Tag Archives: Hashknife

The Hash Knife Around Holbrook: Introduction

The following is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins.

The book is available through ArcadiaPublishing.com, on Audible.com, or order from Western History Books on Amazon.com for a signed copy.

The Hash Knife brand—fashioned after a common cooking tool popular amongst camp cooks and ranch wives—has been a staple of cattle history for roughly 140 years. Established by John Nicholas Simpson in Texas, the brand has served ranches in Montana, Arizona and beyond. Companies who owned the brand—namely the Continental Land and Cattle Company, the Aztec Land and Cattle Company and Babbitt Brothers—functioned as some of the largest and most profitable organizations of their time. Between 1878 and 1901, five large-range ranches were established using the Hash Knife brand.

            Through the years, the brand has taken on a romance of its own. The admiration seems equally shared by those who worked for the Hash Knife, those who know of someone who did, or those who wish they had done so themselves. The picture or even a memory of cowboys roping cattle on the dusty prairies or gathering around the chuckwagon evokes a sentimental love for the cowboy way of life. Forget that working on the range was hard and often dangerous. To those men who did it, working cattle was worth the risk and gave them some of the best memories of their lives.

            In fact, the Hash Knife seems to have grown into its own symbol of cowboy life. During the last century, the name has come to identify any cowboy, ranch or company associated with the brand. And there were plenty of them. The men of the Hash Knife ranged from studious businessmen from New York to hard working cow punchers to rustlers and outlaws. The rustlers and outlaws are of particular interest to history buffs, since they add a bit of color to the story.

            It is true that by the 1880’s, the Hash Knife’s association with the notorious Millett brothers in Texas, plus a shoot out in Montana, had somewhat tainted the brand’s good name. When the Aztec Land and Cattle Company was formed to bring the Hash Knife to Arizona in 1884, the owners likely hoped the outfit would shed itself of its unsavory reputation. Some of the hands had been with the brand since the beginning. Many of them were good, hardworking men. A few others were not.

            The Aztec, as it was often referred to, acquired two million acres between Holbrook and Flagstaff. The cattle had hardly settled in before stories began circulating about rowdy cattle thieves, drunks and robbers terrorizing Holbrook. Their well-publicized exploits eventually inspired authors Zane Grey, W.C. Tuttle, Clarence W. Durham and others to expand on the boys’ daring adventures and write fictional novels about them. The Hash Knife soon became, and remained, a fascinating entanglement of fact, fiction and folklore.

                By the time Burton C. “Cap” Mossman was hired as superintendent in 1898, rustlers and outlaws did seem to be rampant around the Hash Knife. Mossman set to work cleaning house, firing half the crew within a month. He was assisted by foreman Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Wallace, with whom he had worked in Texas and hired soon after joining the Hash Knife. Wallace in turn hired cowboy George W. Hennessey, and the three men became lifelong friends.

            By 1899 there were some 30 hands working for the brand. There is no denying that a few questionable characters may have still been in the group, but by then the good guys far outweighed the bad guys. “The Hash Knife had the name of being a hard drinking, hard fighting outfit,” Hennessey later remembered, “but I never worked with a better bunch of men.”

            Good or bad, the cowboys of the Hash Knife worked hard. The Aztec had suffered through a particularly hard winter the year before and was now combating feed shortages and a four-year drought. After 17 years of owning the Hash Knife brand, the Aztec sold out to Babbitt Brothers of Flagstaff. It took about a year to settle matters and ship out the cattle, after which Cap Mossman resigned. Wallace and Hennessey followed suit within a few years.

            Babbitt Brothers carried on the brand, but many considered the sale the end of an era. Improved railroads, automobiles, telephones and other newfangled inventions were slowly changing the way of life across the west. The four Aztec headquarters between Holbrook and Joseph City, as well as eight line camps out on the range, slowly fell into disuse and all but disappeared. Some of the cowboys stuck around and worked for other outfits while others rode off into the sunset, never to be heard from again. But none of them forgot about the Hash Knife brand.

            For Wallace and Hennessey, working for the Hash Knife evolved into quite the family affair both during their time with the Aztec and after. Upon leaving the company Hennessey, Wallace, Wallace’s son Emmet, and fellow cowboy James Donohoe began establishing their own cattle companies, forming partnerships, and registering their own brands. Later, Hennessey and Donohoe each married one of Wallace’s six daughters.

            Even as Hennessey and Wallace became noted cattlemen in their own rights, the Hash Knife somehow remained an integral part of their lives. Long before Hennessey was elected mayor of Holbrook, newspapers continually recalled his days with the outfit. Wallace later purchased the OW Ranch west of Payson. The ranch was formerly owned by the Blevins family during the 1887 Pleasant Valley War, a notable skirmish involving both the Blevins and some Hash Knife men. When Hennessey died in 1973, he was revered as being the last surviving original Hash Knife cowboy.

            Today the descendants of the Hash Knife’s many cowboys, as well as a good number of admirers, continue to keep the brand’s history alive. A handful of ranches, bed and breakfasts, monuments, clubs and even a musical group lay claim to the Hash Knife name. Perhaps the best known of these is the annual Hashknife Pony Express Ride which takes place between Holbrook and Scottsdale each year.

            Details on the history of the brand have also been lovingly documented in fine works by Jim Bob Tinsley, Robert Carlock and Stella Hughes. Tinsley’s work, The Hash Knife Brand, gives a good overview of the Hash Knife’s evolution from a Texas cattle camp to a reigning ranch of Arizona. Carlock, who worked for the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, was able to provide more intimate details in his book, The Hashknife. Hughes’ husband Mack worked for the Hash Knife during the 1920’s. Her book, Hashknife Cowboy, provides insight into the brand’s later years through Mack’s eyes.

            In this newest rendition of Hash Knife history, George Hennessey and Frank Wallace also get to tell their stories for the first time. Their history, and that of the Hash Knife, is gathered from a number of books and articles, but also from first hand accounts written by themselves, their wives, their children and their grandchildren. Family stories have been passed down. Scrapbooks, photographs, letters and other memorabilia have been carefully saved. The end result is another facet of history that should be told while there are some who still remember it, and also so that it will not be forgotten.

Cora Wallace, Ranch Wife of the West

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

“She was really the one who raised us as Papa was away so much of the time.” So said Ruth Wallace Moritz of her mother, Cora Wallace. Ruth’s father Frank, a well-known Arizona cattle rancher, was absent from home on a regular basis. Like so many others, Cora found being a ranch wife truly demanding. These hearty women spent much of their time alone, performing such daily chores as tending the garden, curing meat, pickling and preserving food, washing laundry, sewing, cleaning house, raising children, feeding livestock and more.

Cora’s decision to be a rancher’s wife may have been inspired by a love for adventure. Born on an Arkansas plantation in 1870, Cora was primarily raised by her grandmother in Arkansas and Texas. It is notable that Cora attended a “finishing school” while with her grandmother. By 1888 she was reunited with her widowed father, a farmer near Dona Ana, New Mexico. There she met Frank Wallace, a sometime cowboy who was working for Joe Nations of New Mexico. Wallace spent the night while herding horses to Albuquerque but soon returned and married Cora. Two days later the newlyweds departed so Frank could take work as a cowpuncher near Tenuca. Cora’s life as a ranch wife had begun.

Shortly after the first of eight children was born in 1890, the Wallaces relocated to Winslow where Frank worked for the Waters Cattle Company. Three more children were born at Winslow, and Cora also took in two young girls whose mother had died. “Mama took care of them as her own,” Ruth noted. Frank was gone much of the time and even more so when Waters sold out to the Aztec Land & Cattle Company whose Hashknife brand was already famous in Arizona.

In 1898 the family moved to the Hashknife headquarters three miles south of Joseph City. Ruth recalled the challenges her mother faced. “Her life as a rancher’s wife was not an easy one,” Ruth remembered. “During those years the ranchers had open land for their cattle making it more difficult to gather them. They would be gone weeks at a time leaving their wives to take care of the children and keep things going at the ranch.”

In addition to her own family, Cora also boarded and fed numerous cowboys. Former cowpuncher J. Lon Jordan, later sheriff of Maricopa County, remembered that Cora “cooked more good groceries for hungry cowboys than any woman in Arizona.” Two more daughters were born at the Hashknife headquarters, yet Ruth remembered her mother as cheerful, generous and kind. Cora was also very proud to be a descendant of U.S. Presidents Zachary Taylor and James Monroe.

When the Aztec sold the Hashknife brand to Babbitt Brothers in 1899, the Wallaces stayed at the headquarters as caretakers while running their own cattle. In 1905 the family next relocated to Adamana, a desert whistlestop east of Holbrook. The first family home was a tent along the Rio Puerco River. When the family was flooded out they relocated to higher ground where Frank and his ranch hands built a two story home. “It was a desolate place,” said Ruth of Adamana, “and we depended on the windmills for water.”

Ruth also remembered the struggle to make ends meet since ranchers were regularly hampered by droughts, freezing winters and low prices for the beef they raised. At the mercantile in Holbrook, the family was forced to “sell their souls to the company store”, living on credit at a high interest rate. “Having no money was a fact of life and mothers made do,” she said. “We had very little money in those days but Mama gave of herself to all around her. We never felt deprived.” Although she occasionally secured a little extra money for store coats for her children, Cora made almost all of her children’s clothing. Towels were sewn from flour sacks, and scraps of material were saved to make quilts.

Seven children and two ranch hands continued to keep Cora busy at her cookstove. Ruth remembered that “Mama had a large kettle of beans on the stove and lots of home cooked bread. She cured the meat, made soap from scraps of pork so we had plenty. Our diet with lots of stewed peaches and apples was sufficient.” Cora also gave birth to her eighth—and last—child in 1912. She enlisted the help of her children when she could but the younger children were sent to school. Ruth remembered trekking two miles down the railroad tracks to the schoolhouse.

Ruth and another daughter, Margery, also were often out on the range taking fresh horses to cowboys as they worked throughout the day. “It was a lonely time as we missed home,” Ruth recalled, but added that Margery would sing songs to her for company. The girls headed home across the prairies after these round ups, where “Mama would have a hard time getting us clean.”

The Wallace’s hard work at Adamana eventually paid off. By the mid-teens, the family was faring well enough to build a nice home in Holbrook, complete with a beautiful hardwood interior, glass doorknobs, electricity and indoor plumbing (Frank stubbornly kept an outhouse in the back yard as well). Cora’s name appeared on the property deed. She also assured that her son-in-law, George Hennessey, purchased property directly across the street and built a home for himself and Cora’s daughter Frances. Shortly after the homes were completed, Hennessey was elected the first mayor of Holbrook.

Success continued to follow the Wallace family. Within a few years, Frank also purchased the majestic O W Ranch outside of Young for a whopping $150,000. The original log ranch house served as an ample home. There was plenty of water and the family dined on fish, wild game, chickens, turkey and, of course, beef. Outbuildings included a smokehouse, a cow barn and a dairy house for keeping butter, milk and cheese. Cora’s larder also included potatoes grown by a neighboring rancher and wild grapes. Writer Norma Leonard told how, after she had made some wine, Cora threw the fermented grapes in the yard. Some turkeys came along and ate the grapes, and were soon stumbling around trying to regain their balance.

A second, much fancier home was built on the property at the O W as well. It was intended for the Wallace’s oldest son, Emmet, to live in with his wife Amy whom he married at Adamana. Tragically, Emmet died during the 1920 flu epidemic (a daughter, Margery, had also died in 1915). The family later moved into the house, where an ample root cellar stored Cora’s homemade preserves. In spite of a lack of electricity, Cora was able to make a comfortable home for her family, as well as the numerous cowhands who worked for or passed by the ranch. She also bought, sold and traded coffee, flour and other goods with Native Americans, cowboys and other local ranch wives.

Forced by hard times to sell out in 1928, Frank went into business with various of his children and their spouses. In 1937, Frank and Cora moved to Tucson and lived with daughter Ruth and her husband, Harold Moritz. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there a year later. During a visit to Holbrook in September of 1939, Cora died unexpectedly. Her son-in-law Charles Lisitzky and Fred Schuster of A & B Schuster Co. handled the funeral costs. Guests and pallbearers  included many of the cowboys she had cared for and fed from the Hashknife, including Dick Grigsby, Johnny Paulsell, Bill Wyrick and Ed Bargeman.

Little remains today as a testament to Cora Wallace and women like her. Most of the Wallace homes are gone now, one exception being the house in Holbrook. Thanks to preservation efforts by subsequent owners, the home remains amongst the nicest in town. Another landmark is the old root cellar from the family home at the O W Ranch where Cora stored her cured meat and homemade preserves. When her granddaughter, Suzanne Peterson, visited the ranch as a young girl she remembered seeing some mason jars filled with preserves that were still in the cellar. Perhaps it is most fitting that this one remnant from a ranching family still pays tribute to a unique group of women from the old west.

Jan MacKell Collins is the great-great granddaughter of Frank and Cora Wallace. More about ranching life can be found in her book, The Hash Knife Around Holbrook.

The Last of the Hash Knife Cowboys

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in True West Magazine.

 “Just to keep the record straight, my name when I left Texas was the same as it is in Arizona.” ~ George W. Hennessey

 “I consider it a damn good outfit,” George Hennessey once said of the sometimes infamous Hash Knife Cattle Company, at one time the largest cattle ranch in Arizona. “They were all good cowboys and good men. The ones I knew made something for themselves, ran businesses or held public office.”

Of course Hennessey would remember them that way. Those close to him knew he was a good hearted, optimistic kind of man who seldom had a bad word to say about anybody. Born in Mason County, Texas on the fourth of July in 1877, Hennessey first began working with cattle in 1891 and moved to Holbrook in 1898. William Smith, who grew up in Holbrook and served as mayor from 1961 to 1965, remembered Hennessey as “Neat, clean, good looking, kind and gentle.” But despite Hennessey’s friendly demeanor and his sentimental defense of the outfit, there is no question that the Hash Knife was once known for its roughneck cowboys. Company hands were known to terrorize Holbrook on a Saturday night, and several were involved in various shoot outs, robberies and rustling escapades.

The Hash Knife brand, named for a common kitchen tool, originated in Texas. During the 1880’s, the outfit’s association with the notorious Millett brothers of Baylor County, as well as a shoot out involving some Hash Knife cowboys in Montana, had already tainted the brand’s good name. When the company expanded to a large range between Holbrook and Flagstaff in 1884, the owners hoped the outfit would shed itself of its unsavory reputation. Unfortunately, such a cleansing was not forthcoming. By the time Captain Burton C. “Cap” Mossman was hired as superintendent in 1898, rustlers and outlaws seemed to be rampant both inside and outside the company.

Mossman set to work cleaning house, firing half the crew within a month. He was ssisted by foreman Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Wallace, with whom he had worked in Texas and hired soon after joining the Hash Knife. Wallace in turn hired Hennessey, and the two became lifelong friends. During Hennessey’s time with the Hash Knife, the outfit had been sold to the Babbitt Brothers’ Aztec Land & Cattle Company. Hennessey fell in with approximately 30 other hands working under Mossman and Wallace. A few questionable characters may have still been in the group but, “It wasn’t a mean bunch,” Hennessey insisted, “just happy to return trouble.”

It’s unseemly reputation aside, the Hash Knife was also suffering from over-populated ranges, feed shortages, the harsh winter of 1898 and a four-year drought. Upon receiving orders to liquidate the stock from Arizona, Mossman sold roughly 40,000 cattle for fourteen dollars a head and began a series of roundups for shipping. In his later years, Hennessey had fond memories of those days. “We ate breakfast about 4 a.m. and wrangled our horses,” he remembered. “Sometimes we’d circle for 20 miles in a day, bringing the cattle in. Generally, we got a little rest in the afternoon. We’d come in at night in time to get the herd together and hold it overnight. Then everybody would stand three hours guard at night.”

Hennessey also expressed a fondness for the men he worked with. “It makes my blood pressure raise when someone comes out with the phrase ‘that Hash Knife outlaw outfit,’” he once said. “The Hash Knife had the name of being a hard drinking, hard fighting outfit but I never worked with a better bunch of men.” Hennessey remembered that during his time in Holbrook, cowboys handed their six-shooters over to Sheriff Joe Woods when they came to town.  Gone were the rowdy days at the Bucket of Blood Saloon, Holbrook‘s most notorious drinking hole. “Our most fun was to get on a horse and get throwed off,” Hennessey remembered. “We enjoyed the life [of a cowboy] very much. There was no responsibility, only to just work. You had to be a pretty good cowboy to hold your job with the Hash Knife.”

Upon shipping out the final nine train cars of cattle in September of 1900, Cap Mossman resigned. Hennessey left a few months later, working for the Wabash Cattle Company before going into business for himself in 1903. He began by purchasing $1,200 worth of cattle from Hubbell’s Trading Post at Ganado with $200 and a promissory note for the rest. By 1907 he was able to help his family pay off their mortgage in Texas and even ran the Bucket of Blood Saloon for about a year. In 1911 Hennessey married Frank Wallace’s daughter, Frances, at Adamana. His personal brands, the Slash T Slash and the XVL, became well known throughout northern Arizona.

Marriage and cattle did little to slow Hennessey down. “I got into the cattle business and I made Holbrook my headquarters,“ he recalled in a 1967 interview. “First thing I knew, I was in politics!“ Indeed, in 1917 Hennessey was unknowingly elected the first official mayor of Holbrook. “I wasn’t even a candidate and I didn’t even go in and vote,” he later explained, adding that he was out rounding up cattle that day. “Then a bunch of fellows came riding out from Holbrook. My father-in-law said, ‘You’re the mayor of Holbrook.’ I said, ‘Hell, I’m not even running.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re elected anyhow.’” The legend of him being hog-tied and carried back to town, he said, was untrue—although his friends still joked about it for years.

Hennessey served as mayor for two years and continued ranching until he sold his outfit in 1932. The family—George, Frances and their two daughters—moved to Phoenix in 1934. Hennessey went to work as a cattle buyer, appraiser and field man for various banks. At First National Bank of Arizona, he became fondly known as “Uncle George”. He later confided that he enjoyed his position mostly because it allowed him to continue working out on the open prairie he so loved. Of his eventual retirement he once commented, “I think I’d enjoy myself a hell of a lot better if I was out on the range.”

Still, George and Frances busied themselves with attending various banquets and other functions held by their friends and business associates. Many times, the banquets were held in Hennessey’s honor. He also became a favorite subject of area newspapermen, who diligently reported on his participation in rodeo parades and his attendance at various gatherings. In 1956, when the Navajo County Sheriff Posse was formed using the Hash Knife brand, Hennessey was made an honorary member.

Hennessey was not far off when he said many of his associates at the Hash Knife did well. Close friends of the family included writer Roscoe G. Willson, pioneer cowman Will C. Barnes, Yavapai County Sheriff Buckey O’Neill, ranchers Barney Stiles, “Uncle Dick” Grigsby, Charlie Pickrell, and many others associated with the cattle industry. Hennessey not only maintained close contact with his old friends, he also defended them as needed. He called Frazier Hunt’s book about Cap Mossman a lot of “damned lies.” Hennessey’s cronies truly appreciated his friendship, often roasting him with stories about owning no other shoes but his beloved cowboy boots, and the time he chopped the toes off of his tight shoes as a boy in Texas. “I recall the dinner we had at the ‘Flame’, you and I,” Hennessey’s friend Sam Turner wrote in a 1957 letter. “It was such a treat for me recalling the old times, and just the pleasure of being with you was in itself so worthwhile.” Even Senator Barry Goldwater wrote Hennessey a letter, congratulating him on turning 90 years old in 1967.

When the Arizona Republic interviewed him one last time in 1970, Hennessey was applauded as the last true Hash Knife cowboy. He was also the last surviving charter member of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, a former Navajo County Supervisor, a member of the Masonic Lodge in Holbrook since 1912 and a member of the Order of the Eastern Star at Winslow for 50 years. To his associates at First National Bank, he was still a welcome presence at the annual breakfasts held throughout the region. To his wife and daughters he was forever the gentle pillar of strength. To his grandchildren and great-granddaughters, he was the kind bearer of candy. And to his many, many friends, he was the jovial, business-smart old cowboy he had always been.

George Hennessey died in 1973 at the ripe age of 95 after a long, full life and few regrets. Books about the Hash Knife and Holbrook mention him only in passing. His family and admirers, however, still praise him as the last of the Hash Knife cowboys who honored the brand and was a solid influence on the cattle industry in Northern Arizona during the 1900’s.

Jan MacKell Collins is the great-granddaughter of George W. Hennessey and the great-great-granddaughter of Frank Wallace. She is also a free-lance writer and author of The Hash Knife Around Holbrook (Arcadia Publishing).