Walter Vail on horseback, circa 1898

By Alison Bunting

Walter Vail and Herbert Hislop began their search for a ranch to purchase soon after their arrival in Tucson in early July, 1876.  

Hislop wrote: “Rested and just looked round the town for horses to buy, but did not succeed. Had more offers of ranches, it is astonishing how quickly one’s business is known in a small place like this. Everybody has the best to sell. It is quite amusing to hear them talk and hear them contradict each other, running down each other as thieves and rascals, but we have our money and intend to keep it unless we get a place suited to our requirements and on reasonable terms.”

They first set off with Tucson businessman E.N. Fish to visit Fish’s ranch located 52 miles southeast of Tucson.  Hislop wrote that they left at 8 am: “One of us riding on horseback and the other in a buggy with Fish, who had a fine pair of horses.  We stopped for lunch at 2 pm and had a rest of an hour, arrived at the ranch at 6 pm and had supper, mutton chops, taken from a sheep killed on the ranch and mighty good it was to a hungry man and when it was dark, between 8 and 9 pm, went to bed which consisted of lying on the mud floor with a blanket round you and no windows in the house, but for all that I slept like a top.”

At the end of a day spent exploring the ranch on horseback, Hislop commented that “the ranch reminds me of the South Downs {England], being much the same sort of country and evidently a good place for cattle, which was shown by the condition of the cattle.”

Vail noted that “it is quite a pretty place, it consists mostly of rolling hills which reminds me very much of the Iowa prairie.” The ranch house was “situated on a hill but is not finished, having no doors or windows.”

Hislop records their return to Tucson the following morning “…at 7:30 a.m., having had two miners as bed-fellows the night before, the rain having turned them and their families out of doors so they sought refuge as good as the ranch house afforded.”

Hislop and Vail consumed a meager lunch of “sardines and deviled turkey” at 2, while they watered the horses, which staved off their hunger until they “…arrived in Tucson at 5:30, once more getting into the civilized world. “


Next time: the partners will visit two more ranches before deciding which to purchase.


Alison Bunting is a former librarian and now serves as the historical archive curator for the Empire Ranch Foundation. Article originally appeared in the Patagonia Times on page 9 and is republished here with the author’s permission.