A BRIEF HISTORY

The Lyons Campbell Ranch Headquarters and the Gila Valley are rich in history dating back to the expeditions of famed trapper James Ohio Pattie who first came to the Gila Valley in 1825 while trapping beaver for their valuable pelts. The Gila Valley had recently passed from Spanish to Mexican territory in 1821, but the indigenous Apache population and abundant wildlife were unaware, or at least unconcerned, as there was never any Spanish or Mexican regime presence. Nearby troops at the Santa Rita del Cobre mine, after struggling with the Apaches for years, were ultimately withdrawn and the mine abandoned in 1836, leaving no Mexican presence in the area. We have concluded that soon after Pattie’s first visit, by about 1829, a “trapper fort” or Frontier Hacienda, not Spanish or Mexican, comparable to Bent’s fort in Colorado was constructed as a home base, to trade with the Gileno or “Chenehe Nda” Apaches. The oasis which was, and still is, the Gila River Valley had unquestionable appeal then as now, being the only year-round flowing river and major source of water suitable for farming in the otherwise desert southwest. That Frontier Hacienda survives today as part of the Lyons and Campbell Ranch Headquarters, with vigas dating from 1829 as certified by the University of Arizona’s Dendrochronology Tree-ring dating laboratory.


No mere frontier hut, the 12 room Frontier hacienda was shaped in the traditional Spanish Hacienda U-shape, with the protection of the central courtyard and a perimeter wall. Large rooms with nearly 10 ft. high ceilings, 100 vigas, 10,000 adobes, and a hand dug, rock lined 30 foot well were the work of these ambitious trappers and possibly their Apache friends and relatives, as some of these early trappers may have had Apache wives. Considering the absence of any military presence and the ferocity of the native Apaches, intermarriage with the local tribes is highly likely. From that time through the Mexican war with the United States and the treaties of Hidalgo and the Gadsden purchase, the Gila Valley was part of the larger “Apacheria”, a nation of tribes of native Apaches. By the time of the U.S. civil war a proposal for an Apache reservation in the Gila Valley had been approved by the U.S. Congress, but the war sidelined that effort, and once the war ended and Americans started flooding into the area searching for the mineral riches of gold and silver, the idea for an Apache reservation and homeland was abandoned, as was the Frontier Hacienda itself.


The era of the L.C. that is most familiar and very well documented, with Cattle baron Tom Lyons, his partner Angus Campbell and the million acre cattle empire that made legends, books and newspaper headlines, began in the 1880’s when Tom and Angus began their almost 40 year endeavor that would overshadow all other ranching operations in the southwest. Tom Lyons and Ida Campbell were married after Angus Campbell’s early demise in 1892, (and Tom’s wife Emma ran off in a huff after Tom shot and killed her lover!), keeping the empire intact. Together they built the Lyons and Campbell Ranch Headquarters much as you see it now. Angus had cleared
and leveled the fields in the Gila valley and set up the irrigation systems we still use today. In 1892 the original 12 room Hacienda was remodeled and expanded to nearly 60 rooms, turning it into a large adobe mansion with a store, saloon, jail, U.S. post office (1905-1950), bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, barns and stables, much of which remains today. Tom and Ida entertained lavishly both here at the headquarters and at “Lyons Lodge” in the upper Gila, two days up river by horse and wagon. Tom and Ida enjoyed a life-style and social scene with important and nationally prominent friends who regularly visited to enjoy the ranch, the lodge, Tom and Ida, and the world class hunting and fishing.


The Lyons & Campbell ranch was truly a grand, coast to coast operation, incorporated in New Jersey, with head offices in New York City and sales outlets in California. Stock was issued and capital raised from wealthy East coast and English investors,. At over one million acres it was one of the largest ranches in the west. At its peak it was shipping over 30,000 head of cattle to market each year from its herds totaling up to 100,000 head of cattle. The L.C. had its own feedlots, and unlike its Texas counterparts, shipped its cattle by rail to southern California where it had its own wholesalers. The L.C. controlled its operation from the breeding pen to the dinner table. The ranch employed up to 75 cowboys, and 100 Mexican families to farm the irrigated fields. There were over 400 riding horses and 7 trail crews with their own chuckwagons, which were rotated back to the ranch headquarters every couple of weeks for supplies and a few days break for the cowboys, who could get their laundry done, sleep in a bunkbed in the large adobe bunkhouse, grab a few square meals, possibly attend one of the regularly held barn dances, which provided needed entertainment. They could even have drinks in the saloon. Lyons’ considered every need for his cast and crew, (largely to keep them from straying off), from the catholic church he built for his farmers, to the jail he built for his wayward cowboys who needed to sleep it off after having one too many in the saloon. The jail was also used to overnight criminals being transported to Silver City from Catron County and the mining town of Mogollon, a day’s ride north.

In 1917 Tom Lyons was murdered in El Paso by a hired assassin, ending the dream, and this headlining chapter in the L.C. Ranch legacy. An unsolved murder to this day, the assassin never revealed his employer(s). Homesteaders and rustlers, probably the ones who hired the killer, quickly picked the L.C. apart in the absence of Tom’s formidable presence. After Tom’s death, Ida and her daughter Isabel moved to Silver City. The L.C. ranch was broken apart, sold and re-sold numerous times. Each time it was sold it got smaller and deteriorated more and more. During the great depression a “utopian society”, a commune with 50 families lived in and around the L.C. and had a small farm and ranching operation using the ice factory (built by a fellow named Bassett here on the ranch during the late
1920’s) to refrigerate their meat and produce. (The large rock and frame building that housed the ice factory and store, built in the 1920’s, is now the Theater and Gallery). The L.C. changed hands several more times until the Ocheltree family stumbled upon the large adobe complex in 1961, in near ruins and down to just 5 acres. Bonnie Ocheltree was looking for a Spanish style Hacienda to lovingly restore. Oh, she found that Spanish Hacienda all right, and so much more! No part of the L.C. was inhabitable at that point, so a house was rented up the street for the first few months while work began on the first wing of the original Frontier Hacienda. The original art, furniture and contents were long gone. Arturo Ocheltree was a retired Grand Opera singer and avid antique collector. He and Bonnie began the arduous task of rebuilding and refurnishing the grand old ranch house with period art and antique furniture appropriate to the high style and era. Sons Tino and Alex were just little boys, now gray haired old men, with a lifelong mutual obsession with the L.C.

For 4 generations, and since 1961, the Ocheltree family has lived and loved this crazy old place. Work on the L.C. is never ending, sometimes we get more done than other times. We always need help. A New Mexico Historic Site since 1971, National registry of Historic Places 1978, a 501(c)3 since 1984, “Save America’s Treasures” 1998. We are currently in an application status for National Historic Landmark. An official New Mexico Historical Marker is our most recent accolade.

TIMELINE

  • ~1000 A.D. Mimbres-Mogollon culture occupies Gila Valley, est. population 3,000

  • 1500 - 1860 Chihene’ Nda Apacheria

  • 1825 - 1829 James Ohio Pattie expeditions and a Trapper Fort; Frontier Hacienda is built

  • 1880 - 1920 Million Acre Lyons & Campbell Cattle Empire

  • 1925 - 1933 Bassett Ranch & Ice Factory

  • 1933 - 1941 “The Colony” Utopian Commune supports 50 families through Great Depression

  • 1961 - Present Ocheltree Family acquires the L.C. Dedicated to the restoration of the L.C. to its former grandeur. Establish Art & History Museum and Southwest Cultural Center

  • 1963 National Park Service publishes “Cattleman’s Empire” Supplemental edition, detailing significance of L.C. Ranch headquarters

  • 1971 Designated New Mexico Cultural Property

  • 1978 Listed on National Registry of Historic Places, National Park Service

  • 1984 501(c)3, Ocheltree Foundation Inc. established

  • 1998 Listed on “Save America’s Treasures” Whitehouse initiative

  • 2016 AirBnB live with two guest apartments in the old historic Bunkhouse

  • 2017 New Mexico Historical Marker placed at U.S. 180 and NM Hwy 211; application for National Historic Landmark received by National Park Service.

  • 2018 National Park Service visits the L.C. for the first time since 1978

© 2018 Lyons & Campbell Ranch

575.535.2825

L. C. Ranch Headquarters

P.O. Box 202

Gila, New Mexico, 88038