The Tonto Cowbelles took their final curtsy as supporters of the cattle and beef industry Saturday when they hosted their "Last Supper." The group is disbanding after 23 years.
"There just doesn't seem to be enough interest," president Dixie Jones said. "Everyone has so much going on and not very many members even own cattle anymore."
The last event for the Cowbelles accommodated about 300 "old-timers" and their families.
"Everyone was upset that this was our last one," Jones said. "They all want to help now, but no one wants to do the work."
An affiliation of the Cattle Growers, the first Cowbelles organization was established in Arizona in 1947, to promote the beef industry and help cattlemen who were in trouble. Made up of ranching wives, these women joined together and hosted dinners to raise money in support of this effort.
Since its inception, the Cowbelles have donated to litigation that supports the ranching industry, allowing for cattle on the forest landscape of Payson.
However, national environmentalist groups have recently posed a new obstacle for the organization, stating that cattle are slowly becoming part of the roster of endangered species, Jones said.
"They (environmentalists) have money, and we don't," she said. "We can't fight their efforts unless we band together, and I'm having a problem with involvement as it is."
Third in the state to disband, the local Tonto Cowbelles don't seem to be the only ones having a lack of interest problem, Jones said. Could it be that the way of pioneering livelihood the ranching industry that's been in existence for hundreds of years is disappearing?
"We give all of this consideration to animals like the spotted owl to preserve nature, but we don't give the same consideration to ranching, which founded our legacy, so less ranchers now means less Cowbelles," Wendell Stevens said. Stevens is the sponsor for the Future Farmer's of America's agricultural education in Payson.
Offering continued support and rich history, the Cowbelles have assisted the cattle industry on a statewide level. Whetting everyone's palette with state beef cook-offs, supporting cattle industry legislation and honoring pioneer ranchers were only a few of this organization's feats in its years of existence.
To further the advancement of the agricultural business, the Cowbelles donated money and voices for agricultural organizations FFA, a national organization of agriculture students, and the 4-H Club. The Cowbelles funded convention trips, donated supplies and gave scholarships each year to graduates entering the world of agricultural business.
"After the first year of my agricultural education program, the school wanted to cancel it," Stevens said. "The Cowbelles spoke out for the program, and the relationship has continued ever since."
The profits, which have not yet been tabulated from the final dinner/dance, will be contributed to the children of both the FFA and the 4-H Club.
"The Cowbelles need to be proud because they have made a significant influence on agricultural youth," Stevens said.