Scott Dyke: The west’s best history of the White Stallion Ranch

Horseback at the White Stallion Ranch. Photo / Saija Lehtonen

By Scott Dyke

My wife’s lack of interest in Western history is well documented. But here’s a revelation. She went western before I did. She also had a leg up on a unique experience that, heretofore, I was lacking. A dude ranch.

I had been to famous ranches, historic ranches and abandoned ranches, but never to an honest-to-goodness dude ranch. Her braggin’ rights are rescinded now thanks to Russell True.
The White Stallion Ranch, on West Twin Peaks Road, is a top-rated operation that satisfies the yen for Old West-style living without the hardships.

I ran into True this fall. We were doing an Old West panel gig for the Empire Ranch’s noted Roundup celebration. When the panel ended, we sat down and kicked back.

We had some things in common. The True family had bought the Tombstone Monument Ranch a while back from a couple guys I knew. He extended an invitation to visit the White Stallion.
Like all ranches, it has a history. The original homestead was built by a squatter shortly after the turn of the 20th century. It was a typical mud adobe structure that existed for centuries in Arizona. In the 1930s the ranch became a fowl breeding operation. At its zenith, 30,000 turkeys and chickens strutted and pecked there.

In 1940, Max Zimmerman, a Chicago liquor store merchant, revamped the ranch into a guest facility. He named it the MZ Ranch. He sold it to Mary Varner. She sold it to Brew and Marge Towne, who hailed from far off and distant Cape Cod. They decided to name it Black Stallion Ranch, but upon seeing the initials branded “BS,” they opted for a color change.

Grand vision

The True family entered the picture in 1965. Cynthia and Allen True set their sights on a far grander operation. Even though Allen had no experience with such a business, he had a vision.
Russell gave me the story.

“Mom was not enthusiastic. The ranch was run-down, and dude ranches were being swallowed up by Tucson growth. Eventually she relented. She told Dad if he built a house that allowed her to wake up mornings and see the mountains, she would allow him to throw away their lives.”

Needless to say, the gamble paid off. Today the ranch size is 3,000 acres, dwarfing the original 200 acres when purchased. It has 41 rooms and a multitude of structures and buildings. One hundred twenty horses are available for riding. Cattle, birds and other animals abound.

“We don’t advertise much,” Russell said. Indeed, most of their guests are repeats and referrals. There is an international flavor, as many come from foreign lands such as United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada and Australia.

The White Stallion Ranch is Truely (did you catch that? ouch!) a family affair. Joining Russell in the operation are his wife Laura, Russell’s brother Michael and his wife Kristen. Russell’s sons David and Steven, with his wife Alice, are very much hands-on with the day-to-day activities. They also employ a staff of 35 and have 30 part-time employees.

“We all pull our weight,” Russell said. A look at the ranch’s weekly calendar displays dawn-to-dusk activities that provide not an inch of room for boredom. Hiking, horseback riding, hay rides, tennis, swimming, gym facility with sauna, basketball, volleyball, cookouts, hot tub, and a recreation center can keep you busy.

Celebrity stays

Animal interaction for kids and adults, too. A full-scale, impressive dining area for the traditional three squares. A fully stocked Western bar for libations. At night, venues of entertainment are offered. Cowboy singers, storytellers, dances, astronomy and historical talks wind up a very full day.

Over the years, celebrities have enjoyed the ranch. Tom Hanks and his daughter stayed here. His daughter loved riding, but Hanks could not due to his contract while filming “Castaway.”

Russell was impressed with Hanks, calling him “a very nice man.” Two maids who were trying to steal a peek of the star were shocked when he approached them and invited them to have their picture taken with him. Hal Holbrook was another famous visitor.

Twenty-eight feature films used the White Stallion for their shoots. The films included star like James Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Glenn Close, Bill Holden and Richard Widmark. Sports Illustrated magazine shot one of its Swimsuit Editions here.

Among the interesting stories included in the history of White Stallion, Russell offered up this. “When Dad set up here, Mom was back in Denver pregnant. I was five. We took a plane to Tucson and bunked in that night, all in one bedroom.We were awakened by shouting, somewhere near daybreak. The ranch maintenance man, drunk, was waving a knife and threatening to kill the cook and President Johnson.”

Welcome to Arizona, folks.

The White Stallion offers western, but with all the modern trimmings. Best of both worlds.

You will enjoy the experience. Tell Russell I said “hey.”


Scott Dyke is a Wyatt Earp historian, Western writer, lecturer and researcher. He can be contacted at Article published at the Green Valley News and is republished here with the permission of the author.



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