Brief rise and fall of the Arizona Cattle Company

Susan Olberding//July 16, 2010

Brief rise and fall of the Arizona Cattle Company

Susan Olberding//July 16, 2010

Hidden behind buildings and a school playground along busy Highway 180 in Flagstaff is one of the few remaining historic barns in Arizona. If the walls could talk, they would tell of the ranching life in the 1880s and the quick rise and fall of its probable builders, the Arizona Cattle Company.

New Jersey-based Arizona Cattle Company began its stake in Arizona in 1884 by purchasing the Arizona Cattle and Wool Company from John W. Young. Young, a son of LDS president Brigham Young, was being chased out of the Arizona Territory because of his polygamy practices.

The men charged with running the company, New York City refrigeration manufacturer John DeLaVergne and

St. Louis brewery heir Ellis K. Wainwright, loved the lore of the Wild West and spent summers living it up, riding horses and eating chuckwagon cooking. The men rented special train cars to bring their families to northern Arizona, escaping the hot and humid conditions back home.

In 1885, DeLaVergne and Wainwright hired John V. Rhoades, a DeLaVergne employee from New York City who had the same gusto for all things Western as they did, to serve as company foreman. Rhodes quickly charmed the town with his daring cowboy exploits.

In its Dec. 26, 1885, issue, the Arizona Champion newspaper glowed of Rhoades: “A better lad never sat in a saddle.”

In 1886, the deep-pocketed cattle company bought numerous acres of land in northern Arizona. To combat cattle rustlers, the growing company branded its herd with the mark “A-1,” and put up posters offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who helped in the arrest and conviction of cattle thieves. Today, a mountain on the south side of Fort Valley is named in the brand’s honor.

Rhoades was replaced as foreman in spring 1886 by Chicago native Ben B. Bullwinkle, whose tenure running the cattle operation would be as brief as his predecessor’s. Although he worked on improving antiquated firefighting techniques in the Windy City, Bullwinkle’s passion was purebred horses. He imported many equine studs from the East for the Arizona Cattle Company. One of these prized horses accidently killed Bullwinkle in 1887 when the animal stumbled while at a full gallop, pitching Bullwinkle off. He died of internal injuries.

The third time was the charm as far as company managers went. True Western cowboy Frank Livermore served as company foreman for the next 12 years.

As extended drought combined with overgrazing began decimating Arizona’s range in the late 1890s, the Arizona Cattle Company began liquidating its assets. In 1899, Livermore was given the deed to some of the company’s land and began his own farming and livestock operation.

In 1907, Livermore sold the Arizona Cattle Company barn off of Highway 180 to Coconino County. It was used for various agriculture-related purposes until 1965. That year, a local arts committee was granted permission to use the barn as a Flagstaff Arts Center, and it became known as the “Art Barn.”

— S. D. Olberding.

— Photo courtesy of author.