Alison Bunting: The Empire Ranch—the trip from the Colorado River to Tucson

By Alison Bunting

Last month’s article described Walter Vail and Herbert Hislop’s trip from Los Angeles to the Arizona Territory border, crossing the Colorado River near Blythe, CA. The next phase of the journey took four days in early July of 1876. On the Arizona side of the Colorado was the community of Ehrenberg, the next stop was Tyson Wells (modern day Quartzsite) and from there the stage travelled to Wickenberg where the stage road forked, going north to Prescott or south to Phoenix.

Hislop wrote on July 9, 1876: “Nothing particular happened except my nose bled again and we still were enjoying the beautiful desert ride. I now know what a desert is having to drive 45 miles at a stretch without water, carrying 24 gallons with us for the horses on the road, we all had to fill our canteens with putrid water or else die from thirst, sometimes it was full of mud.” On July 10th they “Breakfasted at Desert Station, 5 a.m., and then started for Phoenix, reaching it at 11:30 a.m., this being the first signs of cultivation we had seen since we left Los Angeles. My poor nose bled again. Left Phoenix at 12:30 p.m. for Florence with only a pair of horses which had to travel 65 miles with only one feed, and that we stopped for in the desert at 7 p.m., when we took supper, oysters, biscuits, canned meats, melons, etc., as there was no house for 30 odd miles. After supper curled up in blanket and slept again, as one had to sleep when and where they could or else get none at all. “

 They “Arrived at Florence at 4:30 a.m. (July 11th) and had breakfast in hotel at 6 a.m. The hotel, like all the other houses, is built of mud, there being no bedrooms, people sleeping out of doors and under trees wrapped in their blankets. We were obliged to stay here a day and a night as we missed the other stage that connected at Florence for Tucson.” Walter Vail wrote that same day, “It is very aggravating to have to wait here in this place, as there are no accommodations here. Hislop slept in an old school house with a young fellow I met in Tucson and I slept under a tree. The country around here is much better than I expected to find it, they have plenty of water for irrigation and the crops look very well and there seems to be a good excitement about the mines which seem to be paying well. I see by the paper that Fish has advertised everything for sale in Tucson and amongst other things his ranch, the sale comes off the latter part of this month.”

 Hislop described the last day of their journey: “Got up or at least rolled out of my blanket at 5:30 a.m. and went and bathed in a pool about a mile from Florence. I enjoyed this as it was the first time I had taken off my clothes and washed since the morning of July 5th. Washing is a luxury in this country. They have very little water here. I heard a man describe Arizona like this, he said; “Get a box of sand and in one corner put a thimbleful of water and in the other a horned toad and you have Arizona.” Left Florence at 7 p.m. for Tucson having for travelling companions two Indian agents going to look after their reservations.”

 Next month’s article will describe Vail and Hislop’s search for the best ranch to buy.


Alison Bunting, volunteer archivist and historian for the Empire Ranch Foundation (ERF), holds a Masters in Library Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She retired from a 32 year career at UCLA in 2002, having served as the Director of the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library and as interim University Librarian. She was member of the ERF Board of Directors (2006-2009) and ERF President (2007-2009). She established and coordinates the ERF docent program, served as project director for the Arizona Humanities Council grant to ERF to create a Cowboy Life Exhibit now on display in the Empire Ranch House, is the ERF webmaster, and coordinated the republication of Edward L. Vail’s Diary of a Desert Trail: 1890 Cattle Drive from Arizona to California, 2016. Article originally published in the Patagonia Regional Times on page 20.



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