A'AGA - Something to be told or talked about

March 2, 2018


By Billy Allen 


About four and a half centuries ago, Fray Marcos de Niza may have come through Arizona to spread Christianity among Natives and look for riches. Based upon de Niza’s reports Francisco Coronado would later lead an expedition north towards Zuni in 1540. A few of these first cattle and horses in Arizona may have escaped but were probably eaten or died from exhaustion, according to information from a 1989 article by Larry Allen; Roots of the Arizona Livestock Industry.  Roughly 150 years later Pa:l or Padre Kino realized stock raising and farming was the best way to educate O’odham -and provide free labor for the missions. Eventually horses and cattle or haivan were distributed to Tohono O’odham villages.  (In 1987, 120 Colonial Spanish “mission-type” horses were discovered on a ranch west of Tubac, in southern Arizona.  In 1885, the ranch owner, the Wilbur-Cruce family, purchased 25 mares and a stallion from Juan Sepulveda, a horse trader from Sonora. The Wilbur-Cruce ranch horses were kept as a closed herd.)   Arizona’s cattle or haivan industry took hold when the Spanish government gave out large Arizona land grants for raising cattle. An O’odham revolt in 1751, resulted in missions and haciendas to be abandoned and soon wild haivan roamed southern Arizona; the Mormon Battalion was attacked by wild bulls in 1846.  After the Civil War, Texas longhorn cattle were moved in search of markets or rangelands, Arizona included. Cattle would become one of the 5 main industries when Arizona became a state.  


The New York Thicket is a thick growth of native vegetation on our jeved or land, close to the West End. During the last century the thicket became a haven for lost livestock. Periodically Native cowboys or vapkial had to gather their haivan which had mixed with the wild cattle in the thicket. (Our O’odham word vakial comes from the Spanish word vaquero. Vapkial is the plural word, cowboys.) They saw an opportunity and would capture some of the wild cattle to sell.  Easier said than done --loose sand, mesquite stumps, and mean bulls were hazardous to man and horse.  But cowboys being cowboys, danger was an added thrill.  Riders would descend into the thicket along cow trails but dismounted when the thick brush stopped the ride.   The wild haivan would run out of the thicket to escape, but ropers on the edge of the thicket where ready to take them down.   


Around 1970, a prolonged drought shrunk the water supply in the thicket, forcing wild haivan out from the safety of the thicket in search of water.  Native cowboys soon noticed giant hoof prints, could the “keli haivan” story the old ones told be true? Was there really an old man steer with horns as wide as a horse is long? The cowboys gathered and decided to capture this “keli.” Following the plan, “keli” was chased out of the thicket, roped and had plenty of fight in him. To avoid being gored or trampled; the roped steer was tied to an old kui or mesquite stump and left for three days.  Tribal member Ralston Allen, an Arizona State Livestock Inspector, checked the brand.  It turned out that “Keli” was a longhorn steer whose brand showed he belonged to a millionaire liquor distributor and rancher named Kemper Marley who pastured haivan on our jeved.  It was common practice for O’otham to lease their fields to ranchers and cattlemen at the time.  The old steer was taken to Paramount Packing Company in Casa Grande where the owner, J. B. Brown, bought him for $278. Mr. Brown decided to allow the longhorn, now renamed “Viejo,” to live out his natural life at the plant and “Viejo” became a minor celebrity.  The Arizona Republic ran an article about the capture of the longhorn but was wrong in reporting that Ralston Allen roped the steer. In his younger days, Ralston and others did rope and capture wild livestock in the thicket but that was in another age. Today animal capture is highly regulated by federal, state and tribal agencies. 


Information was taken from these sources; file:///C:/Users/billy/Downloads/10695-10237-1-PB%20(1).pdf.  The Arizona Republic, (January 18,1975), article by Robert L. Thomas and http://padrekino.com/kino-legacy/horseman/. The Critically Endangered Colonial Spanish Mission Horse by Deb Wolfe. Noticias de Anza No. 52 July 2012.