Gray Family

by Shaun Brower

Among all the ranching families that settled in the early 1900s in what is now southern Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Gray Family was one of the most controversial.  The family patriarch, Robert Louis Gray, was born in Arkansas in 1875 and later moved to Texas where he learned ranching.  In 1919 Robert Gray purchased what is now known as Dos Lomitas Ranch from Lonald Blankenship for five thousand dollars and set out to establish a successful cattle ranching business. [1]

In the 1920s and 1930s the Grays expanded their cattle operation through the acquisition of neighboring property and at one point owned nearly every well and ranch within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument area.  The Grays grazed their cattle on both sides of the United States/Mexico border and established various wells and line camps across the Organ Pipe region, including sites at Blankenship, Gachado, Alamo, Pozo, Nuevo, Bonita, and Bates.[2]  By the 1950s the Grays had successfully built a ranching empire that dominated the lands of Organ Pipe and included a total of some fifteen separate ranches and more than fifteen hundred head of cattle.

The last cattle being removed from Organ Pipe.

The expansion of the Gray family’s estate did not come without consequences, however, as the excessive overgrazing in the region decimated much of the sparse desert vegetation and left the ground barren.  Further controversy surrounded the Grays estate in the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the unique desert ecology of the region and declared Organ Pipe a national monument.[3]  Nevertheless, the Gray family wielded considerable political clout in the region and in 1939 was able to obtain special permits from the National Park Service to continue ranching within park boundaries.[4]  Despite continued pressure from the federal government and threats of lawsuits, the Gray family continued the ranching tradition in Organ Pipe until Bobby Gray – the last remaining Gray brother – passed away in 1976.   Although all the cattle were finally removed from the park in 1975, by this time the devastating effects of grazing had already significantly changed the landscape of the monument.  Cattle had trampled and overgrazed the vegetation causing erosion, which drastically upset the region’s fragile ecology. Furthermore, a 1970 survey conducted by the Bureau of Land Management found severe and widespread damage to a number of plants including, desert saltbush, paloverde trees, and perennial grasses.[5] The declaration of the monument as a wilderness area in 1977 by Congress officially barred any future ranching or mining in the area and permitted the desert to finally begin the process of healing itself after nearly six decades of ranching and grazing.[6]

Further Reading

Broyles, Bill, and George H.H. Huey. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Where Edges Meet. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1996.

Bennett, Peter S.  A History of the Quitobaquito Resource Management Area, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. Tuscon: Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit, School of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Arizona, 1989.

[1] Carol Ann Bassett, Organ Pipe: Life On the Edge (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004), 29.

[2] “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Ranching History (U.S. National Park Service),” U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America, (accessed February 14, 2012).

[3] Bassett, Organ Pipe, 31.

[4] “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Important Dates (U.S. National Park Service),” U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America. (accessed February 14, 2012).

[5] Susan Rutman, “Dirt Is Not Cheap: Livestock Grazing and a Legacy of Accelerated Soil Erosion On Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona” 1997), 364, (accessed April 30, 2012).

[6] “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Important Dates (U.S. National Park Service)” U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America.