Old Camp Rucker

All this talk of border crossings has made me think of a wonderful book called “Cowman’s Wife”, written in the 1940’s by Mary Rak. It’s the story of her husband and herself ranching in the remote Rucker Canyon of the Chiricahua Mountains. They bought the ranch sometime in the 1920’s but it already had a rich and varied history.

In 1878 it was the site of a military supply camp to Fort Bowie, and a base for an Apache scout troop. The camp was originally called Camp Supply, but in 1879 it was renamed Camp Rucker, in honor of Lt. Tony Rucker, who drowned in the river while trying to save a brother officer. In 1886 the camp was disbanded and the property was bought by a wealthy and influential citizen of Tombstone, who registered the cattle brand of OCR, for Old Camp Rucker. A couple of owners later, in 1920, it was purchased by the Raks. Mary Rak says somewhere in her book that the locals said the OCR brand stood for Old Charlie Rak – but the ranch name remained Old Camp Rucker Ranch.

Charlie and Mary moved into the ranch house, which was the original commissary building of the old military camp. The camp bakery was turned into the shoeing shed, and the two small buildings which had housed some of the officers became store houses and workshops. These buildings as well as the barn are still there, as well as another large building which must have originally housed the commanding officer and his staff. Shortly after the Raks bought the ranch a fire broke out, and the ranch house burnt to the ground. The Raks then moved their remaining possessions into this building, eventually dismantling the remaining adobe walls of the burnt ranch house which they the erected around the old “new” home – what a job that must have been!

It’s a wonderful book – but the point of my story is how sadly our way of life has degenerated. Mary talks of being away from the ranch while shopping in Douglas, which was a two day expedition – she notes that there were 13 wire gates to open en route! The custom then was never to lock anything at any time, and, as cowboys riding the country often dropped in for water and a chat, and perhaps an overnight stay, it happened frequently that someone would stop by while the Raks were gone. The visitor then would spend the night, cook himself dinner and breakfast, and then go on his way, leaving either some money on the kitchen table, or some other goods in exchange for the hospitality. One time, Mary says, they returned home late at night. It was in the winter, it was cold, and rain was pouring down … and, predictably, their old truck quit them at the bottom of a steep little hill just outside the headquarters gate. Unloading what they could carry, they staggered through the mud and the rain to the house, only to find a wandering range rider sound asleep in their bed. So, country hospitality and courtesy being what it used to be, they dragged out their folding cots, and slept in the kitchen!

The Camp Rucker images below are used with kind permission from Al Bossence. Please visit his Bayfield Bunch Blog and Picasa Web album of Old Camp Rucker. Thank you Al for letting us use your beautiful photos!

Please click on any of the thumbnails below to start slideshow:

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What made me think of this story was the fact that often the wandering riders were Mexicans from across the border, honest, good, hard working people, such as I remember from my early days in this country, when we employed many ranch hands without papers – things were so different then. In act, there was less of a difference between 1920 and 1970 than between 1970 and nowadays. Today Old Camp Rucker is abandoned – it was eventually sold to the Forest Service, and now the main gate is locked, and the old ranch sleeps, perhaps dreaming of its rich and varied history. I wish I had lived in Arizona then!

Years ago we had a staff outing to Old Camp Rucker. Someone told me about a trail that led from higher up the mountain to the camp, and about 12 of us on the staff decided to ride it. We left the trailer by the side of the road, mounted up and headed in the general direction of where I thought the camp was. I tried to follow the directions as they were given to me, but before long we were hopelessly lost. Rucker Canyon is thickly forested, the trail faded out, and we soon found ourselves blundering about in a heavily wooded area, with no idea of where we were. After about an hour of this I began hearing grumbling from the troops behind – something about they thought they were riding a trail and not blazing it, and when were we going to get there, and how soon. Eventually I got sick of it. I turned around and said how about we just go back to the trailer, have our picnic lunch and call it a day. We’d had a ride, and so what if we can’t find the actual camp? The rest agreed … but there was a snag – I had no idea how to get back to the trailer either. However, horses have a great sense of direction and a good memory, and I know that Comanche would find the way back to the trailer in double quick time. I threw the reins down on his neck and said – “Comanch’, find the trailer – or find the camp, I don’t care which, just get us out of here”. He paused a bit, then gathered himself, and set off with a sense of purpose through the trees. It didn’t feel that it was the direction to the trailer, but what did I know – I got us lost in the first place! so I just let him have his head. We pushed our way through more trees, then crossed a creek bed, more trees, then up a bank – and there was the fort! It was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced – not only did he find the place we had been looking for for the last two hours or so, but how did that horse know we wanted to go there in the first place? I was amazed at it then, and I am still amazed when I think about it today. (He probably said to himself – silly humans! Can’t find their way out of a paper bag….)

Later on Gerry and I bought a horse trailer with accommodation (which we called The Horse Hotel) and we often used to camp at Camp Rucker. Right by the old camp there is an ancient set of corrals with a water tank set in a little clearing in the forest, just perfect for us to stay awhile. They were great days – and during that time I rode and explored every little bit of the old camp and the canyon. Anyway, if you can find Mary Rak’s book, I recommend it – again, it’s called “Cowman’s Wife”.

And moving onto today, Carlos, our head of Maintenance, has a cute little pug dog called K9 – only Carlos could call a dog that! K9 and Tuffy are the greatest of friends and spend many happy hours tussling each other, so that Tuff’s office days now are pretty exhausting. But today K9 is a famous dog – he was featured on Tucson’s television K-Gun Channel 9, and now his proud human has posted him on the staff board in the dining room! I guess that’s OK – he’s beyond cute, and after all, the other important creatures of the ranch are prominently featured – that is, dog Tuffy and horse Comanche – so adding K9 can only improve the scenery!

Please click on any of the thumbnails below to start slideshow:

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6 Responses to Old Camp Rucker

  1. Bill Reed says:

    Eve. Great story about Old Camp Ruker any chance of including it on a day ride we might need to borrow your horse so we can find it.


  2. Eve says:

    Hi Bill – glad you enjoyed it! And yes, we may need Comanche on that ride again – I haven’t been there since Gerry and I stopped going camping there, several years back, so I’m sure it’s overgrown with brush and different again. I often think how the Raks would find it today, if they could see it again. My guess is they wouldn’t like it – to my sorrow I returned back to a place where I once lived, a place I had loved, and it was quite awful. But – you have to live in the moment!

  3. Monica Christensen says:

    Eve, I read this book in September on your advice and enjoyed it immensely. I dug out my Arizona maps and oriented myself to see where exactly they were in the book. One thing I found interesting and unexpected was her view of hunters as inconsiderate bunglers who misused the Rak’s ranchland and needed saving more times than not. Thanks for a great recommendation!

  4. Eve says:

    Hi Monica – well, my view of huinters isn’t all that different! They tear up the country with their miserable ATV’s and trucks, drive off the ranch roads and mash the grass, often leave gates open and generally they’re a pest. I am sure there are some good people hunting, but like always, the bad ones overshadow them.

  5. Becky Dean says:

    We were thinking about seeing you lovely lady. How are things there with the fires
    please reply Becky and Darral Dean I Think were are 4 timers love you all we have worried about you

  6. Grant W. Johnston says:

    I read a “Cowman’s Wife” about 1958. A few years later I was hitch-hiking in Arizona, heading for the Civil Rights protest in Louisiana. A drunk Indian and his wife gave me a ride. He was going to Oklahoma but took a wrong turn onto the highway toward Tombstone and Bisbee. By the time we realized where we were the shortest way out was to continue through Bisbee and up through Chochise Stronghold. A few miles north of Bisbee their car broke down. I was hitch-hiking again in an area that hadn’t seen many long-haired, beared men. It took a full day to get back to Highway 80 but all my rides were from local ranchers and cowboys. I heard many stores about Camp Rucker and Charlie Rak. That’s a beautiful area and would love to live there. However, I’m an old man now with all those memories old men have.
    Grant Johnston, Chico, CA

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