Ranching in Old Mexico
By Amy Pratt Romney
About two years after my father, Helaman Pratt, and his families had moved to Old Mexico, he purchased a ranch about thirty miles up the Pierdas Verdes River. The ranch was in the Sierra Madres Mountain, south and west of Colonia Juarez. He stocked the ranch with milk cows. It was a beautiful ranch with rivers and creeks meandering through. The mountains rose in some places almost perpendicularly from the riverbed. It was rightly named Cliff Ranch. Several thousand acres of timberland were also excellent for grazing and certain portions of it along the streams were fertile enough for the production of corn, squash, other vegetables and small grains. Deer and wild turkey were very plentiful and supplied meat for the table. Lion, bear, wolves and rattlesnakes were there in numbers, too, and often caused a great deal of excitement and sometimes danger.
Helaman Pratt, deciding that the ranch was more than he needed, invited Miles P. Romney and his families to join him. This afforded companionship for himself and families as both men had been blessed with many children. School, church and social could now be enjoyed. The homes, five of them were built of log, lumber and stone. The water for each home came from individual springs of icy cold water which were hauled in and when necessary used as refrigerators for milk, cream and butter. About a mile up Spring Creek, the valley terminated at the mouth of a beautiful canyon, the slopes of which were covered with pine trees, shrubs and beautiful wild flowers. On the banks of the stream coming down the canyon were myriad of wild flowers of every shape and hue and little dells and glades provided wonderful picnic grounds. Just at the mouth of the canyon was a large pool used for bathing by the young people; always accompanied by some of the elders to protect them from the wild animals.
Sunday afternoon and special holidays also afforded the young people time for strolling, hiking among the pines and cliffs and climbing the highest peaks where they often found evidence of ancient tribes who dwelt in the caves and crevices of the rocks. There were two adjoining ranches, Williams’ Ranch, two miles away, the Cave Valley Ranch, four miles distant. At cave Valley there was a huge cave partitioned into rooms. At the entrance of the cave was a hug Olla about twelve feet in diameter. This place was a place of interest, speculation and inspiration for the imagination as to the former inhabitants. For the spiritual and educational well being the families, school, Sunday school and Primary were established. Social activities were also enjoyed at the adjoining ranches. Thee industries of the ranch consisted of farming, cattle raising and manufacturing. The Pratt’s special occupation was that of cheese making which product they hauled in horse-drawn wagons three hundred miles to the market in Chihuahua City. A prize possession of the family is a certificate from the President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, bearing his signature, saying that Helaman Pratt’s cheese (or Cass) was the best made in the Republic of Mexico. Father got the certificate and gold medals – mother did the work.
The chief industry of the Romney family was that of converting timber into bedsteads, chairs, tables, etc. The cooperation and resourcefulness of the families were evidenced, not only in taking care of little ailments, accidents, sickness incident to all family life, but the babies were successfully delivered by loving, helping hands without medical assistance. I was one of the helpers.
A thrilling take of ranch life is typified in the following story:
One night father was aroused about midnight by the bellowing of cattle and the howling of wolves. He rushed to an open space near the creek and saw proof of animal instinct to protect its young. The cows had formed a ring, horns out, and the calves, horses and small colts were inside the ring. The phalanx of formidable horns had kept the wolves at bay.
In the spring of 1891, the Pratt and Romney families moved from the ranch to the lower valley. The Thompson family rented the ranch. The Pratts continued to run cattle and manufacture cheese for many years. Many happy summer vacations were enjoyed there. Legally, the ranch still belongs to the family, but at the time of the exodus in 1912, Mexican squatters settled upon it. The danger of trying to remove these intruders was too hazardous, so the beautiful Cliff Ranch, even though legally ours, has gone by default.