Serving The Communities Of Portal and Rodeo (

Portal, AZ - Rodeo, NM

Serving The Communities Of Portal and Rodeo  (

Ralph Morrow

© Howard Topoff 2011

Ralph Morrow was a legend of the early days of the Portal area. He was for many years the representative of game law enforcement in the area.


In His own words---

"I was around four years of age when the family left Roswell area and ended up on Eagle Creek north of Clifton, where my father established a ranch. My dad sold out and we moved to Douglas where we stayed until November of 1903, when we came to the Chiricahuas - Paradise.

"We loaded up everything in a covered wagon (leaving Eagle Creek, and later Douglas), and startpd toward Douglas. We reached the Frisco River by Clifton, and it was in high flood stage. There were several camps of people traveling the same direction as us, that had to camp; they couldn't cross the river. There was one thing they were doing-I always will remember: The river water was all we had to use and they would get a bucket of water and cut prickly pear leaves and drop in the water to settle the mud, and some way or another, it did. That's one of the things that stand out in a small boy's memory that ordinarily wouldn't be remembered by even older people.

"The trek we made after we left Duncan, here we were alone that time, generally there would be a half dozen wagons, one behind the other, you know. Usually you started early, and stopped for awhile mid-day, then along about 1:00 or 2:00 pm you would drive along until it began to get sundown. But, no travel was done after sundown. There was a big campfire and we'd eat, and hy the time it began to get dark, we'd h~ve our beds rolled out on the ground and we'd go to bed. The last thing though, before bedding down, we'd look after the horses and see that everything was straight. One of the things you had to keep in mind all the time was the good health of those horses. Darned sure not cripple any. Water was always one you had to remember. If you didn't make it to water, you had a wagon, you carry barrels of water so you could water those horses, because if there wasn't water for anything else, you had to water those horses.

"People today wouldn't enjoy that because they would be in a hurry and want to get on their way. But, really we enjoyed ourselves. We knew that we were not going to get there any quicker than we'd planned on; we could figure how many ~ays it was going to take us, and so help me it would take that many days; sometimes a little more. When we hit a rainstorm, we pulled up and stopped. If it was near time to camp, we went ahead and camped for the night, and stayed in the wagon, which was waterproof. We always pulled out on high ground. If you stopped on low ground, you were liable to find your wagon bogged down when the ground got wet.

"Train travel, it was here at the time that we showed up. It was built right after the turn of the century through here, built by the Phelps-Dodge Corporation through this part. A different railroad, Southern Pacific, went through San Simon." (The Southern Pacific's engine No. 31 crossed the Colorado River bridge at Yuma, Arizona the morning of September 30, 1877. Not until March 20, 1880, did the rails reach Tucson. 8y the end of July, the rails had reached the Dragoon Summit, with two miles of track completed each day. Willcox was reached on August 26, 1880, and finally on September 22, 1880, the Southern Pacific line crossed into New Mexico at Stein's Pass. A line from near Bowie to Globe constructed by the Arizona Eastern Railroad, reached Globe in Oecember 1898. In late 1900, Phelps-Dodge formed the Southwestern Railroad of Arizona to link Bisbee with the Douglas Smelter. By the summer of 1902 this line and others, became a part of the El Paso and South~estern Railroad, whose tracks then reached from Douglas to Deming, New Mexico).

"Horses - they certainly were the means of transportation at the time. I remember one time, and this would be typical of the times, that I rode with my father from here in the Chiricahua Mountains to Roosevelt Dam on horseback. I had an uncle up near Roosevelt Lake, and I stayed to work for this uncle. My father went on back, so a few months or so later, I went home by myself. I was around fifteen or so at the time. It was getting pretty cold, I remember that, and I had one of these old Navajo Blankets and they all hump up like a cow hide and I'd get cold at night and have to build a fire and hobble my horse where he could graze. Coming round down there by the Coolidge Dam, wasn't any dam there then, why, a bunch of Indians overtook me. There was five or six of these indians and one old Indian had his nose cut off I remember. I could speak Spanish, and he found that out, and got to talking and he told me he was born in the Chiricahuas. He was one of the little children when they moved the Chiricahua Apaches from here. So, he asked me if I didn't get cold at night, and I told him, yeah, I got cold at night, darned near froze. He said:'Well, I'll tell you what to do. Tonight when you camp, and you camp where there is sand, and better where a little wash is. You dig out two to three inches of that sand and you build fire with sticks allover it, build a good fire. Let that burn an hour or two and then cover it over with sand. Then you lay down there and put your blanket over you, never get cold.'

"So, that night I did that, and it was about daylight before I began to get cold, and it was time to get up and go anyway. That was the way we traveled. You ride along; you see a mountain way ahead of you. Today it's blue over there, after two or three days, the mountain gets blue on the other side, you've gone past it. That trip took seven days. Of course, my dad was a real horseman and he travelled all over and he drove cattle, he was on the great trail drives from Texas to the Dakotas, you know, delivering those Texas steers. He knew how to ride a horse and get a lot out of a horse. I learned from him. He said: 'If you are going to ride a horse hard, always wait till the last day you're gonna go on that trip, don't do it first.' The last day I rode from north of Bowie plumb into the Chiricahua here right below Paradise that day, right across rough country, no road. And, that horse just went through with his ears sticking up; course he knew he was going home like I did.

"Speaking of things that impressed me most, one of them was the automobile. When we lived in Douglas in 1903, there was one automobile showed up there. It looked pretty much like a bunch of boxes nailed together; didn't look much like an automobile, but anyway, there were two fellows drove this automobile; wore derby hats, and they were quite something. Another little boy and I were over near what is now called Pirtleville one day, and all the roads wound around through the mesquites the way the wagons traveled. This thing came chugging along about like a good buggy team could trot. It had a sort of rack on the back, so we just ran and jumped on this rack. These fellows told us to get off and we wouldn't do it. We just hung on froze, and they had to stop this thing and pull us off to get rid of us. That was my first automobile ride.

"About 1905, the first automobile showed up in Paradise. It was a Cadillac owned by Doctor Adamson from Douglas. I don't think another car showed up in that town until 1909, then it wasn't much of an automobile. It was what you call a 'push car'. Three fellows were in it; when you came to a hill, two got out and pushed while the other one drove. Later on, I remember the first time I ever drove an automobile, and it was an old Model T and this fellow was drunk and he wanted me to drive him home, which was about a mile away. It was pretty good country or the car and me would have been badly wrecked by the time we got there, but I finally made it. It being an old Ford, every time I'd step down on the pedal that put it into low gear, I'd step too hard and kill the engine. Then I'd have to crank it.

By the time we'd gone a mile or so, I'd done more work than if I'd been walking a long ways. By 1917 I even had a car, a Studebaker, and hired it out for trips from Hilltop to Rodeo and sometimes to Douglas or Silver City. We thought it was a pretty good automobile. It certainly wouldn't be now. In those days, if you had a car that ran 5,000 miles, we made history. Most would run maybe 1,000 -1,500 miles and blow all to pieces. Early 1920's, wagons and teams began to disappear. You seldom saw a man riding a horse any more than rounding up cattle or some such. The Automobile changed our mode of travel to where it was nothing like it used to be. I know there's lots of things about the 'good old days' that were good, all right, and there were a lot of things about the 'good old days' that were bad. Just like today."

(Courtesy of Wayne Morrow, son of Ralph Morrow)