O RO Ranch Cowboys


Kathy McCraine Unknown 1100-2023-2402.jpg Days Past Sepia 1100-2023-2402 1100-2023-2402 Print 6x9 Media c. 1993 Reproduction rights are not available. Owned by another institution.


O RO Ranch cowboys holding a herd of cows up at Cabin Tank. Mount Hope is in the background, 1993.

Courtesy Kathy McCraine.

The 100,000-acre Baca Float #5 is on the private O RO Ranch, 44 miles northwest of Prescott, west on Walnut Creek Road. The Juniper Mountains cut across the northeastern corner of the ranch. Nearby Mount Hope, at 7,263 feet, is a monument to the tenacity of settlers who made it through nearby Aztec/Juniper Pass when traveling on toll roads between the Colorado River and Prescott.

Don Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca, one of Nuevo Mexico’s ricos (rich), claimed as his ancestor Cabeza de Vaca, who in 1535 walked across the present-day Southwest. Vaca was one of the four men who survived a Spanish expedition to Florida in 1527. An ancestor of Baca had arrived with Juan de Oñate, and family members returned with Diego de Vargas during the reconquest of 1692. Don Luis’ ancestors were firmly ensconced in Mexican/Spanish history and he had a sound argument to ask for a land grant.

On January 16, 1821 Don Luis petitioned the provincial government in Durango for a grant in his name and that of his 17 children (born of three marriages), a grant he called Las Vegas Grandes near the present town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. An 1860 survey by the General Land Office showed the grant contained 496,447 acres.The provincial president in Durango approved the grant May 29, 1823 and informed the governor in Santa Fe who directed the Mayor of San Miguel to ceremoniously place Don Luis Baca in possession of the land.

The legitimacy of the 1823 approval by the Spanish authorities in Durango would later be questioned because in 1821 Mexico became independent in the Treaty of Córdoba; ending any power derived from the King of Spain. However, the territorial government of New Mexico had in 1825 confirmed the grant to Cabeza de Baca, making the argument moot.

A shepherd took care of 3000 sheep and other livestock until Plains Indians made the operation unprofitable and dangerous. A Mexican soldier killed Don Luis in 1827 during an argument.

The five Baca Floats, of approximately 99,000 acres each, about 156 square miles, were relocated to different areas in the New Mexico Territory. Baca heirs (now numbering 86) sold Float No. 5 to their lawyer, John S. Watts in 1871 for $6,800. This transaction started a long chain of buying and selling.

In 1889, Edward B. Perrin purchased Float No. 5. In 1936, he sold the land to the Greene Cattle Company, of Naco, Arizona, which had been formed by (self-appointed) Colonel William Greene. When Greene died in 1911, he left his holdings to his wife who married Charles Wiswall. Greene Cattle Company purchased the adjoining 157,000-acre Mahon Ranch in 1936. The newly formed O RO Ranch, combined with Float No. 5 became one of the largest ranches in Arizona. JJJ Corporation, who purchased the ranch in 1973, continues to operate the O RO as one of the oldest and largest ranches in Arizona. Their cattle are branded with O on the left ribs and RO on the left hip, horses are branded RO on the hip. Hence the space between O and OR in the ranch name.

Excerpt from Williamson Valley & Beyond: Prehistory-1870s by Kathy Lopez, published by Morgan Ranch Park Association, 2022.


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