Ranching in southern Arizona: In memory of Joe Goff part 1

Bob Simpson

I. Joe Goff — An Extraordinary Man

“What in the world do they eat?” I asked myself, as I watched a few big, healthy looking black cows staring warily at me beside the dusty trail leading to Deer Camp on the lower reaches of Samaniego Ridge. There had been no grass in the mesquite/ocotillo habitat behind me, nor would there be in the higher oak/juniper terrain at the camp. “And who do they belong to?” I wondered, as I noted a barely legible 49 brand on the left hip of one cow which had a jumping cholla pinned to her jaw.

The answer to my second question came on the same trail a year later when I encountered a lone rider with large cowboy hat and chaps leading a pack horse laden with PVC pipe. He was a member of the County Line Riders of Catalina, a group trying to restore the water line from a mountain spring to the concrete trough at Deer Camp. “They’re Joe Goff’s cattle,” he said. Further inquiry revealed that Goff subleased the National Forest and state grazing land in the area from Lloyd Golder III who, since 1959, owned the old Rail N Ranch stretching from Catalina State Park to Biosphere. (All of SaddleBrooke and most of the village of Catalina is located on previous Rail N ranchland.) Some months later, Mr. Golder told me that Goff is “a good old cowboy—who has a ton of ranches.”

Thus began my inquiry into ranching along the Catalinas. When I first reached Joe Goff by telephone at his home ranch on the Florence highway, I told him I was researching local history. He was amenable to a few initial questions, including the origin of the 49 brand. I wondered why he did not use the Rail N brand which he owned and which had originally been registered in 1919 with the Territory of Arizona by John Nelson, former sheriff of Tucson. Joe’s answer is given in Part II, but at the mention of Nelson, I learned that Joe had a sense of humor when he related that “Nelson spoke a heavy Swedish accented English. Late in life he was called before a court to face charges of evading federal income taxes. He was asked two questions: How many cattle do you have? How much money do you have? Nelson pondered a while and replied, “Vell I don’ know how many cattle I haf—and if I can’t keep track of my cattle, I sure as hell don’ know how much money I haf.”

As time passed, I realized that Joe was not going to answer the phone after about 7:00 p.m. In his eighties, he was still working from dawn to dusk. Finally, I gained his trust enough that he invited me to join him for breakfast. He and his son, Charley, had found a big calf that “couldn’t or wouldn’t” get back up on its feet. As a result, Joe, and probably his friend and ranch hand Bill Montgomery, were having fresh calf’s liver for breakfast at the ranch house. I couldn’t make it, but a week later did meet him early for a day of work and conversation on his lands south of the Pinal Pioneer Parkway.