you start down into the valley of the Klondyke-Aravipa Canyon
area in southeastern Arizona, you have the feeling of entering
the last frontier in Arizona.
The harsh rocky Santa Teresa Mountains rise to the north
and the dark, rugged Galiuro Mountains loom to the south.
This prickly-pear desert of Graham County, Arizona,
covered with mesquite thickets, rattlesnakes, and surrounded by
rough, rocky mountains, is where Richard and Karen Holcomb run
their 200 head commercial cow/calf herd on 20,000 acres of
private land and state land leases.
These adventurous people moved to the Arizona desert
country from northeastern Nevada in 1998 to buy a desert cow
outfit and to hunt mountain lions with their hounds.
and sticks hung high in forks of Sycamore trees along Aravipa
Canyon Creek as we drove into the Squaw Creek ranch headquarters
where we were greeted by Richard and Karen, the ranch owners.
We mentioned the sticks in the trees to Richard and he
said, “We had over
18 inches of summer monsoon rains in two days in 2006.
The floodwater crested at 14 feet in Aravipa Creek across
the county road from our ranch headquarters. The flood wiped out
roads, telephones, water lines, fences, and drowned some cattle.
We were stranded for several days.
If we don’t get summer monsoon moisture, which can come
with a vengeance, we are dependant on winter rains.
Sometimes we don’t get them either. In 2011 summer and
winter were both extremely dry.
We have been in a drought in this country ever since we
moved here. We have
survived here for 13 years but Mother Nature can be brutal at
times. Welcome to the Holcomb’s OV Brand, Squaw Creek Ranch,
where life is never dull.
This is a land of extremes.”
Aravipa Canyon area is rich in Arizona history.
Salado Indians once lived and hunted here. Campsites of
these Indians and their cliff dwellings and pottery pieces can
still be found. In
February 1918, it was also the site of the biggest shoot-out in
Arizona history which some say was much bigger than the Earp
Brothers and Clanton’s famed “Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral” in
Holcomb told the story, “Old Man Powers had a cabin in
Rattlesnake Canyon, near his mine, deep in the Galiuro Mountains
south of our ranch.
The lawmen from Safford rode to his cabin to serve papers on one
of his boys who had been drafted into the army and had not
reported for duty.
Old Man Powers said his boy was not going to the Army.
Pistols and rifles were drawn and the shooting began.
When the gunfire ended, three lawmen were dead, Old Man
Powers was dead, and three men were wounded.
Two of the Powers boys were sentenced to over 40 years
each in the state prison in Florence, Arizona for their part in
the shootout. The
Powers cabin, full of bullet holes, is still standing today.
All of the Powers family is buried in the Klondyke
cemetery near our ranch.”
town site of Klondyke, several miles down Aravipa Creek from the
Holcomb ranch, was settled in 1900 after lead and silver ore was
found in the surrounding hills. At its peak, Klondyke was home
to over 500 people. The ore played out, the Klondyke store and
post office closed, and most of the miners drifted away.
Today, only a handful of hardy souls working for the
Nature Conservancy and cattle ranchers remain in this remote
Klondyke-Aravipa Creek desert valley.
The mail only comes twice a week from Wilcox, which is
over 50 miles away.
out a living in this inhospitable country takes a special
talent. This environment is not for amateurs.
People who want to live here must be able to adapt to
this harsh remote Arizona desert. The Holcombs have spent their
lives honing their skills in ranching, outfitting, and following
lion-hunting hounds on their mules and horses in some of the
roughest country in the west.
Richard grew up near Springer, New Mexico.
He punched cows and hunted lions throughout New Mexico
and Arizona. He
also spent several years working in Nevada as a professional U S
Government mountain lion hunter removing livestock-killing
Karen spent her early years on the Blue River along the New
Mexico/Arizona line in rugged Northeastern Arizona.
She learned about mountain lion habits, lion dogs and
guiding paid clients from the Lee Brothers who were famous
southwestern professional mountain lion and bear hunters.
She also spent many years in Utah and Nevada as a
professional outfitter and guide.
Mountain Lion Hunting
the first 8 years they were at Squaw Creek Ranch, the Holcombs
took out paid clients on guided mountain lion hunts to help pay
the bills for the ranch. Finally they just got too busy with the
cow work to take paid hunters. Today they hunt mountain lions
for themselves and to help neighboring ranchers when the ranches
experience mountain lion depredation on their range calves. At
times, mountain lions can be very destructive by killing calves.
As soon as a mountain lion kill is found on domestic
livestock, Richard and Karen will be on the lion’s trail with
their lion hounds.
are very few men and women alive today that understand mountain
lions’ ways like the Holcombs do. To be successful in trailing
and treeing mountain lions on “dry ground” takes a special
talent and perseverance to be able to go back out day after day,
trailing after hounds in some of the roughest country in western
America and be successful in treeing a lion. Richard has been
hunting mountain lions with his trained hounds for over 40 years
and his wife Karen is a long-time professional in the lion
The Holcombs have 12 mountain lion dogs in their dog pack. They
usually hunt six dogs at a time. Locator collars are placed
around the hounds’ necks to keep track of the dogs when they are
trailing a lion. The dogs that they use have come from lines of
dogs that Richard has bred and trained for over 40 years.
Richard has bought very few lion dogs.
His breeding line of dogs goes back to his great
“dry-ground” dogs that have trailed and treed countless mountain
lions all over Nevada and the southwest.
Richard said, “Most any old hound dog will trail a
mountain lion track in the snow, but ‘dry-ground’ lion hunting
takes a dog with a special talent and nose.”
Shaw, a noted author and mountain lion expert formerly with the
Arizona State Game and Fish and a friend of the Holcombs once
said, “Those who have hunted with trained mountain lion dogs
tend to agree that this type of hunt is the king of sports on
our continent. Probably no sport requires more investment of
time and money than hunting mountain lions with hounds on bare
like all dogs, are predators.
They may react to the warm scent of any animal, but they
instinctively follow things that smell like food. The trick in
training mountain lion hounds lies in getting them to trail only
the species that you want to catch - mountain lions. This is
something that the average dog training person never gets done.
Richard and Karen Holcomb have taken the training of
‘dry-ground’ lion hounds and mountain lion hunting to a higher
Horses and Mules:
says, “We use both horses and mules for our cow work.
Mules are quiet–minded, surefooted and less likely to
fall and get you hurt.
We liked to use mules for our clients to ride when we
took paying lion hunters because in this rugged desert mountain
terrain, some horses might get our clients in trouble.
We depended on the mules to take care of them and they
did. A good riding mule that can handle this rough country is
hard to find. When you do find one, they are going to cost lots
ranch horses come from a variety of places. We use all geldings
on our ranch. We don’t breed horses.
We buy them. We don’t care if a horse has papers. The
kind of horse we need has to be able to handle rough country,
watch a cow, hold a rope, travel in the rocks and prickly pear
cactus, be gentle, and still get the job done.
One cow horse Karen uses now was given to her by some
people who couldn’t keep it anymore.
we get a new horse, we turn it loose in our horse and mule
pasture that is full of rocks, prickly pear cactus, and snakes
so they can learn to negotiate the terrain on their own without
pressure. Sometimes it takes a year or more for the horses and
mules to really figure out how to travel this country and learn
to find water. The young horse I am riding now came from a ranch
in Northern New Mexico.
We bought him as two-year old and we turned him out in
the rocky horse pasture for a year before we used him in ranch
we use the horses or mules while lion hunting, many times they
have to be able to trail after the hunting hounds in extremely
rough country. The
country is often more difficult than where the cattle are
located. Horses and
mules need to be hobble broke because many times they are left
alone while we follow the lion dogs on foot.
The terrain can be so tough that you are unable to ride
to the spot where the lion is treed by the hounds.
arriving in this southeastern Arizona desert country, Richard
and Karen set out to put together a commercial cow/calf herd
made up from cows and bulls that were native to this area.
Richard said, “To make it in the livestock business in this
tough old desert country we use mostly native cattle that know
how to make a living in a country with sparse feed, are able to
browse when the grass and weeds run out and can travel long
distances to water.
We started with Brangus and Angus bulls and crossbred cows with
some ear. In recent
years, we have gone to more all black-hided cattle with little
or no ear. These black cattle market much better and we have
tried to keep pace with the current trends that require black
cattle. We keep
back some of our heifers for replacements and buy young bulls or
keep some of our young ranch-raised bulls that are native to
this country. These
native cattle tend to be in short supply and there is a strong
demand for replacement heifers, for what I call ‘hard-footed’
cattle, that come from this tough old country.”
went on to explain the water pipeline projects for their cattle;
“Desert cattle require a lot of water during the hot summer
months. Their water intake doubles when temperatures increase
from 50 degrees to 95 degrees. Cows and Bulls need 15 to 20
gallons of water per day. Calves need from 8 to 10 gallons.
Plenty of water for livestock and wildlife is critical in this
country. We obtained cost-sharing funding help for stock water
and wildlife developments from the Arizona State Fish and Game
and the Federal Natural Resources Conversation Service. We pump
water from deep wells with propane or solar powered pumps and
store it in large steel storage tanks.
We have run miles of water pipelines from these wells to
areas that had good feed but no water. This program has been a
great benefit to our cattle program and also provides water for
wildlife in these previously dry areas.
In exchange for waterline help from Arizona State Fish
and Game, we opened up areas for hunter access on our ranch that
were formerly not available to Arizona hunters. This is a
win-win situation for all parties involved.
also purchased a farm several miles up Aravipa Creek from our
ranch. There we installed a pivot water sprinkler system and
grow grain crops such as barley and oats. We built a set of
sorting pens with a weight scale so that we can sort and weigh
our cattle when they are getting ready for market. We run some
of our calves over as yearlings and sell mostly on the video
auction. We also market cattle on a private treaty with other
cattlemen looking for cattle. This farm set-up has allowed us to
move our market calves onto good feed when the outside country
dries up. We also feed supplement block when the feed runs
short. We do feed some hay to our calves, mules, and horses, but
to have hay delivered to our ranch in 2012,
it costs $350 to $400 per ton. The long distances that we go
when we market our cattle dictates that we need to have a
uniform weight of calves for sale and a full load for the cow
trucks when they are called to haul our livestock.
The cattle that we do not sell on the video auction will
be sold by private treaty here at the ranch or we haul a trailer
load to Wilcox to the livestock auction. The pens, scale, and
good feed at the farm have provided us a way to make this long
haul distance deal work. We have been able to survive and are
making a living with our cattle.”