LIFE ON THE BORDER: THEN

Ranches once relied on crossers for help

2011-12-12T00:00:00Z 2011-12-12T12:41:58Z Ranches once relied on crossers for helpBrady McCombs Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 12, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Even after 40 years, rancher Larry Moore still remembers the name of the Mexican ranch hand with the golden arm: Edmundo Sosquio Hermosillo.

A good cowboy who could do all sorts of jobs around the ranch, Sosquio would cross over the U.S.-Mexico border illegally each year and trek north to the Moore's cattle ranch in Southeastern Arizona. The Moores paid him, fed him and gave him a place to sleep.

One afternoon Moore and Sosquio spotted a bobcat that appeared to have rabies. Moore was still pondering how to kill it when Sosquio picked up a large jagged rock, cocked his arm and struck the animal dead. Turns out Sosquio was a pitcher for the baseball team in Agua Prieta.

Most longtime ranching families in Southern Arizona have similar stories about friendly, reliable and hardworking Mexican ranch hands.

Warner and Wendy Glenn fondly remember "One-eyed Juan," a man with an eye patch who came through their ranch near the border just east of Douglas three times a year and worked for a few days before heading north to Chicago, where he was a dishwasher.

For most of the 20th century, Southern Arizona ranchers and illegal border crossers from Mexico lived in harmony, a symbiotic relationship that benefited both parties.

The Mexican men didn't cause problems and helped ranchers in need of reliable, cheap labor.

When the work was done at one ranch, the men moved on to others. When the work dried up or they had enough money, they went back to their families in Northern Mexico.

"They knew everybody from Willcox to Douglas," Moore said.

The ranchers got to know many of them, too, and grew to trust them.

But in the '70s, the dynamic began to change, Moore said. New federal laws made it riskier for ranchers to hire workers who didn't have permission to work in the U.S., and ranchers had to weigh whether doing so was worth putting their operations at risk.

Soon, illegal workers began cutting across ranch lands on their way to the interior of the United States seeking work.

Through the '80s, many ranchers offered food and water to the crossers; even if they didn't, the two groups tipped their hats to one another and went about their business.

But in the mid-1990s, Arizona became the main crossing point for illegal immigrants led by paid guides, known as coyotes.

Groups of 10 to 50 came through daily, destroying fences and setting cattle loose, damaging water pipelines and leaving trash in their wakes.

Traffic has decreased substantially in the past seven years, but the good old days of Mexican and gringo cowboys bonding at the corrals are gone.

When five men approached his house earlier this year, Moore called the Border Patrol.

Then he got out his gun so they could see, right through the glass door, that he was armed.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Get weekly ads via e-mail