Following the Coronado Expedition of 1540, cattle ranching took hold in the Southwest in the 1600s, providing the region with more than 300 years of ranching history and traditions. In that time, rangelands were destroyed and recovered, giving deep roots to the region’s culture of stewardship. With its vast landscapes, varying terrains, and dry winds, today’s ranchers learn early that, for the land to take care of them, they must take care of it first. It is knowledge passed down from the preceding generations, for many of the ranching families of the Southwest have as much history as the cattle, and their operations can be traced back many decades. Southwestern ranchers are hardy people. Like the land, they’ve weathered the suck-your-skin-dry winds and the relentless sun, but given a little moisture and warmth, they reveal a vibrancy that rivals any springtime in the Southwest.
One of three ranches making up the 134,000-acre Campwood Cattle Company, founded in the early 1970s by W.A. Gary with his daughter, Kathy, and her husband, Swayze McCraine. The 1,200-cow outfit is an exemplar of the Western tradition.
In 1916, Joe Lane established the 9 Ranch, headquarters for his far-flung operations in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. The “9” continues under third- and fourth-generation ownership, exemplifying the ranching heritage and tradition.
Now in their eighth decade of ownership, the Brophy family operates the 28,000 acres that comprise Arizona’s largest contiguous private land parcel. Running anywhere from 1,300 to 16,000 head of cattle on land that maintains the borders of its 1832 land grant by the Republic of Mexico, the Brophys are recognized for their commitment to the land and were the recipients of the 2008 Environmental Stewardship Award.
Since 1886, Babbit Ranches has been guided by cowboy values, now outline in the ranch's Constitution. Just as they did in the 1800s, Babbitt cowboys still follow the wagon and sleep in bedrolls, managing 8,000 head of Hereford grazing on 700,000 acres of private, federal, and state lands.
Among the most historic of New Mexico’s ranches, the Bell covers 280,000 acres north of Tucumcari. It is one of a number of ranches under the ownership of Silver Spur Ranches, a 1-million-acre aggregate of cattle and horse operations.
Diamond A Ranch
Formerly known as the Boquillas, or the 3V, the 770,000-acre Diamond A is considered the largest ranch in Arizona, owned by Harvey Dietrich and the Cholla Cattle Company.
Express UU Bar Ranch
As part of the Express Ranches—the nation’s number one seed stock producer—the Express UU Bar maintains a production cow-calf unit, a bred heifer development program, and 1,000 head of yearlings on 168,000 acres of high altitude rangeland each summer. Once included in the largest land grant in history (the 1,714,765-acre Maxwell Land Grant), this semi-arid ranchland contributes greatly to the production of Express Ranches’ 6,000 registered Angus, Limousin, and Lim-Flex cattle.
San Mateo, N.M.
Floyd W. Lee worked for the 300,000-acre Fernandez Ranch from the end of WWI, until purchasing it around 1939. Located on the slopes of Mount Taylor, it is operated by the third generation of the Lee family.
O RO Ranch
The “RO” lies northwest of Prescott, consisting of 257,000 acres, acquired in 1936 by the Greene Cattle Company. Since 1973, the Irwin family has owned it with a strong commitment to the traditions and culture of ranching.
San Cristobal Ranch
The 81,000-acre San Cristobal is the flagship of the 1.2-million-acre accumulation of ranches across New Mexico owned by the Singleton Trust. It is an integrated operation, raising quality cattle and top-performing horses.
Sierra Bonita Ranch
Graham County, Ariz.
The Sierra Bonita survived Apaches, outlaws, and drought to become one of the largest, most famous spreads in the Southwest. And the original family (operations are managed by the great-great-great-grandson of the ranch's founder) is working hard to keep it going strong.
The 200,000-acre T4 includes the Mesa Rica area of the 1947 Bell Ranch partition, owned and operated for three generations by the Bidegain family. These ranchers are descendants of the Kohn family who established the original mercantile and ranching operation, headquartering at Montoya, N.M., in 1902.