by Mary Kasulaitis
The first Arizonan to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City was Arivaca’s own Ramón Ahumada. Although he had no children of his own, a generation of young men, too numerous to mention, proudly bore the name of Ramón, Ray or Raymond, in honor of the gentleman who managed the Arivaca Ranch for almost forty years.
Ramón Ahumada was born in Batuc in the Altar District of Sonora in 1868, the son of Jose Ahumada. His uncle, Jose Vega, was mayordomo on the Arivaca Ranch in its earliest years. That was when it was called Las Ruinas Ranch and was owned by Noah W Bernard and John Bogan. Vega brought Ramón to Arivaca when he was just a young boy, and raised him to follow in his footsteps. Ramon became mayordomo before he was 21 years old. When the Arivaca Land and Cattle Company was incorporated by Noah C. Bernard, John Bogan, George Pusch, John Zellweger and Ramón Ahumada, the principals were blessed with business savvy, personality, ambition, and in the case of Ahumada, the ability to manage cattle on a large scale. Thus the company was able to expand until it was one of the biggest operations in Southern Arizona.
In those days there were few fences and cattle roamed at will. As Phil Clarke said, “Cattle roamed from hell to breakfast before barbed wire came into general use. The cattle were wild and so were the cowboys.” The annual roundup was a community affair in which all the ranchers and cowboys gathered the cattle, separated and branded the calves. According to an extensive article in the Arizona Cattlelog, Ramón was frequently chosen to boss these roundups, because of his ability to manage cattle and men as well. “Sometimes as many as 5,000 cattle would be sorted in one day, with a crew of from 70 to 80 men. Ahumada would break his crew down into four wagons, assigning one group to work certain valleys of the Baboquivari foothills, another towards the east in the Atascosas, and so on, covering an up-country sweep 40 miles wide over countless hills, arroyos, flats and mountains. As the sorted and gathered bunches were driven in to the day’s campsite, the confusion to almost everybody would seem complete. But as the sun went down, order would gradually emerge, the calves being driven off in one direction, various bunches of 2 and 3-year old steers being merged into one driving herd, the mother cows, minus their calves, trailing off for their more familiar ranges, and other bunches going off under a little guidance from the cowboys to just where their owners wanted them. Old-timers still marvel at Ahumada’s timing…. Ahumada had a knack for handling men, assigning jobs to the various owners and cowboys alike with such courteous tact that they seldom realized they were being ‘bossed.'” Phil Clarke, who, along with Jack McVey, Luis Romero and probably many others, looked upon Ramón as his mentor, said that “Ramón was a genius at organization. Every man was assigned to a job, which included roping, branding, cutting out the strays, wrangling the remuda and collecting the beef herd. It looked like all dust and confusion, but Ramón’s men got the job done.”
“The knowledge displayed by Ahumada in the identification of cattle brands was regarded as little short of marvelous by cattlemen and cattle inspectors. The man had an uncanny instinct for correctly tracing a badly blurred brand, an instinct that was of inestimable value to owners and inspectors when the mystery of an animal’s marking required unraveling. He knew all the brands of the southwest range and would frequently sit at the elbow of a cattle inspector correctly identifying brands when there were as many as 40 or 50 different marks on a mixed herd of livestock. His identification in this respect was never questioned.” (Tucson Citizen, 1/13/26)
“Like most Mexican vaqueros, Ramón Ahumada’s horsemanship was superb. He rode with that easy grace and effortless dash which somehow inspires an alert horse to extra effort. And he frequently rode the same horse all day. The Texans who had ‘invaded’ the Altar Valley after 1914 or so, would express their disapproval of riding the same horse 60 or 80 miles in one day when others were available, But Ahumada and his Mexican cowboys’ horsemanship, compared with the stiffly erect, somewhat strained, I-am-the-boss Texas style, left each Arivaca man’s horse fresher after a day’s work than those used by the Tejanos, relay fashion.” (Arizona Cattlelog)
The Arivaca Ranch horses were of excellent stock, Standardbred-Thoroughbred crosses, imported from out of state. Ramón knew them all by name, and was responsible for training them so that they could be used on the ranch or sold to be polo ponies.
Ramón was married to the beautiful Virginia Zepeda, a member of the Moraga family, whose ancestors had included the co-founder of San Francisco and the captain of the Presidio at Tucson during Spanish times. She was the great-aunt of baseball pitcher Alex Kellner. She died in Tucson in 1954 at the age of 86.
Everyone seemed to have a story to tell about Ramón. Fred Noon was always impressed with his silver mounted saddle and bridle, which was once prominently displayed in the window of a store in Tucson and now reposes in the Arizona Historical Society Museum. One possibly apocryphal story said that when Gabriel Angulo praised this set, Ramón gave it to him, but perhaps this was only an illustration of his
Phil Clarke admired his ability to talk his way out of bad situations, telling how he once mediated a difficult encounter with some Yaqui Indians who had been found butchering a company calf. Not sure of his welcome, and noting a number of Yaquis in the trees surrounding the illegal activity, Ramon went down to have a talk. A few minutes later they had given him the loin, but he had left the Yaquis with dinner and enough jerky to keep going. No one shot him in the back and they even left the hide so it could be counted, as he had requested.
As Ramón Ahumada had lived by the horse, so he died. Luis Romero, Arivaca Ranch cowboy who was as close to Ramón as a son, told of an accident, the results of which eventually claimed his life. They were riding in the Jalisco country near Clifford Well when Luis’ horse threw him. Ramón roped it, using his 60 foot reata, but in the process was thrown off his own horse and hit his head on a rock. Six months later, he had apparently recovered from this accident when he suddenly became ill and was taken to Tucson to the hospital. The Spanish language paper reported daily on his progress, but sadly he succumbed, an untimely death at the age of 56 on January 13, 1926. Not forgotten, however, so that when the National Cowboy Hall of Fame was created in 1958, Ramón Ahumada’s name was enthusiastically submitted with the first group of inductees. And I’m sure that somewhere in Southern Arizona, someone sang a corrido in honor of Arivaca’s most famous vaquero.
Arizona Cattlelog cover article, Jan. 1958; “The Old West Disappeared,” interview with Phil Clarke in a Tucson Citizen article commemorating Arizona statehood, 2/14/1962; Old California Cowboys by Dane Coolidge; obituaries in El Tucsonense and Arizona Daily Star, 1/14/26; Fred Noon’s notes; Thanks to John Kellner, nephew of Virginia; Bob Teso, grandson of Luis Romero and mayor of South Tucson; Oscar Morales of the Moraga family, and Jerri Stone at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Center for the Study of the Western Experience Research Center, Oklahoma City, OK.