A BRIEF HISTORY

The L.C. is one of the oldest and grandest homes in the Southwest.   The Lyons & Campbell Ranch Headquarters is a massive adobe compound dating from 1811. It was constructed by Spanish soldiers, occupied by the Spanish, Mexicans, native Chihene N’da Apaches and then by the French and American Trappers. It was even a U.S. Army depot in the 1850’s before it ultimately became the Headquarters and anchor to the legendary million-acre Lyons & Campbell Ranch and Cattle Empire in the 1890’s. The L.C. uniquely survives as a time capsule of history, and an art and cultural oasis in an unrivaled historical setting in the remote but beautiful Gila River Valley in New Mexico. A New Mexico cultural property since 1971, on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1978, a 501(c)3 since 1984, the an outstanding example in the supplemental report to the “Cattlemen’s Empire” a publication of the National Park Service, 1963. Please consider the historical integrity, National prominence and historical significance of the Rancho de la Gila, the L.C. Ranch Headquarters, and its collections, as one of the oldest and best-preserved houses in Southwest America.

The Lyons Campbell Ranch Headquarters is rich in history dating back to 1810 when two detachments of Spanish soldiers were sent to the Gila Valley to establish a "Rancho del Paz." The "Rancho del Paz" or "Ranch of peace" keep the hard-won peace with the Gileno, or Chihene Nda Apaches. The Gileno were wrongly presumed to be related to the Chiricahua Apaches, with whom they mingled, but the Gileno were agrarian and not warlike raiders. The Spanish government made numerous successful treaties and land grants to the Gileno in exchange for their conformity in the use of Spanish last names, non-aggression, and to act as intermediaries with more hostile groups like the Chiricahua. The Rancho de la Gila was built in the fertile Gila Valley with the year-round flowing Gila river providing a unique and oasis like opportunity to farm in the otherwise desert southwest. It also provided an opportunity to trade, distribute goods and food, and farm and ranch for both the Gileno and miners at the Santa Rita del Cobre. Santa Rita del Cobre was a copper mine operating about 40 miles away in Apache territory since 1803. By 1811, the two detachments of Spanish soldiers had constructed a grand, walled, traditional U-shaped hacienda made from more than one hundred Ponderosa pine vigas, 20,000 adobes, axe-hewn lintels, and a hand dug, rock lined 30 foot well. All of which have survived except for the perimeter wall. The 3,000 sq. ft. hacienda was the work of these Spanish troops enjoying the relative peace of the era from 1790 to 1830. This was not a Spanish land grant, but a Spanish Hacienda del Rey, a “House of the King”. 

        

Most of the Spanish troops in Nuevo Mexico were recalled to central Mexico by the time of the Mexican revolution in the 1820’s. Peace persisted through the first decade of the Mexican regime as the Chihuahuan government continued the Spanish tradition of distributing rations to the Apaches, until 1830, when the program ended. Intermittent war with the Apaches resulted, increasing hostilities through the Mexican War with the United States and the Chihuahua government placing a bounty on Apache scalps in 1836. The Santa Rita del Cobre mine was shut down in 1836, and we can safely presume the Hacienda in Gila was also abandoned at this time, or earlier. During the Mexican War with the United States, the treaties of Hidalgo (1848),the Gadsden purchase (1854), and after the civil war, these were dangerous, deadly times. Records from the Chihene’ Nda (Gileno) Apache tribe indicated there were four Apache families living at the “Rancho de la Gila” during this period. We believe the Hacienda at the heart of the L.C. was occupied by these Apache families as a rancheria, a small ranch and farm operated by native Apaches. This area remained exclusive Apache territory, “Apacheria” until there was renewed interest in the mineral wealth found in Pinos Altos in the 1860’s and the establishment of Fort West in Gila in 1863. Even with the establishment of Fort Bayard (1866), the founding of Silver City (1870) and increased occupancy by Anglo-Americans, it was not until the surrender of Geronimo, a local Gileno (1886), that it was safe to venture out without a heavily armed escort for fear of an Apache ambush. 


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

  • 1810 Two detachments of Spanish soldiers sent to Gila Valley to build Rancho Del Paz. Rancho de Gila completed in 1811

  • 1820 Spanish soldiers recalled to central Mexico to fight revolution

  • 1825 Mexico achieves independence, takes over Santa Rita Del Cobre, and continues farming in Gila Valley. Discord with Native Apaches grows. 

  • 1825 - 1829 James Ohio Pattie with French and American trappers explore the Gila

  • 1836 Mexico abandons Santa Rita del Cobre and Rancho de Gila

  • 1837-1850's  Rancho de Gila sporadically occupied by Native Apaches and French and American Trappers. 

  • 1855  U.S. Army intermittently uses Rancho de Gila for a Depot in launching attacks against the Native Apaches.

  • 1863 U.S. Army establishes Fort West on the mesa just south of Gila.  Abandons it in 1864

  • 1866 U.S. Army establishes Fort Bayard offering protection for miners and settlers 

  • 1870 Silver City founded from San Vicente de la Cienega. Native Apaches begin to assimilate into the local Hispanic population to avoid conflict with U.S. Army. 

  • 1880 Tom Lyons purchases Rancho de Gila, establishes headquarters in Buckhorn at "the White House" 

  • 1890 Lyons and Campbell move headquarters to Gila, White House burns to the ground shortly afterwards. 

  • 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