Monday, March 18, 2013

The Reavis Ranch Legacy

March 11, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Duane Short, Superstition Mountain guide and packer, cleaning up around the Reavis Ranch. c. 1989
Floyd "Stoney" Stone was ramrod on the old Reavis Ranch in the mid 1950’s. He and his wife, Alice, operated the ranch. His handshake and smile were genuine and made you feel welcome after a twelve mile terrorizing drive over the Reavis Ranch road from the Apache Trail. This particular day Stoney and Alice had invited my wife Sharon and I to visit them at their mountain paradise in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness. The Reavis Ranch was excluded from the Superstition Wilderness Area and was an island of patent land surrounded by national wilderness. The only access corridor was a twelve-mile single lane road, with an occasional pull out.

While at the ranch, I was able to observe and study the Western decor of the ranch house. It was filled with a mixture of contemporary western and pre-Columbian artifacts. The kitchen had a long wooden table with benches on each side to accommodate working ranch hands. The authentic copper-paneled ceiling of the kitchen appeared out of place in such an isolated location. There were three windows in the kitchen and a large wood-burning stove for cooking. The windows framed the beauty of the Reavis Valley.

The front room or living room was the center of the house and dominated the decor of the house. At the west end of the room was a large fireplace. The hearth was framed with peeled pine logs that had cattle brands burned into them for decoration. Western style leather covered furniture filled the room. The floor was covered with large Navajo rugs while the ceiling displayed open round timber rafters. Scenes of cowboys and cattle adorned the walls in the form of paintings. The walls were constructed of white plaster covered lathe. Here and there a Pre-Columbian artifact was displayed. A large painted Salado Olla sat in the corner. I will never forget the subtle beauty of the ranch house’s interior. A woman’s touch indeed made you feel at home.

The exterior of the house exhibited carefully laid sandstone rocks. The ranch house’s front entrance faced the east and had a large screened porch paralleling the full length of the house secured by flagstone columns. There were two good size bedrooms on the south end of the house overlooking the reservoir or pond. Beyond the pond there was a vineyard filled with grapes. A large breezeway was located on the west end of the house. This breezeway served as a place to hang meat and help cool the house in the summer. The bathroom and storeroom were located just beyond the breezeway.

Using a ladder, you could climb into the attic where numerous things were stored and where occasionally a tired cowboy would throw down his bedroll. Occasionally a family of raccoons would settle into the attic and cause chaos at the ranch.

The Clemans’ Cattle Company built the Reavis Ranch house during the 1930’s. William J. Clemans and his sons operated the ranch from 1909 until 1946. The Stones sold the Reavis Ranch to the Department of Agriculture in 1967 for $80,000 and twenty acres of patented land at the old IV Ranch near the Apache Trail.

The Native Americans were the first humans to occupy the Reavis Valley. They settled here some 10,000 – 15,000 years ago. These early residents settled here for the same reason Elisha Marcus Reavis did in 1874. This valley had permanent water and good soil and has the only spring fed permanent stream flowing year around in this entire region. Native Americans, farmers, and cattlemen all cherished and coveted this beautiful valley and its abundance of water in a desert environment. Numerous archaeological sites, including Circle Stone, dot the towering knolls that surround the valley and serve today as a mute testimony to those who once lived in this valley.

Elisha Marcus Reavis, the first Anglo to occupy the Reavis Valley, died in 1896. His lonely grave is located four miles south of the Reavis Ranch. Shortly after his death, John J. Fraser, better known as "Jack," a local cattleman, took over the Reavis Valley and the water rights. Fraser, like Reavis, was just another squatter on this land. Fraser never acquired title because at the time he was not a citizen of the United States. Fraser operated the ranch from 1896-1909.

Fraser sold his interest in the ranch to William J. Clemans in January of 1909. Clemans patented the 140 acres of the Reavis Valley on January 16, 1919. He and his sons operated the ranch until 1946, when it sold to Bacon and Upton. John A. Bacon ran the ranch from 1946-1953. Bacon’s son-in-law, Floyd Stone, took over operation of the ranch in 1954.

Between 1909-1954 many improvements were made at the Reavis Ranch. A road was constructed from the Apache Trail to the ranch in 1946. Old Ed Talley did most of the bulldozer work on the road. Almost two miles of irrigation canals were dug to water some six hundred-apple trees and 60 acres of alfalfa. A large pond was created near the ranch house to irrigate the ranch lands. There was even a small sawmill constructed to produce lumber for improvements around the ranch.

Reavis Ranch road, first conceived in 1910, was not completed until 1946. The road survived only twenty-two years before being closed in 1968 by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The valley became part of the Tonto Preserve in 1909. The valley served as the site of the first Camp Geronimo sponsored by the Roosevelt Boy Scout Council in June of 1922. Spencer Stewart, founder of Apacheland, was one of the scouts from Mesa who attended the first Camp Geronimo at the Reavis Ranch in 1922. Swimming merit badges were earned by by all of the scouts who attended because of the Reavis Valley Pond. Arizona Governor Thomas Campbell rode into the valley horseback as a guest of the Roosevelt Boy Scout Council.

The old ranch house survived through famine, fire, and vandalism for twenty-three years after the road was closed in 1968. Around Thanksgiving Day of 1991, a fire erupted in the old ranch house and it burned to the ground. All that remains today is the concrete slab the ranch house once stood on.

The old ranch house no longer serves as a haven for wayward hikers and horseman. It will no longer protect the weary from a thundering rainstorm, lightning or a raging blizzard. It is certainly the end of an era in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area, and another of man’s tracks have been erased from the wilderness forever.