Tom Turner Returns to the Empire Ranch–1909
Tom Turner, who was the Empire Ranch foreman in the 1890s, returned as superintendent of the Empire Ranch in 1909. His wife, Mary, and four children, Earl, Verna, Jewel, and Stella, accompanied him. During this time period Bess Elliott was hired to teach the Empire Ranch children, and she lived with the Turners.
Turner remained at the Empire until 1911. Banning Vail, Walter and Maggie’s third eldest son, was spending time at the Empire Ranch during this time period, learning how to manage the ranching operations.
The Turner family and 10 staff are recorded as living at the Empire Ranch in the 1910 U.S. Census. Margaret Vail and all her children were listed as living at the Los Angeles home.
Fire at the Empire Ranch—May 1910
On May 9, 1910 a fire broke out at Empire Ranch Headquarters. Fortunately, a group of Fort Huachuca soldiers were camped there at the time and they helped to save the Ranch House and other structures.
Except for the Farrier’s Shop, the fire destroyed all of the wooden structures on the east side of Headquarters including the Bunkhouse/Carpenter’s Shop, Slaughterhouse, and two storage barns. None of these were rebuilt. The fire also severely damaged the Cooks Wing, Stable and Adobe Hay Barn. All livestock were outside of the working area in pastures.
Tucson’s First Long Distance Phone Call—1911
Telephone operator, Gradye Drown, placed Tucson’s first long distance telephone call in June, 1911. It was a call “to Los Angeles, for cattleman Banning Vail. The call took several days to arrange and cost Vail $25. ‘We first called Red Rock, then Casa Grande, then Yuma, then El Centro and so on to Los Angeles,’ Drown said in an interview with The Arizona Daily Star in 1958. ‘If we hit a busy line we would have to start all over again.’ She said it was difficult to hear the call because all along the line other operators were listening to make sure the call went through.” [Arizona Daily Star, 6/19/1986]
William Banning Vail Becomes Manager—1912
Banning Vail took over management of the Empire Ranch around 1912. He was 23 years old. In Los Angeles Banning had attended Throop Polytechnic Institute when the school’s mission was “to train Pasadena’s youth, from elementary school through college, for factory work in an industrial society.” The school “reinvented itself … as a pioneering science and engineering university, renamed the California Institute of Technology in 1920.”
Banning was captain of the Throop baseball team from 1907-1908 and was elected Representative-at-Large in the Throop student government in 1907. His daughter Dusty Vail noted:” I think that he had planned originally to spend more time in school than he did. But, you know, each one had to pull his own.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
By 1913 use of automobiles was becoming commonplace and travel between the Empire Ranch and Tucson had improved greatly. The Borderlands Highway was a regional route that connected El Paso to Los Angeles. A map published by the Arizona Good Roads Association in 1913, shows the route of the highway from Fort Huachuca to Tucson complete with gates and difficult terrain.
The highway was generally praised by motorists, except for the stretch near the Empire Ranch. Tourists who were advised “to take the Empire Ranch route from Vail, but now they say “never again” and that the mud holes on the Empire Ranch route were very bad. They were in one hole for three hours and clear out of the reach of help.”[Tombstone Epitaph 2/17/1918].
Banning and Laura Perry Marry–July 1913
On July 4, 1913 Banning Vail married Laura Perry. Laura was born on July 19, 1889 in Tucson. Her father, Washington Irving Perry, was a Tucson businessman. He owned and operated the Lexington Livery Stables 1883-1888, served as Mayor of Tucson, 1893-94, and ran a wholesale grocery business. Laura’s mother, Sarah (Sadie) was quite involved in the Tucson social scene.
Laura was educated at Sacred Heart Convent in Menlo Park, CA, attended the University of Arizona, and was a member of the Gamma Phi sorority. The Arizona Daily Star described her at “one of the leaders of the Younger Set in town.” Her daughter, Dusty Vail Ingram recalled: “Oh, Mother was terrible! She was engaged to three men at the same time. But she was really engaged to Dad! She was just a fascinating person, and she always was, until the day she died. She could tell a story better than anyone you’ve ever heard in your life. She never went anywhere that she didn’t have an adventure.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
Parties at the Empire Ranch—1914
Laura & Banning enjoyed entertaining at the ranch. In April Banning hosted “A wild west show with roping events and other stunts for a number of Tucson men.” [Arizona Daily Star 4/11/1914]. To celebrate their first wedding anniversary, they invited about 30 guests to a house party at the ranch. This became an annual tradition.
Dusty Vail Ingram describes the events: “They always had a big do at the ranch on the Fourth of July, because that was Mother and Dad’s anniversary. So they always had a big party generally, a big house party. And Dad would get all these fireworks and things down from San Francisco—boxes of fireworks. I remember one time he said, “Dusty, you want to come help me get things started?” And I said, “Sure!” So we went up to the blacksmith’s shop, and he took, I don’t know, seems he probably had three or four sticks of dynamite that he wrapped together, and he put this tremendously long fuse,… And first he had these steel plates that he put out, right across to the west of the house, some distance out from the house. And this tremendously long fuse, so that he lit the fuse, apparently when we went to dinner. And everyone was sitting there, they’d just finished dinner, and they were sort of having a cigarette and coffee, and all of a sudden, this thing went off, just ha-room! You’ve never heard such an explosion! Well, that was the signal to begin the fireworks. And then they shot off all these…. And it was just terrific.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
Laura Perry Vail Born–1914
Laura Perry Vail was born on December 2, 1914 in Tucson. Named after her mother, she was called Dusty. She related the origin of her nickname: : “Well, the story I heard was that dad said that for the first three days after I was born, every time he came in to look at me they were giving me something to drink. And he automatically said, ‘My she must have a dusty throat.’ He was thinking of driving cattle, you know. So the name stuck from then on. He and mother started calling me Dusty. That’s the way it happened.” [Dusty Vail by Glenda Bonin, 2001]
Banning Vail designed and built the South Barn This twenty by one-hundred-foot building was constructed by Banning Vail as a horse barn. The northernmost twelve feet were enclosed and was used to store windmill parts, pipefittings, fencing tools, axes for wood cutting, etc. This room had a plank floor supported by 2×8 joists resting on wood sill plates. The next 50 feet of the barn was left open along the sides and was primarily used for equipment and vehicle storage.
Dusty Vail recalled: “My father built that building. That was the last building I remember him building on the ranch. But that was where they kept, oh, the Fordson tractor, and the more modern trucks and stuff of that type. This end [south] was enclosed, and that’s where the big blacksmith shop was. And I remember they had big metal cutting shears there, and things of that type—you know the kind where you had a long handle, you could climb up and hold it down, pull it down, because it could cut through metal that thick.”
Around 1915 by Banning Vail designed and constructed several unique two-sided eleven by twelve-foot rectangular formed concrete tanks that were used for watering livestock in adjacent pastures/corrals. The side walls are six inches thick and are 2 feet above grade at their highest point.
Dusty Vail recalled: “Now you know those double troughs. One of the things that he [Banning] did that made a lot of sense was where he had water for the calves and cows. They’d have a steel rim around it, and it would only be about that high, so the water wouldn’t be any deeper than that. And then out about that far from the edge would be the pipe coming up with the fresh water. And it would extend about that far above the surface of the water, so that if you needed a drink of water, you could lean over and get some fresh water. And if a calf fell in that reservoir, he wouldn’t drown, because it wasn’t that deep. I remember them all around.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
The upper or shipping corrals are located in the northeast corner of the Empire Ranch Headquarters area. Dusty Vail Ingram noted: “Well, our father built that. He devised that whole system. And so what you’d do is, you’d stand up on the top of that chute, you see, and as you run the cattle through, then you could separate them very easily. Some you could put in this pen over here, some in that pen over there, depending on what you wanted to do. There were quite a few pens there, so that you could take care of a large number of cattle. And the fences had a little sort of walkway on top. There was a board about that wide on the top, so that you could walk around on the top of the fence and do things. And I remember a couple of years before we left , that they started dehorning. They’d never done dehorning before.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
Views of the upper/shipping corrals. ERF archives: A510-11b, c, d
Trout in Sabino Canyon—1916
A newspaper account incorrectly credited Banning for providing a supply of trout to stock Sabino River in Sabino Canyon. “… there is a good supply of the fish in the canyon at the present time that have been bred in from the supply placed in the stream by Banning Vail a stock man some time ago but not enough to supply the general demand.” [Tucson Citizen, 7/28/1916].
The stocking was actually done around 1901 by Edward Vail, who was Pima County Treasurer at the time, and E.O. Stratton, who ranched in the Catalina Mountains. The trout were “…taken by the two enthusiasts 20 miles in a days’ journey and tossed into the streams. They were taken in two ten-gallon pails. The trip was made by wagon to Sabino canyon, and the last 15 miles to Lebanon Mr. Stratton carried the precious cargo saddle-bag style.” [Arizona Daily Star, 1/24/1908].
William Banning Vail, Jr. born—1916
William Banning Vail, Jr., known as Bill, was born in Tucson on December 5, 1916. His sister Dusty recalls that: “he spent several months in Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles right after he was born …they thought it was some sort of digestive problem…” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993] Many years later the family realized that Laura Vail had Rh negative blood and her sons suffered from Rh incompatibility, a medical condition first reported in 1939.
Because of his illness Bill did not get as much training in ranch work as a child. But eventually he was able to work with his Dad.
Empire School Built–1916
The Empire School was established by Pima County in 1916 for children living in the southeastern area of the county. The one-room schoolhouse, with an attached adobe porch, was in the Empire Valley on a one-acre donated parcel of land, north of today’s Greaterville Rd. The school was closed in 1964, and the buildings demolished in 1974. The Empire School district still operates today as a transporting district.
The Vail children did not attend the Empire School but were sent to live with their grandparents in Tucson when they reached school age. Dusty regretted this arrangement as she wanted to be able to ride her horse to the Empire School.
Every rancher relies on his/her horse, and always remembers their favorite. Banning Vail was especially fond of Tortuga. His daughter Dusty recalls: “He just was an extremely good cutting horse and riding horse—a very good cutting horse. Dad raised extremely fine horses. What he did was, he always bred to a smart mare, and the way they broke them and handled them, people loved to try and get them for polo ponies. But now with my horse, Clown, Dad told me, “You ride that horse, and if you can stay on him, that’s fine. But you’ll know what’s going on just by watching him and sitting on him. Don’t be surprised if somebody borrows him when we’re cutting, because he’s such a good cutting horse.” He was just a wonderful horse. [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
Ranch dogs are ever present, but some are special. Dusty recalls: “Bo, as I say, was half pit bull and half Airedale, and he was trained to ride on the running board. That was the only place he could be, was on the running board, on Dad’s side of his car. And then what he’d do with that Dodge [roadster], it was so high off the ground, he could drive any place on the ranch there. And if he’d see a cow that he wanted to check, or a steer, or whatever it was, he’d sic Bo on it, and Bo would pull it down. And Dad could go up and check it, and then on they’d go. And then he decided that Bo needed some exercise, so he’d have him jump off the running board and run for a while. And that was great with Bo, until he got tired. Then he was smart. What he’d do would be to get in the road in front of the car and slow down, you see.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
During Dusty Vail’s time the Empire Ranch ran only Hereford cattle. She had fond memories of a special bull. “Jerry Bull was our pet, we just loved him. He was sweet and mild tempered, and he just wandered around. His nemesis was this other great big old bull that used to hook him and be real mean to him. So when the time of dehorning arrived, Jerry Bull didn’t have any horns, so he was O.K. But this other bull had to be dehorned, and I’m telling you, he was frightful! When they dehorned him, he went absolutely berserk. I mean, you talk about a mad bull, he was! And everybody stayed way up there out of the way. Well he finally got out of the corral up there, and he saw Jerry Bull in the distance, so he went after Jerry Bull. And it was wonderful! He took a swipe at him with his horns, and he didn’t have any horns! So Jerry Bull just butted him hard. He beat him up so that poor bull didn’t come in for water for three days. We loved that.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
World War I—1917-1918
As the United States was drawn into World War I, implementation of the Selective Service Act of 1917 required that all males aged 21 to 30 register for military service on June 5, 1917. Banning registered on that date and did not claim any exemptions from service on his application. In September he was ordered to report for service.
In February 1918 the Tucson Citizen reported: ‘Banning Vail manager of the Empire Ranch has been given a total exemption from service on the ground that be is the essential head of an agricultural industry necessary to the military establishment. Mr. Vail was called in the first draft, claimed exemption on industrial ground, and was given sixty days He appealed to the president who gave him until May 1st. When he filled out his questionnaire, he again filed an exemption claim on industrial grounds with the district board which allowed his claim giving him complete exemption on the grounds stated.”
Two of Banning’s brothers, Walter Jr. and Edward served in the Army in France.
Thomas Edward Vail Born– March 11, 1919
Thomas Edward Vail was born in Tucson on March 11, 1919. He was more affected by the Rh incompatibility issue than his older brother Bill, and Tom spent most of the first year of his life in Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. Once recovered he took up ranch life with his brother and sister, including horseback riding.
The 1920 U.S. Census reveals how farming had become a part of Empire Ranch operations. The farm was located along Cienega Creek, north of headquarters. Dusty recalls: “It was like a separate enterprise from the ranch proper. That was all agricultural. There was a farmer in charge down there. Because they could irrigate down there, they grew alfalfa mostly. I don’t remember their growing anything but alfalfa, to tell you the truth. They’d bale it every year, you know, and then take it on up and put it in the barn.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
At about age 6 Dusty had a horse-riding accident. She recalled: “I was leaning over to open this gate when my horse shied, and so my left foot went through the stirrup and he dragged me and finally kicked me loose. And then I had a big decision to make, what to do. So at first I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go up to Mr. Johnson,’ who was in the blacksmith shop. I had a case on him. …he was a wonderful man. So I decided I’d better go home, so I went on around…I went in the door into the middle room. And just when I hit the door, of course I knew I had help, so I just fell forward. Of course poor Mother nearly died when she looked up and saw this little bloody mess falling through the door. And it was maddening for her, because there wasn’t a single mode of conveyance at the ranch at that moment. Dad was down at the farm with his car. The truck was on a run to Sonoita or something. There wasn’t anything to go down and get my father, or to get me into Tucson. And she finally told Apache Joe to hitch up the chuck wagon! Well about that time the truck driver got back, so he went on down to the farm and let Dad know. And of course then they took me on into Tucson.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
The Tucson Open Air School—1922
Dusty Vail recalls: “Bill and I started school together. We attended the “Open Air School” which was held in the Hereford gardens. When the time came to go to school, we lived with our grandparents, and would spend vacations at the ranch. So mother became the visiting mother, you might say, when she came to Tucson. Nana was in charge in no uncertain terms. “ [Dusty Vail by Glenda Bonin, 2001]
The Tucson Open Air school was “located in the yard of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hereford. All classes are held out of doors throughout the year, the only time when the comfort of a house is sought being during rains or severe sand storms.” [Arizona Daily Star, 10/4/1925] The house was designed by famed Tucson architect, Henry C. Trost, still stands, and is located at 340 N. Main, Tucson.
Hoof & Mouth Disease—1924-1926
In February 1924 an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in several northern California counties led to strict quarantine actions to protect the Arizona beef industry. The quarantine did not just affect the transport of beef across the state border but all east bound vehicular traffic from California to Arizona was prohibited at first. This latter restriction was replaced by a disinfection requirement for auto and train passengers which lasted until July. The only way to control the disease at the time was to kill all affected animals. Hoof and mouth persisted in California until 1929 but Arizona was successful in preventing its spread in the state.
Dusty Vail recalled: “And there was another very difficult time, was when we were threatened with hoof and mouth disease. I remember seeing the pictures that were put out, of the cattle. But fortunately, they didn’t have any of it on the ranch, because if they had, they would have had to get rid of all the stock immediately.”
Cattle to Mexico—1924
In the 1920s Arizona experienced severe drought conditions. In 1924 the Empire Ranch sent cattle to Mexico. Banning Vail’s uncle, Edward Vail wrote: “Banning Vail has been fortunate in being able to lease a large ranch in Sonora, Mex. that has had very few cattle on it for several years and had more rain this year than most of the country. This ranch is called the Santa Barbara and is just south of the Empire along the American line. It contains 100,000 acres with the Buena Vista Ranch which adjoins it. I knew Señor Mascarenas quite well in the early 1890s and have been on his ranch several times. Banning is only driving cows down there and leaving the big calves and steers at the Empire.” [Letter from Edward Vail to Charles Scribner, 12/10/1924].
B. Brown recently visited the Empire ranch and inspected 55 acres of alfalfa that was planted last fall. This alfalfa is of the Peruvian variety. It is doing splendidly exceeding the expectations of both the county agent and Manager Jones of the farm the stand is almost perfect. Because of the drouth It has been found necessary to pasture the young alfalfa some during the winter but this has not injured it. The alfalfa is irrigated ample water being provided from a small stream which flow through the farm of this extensive cattle ranch in the Greaterville section. A shortage of grass made it necessary for the Empire ranch to drive 4994 head of cattle into Mexico to better pasture. [Tucson Citizen, 2/18/1925]
“The establishment of civilian polo here has already encouraged interest among the ranchmen of the district according to Captain Roy C Woodruff of the University R.O.T.C. J C Kinney who heads the La Osa Cattle company, Banning Vail manager of the Vail ranching interests, and General L H Manning whose celebrated Canoa ranch has already come into wide prominence through the breeding of purebred Herefords have applied to the government remount for thoroughbred stallions in order to raise a quality of horses that would prove adaptable for polo playing.
In addition, Banning Vail now has a large number of two-year-old colts in the pastures of the Empire ranch which within the next two year will develop into acceptable polo horses. There are about 20 or more of these colts which were bred by the Vail stallion a horse of strong thoroughbred blood. From an economic standpoint the breeding of polo horses in this section will be a factor of importance in ridding the range of scrub horse stock.” [Tucson Citizen, 4/22/1925]
Roundup of Wild/Stray Horses—1925
As the drought intensified, steps were taken to control the number of wild horses in the area. “The roundup of wild horses and strays from the Rosemont range reserve and the Empire ranch district of the Santa Rita mountains netted 110 head Ranger Lyle B. Smith, in charge of the district said yesterday while in the city. The horses, which were becoming a nuisance on the range were gathered by the ranger aided by some of the cattlemen of the area after those which were exempt under the regulations of the forest service were returned to their owners, the remainder were humanely destroyed. The roundup clears the range in that district of all stray stock, Smith said, and the rangers and the cattlemen believe that it can be kept so. The stray horses which cannot be used for any purpose, use a large amount of feed which Is needed for the cattle, and for that reason both foresters and cattlemen are anxious to keep the number down.” [Arizona Daily Star, 8/6/1925]
Dusty Vail recalled that difficult time and the source of the wild horses: The dry farmers and other people who had horses they didn’t want to shoot or get rid of, but they were too tired and too worn out, or they just didn’t want them anymore, they’d turn them out on the ranch. And that was alright. Of course then they bred prolifically. And that was alright until the time of the great drought. Dad had all these horses rounded up, because every blade of grass counted. And you had to move everything off that you possibly could. And then for two or three whole days, Dad stood up there in that big corral, shooting one horse after another. And he did it himself, because he wanted to be sure that it was done as painlessly as possible. He wanted to assume the responsibility for it.” [Dusty Vail Ingram oral history, 1993]
Will Rogers Visits the Empire Ranch and Nogales–1927
In March 1927 Will Rogers, who was in Tucson, visited the Empire Ranch on his way to Nogales. Banning Vail and Ed Echols, “an old cowpuncher friend,” were his escorts. [Arizona Daily Star, 3/20/1927] Will Rogers was a good friend of Banning’s younger brother, Edward Newhall Vail. They played polo together in California.
Will Rogers to Film on the Empire or Rail X Ranches—July 1927
An article in the Arizona Daily Star noted that Will Rogers was planning to use locations on either the Empire Ranch or the Rail X ranch as locations for his new movie, “A Texas Steer.” [Arizona Daily Star, 7/24/1927]. Subsequent articles mentioned it was filmed in the Patagonia area, probably on the Rail X. A Texas Steer was Will Rogers’ last silent movie.
Empire Ranch to be Sold—January 1928
On January 19, 1928 Banning Vail and his brother Russell visited Frederic Winn, Forest Supervisor, at his Tucson office. They informed Mr. Winn that “…they have a deal on with Mr. Henry G. Boice of the Chiricahua Ranches Company of Phoenix, AZ, under the terms of which the Chiricahua Ranches Company are to take over all ranch property both on and off the Forest of the Vail Company and Vail and Ashburn.” [Memorandum for the District Forester from Frederic Winn, 1/23/1928]
The purpose of the visit was to determine if the 1,200 maximum grazing limit on the Coronado National Forest would be sustained after the purchase of the property.
“Rancher Banning Vail, of the Empire ranch, and well known in Tucson, is at the St. Mary’s hospital suffering from several broken ribs, a badly injured left hand and other body bruises as a result of the turning over of his automobile, on the Patagonia highway north of Sonoita.” [Arizona Daily Star, 6/16/1928]
Dusty recounted: “I think that he never really fully recovered from the accident that he’d had. It had been such a severe shock all the way through, and he suffered such pain and agony in his…he’d had all the flesh stripped off of his left palm and with getting that and all the broken bones back in shape again and with all the grafting and everything else that he went through, I don’t think that he ever really recovered from that…[Dusty Vail oral history, 1987]
Sale of the Empire Ranch Finalized—August 1929
On August 19, 1929 the Empire Land and Cattle Company Board of Directors held a special meeting to convey the lands of the Empire Ranch and other Vail Company properties to the Chiricahua Ranches Company. The contract was signed by Margaret Vail, N.R. Vail, Mary Vail Wilkinson, William Banning Vail, and Mahlon Vail. The CRC was represented by Henry G. Boice and Frank S. Boice. The ranch livestock was not included in the sale.
Banning Vail Joins the Family in Los Angeles—1929
After arranging for the shipping of all Empire Ranch cattle to California Banning left the Empire Ranch in 1929 and moved to Los Angeles. He continued to work for the various Vail Company California ranches until his death at the young age of 46 in 1936.
Laura and the children had relocated to Los Angeles in 1927. Dusty’s reaction to the sale of the ranch was: “I guess disbelief more than anything else. I just couldn’t understand why … why it would be sold or anything and never did have a real answer to it. I presume it was that it was economically the best thing to concentrate everything in California. I don’t know.” [Dusty Vail oral history, 1987]. Laura, Dusty, Bill and Tom remained in Los Angeles after Banning’s death.