The Maria Francisca Ranch has a colorful and interesting history.  The geographic area of southeastern Arizona where the ranch sits, to the west of the Huachuca Mountains, was once the reservation of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.  In fact, this area was part of Cochise’s stomping grounds when it belonged to the Apache tribe.  Turkey Creek, which runs through the Maria Francisca Ranch, is above ground almost year-round where it crosses State Route 83 in the Canelo settlement.  Members of the Apache tribe, including Cochise, are said to have watered their horses in this stretch of Turkey Creek.  Native American artifacts have been located at one site on the ranch, which is believed to have been an Apache settlement.  

The fruit from the many oak trees which populate the ranch is called the piñon nut.  It was a staple of the Apaches’ diet with many uses.  It is still coveted by members of the San Carlos Apache tribe who, to this day, travel to the area to gather the piñon nuts from the ground.

Originally, the ranch consisted of 160 acres which were homesteaded by the Sotelo family.  The family built a four-room adobe ranch house which is still part of the main ranch house.  One of the early owners of the ranch, after the Sotelo family, was Marjorie Colt, an heiress of the Colt firearms family.  She married Jack Van Ryder, who was one of the most colorful American artists of the 20th century.1   During his eclectic and adventurous life, he was a cowboy, painter, illustrator, map maker, soldier (and deserter), rancher, and Hollywood set designer.

In order to give Van Ryder space for his painting, Marjorie had one of her neighbors, Alex Gonzales, along with Gonzales’s father, construct an adobe addition to the home which included Van Ryder’s studio.  All of the extensive woodwork, including the beams, was harvested from the oak trees surrounding the property.  The design of the addition is unique containing many arches, each with a different shape.   One of Van Ryder’s copper etching plates is a permanent part of his “studio” which now serves as a den for the current owners of the ranch.  A Van Ryder cowboy drawing hangs in a hallway, and two plaster reliefs made by Marjorie Colt are also a permanent part of the studio.

Van Ryder was born in 1899 on a goat ranch outside of Tucson, Arizona.  He hopped a train when he was 13 years old to leave home and never looked back.  His artworks have been exhibited in some of the major art galleries in the country.

Joel Brecheen, a tennis pro, and his family built two duplex casitas and two tennis courts on the property, and ran the ranch as “The Boot and Racquet Ranch.”  Local legend has it that the ranch entertained some of Hollywood’s biggest stars such as Bing Crosby and his cronies.  The guests rode horses, played tennis, and reveled in the tranquility and beauty of the property.

The Brecheens’ niece is Temple Grandin who, despite her autism, obtained a Ph.D. in animal sciences and is now an autism activist, a professor at Colorado State University, a best selling author, and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.2   She invented the “hug machine,” which is a pressure device designed to calm hypersensitive people, usually those with autism spectrum disorders.  According to the made-for-TV movie of her life, after she witnessed a neighbor’s cattle become tranquil after being placed in squeeze chutes, she got the idea that the same mechanism might give relief to those with autism.  At the time, she was living with her aunt and uncle at the Maria Francisca Ranch.

The Guerrero family purchased the ranch from heirs of the Eli Lilly family in 2000 and have made extensive improvements to all of the structures.  These consist of the main two bedroom, three bathroom main house, a small guesthouse, tool room with attached office, a duplex casita, a two bedroom, two bath guest house, separate art studio, and a barn.

The Maria Francisca Ranch is a unique, historical property.  The main ranch house, with its massive fireplace constructed of rock and timber from the surrounding land, is a reminder of frontier home construction when fireplaces had to heat the home and not simply provide atmosphere.

[1] See, for example, http://www.jackvanryderpaintings.com; http://www.medicinemangallery.com/bio/jackvanryder.lasso
[2] http://templegrandin.com/