Surviving Geronimo's Raiders

The VO Slash Ranch endures trying times to emerge into a family-run cattle corporation.

The VO Slash Ranch endures trying times to emerge into a family-run cattle corporation.

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Long a sanctuary for people and animals seeking to escape scrutiny, the VO Slash Ranch near Nogales in southeastern Arizona is home to a third-generation ranch family that works to preserve its heritage, the environment and rare species.

Located just north of the U.S. border with Mexico, the ranch has a cross-border history and managing it today still comes with many challenges.

Just after Geronimo and his men surrendered to Gen. George Crook and the U.S. Cavalry in March 1886, Geronimo had a change of heart. He and his raiders roamed across this portion of the Southwest, attacking and killing Petra Peck and her baby, before taking a young relative, Trini Verdin, as a captive on April 27. They murdered a neighbor and wounded Arthur Peck. But Arthur, who then owned the VO Slash Ranch (now part of the ZZ Cattle Corporation operated by the Bells), escaped the attack and made it home. He found his wife and child dead, and Trini missing; she was later rescued by Mexican military.

In spite of his personal losses, Peck held on to the land until it was eventually absorbed by the holdings of Thomas Graham Bell, who bought an adjoining place in 1938. Soon after obtaining the property, Thomas and June Bell hired Louis Hall, a new architect trained at the University of Arizona, to build a mission-style headquarters with a unique bell tower. The doors and gates around the house feature handcrafted metalwork forged by a railroad blacksmith who earned his pay in bottles of whiskey. The bell tower, above the cedar-lined office at headquarters, was most likely inspired by June, who liked to collect bells.

Thomas and June had two sons, George and Thomas, Jr., and now their grandson, Dan Bell, is the managing partner of ZZ Cattle Corporation, which involves many other Bell family members. Dan’s cousin Scott, vice president of the corporation, monitors...

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