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Friday, July 6, 2018

The Englishman’s Ranch in Arizona

Good afternoon to one and all! My name is Sally Britton and this is my first post on the blog! Yay! I'm really excited to be here with everyone, to share my research and talk about history.

While the Regency era is my first and greatest writing love, I’m gearing up for a series set entirely in the American West, specifically in the mining regions of Southern Arizona. I’m uniquely placed for researching the most amazing old towns, from Fort Huachuca with its history of the Buffalo Soldiers to Tombstone, made famous by a disagreement that wound up leading to that infamous gunfight.


As I’ve been studying Arizona history, one ranch has stood out again and again in the history books. The Empire Ranch, founded in the 1870’s by an Englishman and a Canadian who really had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Talk about a fish out of water story! We love the Old West, but how often do we think about Englishmen trying to take it on?





Herbert R. Hislop (now there’s a name for you) came to North America with one goal: to create a cattle empire. He wasn’t a rancher, he had no experience with cattle, but he was a young man with ambition and America was the land of opportunity, even for Englishmen.


Herbert took the rails out to California, then came back down to Tucson, which isn’t much to look at today but back then was even less impressive. There was one dirt road, with adobe houses lining either side of it. But Herbert and his partner were not daunted and they started riding around looking for land.


He got pretty discouraged at what the desert had to offer. In a letter home, he wrote, “I would sooner have Thames water at London Bridge than the finest water here.”


An excerpt from his letters: “Rested and just looked round the town for horses to buy, but did not succeed. Had more offers of ranches, it is astonishing how quickly one’s business is known in a small place like this. Everybody has the best to sell. It is quite amusing to hear them talk and hear them contradict each other, running down each other as thieves and rascals, but we have our money and intend to keep it unless we get a place suited to our requirements and on reasonable terms.”


But then, in a little piece of undiscovered paradise, Herbert found the perfect land. It had protective mountains around it, was at a higher elevation and stayed cooler morning and night, and beautiful green grass that stretched as far as the eye could see. They bought up the ranch and then some cattle, and Herbert was suddenly learning the business first hand.


Walter Vail, from Canada, wrote about his partner: “I think it is just beginning to dawn on Hislop what roughing it means but I am in hopes he will not give in if he should it would place me in an awkward position.”


This was the age of rustlers, of the western forts springing up, of the calvary riding across the desert after ne’er-do-wells! And Herbert was in the thick of things. He started a tradition at the ranch that held on for many generations, and kept him and those who came after out of harm’s way. The very first time Herbert had a gang of men ride in on one of his camps, instead of bristling up and getting defensive, he invited them all to dine with him. With his good English manners, Herbert charmed the group of men, fed them bread he’d baked himself, and they parted as friends. Later he learned he’d entertained one of the meanest group of rustlers around.


Herbert fed everyone, because his mother had taught him to be hospitable. Whether it was the Native Americans, Mexican vaqueros, or another rancher, they were treated to the best he had to offer. Because of that, the Empire was often spared when one group or another conducted raids.




What survives of Herbert’s experience is a wonderful wealth of letters he wrote back home to England. Those letters are a goldmine of information for researchers, a first-hand source of what life was like before the West was tamed. From adobe brick making to Decoration Day celebrations, Herbert recorded it all for his family living far from Arizona’s monsoon season and rattlesnakes.


Unfortunately, family business called Herbert home and he sold out to his partners. But with the fine start he helped them achieve, the Empire Ranch was founded and remains to this day a working ranch. I went out and toured the beautiful area, seeing the original house where Herbert lived with bats in his bedroom. And for decades after Herbert left, locals continued to call the Empire, “The English Boys’ Outfit.”






Until I can sink my teeth into these beautiful Arizona stories, I’m enjoying getting my Regency Romance series published. My latest novel, His Bluestocking Bride, spent a lot of time as a #1 New Release and Bestseller on Amazon.


It’s a story of a marriage of convenience that becomes so much more. But just you wait. My Arizona stories are a-comin’!

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