The Carters of Walnut Grove and the Necktie Ranch

by Linda Ludington

The Necktie Ranch is one of Arizona’s oldest ranches, containing within its holdings the original homestead of the area’s first citizen, Paulino Weaver. Weaver registered 160 acres on the Hassayampa River at a point known as Walnut Grove in July 1863. Several ancient walnut trees still survive along the river among the willows, mesquite and cottonwoods. Where Weaver once planted vegetables and produced sorghum sugar for the U.S. Cavalry, there are now fields of alfalfa.

Weaver sold his ranch around 1865. Several owners followed in quick succession. On September 29, 1881, William Pierce, Sr., purchased the Walnut Grove Ranch. His cattle carried the WP brand. The Pierce home, known for its western hospitality, was on the stage road between Prescott and Phoenix. In that same house, now greatly enlarged and modernized, live William Pierce’s great-great-grandson, Arden Carter, and his wife Ruth.

Soon after Pierce and his son, William Jr., had settled in Walnut Grove, Thomas Carter established his homestead just to the south, where Milk Creek flows into the Hassayampa. The Carters had arrived in Yavapai County several years earlier. Thomas Carter had registered the Box brand on June 6, 1876, making it one of Arizona’s oldest. His two sons, Grant and James, registered their Necktie brand in July, 1884. James, known as J.O., married Clara Pierce, the granddaughter of William Pierce, Sr. A few years later, he bought the Walnut Grove Ranch and added it to the Carter homestead. These combined holdings, with some other parcels and a Forest Service allotment, comprise the present Necktie Ranch.

The Necktie has always been a traditional cattle operation. Back when cattle were sold by the head, large roundup crews spent days gathering the stock off the open range. The cattle to be sold were then trailed two days north to the Kirkland shipping corrals to be loaded onto boxcars. Arden Carter, who began riding at the age of six, remembers those roundups: eating a hearty breakfast before daylight; riding two hours before reaching any cattle; being instructed to "hold herd" while the crew rounded up more stock; having no food or water all day until returning to the ranch well after dark. In 1935 the Necktie Ranch installed the first stock scales in the area. Buyers came to the ranch, where the calves were weighed and sold by the pound. Trucks hauled them to feed lots. Necktie calves are now trucked to the Prescott Livestock Auction. Selling methods have changed, but roundups are still much the same. Arden does concede that now when the crew rides out, it will be met at noon by the ranch pickup with coolers full of grub and water packed by Ruth.

Carter cowboys have always branded on the open range, which has made them expert steer ropers. Between 1913 and 1940, when the Prescott Fourth of July Rodeo was still contested by local working cowboys, the Necktie cowboys won many prizes in steer roping. J.O. Carter took first place in 1901, 1904, and 1905. The Carters also enjoyed success in the cowhorse racing events. Arden’s father, Cort, won those races six times between 1927 and 1940. In the early days a wrangler trailed the Carter horses the 35 or more miles up the Hassayampa River through open country to the White Spar and down to the Prescott Fairgrounds. Six Carter women reigned as rodeo queens. The rodeo meant an entire week in town for the Carters – a vacation greatly anticipated every year.

Recreation on the ranch consisted of hunting the plentiful game, roping in local contests, and swimming in the shallow summer streams. The most exciting diversion for the Carters, and for the ranching community for miles around, was the country dances-and J.O. Carter was often the fiddler. These lively soirees were held in ranch homes, at the Walnut School, and at Kirkland Women’s Club. A favorite Carter family story, retold with much amusement, recalls one late night when J.O. Carter, used to early-to-bed and early-to-rise hours, fell fast asleep while playing the fiddle! He prized his fiddle and always kept it high on a shelf above curious grandchildren’s reach. Years later that treasured fiddle was donated to the Sharlot Hall Museum.

Arden Carter’s son, Tripp, now oversees most of the daily ranch operations. Crossbred cattle have replaced Polled Herefords, the crooked stage road over which Arden’s uncle, Walter Pierce, delivered mail in his Model T Ford has been improved and a bridge spans the Hassayampa, tractors have replaced horse-drawn hay mowers, and teachers no longer board with the ranch families. Tripp’s son, Travis, is the seventh generation Pierce and the sixth generation Carter to call Walnut Grove home. In spite of changes over the years, the traditional ranch life survives on the Necktie Ranch.

(Ludington is an active member of the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering Planning Committee at the Sharlot Hall Museum. This year’s gathering will take place August 17-19.)

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(pb133f1i5). Reuse only by permission.

Frequent cowhorse race champion between 1927 and 1940, Cort Carter sits on the Arizona Champion Working Horse "Canyon Tony" in 1956 with Johnny Hagt. The Necktie Ranch in the Walnut Grove area has been home to the Carter family since around 1880.

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