Phil and Gipsy Clarke: pioneer rancher and teacher

by Mary Kasulaitis

In the first half of the 20th century the Clarke Ranch, now known as the Montana Ranch and owned by the USFWS, anchored the headwaters of Arivaca valley. Phil and Gipsy Clarke were true pioneers who left home and family and came to Arivaca at a young age, where they met, married and established themselves with a homestead, ranch and store.

Phil Clarke was born in Ireland in 1888. He came to Arivaca in 1906 at the age of 19, looking for work on the Bernard Ranch. In an autobiography written in 1938 he remembered: “When I arrived at Arivaca I was not very much impressed. We pulled up in front of the P.O. I stood there with my big cardboard suitcase and it seemed like thirty or forty Mexicans, who were sitting in front of the store staring at me, had a good time laughing at the newly arrived tenderfoot. There were buckboards, pack burros, horses tied up to the hitching post all from outlying mining camps and ranches, that had come to town for the mail and supplies from the store—after the stage left I introduced myself to Les Farrell, the store keeper and assistant postmaster and told him I came out to get a job on a ranch…He asked all about me, why I came away out there, away from the beaten path, like h e suspected I might be hiding out from the law.

While I was talking to him a new rancher in the country by the name of (Bill) Earle came in and told me I could stay with him until I could get settled. So I got in his buckboard and went to his ranch about two miles below Arivaca. It was the old Kellner Ranch…While at this ranch I got acquainted with Dr. J.H. Ball—his farm was just south of the Kellner place. Dr. Ball was a highly educated man, spoke several languages and stressed the necessity of learning Spanish if I intended to stay in this country. He told me all about the surrounding country, the mines and the ranches, where they were located, who owned them. I worked for him during the hay harvest time, running the hay bailer, hauling the bailed hay. All the rest of the hands were Mexicans and I was learning Spanish from them very fast. After the harvest was over I went back to Arivaca to see Nonie Bernard, but he had not been out and Farrell did not seem to know when he could come, but he had some odd jobs I might do if I wanted to wait for him. I took this opportunity, put a new floor in the schoolhouse, fixed the shingles on the old hotel. I got two dollars a day for this which was 50 cents more a day than I earned with Dr. Ball.

There was considerable mining activity going on in the district. The old Cerro Colorado was working a lot of men. The Oceanic in the San Luis country, the Guijas in charge of a Mr. Bradley, the Yellow Jacket in charge of a Correy from Philadelphia, the Con Arizona whose mill was just below the Dr. Ball farm, was about to close down. In addition to these mines that were actually working, there was a lot of prospecting going on and all the camps in the Oro Blanco district were working lots of men. There was a good size store at Oro Blanco run by Charles O. Foltz, the Warsaw, Old Glory and the Austerlitz mines owned by Dr. Noon were operating.

The country was covered with a heavy growth of gramma grass and in the mountains was a dense growth of oak, white and Jack oak, and it seemed like there was running water everywhere. Farrell loaned me his horse and saddle and when I wasn’t working on odd jobs for him I rode as far as I could. I could speak a little Spanish and I visited the Bernard ranch. There I got acquainted with the foreman, Ramon Ahumada who, with his silver plated headstall, saddle all silver inlaid and beautiful horses, really fascinated me…This Arivaca was considered one of the largest ranches in this section. The whole country was wide open. The only fences were those around the homesteads of the various ranchers. It was the days of the open range, before statehood and the coming of the Forest reserve which was to be created in 1907, and after Arizona became a state in 1912 there came the state land that was reserved under the Enabling Act and the ranchers got busy and leased as much of this land at 3 cents per acre per year as they could, and that’s when the days of the open range in Arizona ended.

While I was enjoying myself getting acquainted with the people I still had no steady work. I remember debating on several occasions of going on to Los Angeles, but everyone told me when Nonie came out they were sure he would give me some kind of steady work. When Nonie finally came out and I asked him if he could put me to work, he said he would leave it up to Ramon. Nonie was homesteading at the Cienaga. He built a tow room shack and barn and established residence there in order to comply with homestead requirements and I lived with him at the Cienaga. (near the city well) After finishing building he paid me $1.50 a day and board which was very good for those days and then gave me a steady job as horse wrangler…”

Taken from a copy of the autobiography of Phil M. Clarke, courtesy of the late Virginia Clarke Cooper, Phil’s eldest daughter.

Gipsy Harper Clarke

In 1910 Gipsy Harper arrived in Arizona to teach school. A native of Texas, she had gone to Los Angeles to find work and had been recruited by Nonie Bernard, the owner of the Arivaca Ranch. After arriving by train in Tucson, she quickly took the required state examinations and was rewarded with an official certificate. A stage coach brought her to Arivaca, and the first person she met upon her arrival was a young man about her age, named Phil Clarke.

Arivaca was a company town in 1910, and the owner was the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company. Phil Clarke had hired on with them in 1907 and by 1910 they had him managing the store and holding the offices of Postmaster, Justice of the Peace and School Trustee. He was surprised to see Gipsy, for he thought he was responsible for hiring the teacher. Since she was there already, he took it upon himself to find her a boarding house and help her get acquainted. We know what went on that first week from stories she wrote later. The following is her own account of one of the first conversations she had with Phil:

“‘Mr. Clarke, have you notified the children that school is to open Monday?’

‘They’ll know when they see the school door open if they don’t know from you bein’ here.’

He unlocked the school door and pushed it open and I looked at what was to be my domain for the next… …eight months.

There wasn’t a thing in that school but filthy, ink-stained, hand whittled desks, a huge rusty iron stove without a pipe, and the teacher’s table and a bell. Not a map, nor a chart, nor a globe. Even the black-board erasers, if there had ever been any, had been carried away.

‘Where is the equipment?’

‘How d’you mean–equipment?’

‘Does the territory furnish books, paper and pencils?’

‘What’re you talkin’ about? It pays the teacher. Ain’t that enough?’

‘Do you mean to tell me there won’t even be books? Do the children buy them for themselves?’
‘Of course they don’t.’

‘Perhaps if you’d order them and put them in the sote, some of the more ambitious parents would pay for them.’

‘Look here, I’ve got that whole Cattle Company and every person for twenty miles around telling me what to order for that store; I’m not going to have you tellin’ me to start a book store!'”

But Gipsy was a self confident person, and after taking a few days to get settled, she began her first school:
“First day of school I awoke with a thrill. Outside my window Biejo was carrying out beer bottles and humming ‘La Golondrina.’ Across the patio sunlight fell on the adobe wall and a guinea hen chattered noisily.

After breakfast Rita gave me a sack of rags, some washing soap and a broom to take to school. I wore a dark linen dress and carried a red checked gingham bungalow apron with long sleeves. Bungalow aprons buttoned down the back and completely covered the dress.

All the children came to school that first morning. Uncle Beanie (Bogan) had rounded up sixty-five of them. I rang the bell and wrote the names and ages in my register with the help of Anita, an older girl who spoke good English. Then we went to work. The boys got the water. There was no well, all of the water of the village being hauled by a barrel and burro from the creek or from a well a mile up the valley. I had learned the word ‘agua’ and when I spoke it, off the boys went. We scrubbed walls, windows, blackboards, desks and the floor. The boys raked the yard and piled the rocks on the arroyo bank. At noon I sent a note to Phil asking for chalk, paper and pencils and charged it to myself. The ones he promised had not arrived.
Probably a dozen children had some kind of a book and some had tablets and pencils. I had Anita tell them to ask their parents if they would buy books, and I gave each of them a slip with his requirements, after classifying them the best I could.

Many of them were acting when they pretended not to understand, for they had had good teachers and so had their parents before them. Uncle Beanie’s wife (Phebe Bogan), the finest teacher ever, had taught them.
I wrote the multiplication tables and a long list of words for spelling on one side board. After they were learned I covered the board with a sheet I had borrowed and had the children recite them. On another board I printed the reading lesson for the beginners. I passed paper and pencils to all, and when the work was finished I had every pencil collected. Then there was the singing lesson. We had fun over that. I wrote one verse of ‘America’ on the board, but as few could read it all, they memorized the words from my singing rather from the board.

That afternoon being mail day, I sent an order to Tucson for thirty readers–first, second, and third–and charged them to myself. I selected the art readers we had used as supplementary readers back home. They were expensive, but I thought the children would enjoy them. I hoped many would buy the regular books that were required on the course of study. Also I ordered crayolas and drawing paper for every child.
While I taught one section, the others had recess. Of course they made a terrific noise, threw rocks at the school and broke several windows, which made it necessary for me to keep them after school and discover who did it. All faces were blank and tongues dumb. Cipriano’s eyes were downcast. He must be the culprit. I wrote a letter to his father, saying that until Cipriano brought three dollars he could not return to school.
That night I took it up with Mr. Clarke. He laughed when I told him about the note I sent Cipriano’s father. The man was a cowboy and Cipriano made money hauling water and chopping wood, but why should he pay for windows? Why didn’t I whip him? That was my duty, controlling those boys. Why did I send them out without anybody over them if I didn’t expect something like that to happen.”

As it turns out, Cipriano does bring the three dollars and Gipsy stays on at Arivaca school. After three short months, she and Phil Clarke are married and set up housekeeping in the large house across the street from the store.

The mural by C Hues at the Arivaca Schoolhouse portrays Gipsy H. Clarke, teaching.

Thanks to Chris Clarke, Gipsy’s grandson, for her stories

One Comment on “Phil and Gipsy Clarke: pioneer rancher and teacher

  1. This is awesome! I am the great-grandaughter of Philip and Gypsy Clarke. I am also an Arizona native for 44 years and school teacher for 21 years. I love the history of our state, and some of their challenges are ones we still face today. Thank you for printing this!


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