History of Cienega Ranch

Humans have continuously inhabited the area on and around Cienega Ranch because of the plentiful water and food found here. Arrowhead points and ceramics have been found from the Archaic Period (1500 B.C.- 300 A.D.). Artifacts from nearby groups such as the Mimbres, Casas Grandes, Mogollon, O’odham and Salados are evidence of a vibrant commerce (Rushworth 2010: Ethnographic overview and assessment of Chiricahua National Monument and Fort Bowie National Historic Site).

The Chiricahua Apaches were the last Indigenous group to occupy the area. They did not recognize private property and moved seasonally depending on hunting, trading and agricultural opportunities. Their detailed understanding of the landscape allowed them to subsist (well!) on native plants and animals. 

European settlement of the area was initiated by cattle barons who saw the extensive grasslands as potentially profitable, which gave rise to a prolonged period of violence against the Apaches and their homeland. The area was also the quickest route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean for the Butterfield Stage Coach and Pony Express, and settlers’ desire for the land resulted in a permanent presence of the United States Army beginning in 1862, as well as the establishment of Fort Bowie at Apache Spring in Apache Pass in 1864. In the 1870’s, 400 people resided at Fort Bowie, representing one of the two largest settlements at that time in what is today considered southern Arizona (Arizona was recognized as a state in 1912). 

The establishment of Fort Bowie and removal of the Chiricahua Apaches from their homeland has received the attention of many authors (see select readings below)1. Fort Bowie was abandoned by the U.S. Army in 1894, and much of the construction material from the abandoned fort was repurposed by incoming ranchers for barns and houses.  

Like what happened to the buildings of Fort Bowie, the land that Cienega Ranch encompasses today has been subdivided and reassembled from a number of ranches, beginning when the United States government first sold property in the area in 1911. In the original sale, land to the east and northeast of Fort Bowie was purchased by members of the Riggs family, James Dickson (Bear Springs Ranch) and William Schaeffer (Shaeffer Ranch). Land due north of Fort Bowie was bought by Joe and Anna Lawhon (see history of HYL Ranch for further details). The history of land purchases close to Fort Bowie is detailed in Pinto (2014). 



1Resources on the History of the Cienega Ranch Area:


Fort Bowie, Arizona, & the Bascom Affair

McChristian DC. 2005. Fort Bowie, Arizona: Combat Post of the Southwest, 1858-1894. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press

Pinto RL. 2014. Cattle Grazing in the National Parks: Historical Development and History of Management in Three Southern Arizona Parks. University of Arizona