Georgie Digs … A Creekside Story – History of ranching in Aravaipa

Story Georgie Digs 5-5-10.tif

By Georgiana Wood

Special to Copper Area News

Kearny – I am really looking forward to what I hope is the last revision of my manuscript “A Creekside Story”; but, at this time, I want to make the following available to those ranchers and farmers who might be interested.

From its original 40 acres of land, deeded in 1921, my husband, Clifford Wood’s family, had developed their ranch that had, eventually, become the larger Wood Brothers Panorama Ranch owned by Clifford, his brother Fred, and their wives, and whose headquarters was located along the western end of Aravaipa Creek in Pinal County, not far downstream of that area of Aravaipa Canyon that, in 1966, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wanted to set aside as a National Scenic Recreation Area, and what became the Aravaipa Canyon Primitive Area in Jan. of 1969.

Of course, this greatly affected us because of the many people who first came through our property to enter the inner canyon, the “Box”, although we hadn’t allowed any vehicular traffic going upstream. We really felt that all we needed was good health, good rains, decent cattle prices, not going broke, and certainly not being pressured by those who wanted to change everything!

We had the chance to sell the ranch to a developer, who wanted to subdivide it, which we didn’t want; so, in 1970, we sold the ranch to The Nature Conservancy (TNC). It wasn’t long before TNC’s mortgage was assumed by the Defenders of Wildlife (DOW), who appointed Edward Abbey as “coordinating custodian” on that property where the Clifford and Fred Wood families were still living for a while, with certain stipulations. Edward Abbey has been described as an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views. We also met Abbey’s friend, Douglas Peacock, who has been described as an American naturalist, outdoorsman, and author. In 1974, the DOW property was named “The George Whittell Wildlife Preserve” in memory of the man whose money made the Preserve and the acquirement of other properties possible, and eventually there were no cattle left on the Panorama Ranch range and the windmills stood still. In August of 1984, the Aravaipa Canyon Primitive Area became the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Area, on on May 22, 1986, Edward Abbey wrote the following in a letter to me and Cliff, who had been living downstream since 1973. :

“I hear from Douglas that you people were offended, maybe even hurt, by some of the things I said in that article about the beef industry that was reprinted in the Arizona Star. Well, I can’t blame you and I’m not surprised. I was attacking the beef industry (and the wool growers); I really would like to see the domestic livestock eventually removed from our public lands — especially the national parks, national forests, and national (BLM) rangelands — where other uses, such as hunting, fishing, human recreation, and habitat for wildlife– seem to me more important and in conflict with the traditional grazing business.

But the beef industry tends to hide behind the great American love affair with the cowboy; therefore I could not resist the temptation to poke a little fun at the Marlboro Man and the old cowboy image. My notion of “fun”, I suppose, looks like ridicule to some, and I can understand why some of my friends (not ex-friends, I hope) were annoyed by my remarks.

It would do no good to apologize for what I said about cowboys and ranchers. Too late to take it all back or eat my words. Furthermore, it would be false on my part, because I really meant what I said. All that I can do then is to remind you that I did allow for “ a few honorable exceptions” in my attack on ranchers and I had people like you in mind when I spoke of exceptions (I enclose the original script – part of it – of a speech I made at the University of Montana; the speech was transcribed on tape and parts of it printed in a Montana magazine called Northern Lights, then reprinted in Harper’s Magazine, then reprinted in various newspapers around the country – - so I’ve made at least 10,000 new enemies. Something I hardly needed .) Anyhow, if you read the enclose script, perhaps it will ease your minds a little concerning my attitude.

If not, I would regret it very much, for I have always admired and respected you people — all of you, the whole family — and hope that we can continue to be friends. I still want to see you again, from time to time, and get Uncle Cliff’s stories down on tape — as soon as I finish this … novel I’m working on. But if you don’t want to see me anymore I guess I could not blame you one bit. Or if you’d like to tell me face to face what you think of me and that article I would certainly oblige; I’ll even buy the drinks. Let me know. Regards, Ed. A.”

In the few pages of his hand-written script that Abbey had enclosed with his letter, he was complimentary about a few people he named, including Cliff and Fred, but he did add these following words about cowboys and ranchers:

“A rancher is only a farmer on a horse – A cowboy is a hired man trying to make an honest living, nothing special – All I want to do is get their greedy cows off our public lands, our property – Let those cowboys and ranchers find some harder way to make a living, like the rest of us have to do; there’s no good reason we should subsidize them forever. They’ve had a free ride; now they must learn to support themselves. Self reliance is a good tonic for any man; even for a cowboy; even for a rancher. “

We did not attempt to see Ed Abbey before his death in 1989. I understand that Doug Peacock played a big role in Abbey’s unusual burial, and that there are yet quite a few Abbey fans. Check Edward Abbey’s name on the internet.

In 1988, TNC had take over DOW properties with one couple with TNC living for only about three years on TNC property, across the creek from the Panorama Ranch homesite, where on June 17, 1995, a mysterious fire destroyed the long-neglected house and bunkhouse, and many of the trees. Then, on Aug. 1, 2006, a large Aravaipa Creek flood made its way through its fields. It is so very sad to see.

I certainly wish the best for all hard-working and dedicated ranchers and farmers, who are good stewards on their lands, as we were, despite having so much to put up with.

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