DEL RIO SPRINGS, Ariz. — On a warm January day 150 years after the first governor's party arrived at Del Rio Springs to run the new Territory of Arizona, history came to life there again.
Families who had lived on the Del Rio Ranch throughout the years joined history buffs to celebrate the governor's arrival at the same spot on Jan. 22, 1864. The event organized by the Chino Valley Historical Society quickly reached its capacity of 150 people and some had to be turned away for lack of parking.
Attendees included government dignitaries and descendants of the Shivers family that owned part of the ranch in the 1800s.
"Of all the springs, creeks and rivers in Arizona, the governor's party chose Del Rio Springs," Chino Valley Mayor Chris Marley said. "I think that's pretty neat."
The current ranch owners were unable to attend, but they did pay for the Circle J Chuckwagon Outfitters from Chino Valley to provide a free chuckwagon lunch for everyone.
The Prescott Regulators re-enacted Gov. John Goodwin's arrival with an 18-gun salute, while John Krizek and Jay Eby of the Westerners International described Del Rio's storied history.
"We need to save it for our children so they remember," Yavapai County Supervisor Craig Brown said.
Despite just leaving the hospital a few days earlier, 87-year-old Mary Converse Hardin was not about to miss the party. "This is kind of healing for me," she beamed as she chatted with her childhood friend and neighbor Betty Wells. Hardin was born at Del Rio in 1927 and lived there until 1945. That's the last time she saw Wells, and she's returned to visit the ranch only once before. She now lives in Cottonwood, while Wells has continued to ranch on her parents' place all her life.
"We'd ride down on the river and have and have a weenie roast," Hardin recalled.
But most of the time, the kids were busy with chores, Wells said.
There was no better place to grow up, Hardin said.
Robbi Yarbro Larson of Paulden couldn't agree more. She grew up on the Del Rio from 1961 to 1976.
"Mainly, we just rode and worked cattle," she said. "I've ridden all over these hills."
During play time they were luckiest kids in the arid region with their own swimming ponds filled by the
plentiful Del Rio Springs. They could even ride a rowboat along a canal from one pond to the other.
Larson remembers when the oldest building on the ranch burned down in 1969, just about the same time a new ranch hand and his family moved in. There was some kind of kitchen fire that ignited the wood ceiling, she recalled. The adobe had dated back to at least 1864.
"It was a sad deal," she said. "It would really be something to have it standing now."
The remains of the adobe walls stood for several years until subsequent owners apparently leveled the area. Several others still stand from the ranch's Fred Harvey era.
The main entrance to the ranch once was lined with black walnut trees, Larson recalled. But like many other trees on the ranch, most of the walnuts are gone as the groundwater level has dramatically dropped.
Chris Wuehrmann of Prescott, a Del Rio tenant in 1976-79 who went on to run the popular Elderhostel program at Yavapai College, noticed how many trees had died since he lived there.
Every fall in the '70s when the farmers in the area stopped pumping groundwater for their crops, the Del Rio field filled up with water, he said.
"The field would be all covered with Canada geese" that stayed for the winter, he said.
James Bond, now 93 and living in Phoenix, owned the ranch from 1978 to 2004.
"I wanted it ever since I was 16 years old, but I didn't think I'd own it," Bond said of the ranch while enjoying his chuckwagon meal. He remembers driving by it on childhood trips from Flagstaff to Phoenix.
"I thought it was the most beautiful place," he said. "It was always so pretty and green."
The ranch had lakes and five artesian wells when James Bond purchased it, his son Richard recalled, but they all were gone by the time he sold the place.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources estimates the Del Rio Springs will be dry by 2025 because of groundwater pumping.