in downtown Cincinnati in order to remind himself of less prosperous times in his life.
Deming had evidently been restless and unhappy since his mother’s death and his father’s remarriage to Zelinda’s cousin, Annie Mitchell. Once, when one of his uncles gave him a thoroughbred horse as a present, he and the horse immediately boarded a train and ran away from home together. In 1902, in order to settle Deming down a bit, his parents sent him west to a boarding school in Ojai, California that was run by a Yale man, Sherman Thacher. It was Deming’s first experience in the west, and attending the Thacher School had a profound impact on the direction his life would take. The school emphasized horseback riding (gymkhana), and students made frequent pack trips into the rugged Sespe Mountains and adjoining wilderness areas. Of course, they also had a rigorous classical education. I remember my grandfather once quoted some advice from Xenophone, an ancient Greek, who wrote that the best thing you can do after riding your horse is rub him down with your bare hands. Sherman Thacher’s philosophy about riding was “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a boy.” Deming won the Boyd English Prize and was selected to give a speech at the graduation dinner. In his speech, he praised the values of camping, wilderness, hunting, and long nights around campfires.
My grandfather was only at the Thacher School his senior year, but he claimed that the school “made a gentleman out of him” and also started up his “love affair with the west.” Sherman Thacher wanted him to go to Yale, but, still rebellious, Deming declared that he “could not spit without hitting a relative in New Haven,” and he returned home to Ohio and enrolled at the University of Cincinnati.
The origin of my grandfather’s “love affair with the west” may actually predate his west coast year at the Thacher School. One of his New Haven relatives, a Mr. Deming (after whom he was named), was a close friend of another Yale graduate, the famous western artist, Fredrick Remington. Mr. Deming, I have been told, was a Vice President of the Pullman Car Company, and he and Remington would take train trips in considerable comfort for sketching and painting out west. I don’t know if my grandfather ever met Remington through Mr. Deming, but he did have several signed books of Remington’s and a signed sketch as well. I like to think of my grandfather as a young boy in Connecticut looking at paintings of cattle drives, gunfights, and bucking horses hanging on the walls of dark paneled rooms and dreaming about a very different way of life on the other side of the American continent. During his college years, my grandfather continued venturing west when he could. He once had a job in the Sierra Nevada of northern California as a deer hunter who supplied meat for lumber camps. His life as an Easterner was quickly slipping away.
It is not so surprising that as soon as it became financially possible, he made the radical jump from being a student in Ohio to riding horseback from Canada to Mexico, making an epic journey to search for a ranch. In 1906 Deming and his friends finally arrived in the San Pedro River area in southeastern Arizona. He had heard of a ranch for sale to the east in the Galluro Mountains. This ranch was owned by Colonel Hooker, who also owned the Sierra Bonita Ranch in the upper Sulphur Springs Valley. Hooker was getting older and had decided to sell his deeded land and grazing rights on the eastern side of the Galluro Mountains. Richard Lawson told me that Hooker was asking $10,000 but really was expecting to sell the ranch for $100,000. Anyway, my grandfather likely bought Hooker’s Hot Springs for around $10,000. At the time of the sale, Hooker’s health was deteriorating, and he died the next year at his home in Los Angeles.
Deming soon rode horseback into Willcox, went to the office of the Arizona Range News, and put an ad in the newspaper to announce that he was now running cattle with the quarter circle muleshoe brand on the left hip. He had chosen Wiley Morgan’s brand. Morgan had homesteaded and run cattle in the Hot Springs region. After shooting and killing a neighbor in an argument over an unbranded calf, Morgan spent time in the Yuma prison. In 1906, my grandfather was initially described in the Arizona Range News as “D.W. Isaacson, a prosperous young cattleman who has recently bought the Hot Springs ranch,” and the ad which my grandfather had placed read, ”Post Office address: Pool, Arizona, Range, west side Galluro mountains. Cattle increase branded as in cut. Horses same brand on left thigh.” This announcement was below a picture of a cow with the quarter circle muleshoe brand on the left hip, and it ran for many years in the weekly paper. My grandfather’s announcement was alongside those of the Hooker family, W.H. McKittrick, The Monk Brothers, the Vails’ Empire Ranch, the Chiricahua Cattle Company and many other southeastern Arizona ranchers. Later, the newspaper reported that Deming purchased a wagon load of lumber in town to “make improvements,” on the ranch and, later still, that he bought a herd of the “finest cattle to be found anywhere” for stocking the property.
It is unclear exactly how large the Hot Springs Ranch was at that time. What Deming bought from Hooker had originally been Glendy King’s deeded land around the hot springs. Although King only had a few head of livestock, he claimed to have control over 100 square miles of grazing land. However, there were numerous other small homesteads, such as the Womac, Cross Moon, and Mitchell, in the area, some of which shared the year round waters of the Hot Springs Canyon stream. Old maps show that Hooker’s property was just one among many along the Hot Springs Canyon creek. This stream ran above ground for several miles, and it offered a well watered and tree shaded oasis for livestock in the area. My grandfather gradually bought out most of these homesteads and eventually owned four or more miles of perennial stream. This gave the Hot Springs Ranch sole access to most of the surrounding grazing land. In addition to the areas around and west of the hot springs, like the Mitchell place and Sosa Mesa, the ranch also included the rugged and remote Redfield Canyon that extended the grazing area some 15 to 20 miles to the north. Property issues were often touchy in those days, and my grandfather told me about a boundary dispute during which someone pulled a pistol on him.
By 1908, the Arizona Range News was referring to Deming as “D.W. Isaacson, the well known cattleman” and called the property “his Hot Springs ranch.” The Isaacsons always called their home the Hot Springs Ranch and not the Muleshoe Ranch. The name, Muleshoe Ranch, as the place is known today, must have been introduced by a later owner, perhaps by Mrs. McMurry or by the Browning family.
Some people have said that my grandfather wanted to develop the Hot Springs Ranch into a resort, but there is no evidence for this. In Henry Clay Hooker and the Sierra Bonita, it is erroneously stated that , “Henry Hooker sold the property to D.W. Isaacson of Philadelphia. ‘A man of wealth,’ Isaacson made his home at the Hot Springs part of the time and began promoting the Springs as a resort for Easterners. In the spring of 1908 he was bringing Eastern friends in to enjoy the soothing properties of the waters.” There were many visitors, but it was never a resort of any kind. It was always a working cattle ranch. Deming did add two wings to the original adobe built by the Hookers, but this was largely on account of his marriage and the need for more space as both his business and family grew larger. The Hot Springs adobe was not only his family home, but also a bunkhouse for cowboys and other help. There was also a ranch kitchen, a mess hall, and even a schoolhouse.
In August 1910, the Arizona Range News mentioned Deming’s marriage to Helen Winifred Baine, of Cleveland, Ohio. They had met as early as 1907 in the Ojai Valley of Southern California where the Baine family spent the winters. My grandfather was visiting old friends at the Thacher School and happened to meet Helen during his stay in the Ojai: “D.W. Isaacson, the well known young cattleman who some time ago purchased the Hooker Hot Springs ranch, was married recently while on a visit to his old home in the east. Mr. Isaacson, accompanied by his wife, is expected to arrive at his ranch within the next week or ten days.” They were married in Cleveland.
Both before and after Deming’s marriage to Helen, there was a fairly steady stream of visitors from the east. These were mostly relatives curious to see and experience a bit of the old west. For example, The Arizona Range News reported that Deming’s father and stepmother visited the Hot Springs soon after he bought it. After Deming and Helen’s engagement, Helen traveled to the ranch from Cleveland, perhaps to be certain that she would like living in such a remote and unfamiliar place. Her mother, Nellie Belle Baine, visited the ranch with friends in 1907, not long after Deming bought it. In 1911 Mrs. Baine’s personal journal recorded a visit in which she, her daughter Ethel, her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rich, and several others all came to stay for many weeks. The Arizona Range News also mentioned numerous other visitors to the Hot Springs Ranch: “D.W. Isaacson came in from his Hot Springs Ranch Tuesday accompanied by several friends and left for Tucson for a visit” (August 1908). “Mrs. Brookes and party of mother, sister, two children, and nurse were overnight in Willcox enroute to Isaacson’s Hot Springs”(June 1911). Of the steady stream of eastern relatives and friends who came to visit the ranch, the last recorded was Mason Gross in 1928, near the time the Isaacsons left the ranch. My grandmother remembered Mason studying Attic Greek late into the night at the adobe and heard him chanting Greek poetry. He became a philosophy professor and later the president of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The fact that Willcox was an important cattle shipping point with a railroad station on a cross continental track made it relatively easy for Californians and Easterners to visit the Hot Springs Ranch. The journey entailed a train ride from the east or from California, followed by a short, but rough, thirty-mile overland journey. Sometimes these last thirty miles were pretty challenging. According to my great grandmother’s diary, the buggy ride to the ranch was typically about six and a half hours. After my grandfather bought a car in 1913, he always carried several sticks of dynamite in order to blast a road through the steep banks caused by flash floods along the upper Hot Springs Creek. In winter, snow could cover the road and make travel difficult. The Arizona Range News reports the experience of a neighbor of the Hot Springs Ranch: “E.A. Schillings, while on his way to Willcox from his ranch in the Winchesters last Friday, found the road so blocked by snow that he couldn’t tell which way the trail led. He had to leave the road to the good judgment of his horse who brought him safely in.”
My Grandfather’s chief interest was always the cattle business. His goal, as announced on the letterhead of his stationary, was to produce “high grade Hereford cattle” on the Hot Springs Ranch. At that time, horned Herefords were the number one breed. He traveled to Texas to buy the best bulls he could find to upgrade the local stock. The Arizona Range News reported some typical local cattle business deals in May 1909: “A.J. Nisbet, a member of the Eureka Springs Stock Company, through its ranch manager, T.J. Johnson, has contracted for a large shipment of feeders, B.J. McKinney, W.A. Fiege, D.W. Isaacson and the Dragoon Cattle Company contributing to the shipment…The contracts call for delivery to be made ranging from May 20 to June 1st.” In September 1912, the newspaper mentioned, “N. Paschal of El Paso, who has bought a bunch of cattle from Isaacson, was here this week.” Reports in the newspaper during this period seemed to consistently mention good times for the cattle business.
The year before my grandfather bought the Hot Springs Ranch, there had been a record 16-inch rainfall season in the area, so when he bought the place, he probably saw the country at its very best. In May 1912, the Arizona Range News offered another healthy assessment of local ranching conditions “Roundups are in progress in all parts of this section of Arizona now, the various outfits finding very satisfactory results. The calf crop has been a fine one, it is stated, and all cattlemen are expressing satisfaction with this phase of the business. The ranges are now in good condition, with plenty of water to last the cattle through to the next rainy season.”
Helen, my grandmother, had grown up in a close family and within the busy social world of Cleveland. She had graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts. She was, at first glance, an unlikely person to find a rewarding life in the isolated and often lonely Galluro Mountains of Arizona, but she, like Deming, had ridden over rough country and packed into the rugged Sespe Mountains of the Ojai. Her family was very much an outdoors family, unintimidated by long rides, steep mountain trails, and wilderness. Early photographs, many taken by Helen, document how she and Deming packed into the rugged backcountry with horses and mules, cooked in the open, gathered cattle on roundups, and slept in tents.
Helen’s mother worried about her being happy at the ranch. Helen did miss her family and the active social worlds of Cleveland and College, but the pictures she took at the ranch are filled with visiting friends and family. Also, Helen, Deming, and their new son, Charles Baine Isaacson, born in 1911, traveled to get relief from the hot summer months and to visit with family. Sometimes they stayed at west coast beach resorts like the Potter Hotel in Santa Barbara. They built a house in Tucson to have some town life and so that Baine could eventually attend schools there. The house was called Casa Redondo and was located in the older part of Tucson near the downtown area on Paseo Redondo Street. It has since been destroyed as part of an urban renewal project.
Helen told her mother that there were several things that she wanted. One was that they buy a motorcar to bring Willcox and Tucson closer to the ranch. In August of 1913, the Arizona Range News indicates that she got her wish: “B.J.McKinney, D.W. Isaacson and Dick Misenhimer came to town Monday afternoon in Mr. McKinney’s Studebaker machine. They were on their way to Bisbee where Mr. Isaacson has purchased a new car.” Under Helen’s influence, the Hot Springs Ranch moved into the automobile age, and its strictly equestrian world was a thing of the past.
The other thing Helen desired was to be closer to her family. Around 1913, she was delighted that her sister, Ethel, and Ethel’s husband, Carl Hatch, both from Cleveland, moved onto the ranch. Together, Carl and Deming founded the Muleshoe Cattle Company and hired Mabry Lawson to be the ranch foreman. The Muleshoe Cattle Company included the Hot Springs, NO, Cross X, Pool, OT, and the VF, as well as other ranches. The Hatches built their house and headquarters in Kelsey Canyon on the VF Ranch. Their name appears on the deeded land sections for both the Cross X and VF ranches, and the Isaacsons’ name remained on the Hot Springs and other northern deeded portions of the ranch. It is unclear as to whether or not these ranches were already parts of the Isaacsons’ ranch or were bought by the Hatches when they came.
Smaller sections of deeded land, such as the Cross Moon, were also acquired in 1913. The Pool Ranch, with its 1,000 acres of deeded land along the San Pedro River, and the Rincon summer range, also called “The Last Chance Range,” had been acquired in 1910. At any rate, the partnership with Hatch allowed my grandfather’s original ranch to expand eventually to around 300,000 acres, with about 8,500 acres of deeded land. Roughly framed by the Little Dragoon, Rincon, Galluro, and Winchester mountains, the ranch now extended about thirty miles from north to south, and it averaged about ten miles in width. In addition, at one time the Muleshoe Cattle Company also pastured steers on the Green Ranch, located north of King City, California, to add pounds to its steers before they were marketed.
About this time, in 1914, just as many of her wishes were coming true, Helen suddenly took ill and was taken by train to her doctor in Los Angeles. She died there in April, after a failed operation, and was buried in the Hollywood Memorial Park, near Van Ness Avenue where her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Rich, lived. Helen’s grave is in a family plot that was bought by my grandfather in 1913. He purchased this when his father, William, passed away in Los Angeles where he had retired for health reasons. Interestingly, the Isaacson plot is a very short distance from that of the Hooker family of the Sierra Bonita Ranch, the Isaacson’s neighbors east of the Winchester Mountains and the former owners of the Hot Springs Ranch. Deming returned to the ranch about two months after Helen’s death. The Arizona Range News states, “D.W. Isaacson …is here looking after his cattle interests.” He had to return to the ranch and leave his young son, Baine, in Los Angeles in the care of his wife’s grandparents for most of a year. Being a large-scale rancher required getting back to business and keeping things going. “The roundups are in full swing now and shipments have already commenced,” stated the newspaper.
About a year later, my grandfather remarried. The Arizona Range News reported, “Miss Coralyn Nancy Benton and D.W. Isaacson were married in Los Angeles, Thursday, April 8, and almost immediately thereafter left for Willcox, arriving here Friday. They are now at their Hot Springs ranch where they will be at home to their friends after October1.” Coralyn had been Baine’s nurse during his infancy and early years. Letters indicate that Helen and Coralyn had been good friends, had lived on the ranch together, and had each played an important role in Baine’s life. My grandfather and Aunt Bennie, as Carolyn was known, were married for 51 years until his death in 1966. As a youngster, I was always very impressed by my grandmother because she had carried a small, silver pistol in her purse when she lived on the ranch. She never had a reason to use it, however, except in a confrontation with a skunk one night in her garden. She told me that once a stranger jumped on the running board of her car as she was driving back to the ranch from Willcox. She sped up and brushed him off against a mesquite shrub.
While the Muleshoe Cattle Company partners expanded towards the south, in 1916 they also sold off 36 sections in the north in the Redfield Canyon area to Ben Pride. This remote and scenic part of the Hot Springs Ranch had been country where, according to Mawbry Lawson, the Muleshoe Cattle Company would “winter several thousand head of cattle.” My grandfather and Mr. Hatch may have sold it to finance their expansion south into the Double Wells, the Antelope, and the Cross X and VF areas. The Redfield Canyon was very rough, mountainous country where there were higher than average losses of calves to lions and even to bears. Certainly, the country to the south was an easier place to run cattle, to gather them, and to drive them to Willcox for shipping. The partnership may have needed money to buy other properties at the time, or they may have just wanted to simplify the overall ranching operation. The Pride family ranched in the Redfield Canyon until Alvin Browning bought the ranch in the 1950s and joined it to his father’s place, the former Hot Springs Ranch. The Brownings put back together the original Hot Springs Ranch and created the current boundaries of the Muleshoe Ranch Preserve that is now owned by the Nature Conservancy.
In 1917, Carl Hatch and my grandfather joined the army to participate in the war effort. My grandmother told me that they shipped over 1,800 head of cattle, a significant portion of the cowherd, to make the ranch manageable for Mabry Lawson, who was going to remain and run the operation. Richard Lawson, Mabry’s son, told me that Carl and Deming were being processed after enlistment and had to undergo a whole battery of shots. Fellows were fainting right and left all over the room because of the powerful injections. Carl and Deming were annoyed because both of their assigned uniforms were too small and ill fitting. They decided to undress two of the bigger fellows who had fainted and put on their uniforms, which they did. During his basic training, my grandfather, who was assigned to a horse drawn artillery unit being trained in Georgia, was forced to practice horseback riding on a wooden training horse. He found this a bit humiliating. Neither Carl nor Deming was sent overseas, and both returned to the ranch soon after the armistice.
The Muleshoe Cattle Company was run using traditional methods typical of many of the ranches of that time. According to my grandfather, they would spend a month or so making a big circle through the ranch, gathering the cattle and branding the calves out in the open. They used a chuck wagon and took about 40 horses in the remuda. I counted about 60 head of horses in one picture of the Hot Springs Ranch corral. Carl Hatch revealed much in an undated letter to his other brother-in-law, Frank Moore. Frank lived in Redlands, California and was married to Marjorie, the third Baine sister. Carl’s letter details some of the concerns they faced in those days as ranchers: “Things have been going with a rush lately—too much to do. We have been short-handed all fall and lots of work to do—You simply can’t get men in this country—but we are through rounding up now and are just waiting for the government to release [railroad] cars so we can ship—the car situation is fierce. We are going to have a fair year altogether, in spite of the hard spring—I think it will look all right when we close our books—and the cattle are going into winter in good shape so outside of no cook etc etc—we haven’t much to worry about.”
In the Twenties, perhaps 1924, a flood in Kelsey Canyon destroyed the Hatches’ home. About this time, an extended drought began, and this would take its toll on the resources of the Muleshoe Cattle Company. My grandfather urged the Hatches to stay on and weather the drought by investing more money in the operation, but the Hatches opted to leave the partnership. Cochise County property records show that Deming and Coralyn were the sole owners of all of the different portions of the ranch after the Hatches left. Carl and Ethel Hatch, and their two sons, Charles and Robert, moved to California and lived in the Los Angeles area for the rest of their lives. The Hatch and Isaacson families remained very close, and my father was a good friend of his two cousins. Charles was the best man when Baine was married in Santa Barbara in 1940. A daughter, Janet, was born after they left Arizona.
The drought continued throughout the rest of the 1920s. My grandfather once told me that the most dangerous job he ever gave a man was to carry around an old army flamethrower with a tank of gasoline strapped to the man’s back to burn the quills off the cactus pads. This allowed the starving cows to eat the cacti when no grass or other forage was available. Each day for this operation the men would pack large gas cans on mules into the backcountry. The Allan Flat on the southern part of the ranch had the most feed but the least water, so during the drought they had to run the gas pumps day and night to keep the water tanks full for the cattle. My father, Baine, loved machinery and engines, and as a teenager he took care of the big gas pumps at the Antelope or Double Wells when he was at the ranch. Late one night he drove up the Hot Springs Canyon to turn off the pumps. He was crawling through two strands of a barbed wire fence in the dark and had one foot on either side of the fence when a rattlesnake started buzzing. He could do nothing except freeze in that awkward position until the snake, wherever it was, finally went away.
The long drought took a terrible toll on my grandfather and really tested his innate stoicism. He told my mother, Esther Isaacson, “There is nothing worse than watching your cattle die.” Richard Lawson told me that the banks would not foreclose on the local ranches during the drought. Instead, they waited for the end of the drought, when the rains returned and the ranches were finally worth something. Only then would they foreclose. Deming worked with the bank to subdivide the Muleshoe Cattle Company’s various pastures into smaller ranches in order to sell them off. Some sections on the Allan Flat went to Redus, a neighbor to the east. Other parts were sold off as smaller ranches. One of my grandfather’s last tasks before he left the ranch in July of 1928 was to establish a southern boundary line for Mrs. McMurry, the new owner of the Hot Springs Ranch. The NO, the Cross X, the VF, the Antelope, the Hot Springs, the OT, the “Last Chance Range,” in the Rincon Mountains, and the Pool Ranch on the San Pedro merged with other ranches or became smaller ranches, several of which are still in existence today in a similar shape and size and are even called by the same names. You can still see a small copse of trees along Airport Road on the last long stretch as you drive towards Willcox from the Allan Flat. This place marks the site of the OT ranch, a 160-acre section of deeded land where the Muleshoe would hold cattle before driving them to the railroad corrals in town for shipping.
In his journal, Baine, my father, recorded the last few days of the Muleshoe Cattle Company in 1928: “On June 26 Mason [Gross] and I went to town with furniture to be shipped. The next four days were occupied by the shipment of the last cattle bearing the quarter circle muleshoe brand in this section of Arizona. They were mostly cows and calves and stock that had been left for the last shipment for various reasons. The weather was warm, skies clear, and feed almost totally absent, thus making a very hard trip for the poor animals. Only one was lost because of heat, and one dogie left behind. The next day my father, Mr. Sheffield, and I ran the boundary line of Mrs. McMurry’s land on the south side. After that I hauled in furniture and crated goods to be shipped. I pumped one short day at my old favorite, the Antelope Well, and again enjoyed the broad sweep of the Allan Flat. On July 10 my father and I went to Cross X on a final trip, and late in the day Juan and Sarah set out for that ranch, and we for Willcox, I leaving ahead of the rest and eating supper en route. The last six miles of my journey was through the lakes of the land, in which myriads of toads croaked a prayer of thanksgiving for the shower that afternoon…We are at last prepared to leave, and after a night in the Commercial Hotel with sleep interrupted by the locomotive’s occasional shrill whistle, we go.”
After leaving the ranch in 1928, the Isaacsons first traveled east to visit family and old friends in Cincinnati, Washington D.C., New York City, New Haven, Rhode Island, and Boston. Later, they eventually settled in Pasadena in southern California. The Isaacsons were not financially ruined by the loss of the Arizona ranch, for they had other resources. Baine had just graduated from the Thacher School and was heading off to Stanford University to study Engineering. Deming and Coralyn lived a comfortable life in Pasadena. He played golf, and she joined The Shakespeare Club. They rode their two horses in the Arroyo Seco.
Later, Deming joined a business partnership, The Cornelius Packing Company, located in The City of Industry near the Los Angeles Stockyards. He was very active in that enterprise for many years, buying cattle, and even sheep, throughout the southern California region. He and Baine also ran cattle together in the Padre Juan Canyon area on the Ventura County coast, and, during World War II, my grandfather leased the Yridises Ranch in the Lompoc area of central California. In the 1930s and 40s, Baine married Esther Marie Ibsen, bought several of his own ranches in the Santa Ynez Valley, and started running stocker cattle. Deming and Coralyn moved to Hope Ranch, a suburb of Santa Barbara, to be closer to Baine and his family, which now included three sons.
The novelist William Faulkner once wrote, “ The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” All of my conversations with my grandfather and grandmother inevitably led them and me back to the Hot Springs Ranch, and, in a strange way, the rest of our family have that time and that place fixed in our own minds as well. My grandfather’s experience, that matchless time and the small part that we know of it, shaped our lives as well. Today, 100 years later, we still own Wiley Morgan’s quarter circle muleshoe brand, and we use it at spring branding time. In the autumn, when the weather cools, we start to crane our necks in search of rain clouds. We still tell and retell the old stories, and are sustained by the telling. We dream big.
My grandfather never returned to the ranch. In the 1950s and 60s, my parents did go back at least twice when Ernest Browning owned the Muleshoe Ranch. My father loved the big Allan Flat, the Hot Springs Canyon with its tall cottonwood trees, the rugged mountains surrounding it all. On one of these drives out to the ranch, my mother told me that my father suddenly stopped the car. “You drive,” he told my mother. “I want to just sit here and take it all in.”
My grandfather once told me that after ranching for 22 years in Arizona, after all the long days in the saddle and after branding and selling thousands of cattle, he only came out ahead by some $4000 dollars. But he never seemed bitter about it. His reaction to his years in Arizona was, I believe, more complex. He realized, and it was always abundantly clear to the rest of us who knew him well, that his years on the Hot Springs Ranch were his best years. Those were the years in which he knew he had lived as fully and completely as possible, the years in which a time and place and a task were fully commensurate with the very stuff of his youthful dreams.