Wednesday, June 27, 2012

THE GREEN RANCH IN THE DESERT, part 1 of 4; by Thoda Cocroft (1919)

In the spring of 1914, three boys from California sought their fortunes in the deserts of Arizona. One was a civil engineer, one an agricultural engineer, the third, a youngster in college.

The Desert Claim Act of Arizona giving land to settlers who, at the end of three years, had irrigated and cultivated their respective claims, looked good to the California trio. They had a limited capital to invest and energy and get-rich-quick schemes in abundance.

For weeks they traveled over desert lands, searching carefully and in the region of the purple Mohawks they pitched a temporary camp. Surely this great, sweeping plain with its border of Yzetta grass and the jagged purple-red mountains held the promise of the fortune they were seeking. They drilled for water. It was salt. They drilled again--another more distasteful chemical was mingled with the salt. Yet again they drilled; again, salt and strange smelling minerals. With heavy hearts they struck camp and started out again on their search across the desert sands.

At last, in the Gila River bottom near the little town of Palomas, they found an abundance of pure water and good soil. Someone had made a venture here a few years previous, irrigating the land by bringing water from the Gila River two miles distant but each winter the treacherous river changed its course and one year the rancher was left high and dry with no water for crops and cattle.

The boys took possession of an old adobe house the former owner had left, hired a Mexican laborer, named the claim Rancho Verde, and went to work.

The first problem was the water supply. Digging wells in the desert was not a simple task. The sand slipped in as fast as they dug it out but after weary days and weeks of hard work the pump was installed and the first flow of water was overwhelming in its abundance. The boys knew they could turn their desert claim into an oasis of miracles! So they turned their attention to clearing the land.

They worked faithfully burning out sage and mesquite and in three weeks ten acres were cleared. Another month elapsed before the soil was ready for irrigation.

The engine was started. No water.

"Must be something wrong with the pump," grumbled Sid.

"I give up!" burst forth Irv.

Art climbed down into the well, investigated, and came up with a gloomy verdict. "Sand in it. We got to pull the whole thing to pieces."

Five months of life in the adobe house had not been conducive to courageous spirits. The boys had invested in lumber for a house but there were no spare minutes to build. So the three ranchers put up with centipedes, scorpions and occasional tarantulas that roamed at large around the one big adobe room. The wife of the Mexican laborer did the cooking and their stomachs somehow became accustomed to the greasy chili con carne and tortillas prepared by the corpulent Chiquita.

In the beginning the young ranchers had their suspicions about the cleanliness of the food that Chiquita produced, but after a strenuous day's work they had to eat whatever there was.

They had suggested in the beginning that Chiquita wash for them each week but unfortunately washing was one of the arts in which Chiquita was not versed. She carefully rubbed the red dirt into underwear and linens. Greasy food, dirty clothes, a dark, scorpion ridden home had told slowly on nerve and spirits. Sand in the pump was the climax!

To be continued...