By Linda Ludington
The current owner of the historic V7 Ranch, Betty Wells, is an energetic woman who is full of friendly good will and good stories about six generations of her family who have made Chino Valley their home. You would not think that this demure Western woman had been named Rancher of the Year by the Kiwanis Club or had been a rodeo-winning team roper or had introduced the Team Penning event to the Prescott Rodeo. You would not expect to find that, at the age of seventy-five, she still works cattle on young horses she trains herself, fixes fences and brands on the range, but all of these are true of Betty Wells.
Here is a short history of Betty's V7 Ranch, one of Arizona's oldest. James Baker arrived in Chino Valley in 1864, to serve as a doctor at Camp Clark. He traded a horse and saddle to a squatter for some land along the Verde River, registered the Seventy-Six brand, and started the Verde Ranch. Shortly after, he acquired a financial partner, James Campbell, who invested in the ranch but continued to live in Prescott.
Baker brought seventy Hereford cattle from California to his Verde Ranch in 1866. The next year he drove a larger herd of Mexican cattle from the Pecos River in Texas. Sheep, goats and horses were added to his livestock. By 1882, the Prescott Miner could accurately describe Baker's as the largest cattle and horse outfit in northern Arizona, but because of a severe drought-which ruined many cattle ranches in Arizona-and burdensome financial problems, the ranch was foundering in the late 1890s.
In 1898, Marion Alexander Perkins left Texas because a state law prevented his homesteading more than eight sections of land. This man who detested fences came to Arizona, where he struck a deal to buy the Verde Ranch. On July 5, 1898, M.A. Perkins, his family, and several neighbors commenced a journey to move their 1400 head of cattle to the new property on the Verde River. Although delayed by a dispute with Baker over open-range grazing and water rights, the sale was finally consummated and the Perkins family arrived with their herd in November 1900.
Texan Jim Nunn rode point on Perkins' cattle drive. He returned to Texas, but in 1915, his nephew Austin Nunn (named for his great-uncle, Stephen F. Austin) arrived in Arizona to work for Perkins. Wanting to establish his own ranch, Austin Nunn purchased three grazing sections from Perkins as well as the V7 brand-which had come from Texas with the Perkins-and some livestock. When Austin Nunn married Annie Jaggard in 1928, they took a homestead ten miles northeast of Chino Valley. Their V7 Ranch was made up of the grazing sections bought from Perkins, national forest allotments, and the Nunn homestead. Austin and Annie Nunn ran the V7 Ranch until they retired in 1952, when it was sold to Bill and Betty Wells. The Wells still live in the Nunns' 1929, house in a small valley surrounded by pinon and juniper-covered hills.
Betty's husband, Bill, grew up on a farm near Phoenix and later farmed in Chino Valley. Betty's Chino Valley roots go deep: her father, Claud Aiken, came to the area from Marfa, Texas, with his parents when he was twelve years old. At sixteen he hired on with the Perkins family as camp cook and chuck wagon driver, and worked roundups that stretched from Ash Fork to Point of Rocks (Granite Dells). The entire region was open range-fences were used only around ranch buildings and garden plots. In 1920, Claud Aiken married Hazel Swiger, the daughter and granddaughter of Chino Valley homesteaders. Betty is the younger of their two daughters.
Betty's happy childhood memories include summer adventures with cousins, her mother's marathon home-canning sessions, and all-night dances-everyone, of every age, danced, Betty's mother played piano, and a feast of sandwiches and cakes appeared at midnight. Dancing continued till dawn-a tradition that dated from pre-automobile days when it was impossible for folks to go home in the middle of the night.
Betty's favorite place has always been the horse corral. She began riding when she was so little she had to climb up the horse's front leg to mount! Her special pet, "Bouncer," was a congenial donkey who allowed the children to ride her and sometimes harness her to a small cart, but who would not cross a stream! More than once Betty was pitched unceremoniously over Bouncer's head into the creek.
Betty learned cowboy skills easily-Claud Aiken called her his best wrangler. At eighteen Betty tried her hand at rodeo, teaming with Charlie Matli for steer-roping at the 1942, Prescott Rodeo. She didn't have much success roping head, so Charlie taught her to rope heel during breaks in the event. Their team beat all others the last two days of the rodeo. Betty still enjoys Team Penning, an event which she introduced to the Prescott Rodeo in 1988. Betty laughs that, "Even though it has absolutely nothing to do with ranching, it's a lot of fun."
When Betty married Bill Wells in 1946, they decided that Betty would continue to ranch and Bill would farm. The success of this arrangement was recognized later when Bill was named Prescott Kiwanis "Farmer of the Year," and Betty became the first woman to be named "Rancher of the Year." After fifty years of ranching, she asserts that-even though the modern horse-trailer and cattle truck have made their work a little easier-Bill and Betty wrangle their V7 cattle in much the same way James Baker's cowboys did on the open range 140 years ago.
Join us at the Sharlot Hall Museum this coming weekend for the 12th annual Cowboy Poets Gathering. Included in the sessions this year is a program with Betty Wells on Saturday Afternoon at 1:00 pm at the Museum Center. For information about the Evening Shows at the Elks Theater or the free programs on Friday or Saturday at the Museum call 445-3122 or visit our website at www.sharlothallmuseum.org.
Linda Ludington is a docent at the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (Well's collection item 22). Reuse only by permission.
Betty sits on a donkey in this 1924 photograph of her with her father Claud Aiken. Betty Wells' ranch, the V7, goes back to 1864 in Chino Valley and Wells will tell some fine stories this weekend at the Museum about growing up ranching and going to rodeos.