Visitors to the ranch often use the Circle Z Mountain, looming up behind the corrales, as a landmark while riding the trails. But older maps and topographical surveys refer to it as “Sanford Butte,” a name it was given when Arizona was still a Territory.
A portrait of Don Alonso Sanford from 1878
The butte was originally named for the Sanford brothers, Don Alonzo and Denton, who first homesteaded in the area along the Sonoita Creek in the late 1870s. The brothers had come the Arizona territory from their native New York to make their fortune in cattle ranching. They established what would come to be known as The Stock Valley Ranch, 45 miles east of Tucson.
Denton established the “Sanford Ranch” on the Sonoita Creek in the 1870s. (Riders at the Circle Z can still see remnants of the original adobe ranch buildings on the hill above the corrales.) But his brother “Don” Sanford, as he was known, had other plans for the land near Patagonia. In 1881 he acquired 13,000 head of sheep a bargain price and set out to increase his growing fortune.
Sanford was drawn to sheep ranching for it’s economic potential: sheep were much scarcer than cattle, and had the potential to draw much higher prices. However, this endeavor was not popular with the nearby cattle ranchers. John Cady, who served as Sanford’s manager in the 1880’s, writes in his memoir:
If There was one man whom cattlemen hated with a fierce, unreasoning hatred, it was the man who ran sheep over the open range—a proceeding perfectly legal, but one which threatened the grazing of the cattle inasmuch as where sheep had grazed it was impossible for cattle to feed for some weeks, or until the grass had had time to grow again. Sheep crop almost to the ground and feed in great herds, close together, and the range after a herd of sheep has passed over it looks as if somebody had gone over it with a lawnmower.
Cady goes on to relate more than a few “annoyances” that ensued as a result of Don Sanford’s venture: “Sheep were found dead, stock was driven off, my ranch hands were shot at, and several times I myself narrowly escaped death at the hands of the enraged cattlemen.” Whew!
Cady’s sheep camp on the Sonoita Creek, built 1884 (photo taken 1915)
Folks were made of stern stuff back then, and despite the hardships Cady stuck with it for the next three years. In 1884 Sanford was able to sell the herd at a $17,000 profit (which would be well over $400,000 in today’s dollars—not a bad profit, but perhaps not worth getting shot for!).
Sanford Butte on a topographical map, showing the Circle Z Ranch
Shortly after that, Denton Sanford died and his brother Don moved his family back east and lived in Washington, DC for the remainder of his life, pursuing various business interests. Despite this, Don Alonso Sanford stayed connected to southern Arizona, returning often until his death in 1915. The ranch stayed in the Sanford family until 1925, when the 5,000-acre spread was sold to the Zinmeisters, who converted the property into the Circle Z (and Sanford Butte acquired the new name “Circle Z Mountain”!).
More information can be found at the Don Alonso Sanford Collection at the Special Collections of the University of Arizona Library in Tuscon. The collection, donated by descendents of Don Sanford in 2011, contains documents and photographs that offer a detailed look at daily life in the Territory of Arizona.