Remembering an Empire: The Empire Ranch of Southern Arizona
A University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections’ display presents the early history of the Empire Ranch. The exhibition, located in the UA Libraries Special Collections’ entrance gallery, will run from July 10 to Sept. 5.
Territorial maps, early photographs, and documents from three of the UA Libraries manuscript collections present the history of the ranch in Territorial days. The ranch, purchased in 1876 by Walter L. Vail, founder of the Empire Land and Cattle Company, is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Located 50 miles southeast of Tucson, it became one of Arizona’s largest cattle ranches.
The exhibition focuses on the first years of the ranch under Vail’s ownership and Harry Heffner’s management. Heffner hired on with Vail in 1893 and became ranch foreman in 1900. Early photos reveal activities such as branding and cattle drives. Documents show how the ranch acquired more land as it grew.
One of the treasures featured in the display is the handwritten diary of Edward L. Vail, brother of Walter Vail. He wrote it on a cattle drive to California in 1890. To escape higher freight rates imposed by the Southern Pacific Railroad, Vail, Tom Turner, and eight Mexican cowboys crossed the desert from the Empire Ranch to San Diego with close to 900 head of cattle. Due to their success, the railroad rescinded their rate increase and many Arizona cattlemen benefitted from Vail’s effort. Vail later provided a series of articles for The Arizona Daily Star in 1921 called “Diary of a Desert Trail” expanding on facts first recorded in his trail diary.
The exhibition is curated by Deborah Matthews and Keri Williams, graduate students in the UA School of Information Resources and Library Science. For more information contact Special Collections at 621-6423.