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"

(Hughes xi).

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