Homesteaded by George Stevens and his Apache bride in 1878, under the Desert Lands Act, the Double Circle Ranch was once one of the largest cattle ranches in the southwest. It’s place between Willow and Eagle creeks at 4,800′ made it a coveted place by not only the ancient pueblo Indians, but by the then marauding Apaches, the most notorious being Geronimo, who even tried to bargain with General George Crook for the site. The early ranch was right in the path of Geronimo’s many treks from the reservation back to Mexico. On two of these treks, multiple ranch hands lay dead, a few even still lie in their graves in the cemetery at the southwest end of the runway.
The ranch saw its hay days from around 1900 to 1936, under Kansas City cattlemen, and the Abner T. Wilson family management. The Double Circle would be the second largest employer in Green Lee County, maintain a commissary where many folks living in the Eagle Creek valley would get their supplies. With the San Carlos Apache not renewing grazing leases, on their lands that lay immediately west of the ranch, things would change dramatically for the old Double Circle. While among the last to go, some 20,000 to 30,000 head of cattle were slowly rounded up and shipped off in style, even reported in the press, and filmed for Hollywood newsreels. The ranch was sold to the McKinneys in 1938, who ran it as a small family ranch until1948. Ownership of the old ranch changed so fast over the next few decades that even locals lost track of it. In 1950, the then owners attempted a dude ranch, constructing the current lodge and cowboy bunkhouse, and somewhere along the way a 2,400’ airstrip was bladed in just north of these structures.
In 1989, the USFS, through a land swap, obtained ownership of the remaining acres and old ranch headquarters site. Due to lack of funding, and or interest, the site lay unmaintained, subject to all sorts of vandalism and destruction until the then Double Circle grazing permit holders, Doug and Wilma contacted the AZ Game & Fish to ask for help through a program called Adopt a Ranch. One thing lead to another, and today, the old Double Circle is alive and well, and through cooperative agreements with between the USFS and the aviation community, its remaining structures are being cared for, and the airstrip is now Z66, the first newly charted airstrip on FS lands in region 3 in decades!
The old lodge is open to all, and quite comfortable if you have a cot and sleeping bag, and twice each year the APA and RAF hold fly in camp out, and maintenance days along with locals who have also taken on the task with the aviation community.
Submitted on May 6, 2016.