My first ranch job that day was twisting wire around wood staves to fasten them to a corral framework. As I learned that too many twists would result in a broken wire, Joe hollered at me that he was charging me ten cents for every one I broke. I hollered back, “That’s okay, Joe; I’m charging you twenty cents for every one I get right.” Later that day Charley roped a young, large bull maverick and I witnessed the strenuous process of getting the animal down, feet tied, and Bill performing both a castration and dehorning. Joe heated the branding irons to white hot in a small mesquite fire and tossed them in the air to Charley (I presumed in a tradition that eschewed the safer practice of simply handing them over). To my surprise, the irons were straight rods – not a single iron with a 49 stamp at the bottom. Charley simply wrote (burned) a 49 on the bull’s flank.
The following year when I joined Joe and Bill, this time repairing a water line, I noticed that Joe had less energy. He even napped on the concrete slab of a water tank for a time. Still, I asked Joe questions about ranching and learned a great deal. However, I recognized that he was a private person and we never discussed much about his personal life.
In 2014 one thing or another repeatedly got in the way of my keeping a date to spend a day with Joe. In December he told me by telephone that he was being treated at the UMC Cancer Center. He was agreeable to getting together, admitting only that he was taking a lot of pills. Just before Christmas he said, “We’ll get together in the New Year. He died December 31.
Joe’s obituary appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on January 11, 2015. It was only then that I learned a bit more about his life. He was born November 8, 1926, at the Stork’s Nest, a birthing home on Court Street in Tucson staffed by midwives. His mother Flora was a secretary and homemaker and his father Seldon owned an ice route, delivering from the local ice plant. Joe was a baby photo star and attended Mansfield (junior high) School located at 14th Street and 5th Avenue on the edge of Military Plaza. He was dismissed from Cub Scouts for being adventurous. A star athlete, he played on a Tucson High School football team that was undefeated during his playing years. Receiving All State awards in football and track, he acquired the nickname “Joe the Toe” for his field goals, PATs and punting.
Joe enlisted in the Navy in 1945 and while shipboard, roped a giant sea turtle “which was celebrated and consumed by the sailors”. Discharged in 1946, he received a football scholarship from the U of A. In 1947 he played right halfback, opposite left halfback, Fred Enke, who went on to play quarterback in the NFL for seven years. Joe caught a touchdown pass from Enke as the Wildcats beat Kansas State, and Joe himself passed for a touchdown later tying New Mexico. Joe was also apparently the teams’ only conversion specialist, kicking, for example, five PATs against College of the Pacific. Also in the 1947/48 Desert Yearbook, he appears in a photograph of the members of Phi Kappa Alpha (PIKES) a venerable fraternity founded in 1868 at the University of Virginia.
Meanwhile, his father had sold two ice routes and purchased a ranch on the old Florence Road. Joe took pleasure in raising motherless calves (dogies) from his father’s cow herd. But Joe set off on his own after his father told him “laughing and crying” that “there was just so much land and too many cows, and one of us has to leave, and I’m staying.”