Monday, November 17, 2008

Tony Ranch in Haunted Canyon

November 17, 2008 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Recently SALT (Superstition Area Land Trust) acquired the old Tony Ranch. The ranch included some seventy-eight acres of pristine wilderness bordering the Superstition Wilderness Area. It was the desire of the descendants of George Taylor that the ranch become the property of a conservatory group, rather than the mining companies or forest service. This old homestead site is three miles from the nearest road. The old ranch house’s isolation has helped to preserve it into the 21st century.

William Toney [built] a cabin along Haunted Canyon in a large open meadow in August of 1913 on federal land. He applied for a homestead some two years after he constructed his cabin. Toney received a patent for 78.06 acres of land in 1922. This exact patent is the land SALT received from the descendants of the Taylors. The family always spelled their name Toney, but cartographers confused the spelling and made reference to the homestead as the Tony Ranch. The property has been known as the Tony Ranch since the 1940s.

Homestead documents acquired by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart indicate William Toney [built] a 12-foot-by-30-foot two-room log cabin with a corrugated metal roof. Forest Ranger Henry Taylor reported in an inspection report in June of 1919 the following, “…no one at home but the children, I found the land under cultivation, farming implements consisted of a plow and a broken disc. The log cabin was furnished with a cook stove, two bunks, a board table, two chairs and few cooking utensils and dishes.” The cabin was enlarged to 12-feet-by-34-feet with three rooms by 1922. This was the present size of the cabin when I visited it in 1971 for the first time.

The homestead law required the the building of a home and also the cultivating of the land. By 1915 Toney had planted five acres of wheat and laid out 600 apple trees. The following years he planted beans, corn, potatoes, sorghum, alfalfa and a truck garden. A dependable supply of water for irrigation was lacking on the Toney homestead. The creek was normally dry most of the time and made irrigation impossible on the southern half of the homestead. Irrigation was possible on the northern portion of the property toward Hill Spring (now referred to as Tony Ranch Spring). One acre of alfalfa and 2.5 acres of beans were reported in 1920 as under irrigation. The bean patch only produced six sacks of beans that year.

The homestead law did not require a settler to raise livestock, but most homesteaders complemented their farms with a variety of animals. Ranger Henry Taylor reported Toney had 120 chickens, 25 turkeys, and 4 horses at his Haunted Canyon homestead. Toney also had several head of cows on the nearby range. In a 1921 document Toney mentioned he had 234 head of cattle on the range near the homestead. He ran his cattle under the Lazy W Bar T brand.

George Taylor purchased the Toney (Tony) Ranch and cattle from William Toney in 1921. After Taylor died in 1949, his wife Ann hired Jimmy Herron, of Superior, Arizona, to manage the Toney Ranch and another ranch property. SALT purchased the land and cabin from the Taylor heirs in August of 2008.

The old Tony Ranch is a unique, isolated window for viewing a natural ecosystem bordering the Superstition Wilderness Area. This homestead has provided a haven to hiker and horseman over the past forty years. Its isolation from our modern complicated society warrants [its] protection for the future. This protection will be provided by SALT as the old homestead’s new conservators.

The only way to visit the area is on horseback, hiking or by helicopter. This island of private land [is] located in the Tonto National Forest. It can only be accessed by a seven or three mile trail through wilderness terrain. The seven mile walk up Haunted Canyon to the Toney Ranch is probably the easiest access. I visited the old ranch site in 1971 for the first time. We traveled to the old ranch from the southwest. Our primary goal was to visit several limestone caverns within the area. A mile or so from the Tony Ranch is the legendary “Cave of a Thousand Eyes.” It is truly one of the unique wonders of the Superstition area. 

Sometime around 1975, Dr. Malcom Comeaux, Larry Hedrick, Allen Blackman, Nyle Leatham and I made a trip to the Tony Ranch from Jimmy Heron’s stock corrals in Whitford Canyon [on] horseback. The ride was about nine miles through heavy chaparral and a constantly vanishing trail. We made the ride in about four hours. Nyle Leatham did a wonder[ful] article in the Arizona Republic about our visit to the old Tony Ranch. Dr. Comeaux, a geographer from Arizona State University, was particularly interested in early Arizona homesteads. It certainly was one of those rides I will remember for many years to come.

The wilderness that surrounds the Tony Ranch has bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and most of the wild animals associated with the Sonoran Desert life zone. Some claim a Mexican jaguar was killed in the area about eighty years ago. Also there is an interesting story about a bear’s skeleton found in one of the limestone caverns with flint arrowheads in the chest cavity area. There are hundreds of stories about the old Tony Ranch. I am sure the future of the Tony Ranch is in good hands. These many stories will surely be told around campfires in the future.

There are many natural wonders in the area. Hopefully they will remain isolated and safe from vandals and greedy profiteers. It is likely some of the natural wonders in the Tony Ranch area will be discovered in the future, but for the present they are safe. My wife and I recently trekked into the region to check on one large cavern. The cavern still remains totally intact and undisturbed.

I would like to extend a special appreciation to Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart for all their research and for their assistance with this story. Also I would like to thank Rosemary Shearer for her help also. I am indebted to all of them for their gracious assistance in making this story possible. Carlson and Stewart’s book on the eastern portion of the Superstition Wilderness Area will be available soon with more details and information about the Tony Ranch.