The Fiddling Pioneers Of Kohl's Ranch

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Tonto Creek Adventures, Chapter 6

Straddling Tonto Creek, just downstream from State Route 260, is a widely known resort called Kohl's Ranch. A fellow named Claude Delbridge and his family came from Texas and settled here in the mid-1880s.

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Kohl's Ranch became the center of Rim Country community activities during the early 20th century.

Their ranch that extended along Tonto Creek and the flood plains provided good gardening for Mrs. Delbridge as they had for native people over the centuries. She became famous for her vegetable gardens and barrels of sauerkraut.

Shortly after 1900, the Delbridge family sold their squatter's rights to the John Davis family, who developed the ranch commercially with cattle and horses, orchards and produce gardens.

Mr. Davis built a large log house that would later become the first Kohl's Ranch Lodge. Lewis Kohl, and his son Glenn came to the area in 1917 on a cattle-buying trip, and negotiated with John Davis for the ranch and its buildings.

Since a federal survey had not yet been done, Davis had to have that completed before he could legally sell the homestead, a process that took several years.

The homestead claim became final in June 1925, and in the summer of 1926 Lewis Kohl picked up his option, trading Davis a cotton field and some other properties in Tempe for the ranch.

Davis later regretted the trade and felt the Kohls had cheated him. One day when Lewis and Glenn Kohl were in Globe, John Davis confronted them with a drawn gun and threatened to shoot them. Lewis drew his own gun and said, "John, I wouldn't do that if I were you." The two men eyed each other for a long time, and slowly put their guns away.

Several of the Haught families, whose fiddles brought gayety and dance to the ranch on Saturday nights, were among the Kohl's neighbors. The building where those dances took place began as a school house, one of many that dotted the Rim Country.

Since almost every canyon under the Rim was farmed because of its ample supply of water and fertile meadows there was a demand for schools within walking distance. Whenever the families from surrounding ranches in an area produced enough school-age children, settlers would build a schoolhouse and hire a teacher.

If there were not enough children to continue the school, it was closed and the remaining pupils trudged or rode horses and mules to another canyon where school was being held.

These schools became the setting for Saturday night dances, which often lasted through the night and were a primary source of entertainment for the ranch families.

In 1926, dances were still being held at the Haught family's Tonto School, located at the junction of Tonto and Horton creeks. Mae Haught remembered heading there from Tonto Village with a group of young people.

As they passed Kohl's ranch on the wagon trail Mrs. Kohl invited them in for the birthday party and dance she was having for her son Bert. Mae said to her, "Mrs. Kohl, every one of these boys is carrying a jug. Are you sure you want them here?"

"Well," she answered, "Those boys can just leave their jugs outside."

With that the first dance was held at Kohl's ranch.

One by one the local schools closed as the children grew up. When the Tonto School closed the nearest place for Saturday dances was gone for folks living near Tonto Creek.

Lewis and Necia Kohl bought the old Tonto school building for $40, and with the help of their son Glenn and Richard Haught (A. L. "Babe" Haught's son), they dismantled the school and used the lumber and logs to reconstruct it on their ranch.

At times they lived in the building when the rooms of their big house were needed for rentals. The Kohl family, however, decided to convert the old school to a dance hall and meet the need for local socializing.

They expanded it to include a saloon and café as well as a small grocery store. The building came to be called "The Cowboy Barn," and for the next 70 years it was a social center for the surrounding Rim Country.

It was here that the fiddling Haughts got a workout on Saturday nights. Rim Country folks called Henry "Pappy" Haught the "Old Music Man of the Mountain." Richard Haught continued the fiddling tradition after Henry's death, as did Richard's son Billy, who made his debut fiddling at the Cowboy Barn when he was 7 years old.

During the 1930s the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps joined the local folk for Saturday night dances.

One of the Kohl's granddaughters recalls "When I was a small child I'd lay down and sleep on the benches inside when it got late while the adults danced on and on. I loved drifting in and out of sleep to the sound of the sweet music." Between dances friends would go out on the long porch, overlooking Tonto Creek behind the building, to visit or spoon.

With the lodge, dance hall, grocery store, post office, and later a gas station, the ranch became a little town in itself. Before long the Kohls realized their ranch had potential as a resort. By the Second World War Lewis Kohl and his wife Necia had retired and turned the ranch over to their sons Glenn and Joe.

(to be continued)

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