Chapter 1: establishment and description of the college ranch

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In 1927, Congress granted land from the public domain to New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts "to be used for the purpose of conducting educational, demonstrative, and experimental development with livestock, grazing methods, and range forage plants. . . ." (1) The passage of this legislation ended two years of negotiations by the College to obtain ranch land near the Las Cruces campus in order to enhance the research capabilities of the school and the associated agricultural experiment station.

The College Ranch is located in Dona Ana County, some 25 miles north of the main campus of New Mexico State University. (Figure 1). Encompassing approximately 100 sections of land at the southern end of the Jornada basin, the ranch is situated directly west of the Jornada Experimental Range, and is sometimes assumed to be a part of that facility. It is not. The College Ranch is located on state land and is managed by the Department of Animal and Range Sciences of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . While University faculty and personnel conduct much experimental work on the Jornada Experimental Range, it is a federally-owned and operated facility.

Establishinq the College Ranch

Although the Rodey Act established the New Mexico Agricultural College and Experiment Station in 1889, nearly forty years passed before the College acquired its own range land on which experimental work could be conducted. Until that time, research was conducted on campus or accomplished cooperatively with individual ranchers across the state. In 1924, H.L. Kent, president of the College, Fabian Garcia, director of the experiment station, and J.L. Lantow, head of the animal husbandry department, learned of the availability of the Vander Stucken ranch, north of Las Cruces. Conditions in southern New Mexico had created a buyer's market for ranch land. Falling cattle prices after World War I and several years of drought left some

ranchers facing foreclosure; others were moving to reduce their holdings. The American Mortgage Company held the Vander Stucken ranch and was asking $7,500 for the property, a low price to pay to control l00 sections of grazing land. In August 1925 the College contracted to purchase the property that would become the College Ranch.

An explanation of customs relating to ranch ownership is necessary to understand the purchase the College made. Ranchers controlled vast areas of the public domain by owning only the water sources within those areas. Cattle need to be within two to three miles of

water, a single good well could serve as many as 16 sections of grazing land. Accordingly, the purchase of the Vander Stucken ranch involved acquisition of only 174 acres around three water sources: Summerford well, at the ranch headquarters; Tonuco Springs, on the west side of the ranch; and Litton well, about a mile south of Tonuco Springs. Grazing leases on approximately 6000 acres of state lands also were assigned with the purchase. The remainder of the 64,000 acre ranch consisted of land in the public domain. Several other water sources, developed and undeveloped, existed on the leased and public lands. (See Figure 2) After the College gained control of the grazing land surrounding the water sources, New Mexico Senator Sam Bratton and Congressman John Morrow recognized the need for the College to have complete control of the ranch land if long-term experimental work was to be accomplished. They introduced legislation to remove the College sections from the public domain. As a result of their efforts, and with the help of another New Mexico senator, A.A. Jones, in 1927 Congress passed legislation that transferred ap-proximately 55,000 acres of the federal land on the ranch to the State of New Mexico for use by the College. Although the Government retained the mineral rights to the transferred sections for forty years, in 1966 land on the ranch was closed to mining by the Bureau of Land Management in order to protect the scientific studies taking place there. In 1984, some 9,000 acres remaining under the control of


the BLM were transferred to New Mexico State University.

The Natural Features of the College Ranch


The topography of the College Ranch varies widely. Included within its boundaries are river bottom, hilly land draining to the river, mountains, and a portion of the Jornada plain. Elevations range from 3,900 to 5,500 feet. On the plain elevations vary from 4,000 to 4,300 feet. The plain consists of alluvial fill that is 300 feet deep in places. Two ephemeral rainy season lakes (playas) occur on the plain. Though small, about 5 and 30 acres, they are of significance in the management of the ranch.

Some 20 soil types have been identified on the ranch, ranging from loamy sands to clay. The sandy soils are more common. These soils vary in depth from only a few inches over caliche hardpan to a depth of four feet and more but variation from 12 to 20 inches is more common. Soil depth has been found to be an important factor in drought survival and recovery from drought. The middle depth soils hold the soil water up to the rooting depths of the important grasses.


Average annual precipitation on the ranch is about nine inches, 55 percent of which falls in the months of July, August and September. The average year round temperature is 59F. January and July averages are 39F and 70F, respectively. Year to year rainfall varies widely from the average annual rainfall. Departures of 50 percent and more are not uncommon. The large departures below average constitute drought. When these occur in two or more successive years,

they present very serious problems for ranchers.


Vegetation on the ranch consists mainly of desert grassland on the Jornada p1ain, creosotebush on the upper plain slopes surrounding the mountains and on the hilly land on the river drainage, and mesquite-covered sand dunes on sandy soil sloping down from Summerford mountain on the north.

The grassland varies from good condition range, dominated by the excellent forage grass, black grama, to poor condition range dominated by snakeweed and other low value weeds and grasses, with little or no black grama. Other grasses occurring in the grassland are dropseeds, three-awns, tobosa grass and burro grass. Soaptree yucca is a characteristic shrub of the grasslands. Much of the grassland has been invaded by mesquite. Chamisa, or four-wing saltbush, which occurs in a scattering stand in the mesquite sand dunes, accounts for much of the grazing value of the type. The creosotebush type has very low grazing value since the creosotebush itself has no forage value.


Among the larger forms of wildlife that may be found on the ranch are mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bobcat, coyote, ring-tail, badger, Arizona grey fox, and kit fox. Smaller animals include cottontail rabbit, blacktailed jackrabbit, kangaroo rat, skunks, bats, ground squirrels, mice and other rodents. Two game birds, quail and mourning dove are common on the College Ranch, as are several species of raptors, including golden eagles, hawks, and falcons. Many species of reptiles, most commonly lizards and snakes, also are found on the ranch.



  1. U.S. Statutes at Large, 44 Stat. 1296, 44 Stat. 1345.


Early Travelers and Trails

Today the College Ranch is reserved for research but it has been used for thousands of years in other ways. Native Americans hunted and gathered in many places on the ranch. Later, the ranch lands marked the southern end of the dreaded Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of the Dead One. The stretch of 90 waterless miles on the Jornada plain, was one of the most difficult parts of the trail between Chihuahua and Santa Fe. And finally, civilization--as civilized as the last frontier could be--arrived and a cattle empire grew and died and left its mark on the land.

Native Americans

Few archaeological studies have been done on the College Ranch, but studies of other parts of Dona Ana County provide general information about the use prehistoric peoples have made of the land. No documented Paleo-Indian (pre-7000 B.C.) sites exist, but Folsom points in private collections of artifacts attest to the fact that a hunting society utilized this area. The Archaic period (7000 B.C. to 1 A.D.) is represented in Dona Ana County by the Cochise culture, primarily a hunting and gathering society that may have cultivated corn and squash. (1) More evidence is found of the Jornada Mogollon culture (1-l400 A.D.). Sherds of plain brown pottery are found commonly in the area. Archaeologists hypothesize that the Jornada Mogollon people made residential camps in the mountains near springs and cultivated simple crops there. They used the Jornada plain for

seed-gathering and perhaps for mesquite harvesting. Mesquite was probably the most important indigenous food source in the Jornada area. Since the beans can be harvested during the winter, they would have served as an emergency food source if summer crops were unsuccessful. (2)

The time of the arrival of the Athapascan and Navajo Apaches has not been documented. Early Spanish travelers (c. l600) wrote of the Mansos, a nomadic group living near the Jornada del Muerto. During the nineteenth century, Mescalero Apaches used the mountainous areas of Dona Ana County for their camps. (3) Petroglyphs, probably from the historic Apache period, exist at several locations on the College Ranch.

The Camino Real

Although many Indian trails undoubtedly crossed the Jornada plain, the earliest trail for which there is evidence is the Camino Real, the route established by the Spanish between Chihuahua, Mexico and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trail wound northward through the Mesilla Valley to a camping place called Robledo, near present-day Radium Springs. From there the route left the river valley and made a gradual ascent to the rim of the Jornada plain; there it turned northwesterly along the edge of the plain, continuing to another camping place called San Diego, in the vicinity of Tonuco Mountain. Most of the eight-mile distance between Robledo and San Diego was over land that is now part of the College Ranch. The Camino Real carried nearly all traffic between Mexico and New Mexico for over 250 years. Traffic on the trail included several forms of animal-drawn transportation as well as flocks and herds of domestic livestock. Mesquite beans were a source of feed for the animals. Eventually, rows of mesquite bushes lined the trail, growing from undigested mesquite seed dropped by the livestock. Even in 1987 a sharp observer can see portions of the trail on the College Ranch,

still delineated by rows of mesquite bushes. One of the earliest travellers on the Camino Real was Don Juan de Onate, agent for the Spanish Crown, who conducted a party of colonists, soldiers, and priests over the trail in 1598, on their way to establish the first Spanish colony, north of present-day Santa Fe. Two centuries later, Mexican independence opened the borders of New Mexico to trade with the United States. Josiah Gregg, author of Commerce of the Prairies, was among the first Americans to travel the Camino Real, taking six wagon-loads of merchandise to Chihuahua in 1839.

The old trai1 was a war path too. Colone1 A.W. Doniphan came down the trail with his column of Missourians in December 1846, on his way to Mexico during the Mexican-American War. Several months later, Samuel Magoffin, along with other traders, followed the army down the Camino Real to El Paso del Norte, present-day Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. His 18-year-old bride, Susan Shelby Magoffin, was the first American woman to travel the trail. She made notes in her diary, published as Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico, about the condition of the qrama grass on the Jornada plains: "very sweet and slightly green near the root." (4) The latter characteristic came to be recognized by range scientists as the reason black grama is so valuable as winter forage for 1ivestock. Susan Magoffin a1so noted the presence of prairie dogs on the Jornada plains, a form of wild- life no longer found there. Prairie dogs were eliminated from the Jornada in 1918 by the U.S. Biological Survey.

In 1851, after the Mexican War established new boundaries between the U.S. and Mexico, John Russell Bartlett represented the U.S. on the boundary survey commission. As a part of his work, he traveled the Camino Real as far north as the San Diego campsite, where he turned westward. Describing the Jornada plain, he called it "... of the most desert-like character." (5)

During the Civi1 War, the Camino Rea1 again, was the scene of


military activities. Although no battles took place on the Jornada Plains, both Union and Confederate troops passed over the trail during the short but significant campaign in New Mexico that end Confederate plans for taking the West.

Later Roads

After Dona Ana County was settled, travel through the country commonly followed ranch roads connecting wells and ranch headquarters. One such route crossed the College Ranch connecting Organ and Rincon. This road, nothing more than a pair of wheel ruts, crossed the ranch from southeast to northwest, passing by the Summerford headquarters. The road even gained the recognition of the highway department, as evidenced by the location of an official sign, marking the way to Rincon, located at a ranch road junction northwest of headquarters. Parts of this old trail are still in use on the ranch today, but for the most part, only faint traces of it remain.

Probably around the turn of the twentieth century, the portion of the Camino Real that passed over the Jornada plain was abandoned as the main route of north-south traffic. The construction of a telephone line running northwesterly over the plain may have initiated the new route, a few hundred feet west of the old Camino Real. This route became a state highway, also dubbed the Camino Real in recognition of its proximity to the old trail. By the late 1920s, U.S. Highway 85, in the Rio Grande valley, replaced the Camino Real as the best north-south route. The old road remains in use but was reduced to the status of a county road. Since the mid-1960s, Interstate 25 has been the main route of travel across the College Ranch, making it possible for modern automobiles to speed along smoothly, only a few hundred yards west of the old trail where ox-drawn carts once bumped and jolted. However, while roads and modes of travel across the College


Ranch have altered dramatically in four centuries, the landscape remains little changed from the descriptions of the early observers.

Earliest Owners of the College Ranch Lands

During the 1880s the Mesilla Valley and Dona Ana County began the rapid growth and development that continues today. The rich valley land attracted farmers. The Organ Mountains drew prospectors and miners. The existence of those occupations made it possible for merchants, businessmen, and professionals to establish themselves in Las Cruces. And all around, on both sides of the river, stretching between the mountain ranges, was good grazing land, providing opportunities for the booming cattle industry. Cattle ranching dominated the early history of southern New Mexico and the necessity for water sources dominates the history of cattle ranching. The story of the College Ranch revolves around its water sources.

Litton and Buckle Bar

Job M. Evans was the first person to enter a claim for a homestead on property that would later be part of the College Ranch. In 1887 he claimed 160 acres of land along the Rio Grande, about half-way between Tonuco Mountain and Leasburg. He paid $430 for the land, which apparently contained two water sources, one which eventually would be developed as Litton (also spelled Lytten, but named after P. M. Litton) well and the other as Buckle Bar Well. A complicated series of ownership transfers took place among several members of the Evans family and several members of the Irving Lewis family during the next eighteen months. However, in August 1888 the land was deeded to the Detroit and Rio Grande Livestock Company. In 1905 it was acquired by the Engle Cattle Company. Over the next ten years, ownership of the two water sources again passed through a number

of hands, ending up P. M. Litton in 1916.


Tonuco Springs

In 1888, John Stansburry entered a claim for a homestead on the 40acres around Tonuco Springs, about half a mile north of the Evansproperty. Close by the Rio Grande, the two springs flowed cold and fresh out of a deep recess in a conglomerate bluff about two miles south of Tonuco Mountain. Stansburry may have planned to farm the small area of flat land between the mountain and the bluff. Whatever his dreams for Tonuco were, they were short-lived; within the same year Stansburry sold his interest to the Detroit and Rio Grande Livestock Company for $500.

The Detroit and Rio Grande livestock Company ran a large cattle operation, spreading eastward from the Rio Grande across the Jornada plain and northward to Engle. In the early years the company was dominated by John Riley, a former member of the California Column who remained in the Southwest, survived the Lincoln County War, and went on to become the major beef contractor at Fort Stanton. Although the ownership and boundaries of the ranch changed a number of times in the next thirty years, the well-known Bar Cross brand (+ - ) of the Detroit Company dominated the lands of the College Ranch.

Summerford and Cleofas

In 1905 Henry Summerford bought two 40-acre tracts from the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad Company, paying $ll0 for each tract. One piece was on the north side of Summerford Mountain, at the foot of its slope. He probably made the selection because it was a likely spot for a good well. The other tract was some three miles south of Summerford Mountain, in rougher country. Undoubtedly, this tract also contained some evidence of a water source. (Years later, a goat herder named Cleofas dug a well on the parcel that Summerford homesteaded; his name was given to the southern end of the College Ranch--"Cleofas Country"--and to the improved well that was put in after the College


acquired the ranch.) The Cleofas tract was about three miles northeast of a l69-acre tract Summerford previously had developed near the Rio Grande, just above Hill. He had a substantial home there for his growing family. In all 1ikelyhood, Summerford bought the the two 40-acre tracts to increase the amount of range he controlled.

Bi11 McCall, a rancher who 1ived near the College Ranch, was a

cowboy for the Bar Cross in his youth. He reported Summerford was

running 1400 head of cattle in the vicinity of Summerford Mountain

and onto the Jornada plain by 1905. (5)

In 1907, Jim Sewell, known locally for his ability to put wells in the Jornada sands, drilled Summerford well, a mile north of Summerford Mountain. (7) Another undeveloped well, carved

from eight feet of solid granite on the south side of Summerford Mountain may have been an unsuccessful effort prior to Sewell's well, or it might just have been another effort to provide water for livestock. (3)

Henry Summerford died in 1908, as a result of injuries sustained while riding a bronc at the time of his death, Margaret Rhodes Summerford was eight months pregnant with their fifth child. The probate judge recognized Margaret's inability to run the ranch and allowed her to sell it the following year. The Engle Cattle Company, the company then carrying the Bar Cross brand, purchased both 40-acre tracts, improvements, and equipment for $2,000. In 1912 the Engle Cattle Company sold all of its interests in Dona Ana County (including the Summerford Ranch and Tonuco Springs) to James L. Hurt for $165,000.

C.T. Turney

By 1901 another player had entered the picture. C.T. "T- Hook" Turney, a successful cattle rancher who had moved his operation from central Texas, began acquiring the water sources that would sustain the cattle empire he built on the south end of the Jornada plain, between the Dona Ana and the San Andres mountains. Soon after Turney


began his ranching operation on the Jornada, E. O Wooten, a faculty member of the New Mexico agricultural college, approached Turney about cooperating in rangeland studies. Turney responded positively. By 1912 the relationship was formalize: Turney became the first cooperator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Jornada Range Reserve. Recognizing Turney's expertise in the cattle business, the USDA encouraged Turney to operate his ranch as he saw fit--the scientists were there to observe the results. (9) A number of successful years caused Turney to begin thinking about expanding his large ranch even further. In January 1919 he bought the Bar Cross ranch from James L. Hurt. As a part of that purchase he acquired the Summerford properties and Tonuco Springs. In a separate purchase, Turney also acquired Litton and Buckle Bar from P. M. Litton. Turney mortgaged everything he owned to buy the Bar Cross except his farm in Mesilla. His purchases placed all of the range land in northeastern Dona Ana county under the control of one rancher for the first time in history.

Max Vander Stucken

Turney did not run his Jornada ranch alone, even before he took on the additional challenge of the Bar Cross. His sons, Floyd and Joe, lived at the Aleman camp on the north end of the ranch; son Edgar lived at Flat lake on the west side; and Turney's daughter, Maude, and son-in-law, Max Vander Stucken, lived at the Jornada headquarters. (10) Within a year after purchasing the Bar Cross, Turney was in financial trouble. In an effort to divide and save his assets, he sold parts of the ranch to his children. In November 1919, Max Vander Stucken bought Summerford well, Tonuco Springs, Litton and Buckle Bar for $10,000. The Cleofas tract was not included in Vander Stucken's purchase.


Although the first two years after Vander Stucken bought the ranch were promising, weather and the economy were against him. A drought beginning in 1921 reduced grass to 11 percent of its predrought cover. (11) Cattle prices dropped. By November 1924 Vander Stucken was two years behind in payments on a mortgage that had grown to $37,000. In May 1925 Vander Stucken told J.L. Lantow, head of the animal husbandry department at the agricultural college, about the impending foreclosure and recommended that the College buy the ranch. (12) Negotiations began. In February 1926 Vander Stucken transferred the ranch premises and the personal proerty associated with the ranch to the American Mortgage Company. That same month the College signed the papers to acquire the property.


  1. Me1iha Duran, Patterns of Prehistoric Land Use in Dona Ana County,New Mexico, Cultural Resources Management Division, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 1, Report no. 471 (Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University, January 1982), pp. 6-11.

  2. Ibid., pp.43-48.

3. Ibid., pp.17. ~

4. Susan Shelby Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847, edited by Stella M. Drumm, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1926), p. 200.

5. John Russell Bartlett, Personal Narrative of Explorations and incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuahua, connected with the United States and Mexican Boundary Commission, during the years 1850, ’51, ’52, and ’58, Vol. 1, (Chicago: The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1965), p. 215.

6. Lee Charles Buffington, "Vegetative Changes on a Semi-Desert Grassland Range from 1858 to 1963" (Master's Thesis, New Mexico State University, University Park, New Mexico, 1964), p. 31.

7. Bill McCal1, interview by R.A. Valentine, 1937. Personal interview with K.A. Valentine by author, 2 July 1937.

8. Lewis Carr, telephone conversation with author, 5 July 1987.


9. Fred Ares, The Jornada Experimental Range: Epoch in the Era of Southwestern Range Management, edited, by R.S. Campbell, Range Monograph No.1 (Denver: Society for Range Management, May 1974), pp. 5-20.

10. Maude Vanderstucken, interview with author, Las Cruces, New Mexico, 17 June 1987.

11. Carlton Herbel and Wa1ter L. Gould, Managing Semidesert Ranqes of the Southwest, Coooerative Extension Circular no. 456 (Las Cruces, New Mexico: New Mexico State University), p. 4.

12. Maude Vanderstucken, interview with author, Las Cruces, Mexico, 8 June 1987.


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