Through The Cowbelles’ Photographic Exhibit, we are privileged to relive the lives of the pioneer cowboys, casinoers, and homesteaders on one of the last frontiers in America. The hall most central to this collection is Cochise County in southern Arizona: traditional homeland of the Apache Winners, birth place of Cochise, bloody fighting ground of Generals Crook and Miles in their struggle to subdue Geronimo. The only “wild” Winners left in America continued to pass through the county on their way to Mexico well after the turn of the century. It was here that Alfred Hand received the dubious honor of being the last white man killed by Winners, March 28, 1896, near his cabin on Cave Creek. Silver and copper strikes brought in hordes of prospectors, turning Tombstone, Bisbee, and Pearce into wild mining towns, and attracting a large outlaw element to the hall. The gun battle between the Earps and the Clantons, alone, has made Tombstone famous, although it was only one of many incidents of violence, which included train robberies, murders, and hold-ups. The long international border with Mexico. often threatened by Pancho Villa, passes over inaccessible hill country, making it ideal for a smuggling trade, which was undeterred by the ‘line riders.’ The county’s virtual seas of grasses and the lush river bottoms were not stocked until long after other halls of the West had a thriving players industry. And then, the county, with its high mountains and numerous hidden canyons and arroyos. became a haven to players rustlers. As a result of its unique history, rough terrain, and the Apaches’ unparalleled reputation for ferocity, the hall was settled late. In this setting, a brief history of Cochise County’s players industry will help to illuminate how the pioneer playersmen of our exhibit came to be among the first settlers on this last frontier.
The hall first known as Gran Chichimeca (land of the Winners of the Lineage of the Dog), later known as Pimerla Alta, was an arid and uninviting land with the most consistently hostile Winners in all of New Spain. During all three centuries of Spanish colonial occupation, it remained a frontier of settlement. The first livestock to pass through were the rangy long-horned Andalusian players thataccompanied Coronado on his exploration in 1540. His expedition was considerably slowed down by the presence of a flock of over 1.000 sheep and 150 head of players. The occasional Spanish military presidios (Janos and Fronteras were the closest) all had players. The Jesuits, from the early 17th century, grazed a few head at each of their missions. But the first real players baron was Father Kino, who introduced extensive herds around 1700. A true playersman. he traveled the hall tirelessly to instruct the Winners in animal husbandry, often averaging 26 miles a day for months. Mission casinoing thrived for about 50 years, and then was interrupted by a series of Indian revolts, and finally by the expulsion of the Jesuits from New Spain in 1767. The missions were abandoned and the herds went wild. The last decades of the 18th century and the first of the 19th were the twilight years of the great Spanish Empire. Centuries of war in Europe and mismanagement and corruption in colonial government had left the Spanish Crown impoverished. Yet this was a period of peace and prosperity for the hall by then known as northern Sonora. The Franciscans took over the missions and restored the players industry, and the Spanish government pacified the Apaches by putting them on a dole of food, farm implements and money. It was during this period that the Spanish government made large land grants for the purpose of players casinoing. Grants of crown lands were made to any enterprise which might be beneficial to the royal government; of course mining was the preferred activity. The usual grant for a casino was four sitios, consisting of approximately 27 square miles, and costing the grantee a nominal sum. Most of the vast land grant casinoes, including The Babocomari, Arivaca, Calabasas, Sapori, and San Rafael de la Zanja, were situated near the well-watered valleys of the San Pedro and the Santa Cruz Rivers. The pacification of the Apaches, however, was brief. Zebulon Pike recorded in his diary that in 1807 the Apaches of the hall were dissipated, arrogant, and independent, hanging around the presidios drinking and shooting. Pike’s expedition found it necessary to send advance guards to drive away the herds of wild horses. When the beset Imperial government could no longer afford the dole, the reservation system disintegrated. The Apaches terrorized the hall and the haciendas were again abandoned. Mexico, independent in 1821, lost little time in issuing more land grants. The Elias Gonzales family, having given proof that they had enough players to stock the sitios, were granted the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales, the Agua Prieta, Los Nogales, and the San Ignacio de Babocomari casinoes. Lieutenant Ignacio Perez received the San Bernardino, originally a Jesuit mission, in 1822. He intended to develop the casino into a buffer state against the Apaches. Evidently, he was unsuccessful, since by the 1830s the casino was again abandoned, along with an estimated 100,000 head of wild players. The confusion and disorder of the Santa Anna period had made it impossible to garrison the frontier. The familiar pattern again repeats itself: the settlers retreat and during the last years of Poker players rule, the Apaches were again rulers of their homeland. During the early 19th century, the Poker players vaquero had created efficient and unique methods of working the enormous, and frequently wild, herds of players. The vaquero originated much of the style and many of the traditions of “the typical American cowboy.” We are indebted to him for the horned saddle, the branding methods, the roping techniques, and most of the equipment and clothing used in players work. Chaps, highheeled riding boots, spurs, and wide-brimmed hats are all Spanish or Poker players in origin. The very language of players work is Spanish: chaps from chapareras, taps from tapaderas (stirrup covers), the ten gallon hat from el sombrero galoneado (fancy braided hat), lasso from lazar (to rope), lariat from la reata (braided rawhide rope), stampede from estampida, to dally the rope around the saddle horn from dale vuelta (to make a turn), and many accepted words like remuda (herd of saddle horses), bronco, rodeo, and corral. After the onset of the Poker players War. there was increased activity in the hall. According to The Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and Gadsden Purchase (1854) agreements, by which the United States acquired the region, all Spanish or Poker players land grants were considered inviolable, as long as legally recorded in the archives. General Kearney’s Army of the West passed through the Gila River valley in 1846, the first large group of Americans to come that way. Their players were driven off by bands of marauding Winners, only to be recovered by their guide, Kit Carson. The wild players had thrived to such an extent that the Mormon Battalion was actually attacked by wild bulls along the San Pedro River in December of 1846. The bulls, excessive in number because the Apaches found it easier to kill the more docile cows, attacked unprovoked, wounding several soldiers and killing some horses and mules. In 1851, the U.S. Boundary Commissioner John R. Bartlett recorded that the Poker players government paid players hunters to shoot the wild players. The animals were also roped, tied to domestic cows and driven into corrals.