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The Hashknife Outfit
Section 1: Introduction
When the Aztec Cattle Company ("The Hashknife Outfit") first got to northeast
Arizona, they found knee-high grass as far as they could see. They moved cattle from
Texas to Arizona and just kept bringing in more and more. They ran those cattle on
about 2 million acres of land between Flagstaff and New Mexico. The cattle grazed the
grass off and the drought that had already started kept more grass from growing in.
There was already very little water, so the cattle started dying off by the thousands.
Country that used to look like an ocean of grass turned into a dried out, wind
blasted desert. During this same time, the railroads were being put in across the country
and cattle were starting to be shipped on trains. (This meant higher transportation costs
when cattle prices were starting to go down.)
Some of the worst parts of Arizona's history was caused by the Hashknife Outfit
and its cutthroat hired help. Mormon settlers were harassed, robbed, and run out of the
country. Cattle were stolen from the settlers and other ranches. But the worst problems
from the Hashknife cowboys was had by the sheepmen and the towns people. Towns like
Holbrook were the scenes of killing, drinking, whoring, and troublemaking. The
sheepmen were harassed, their sheep killed, and sometimes got themselves killed.
Section 2: The Search
The Hashknife Outfit pioneered large-scale cattle ranching in Arizona; but their
overgrazing scarred the land, drought and hard winters killed the cattle, and their
criminal behavior made its mark on Arizona's history.
The "Hashknife brand resembled a cooking utensil used by chuckwagon cooks to
chop up meat and potatoes for hash. The brand was owned by the Aztec Land and Cattle
Company and was used to brand thousands of cattle. Many cattle ranches came to be
known by their brands instead of by their company names because it was easier for
people to remember--that's why the Aztec Land and Cattle Company was called the
"Hashknife Outfit".(my mom--Arizona family verbal tradition)
"The Hashknife Outfit was established in northern Arizona in 1884. A
shareholder in the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad persuaded a group of Eastern investors to
purchase a million acres of grazing land offered for sale by the railroad. The new ranch,
called the 'Aztec Land and Cattle Company', brought in 33,000 head of Texas Longhorn
Cattle, a large remuda (herd of saddle broke horses) of horses, and the Hashknife brand"
When the stockholders of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company were first meeting
to form the company, cattle prices were already headed downward. Many people in the
cattle business already felt that most grazing ranges were overstocked. During this same
time, the railroads were making their way across the country, and cattle were beginning
to be shipped by train. This meant faster transportation of the cattle, but was very
expensive, (it also meant the cattle reached the feedyards in much poorer condition), and
cattle prices were getting weaker. The investors in the Aztec Land and Cattle Company
didn't realize that their investment in cattle ranching was on shaky ground before they
ever started. They just went on ahead and bought alternating sections (the railroad
owned every other section in Arizona) of land clear across northern Arizona from the
New Mexico border to Flagstaff (Carlock n.p.; & family verbal tradition).
When the Hashknife Outfit first got to Arizona, they found knee-high grass as
clear across the Colorado Plateau as far as they could see. It's impossible to believe that
now, but back then it was like a prairie. They brought in more and more and more cattle
until they had about 2 million head. The cattle grazed the grass off and the drought that
had already started kept the grass from ever growing back (Trimble 15).
By 1892 and 1893, there was hardly any grass left and almost no water. A
Mormon historian, Joseph Fish, (LDS Family History Center, Joseph City, Arizona) said
that the cattle all around them were dying by the thousands. Land that had first looked
like an ocean of grass was looking like a dry, wind blasted desert. In the winters the
cattle starved to death and died of thirst because there was more snow than usual (the
snow froze and crusted over so the cattle couldn't find any feed). In that area, the wind
never stops blowing, so what moisture could have come from the snow to grow grass just
blew away (my mom--Arizona family verbal tradition).
Most of the other ranchers were already selling out and moving
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Aztec Land Cattle Company, Sheep Wars, Cowboys, American folklore, American Old West, Pleasant Valley War, Perry Owens, Cattle, Ranch, American frontier, Holbrook, Arizona
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