Monday, December 15, 2014

Going Home to the Reavis

December 8, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Kollenborn going home to Reavis, circa 1956.
A flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and the threat of rain made the old Reavis Ranch house a haven to weary hikers, horsemen and cattlemen that rode or walked the trails of the eastern portion of the Superstition Mountains for more than a half of a century. This old skeleton of a ranch house survived almost thirty years alone in the heart of the Superstition Wilderness Area with little or no maintenance.  Many friends of the old Reavis Ranch house tried desperately to help the old ranch house limp into the Twenty-First Century.

The Friends of the Reavis Ranch cleaned, cleared, hauled trash off and repaired the old ranch house for more than a decade.  Their effort was a labor of love, nothing more. We all understood the character and spirit of this old house after spending a few days in it. The roar from the fireplace, the clanging of the tin roof, the wind blowing through the breezeway and the attic, the squeaking of a door hinge were all familiar sounds. The house had plenty of mice and even an occasional family of raccoons. The beauty and solitude of this valley has made it a popular destination for hikers and horsemen. 

Since 1956, I have traveled to and from the Reavis Ranch on foot, horseback and by vehicle on many different occasions. I can recall the old road and how rough it was between Castle Dome Corral, through Windy Gap and on to Plow Saddle. I can remember the friendly smile of Alice Stone and the strong handshake of Floyd Stone when welcomed to their mountain ranch. I can recall the closing of the road and Mary Leonard’s article in the Arizona Republic about the old ranch in 1967. Only those who have spent time at the old ranch in Reavis Valley know what we have lost.

The Reavis Valley is a pristine ecological niche of the Upper Sonoran Desert with the old ranch serving as a window for humanity. The Reavis Ranch house burned down November 30, 1991. The old ranch house has been gone for more than twenty-three years.

The Reavis ranch house was constructed about 1937. William J. Clemans Company patented the ranch in 1919. Clemans purchased the ranch from John J. Fraser in 1909, and Fraser acquired the ranch shortly after the death of the old hermit, “Elisha Marcus Reavis” in 1896.

Clemans and his two sons, Earl and Mark Twain ran the ranch from 1910-1946. Billy Martin Sr. served as foreman of the Clemans Cattle Company from 1915-1946.  Prior to Martin, William “Billy” Knight served as foreman from 1891-1915. To this day there are old catch pens deep in the forest made entirely of wood, not one nail or a piece of wire was used in their construction.  The range was so brushy the Clemans’ cowboys had to trap a lot of their cattle.

The Reavis Ranch road was started in 1910 by a group of Mesa promoters who wanted to sell lots in the pines south of the Reavis Ranch. They never completed the road. Bacon and Upton purchased the ranch from the Clemans Cattle Company around 1946. Bacon and Upton completed the road into the Reavis Ranch in 1948. Floyd Stone, Bacon’s son-in-law, and Kenneth Lockwood purchased the ranch in 1955 from John A. Bacon and Upton. Stone and Lockwood sold the ranch to the United States Department of Agriculture in 1966 for $80,000 and twenty acres of patented land near the Apache Trail.

Shortly after the government purchased the Reavis Ranch they closed the access corridor. The reason for the closure of the road was the extreme maintenance cost and the danger to vehicular travel. After the road was closed in 1967 only hikers and horsemen were able to access the Reavis Valley and the ranch.

A sort of sadness prevailed when news of the Reavis Ranch fire spread among those who had visited the old ranch over the years. I suppose many of the wilderness purist believed the fire was a blessing to the wilderness concept, but many hikers and backpackers were disappointed to find their severe weather haven destroyed by fire. Now outfitters and packers will have to carry more gear and take more animals to provide adequate service to their customers. Many will just miss the old ranch house because of the nostalgia associated with it. I must admit I really enjoyed being a part of this history. The destruction of the old Reavis Ranch house ended an era in the history of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Settlers and cattlemen have lived in the valley since 1874, and the Reavis Valley had served as the first Camp Geronimo for the Boy Scouts in 1920 before the Spade Ranch north of Payson became their permanent home. Arizona’s Governor Campbell rode horseback to the Reavis Ranch in 1920’s to visit with the Boy Scouts at Camp Geronimo and tell them stories around a campfire. Even post cards told the story of the idyllic Reavis Valley.

I visited the Reavis Valley in 1994, not for the last time, but to see the old ranch house once more. Only the walls were still standing and the chimney towered above the old house like a monument to the past.

I returned to the site of the old Reavis Ranch in October of 2000. None of the walls of the old ranch were standing. All that remained was the concrete slab the old ranch house was constructed on. I was amazed how obliterated the site was. All human history had just about been eradicated and the valley had almost returned to its pure natural state.

My most memorable visit to the Reavis Ranch was on Christmas Eve in 1989. We rode up to the ranch two days before Christmas. It was a cold December night and we had a roaring fire in the fireplace that kept the room warm. I found a poem written by an Apache Junction fireman called “The Night Before Christmas At The Reavis Ranch.” The poem was dedicated to the old Reavis Ranch and its unique character that charmed so many people who visited it. The poem mentioned the mice, the raccoons in the roof, the creakiness and moans of the old building and sound of trickling water in Reavis Creek. The poem was near a small Christmas Tree that was still standing and told the story “the night before Christmas at the old Reavis Ranch.”

This poem brought back so many memories of this old ranch and its inhabitants from the bygone days, the cowboys, cooks, and visitors who were a part of this history. This old ranch meant a lot to those who experienced it. It’s now gone, but its memory is still fresh in our minds. I didn’t have a pen to copy down the poem, and I also didn’t have the heart to take the poem away from others. I left it to be shared by those who might have visited the old ranch that particular Christmas week end.

The ranch was to be destroyed like all man-made things in a wilderness and was only a temporary fixture on the landscape. Those who knew the old house undoubtedly had a better understanding of man’s mark on the wilderness and the value of this place. The old ranch is now only a memory in the minds of those that once lived or visited there.