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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Prospector, Cowhand, and Sodbuster
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark SIERRA BONITA RANCH

Location: Graham County, on an unpaved road, 10 miles south west of Bonita.

Ownership and Administration. Privately owned.

Significance. This ranch—in the shadow of the Graham Mountains overlooking Sulphur Springs Valley—was founded in 1872 by Col. Henry C. Hooker. Marking the penetration of U.S. cattlemen into the grasslands of southeastern Arizona Territory, an area where the Spanish-Mexican cattle empire had already risen and fallen, it was the first U.S. cattle ranch in the Territory to survive the Apache terror. It was also the first to introduce graded stock in the region.

The resumption of the campaign against the Apaches, at the end of the Civil War, brought an influx of troops to Arizona's 14 military posts. Feeding these men called for beef and laid the basis for Arizona's cattle industry. As the Army rounded up the Indians, a demand also arose for beef at the reservations, as it did also at the mines in the Territory. As early as 1867 Colonel Hooker became the leading military beef contractor. From Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon, and Idaho, he drove as many as 15,000 cattle a year to holding ranges in Arizona Territory for resale to the Army camps and Indian agencies. In 1872 he established Sierra Bonita ("Beautiful Mountains").

Sierra Bonita Ranch
Early adobe barn at Sierra Bonita Ranch, Arizona.

Hooker built his ranch buildings on the site of a Spanish hacienda that had been abandoned in the early 1800's because of Apache raids. His main house was large and rectangular, 80 by 100 feet, and had thick adobe walls and gunports in the parapets. The water supply was plentiful and consisted of five springs, creeks that flowed in the spring and fall, and an underground river easily tapped by wells. This water gave Hooker control of a range approximately 30 miles long and 30 miles wide. Situated at 4,000 feet elevation, the ranch escaped extremes of heat and cold, and thus provided an ideal breeding range. In the 1880's Hooker improved his herds by importing Hereford graded stock. He also fenced portions of the land and planted alfalfa and other hay crops. Gradually he built his holdings until he controlled 250,000 acres that carried 20,000 head. So soundly did he build that he was one of the few Arizona ranchers to survive the disastrous drought of 1891. When he died in 1907, he was still the cattle king of Arizona.

Present Appearance. The Sierra Bonita is an operating cattle ranch, presently owned by Mrs. Harry Hooker, granddaughter of Colonel Hooker. The adobe ranchhouse has been remodeled inside, but it still retains the fortress-like appearance of early days. It is shaded by giant cottonwoods and surrounded by the original adobe corrals, bunkhouses, and barns. The integrity of the site is exceptional for three reasons: Continuity, appearance of the buildings, and the same magnificent setting that first attracted Hooker. The ranch is not open to the public. [2]

NHL Designation: 07/19/64

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Last Updated: 22-May-2005