The Empire Ranch was originally established in the 1860's as a ranch of 160 acres with a four-room adobe ranch house and adjoining corral. Owned by Edward Nye Fish, a Tucson businessman, the ranch was acquired in 1876 by Walter L. Vail, a native of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and Herbert Hislop, an Englishman.
Over the next 20 years, as a part of the historic expansion of ranching, railroads, mining and other growth in the West, Vail and various partners expanded the original land holdings to include over one million acres. The ranch house became an extended complex with more than 22-rooms and many related structures, and remained a Vail family enterprise until 1928.
In 1928, the Empire Ranch was purchased by the Boice, Gates and Johnson partnership, successor to the Chiricahua Cattle Co., when their cattle had to be moved from the San Carlos Indian Reservation. The Boices were respected cattlemen known for their promotion of the Hereford breed of cattle in the Southwest. Partner Frank Boice and his family lived on and managed the Empire Ranch, and became sole owners in 1951. During their tenure they also hosted Hollywood production companies for the filming of a number of classic western movies.
Many well known western movies and TV series were filmed on or near the Empire Ranch. They include:
Red River, John Wayne, Montgomery Clift (1948, Howard Hawks)
Red River, James Arness, Bruce Boxleitner (1988 TV, Richard Michaels)
Oklahoma!, Gordon McRae, Shirley Jones (1955, Fred Zinneman)
Duel In the Sun, Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten (1946, King Vidor)
The Big Country, Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston (1958, William Wyler)
Gunman’s Walk, Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, James Darren (1958, Phil Karlson)
3:10 to Yuma, Glenn Ford, Van Heflin (1957, Delmar Daves)
Broken Lance, Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark (1954, Edward Dmytryk)
Hombre, Paul Newman (1967, Martin Ritt)
The Last Hard Men, Charlton Heston, James Coburn (1976, Andrew V. McLaglen)
Monte Walsh, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance (1970, William Fraker)
The Outlaw Josie Wales, Clint Eastwood (1976, Clint Eastwood)
The Young Pioneers, Linda Purl, Roger Kern (1978 TV series, various directors)
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming (1957, John Sturges)
War Arrow, Jeff Chandler, Maureen O’Hara, Jay Silverheels (1953, George Sherman)
Last Train From Gun Hill, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn (1959, John Sturges)
The Young Riders, Stephen Baldwin (1989-92 TV series, various directors)
Night of The Lepus, Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun (1972, William F. Claxton)
Bonanza, Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, several shows (1959-73 TV series, var. )
Gunsmoke, James Arness, Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake, several shows (1955-75 TV series, var. directors)
Tom Horn, Steve McQueen (1980, William Wiard)
The Cowboys, John Wayne (1972, Mark Rydell)
Winchester ‘73, James Stewart, Shelley Winters (1950, Anthony Mann)
The Furies, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston (1950, Anthony Mann)
The Wild Rovers, William Holden, Ryan O’Neal (1971, Blake Edwards)
Pocket Money, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin (1972, Stuart Rosenberg)
Hour of the Gun, James Garner, Jason Robards, Robert Ryan (1967, John Sturges)
Gunsight Ridge, Joel McCrea, Mark Stevens (1957, Francis D. Lyon)
Return of the Gunfighter, Robert Taylor, Chad Everett (1967, James Neilson)
A Star Is Born, Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson (1976, Frank Pierson)
Posse, Kirk Douglas, Bruce Dern (1975, Kirk Douglas)
Desperado, Alex McArthur, Yaphet Kotto (1987 TV, Virgil W. Vogel)
Ruby Jean and Joe, Tom Selleck, Ben Johnson (1996 TV, Jeffrey Sax)
Posse, Mario Van Peebles, Stephen Baldwin (1993, Mario Van Peeble
Westerns were very popular from the 1940s through the 1990s and then they began to not be as popular as long car chases and shoot em ups have taken center stage recently. They had many westerns where people would band together for a crisis and it would start off as a couple riders on horses and as they rode along others would join in. Finally there would be 30-40 riders converging on the problem. I guess this was the forerunner to the car chase of today. The Westerns all had a theme of good winning over evil and were well received.
In 1969 the lands were sold to Gulf American Corporation for a proposed real estate development, and later resold to Anamax Mining Company for mining and water potential. None of these developments materialized, however, and to this day the lands and ranch headquarters have supported only cattle operations.
In the 1980s a groundswell of public support developed to preserve the ranch and its natural resources in their pristine condition. In 1988 a series of land exchanges put the property into public ownership under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the U.S. Department of Interior. In 2000, the U.S. Congress officially designated these 42,000 acres to be Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
The Empire Ranch Foundation was established as a private non-profit organization in 1997 to work with the BLM to develop private support to preserve the ranch buildings and enhance the educational and recreational opportunities it offers to the general public. The Foundation has developed a number of educational pamphlets on Empire Ranch history.
Timeline of Empire Ranch
We only had a limited time to spend at the Ranch, but did get some good pictures of the place and were able to view much of the reconstruction going on. They also allow boondocking on certain sections of the ranch without any hookups. I would not like to take our rear engine diesel motorhome down the miles of dirt roads since it would mess up our air filters. It is a little cooler there than in the Tucson area due to the higher altitude and there are some great vistas.
|Life blood of the ranch, water.|
|Old original bldg|
|2nd addition to house|
We enjoyed the short visit and plan on returning before we leave this spring to see what else is out there. There are thousands of acres of prairie grass and rolling hills and we'd like to get some photos of that portion of the ranch.
BTW: We didn't see one cow or horse on the ranch while we were there. Lots of evidence they were there, but no actual sighting. Next time.