Monday, March 25, 2013

The Kings of King's Ranch

March 18, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Caption: Julian King at the entrance of King’s Ranch Resort, circa 1955.

Julian and Lucy King arrived in Arizona shortly after Julian was mustered out of the United States Navy as a Lt. Commander. He had served on the U.S.S. Enterprise during World War II. The idea of a guest ranch was born during World War II while Julian was a Fighter Director Officer on the Enterprise. The idea of building a guest ranch in some remote location emerged from the pages of letters written back and forth between Lucy and Julian while he served on an aircraft carrier during the war. These two New Yorkers decided after the war was over they would go west and build a dude ranch. Their challenge was, they didn’t know where!

Julian and Lucy departed New York in September of 1945, first traveling to Florida, then to Texas. Finally on to California, "the land of opportunity" in Steinbeck’s book Grapes of Wrath. Early in December the Kings headed east to Arizona. According to Julian’s book, Sand in Our Shoes, they first observed Superstition Mountain on December 24, 1945, and fell in love with this towering monolith.

It was here on the desert floor below Superstition Mountain they would build their dream, a guest ranch resort. As they traveled down a very primitive road with their ’41 Ford convertible and a small camping trailer in tow they marveled at the beauty of the Sonoran Desert knowing its climate would be a wonderful attraction for those who lived in the Midwest and Eastern United States during the winter months. Julian, almost immediately could see his first winter residents arriving at his doorstep to spend time at their guest ranch enjoying the Arizona climate.

However, there would be no guest ranch until they could purchase a piece from Gertrude Barkley. These old time ranchers had lived in the desert off and on since 1911. The Barkley’s advised Julian and Lucy not to try and build a guest ranch in such a remote region. They told the Kings the hardships would be enormous even in modern times. The Kings were determined to start a guest ranch based on their limited knowledge of Midwesterner and Easterners wanting to get out of the extreme cold and spend a few weeks in the warm Arizona sunshine during the winter months. Once the Kings saw Superstition Mountain they were determined they had found their guest ranch site. Julian and Lucy were determined to take on the project and learn their building skills as they worked on the construction of their dream guest ranch.

An old man named Pearly Bates had the homestead rights and patent to 160 acres on the slopes of Superstition Mountain. When Julian first asked him about a price he wanted $76,000 for the 160 acres. An outrageous figure at that time thought Julian. Julian suggested they buy 80 acres, and Pearly Bates hold the remaining acreage as an option. Bates returned the next day and said he didn’t want to sell the land. However, Bates kept coming around and eventually Julian convinced him to take their trailer and five hundred dollars for the 160 acres. Julian ended up with 160 acres of raw desert land for about four dollars an acre. The Kings now had their guest ranch land, and they carved the date, February 7, 1946, in a Palo Verde tree to celebrate. It required almost three years of hard work before the guest ranch was ready for its first guest.

I met Lucy and Julian in 1955, when I first worked for the Barkley Cattle Company at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. This was just prior to William A. Barkley’s death in September of 1955. Julian and Lucy were two people filled with dreams for the area. When I visited the King’s Guest Ranch Resort they always treated me like a dignitary because I was a Barkley cowboy. Today it is hard for me to believe this occurred almost 60 years ago. Julian was a hard working man and a very proud individual. He never talked much about his experiences on the U.S.S. Enterprise at Midway, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and many other sea battles of World War II. He was always anxious to talk about horses and the Superstition Mountains. Julian was a great storyteller and Lucy loved to paint. Her oils adorn many of the homes in the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon area. Lucy captured the beauty of the Palo Verde in the spring while blooming and the colorful dynamics of Superstition Mountain in changing light.

Some evenings I would spend time talking with Julian and some of his guests before he sold his beloved King’s Guest Ranch Resort and retired to a hilltop at the end of King’s Way (known as Blackhawk today). This was certainly a fitting retirement for such a gallant naval officer. My wife and I had dinner with Lucy and Julian at the Cowboy Steakhouse in Apacheland in February of 1961. Julian could never really retire; he had to be involved in his community in some way. At the time he was involved with the Apacheland Movie set and the Superstition Mountain Enterprises. Julian was a good salesman. He sold my wife and I one hundred shares in Apacheland stock when one hundred dollars was a lot of money.

The last time I visited with Julian was in Apache Junction at Herb Jordan’s Chevron Service Station on Highway 60. This was around 1966. We chatted about how Herb helped college students by hiring them while they were attending school. Julian pointed out to me what a fine man Herb Jordan was for trying to give back to his community as much as he could.

Both Julian and Lucy gave back to their community in many ways over the years. Their contributions to this community improved the way of life for all of us. Julian was involved in several local service clubs and organizations. He was involved with Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce, American Legion Post 27, VFW and many other organizations. Julian M. King passed away on November 12, 1972 and his wife Lucille Ingham King passed away on March 2, 1999.

Anyone interested in reading an excellent book should read Sand In Our Shoes: Chasing An American Dream by Julian M. King. Rosemary Shearer promised me twenty-five years ago she would someday publish Julian’s book, and she has done an excellent job with Julian’s manuscript. He would have certainly been proud and honored. The book tells the story of how the Kings came west and found their dream in the shadows of Superstition Mountain after World War II. I personally recommend all residents and visitors interested in the history of the Gold Canyon – King’s Ranch area or Arizona history to read this excellent book written by a true pioneer who settled on raw desert land in the Sonoran Desert below the towering façade of Superstition Mountain more than fifty-seven years ago.

The Kings were a remarkable couple with a dream, far different from the prospectors who searched the Superstitions for gold. They were a young couple whose lives were changed forever by World War II. Their dreams and tenacity built them a wonderful life on the Arizona desert beneath Superstition Mountain.

Sand In Your Shoes by Julian M. King is available at the Superstition Mountain Museum and other outlets in the Apache Junction area.