Saturday, November 2, 2013, was the 13th annual open house/round up for the Empire Ranch. City slickers were out in droves as were the tried and true country western fans.
Performing at the event was a mariachi band from Nogales High School. This talented bunch of young people learn very complex, lengthy pieces of music to sing and to play their instruments. A couple of different country western acts performed as well. One strolling guitar player serenaded the crowd throughout the day with his turquoise and abalone bedecked guitar and his incredibly smooth vocals.
“B” Troop from Ft. Huachuca performed in their Union army outfits on horseback while shooting balloons as targets. What talent they need to have to use so many skills in one event. Others in their group took part in demonstrating weapons from the era as well as showing off saddles, cannons and other pieces of equipment.
Mr. Jesus Garcia demonstrated the making of rope from horsehair. “The hair from the tail is much softer than from the mane,” he says matter-of-factly. Mr Garcia learned the skill as a tiny lad in Mexico and has continued it to this day. He demonstrates the art form by holding up clumps of horsehair and allowing the participants to pick apart the hair into small, messy pieces. It is just the opposite of carding wool which smooths the fibers and gets them ready to spin. His pieces have to be messed up. From there, a very effective rope is spun using a torquing tool.
Hollywood was represented via Mr. Don Collier and Mr. Bob Shelton. Mr. Collier played the part of salt of the earth ranch foreman Sam Butler on the TV show ‘High Chaparral’. In a panel discussion, Mr. Collier, Mr. Shelton and another stunt person regaled the standing room only crowd with their anecdotes about participating in various movies such as ‘McLintock!’ and “Rio Lobo’ and gave insight into the personality of ‘Duke’ John Wayne both as an actor and as a human being.
Mr. Collier told a story of how he was lying around a swimming pool on a Sunday with the very talented Mr. Rock Hudson. Some “old gals” and their husbands stopped by and asked Mr. Hudson for an autograph. Mr. Hudson was extremely apologetic and he explained that Sunday was his one day of the week off and he had made a pledge to himself not to do autographs on Sundays because if he signed theirs he would have to sign everyone elses'. The ladies were disappointed but they understood.
Mr. Collier responded to them when they asked where John Wayne lived. In fact, it was his finger that pointed them in the right direction. They went down and peeked in his windows and knocked on his door. All of a sudden, Mr. Wayne comes barreling out of the front door with a gun and barking “Who the hell is that disturbing my peace?”
The women of course were terrified and crying. When Mr. Wayne saw what had happened, he put down the gun, went outside and put his huge arms around both women and invited everyone into his house. Mr. Collier observed that it was over half an hour later when everyone came out again. The women were still being hugged and cooed over by Mr. Wayne. What should have turned out to be a bust turned out to be a gift to the women and their husbands. Apparently, Mr. Wayne was an extremely generous human being.
The crowd was delighted with the stories and paid rapt attention to the three gentlemen.
The day continued with other talks about the history of the ranch which was once owned by the Vail family for which the town is named. At one time, this ranch was the second largest in the United States.
The ranch today is in need of much repair, but thanks to the foundation and to the interest of the public, there is much hope that this ranch and its historic buildings will be around for future generations.
Consider putting the annual open house on your calendar for a day of great fun. Better yet, consider a donation to the ranch’s foundation. Read more about it on their web site.