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The 40 Largest Private Landowners in New Mexico


  28. Cain family

   29. Baldrige family

   30. Edmund F. Ball

   31. Mike & Deborah Smith

   32. David Salman family

   33. Frank Chappell

   34. Mike Fitzgerald

   35. James family 

From CROSSWINDS, New Mexico’s largest alternative newspaper

June 1997

28. CAIN FAMILY, Belen, Mountainair,

Ranchos Palos Verdes CA, elsewhere

Cain Ranch, Claunch Ranch

45,000 acres in Socorro and Torrance Counties


     The craggy mesa visible southeast of Mountainair is controlled by Roy Von Cain. At least he thinks so. The mesa is part of a 100,000-acre spread--45,000 acres deeded and the rest leased from the state--hotly disputed by Roy Von on one hand and his mother and two sisters on the other.

     The ranch was founded in 1938 when Roy Von's father, E. Von Cain, a rancher from Engle bought a tiny parcel near Mountainair. He brought over some cattle and gradually expanded as he bought out nearby farmers and ranchers. Before he died in 1992, E. Von and his wife, Roy Lee, created a partnership for the three children and their children to hold the land. But whether the partnership remains intact is being debated in courtrooms.

     In June 1994 Roy Von, who lives on the ranch, sued his mom and two sisters, Sherrill Tabling and Margaret McKinley, at the Estancia courthouse. According to the court file, he claimed they improperly plotted to keep state grazing leases away from his control and failed to account for some assets from his father's estate. The defendants denied they did anything wrong and countersued, disputing Roy Von's right to run the show. His 86-year-old mother says in court papers that her son sold off some of her own cattle without giving her the proceeds, which Roy Von denies.

     As family disputes go, this is pretty messy. Three years later, the litigation continues, although there are some recent indications a settlement is being discussed.

     Oblivious to the legal turmoil, the cows on Cain Ranches keep grazing. They have nothing else to do -- as Roy Von said, the land "has a few trees and brush on it," and not much else. In its entirety, the ranch spans 105,000 acres, 55,000 of which is part of the Cibola Forest and leased from the Federal Government.


29. BALDRIGE FAMILY, Cedar Crest, Hygiene CO,

Woodbury CT and elsewhere

Monte Prieto Ranch

45,000 acres in Socorro County


     A Nebraskan by birth, a Yalie by education, a Connecticut corporate executive by profession, a Republican by predilection, Malcolm Baldrige was a New Mexico booster by enthusiastic choice. Around 1960, he and George Hilliard, an Arizona cattle feeder who had moved to Albuquerque, teamed up to buy the Monte Prieto Ranch, 40 miles south of Mountainair west of the all-but-forgotten hamlet of Claunch. Monte Prieto is Spanish for black mountain; some of the hills on the ranch are dark from heavy foresting.

     Twice a year Baldrige shucked his Brooks Brothers suits--he was president of Scoville Manufacturing Co., best known for Hamilton Beach appliances--to don cowboy garb, coming to the ranch for cattle roundups. This continued even after President Reagan named him Commerce Secretary in 1981. His visits, though, eventually helped earn Baldrige a place in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

     Along the way Baldrige bought out his partner. But tragedy struck in 1987 when Baldrige died after the horse he was riding while cattle roping fell on him on a ranch near San Francisco. He was 64.

     The Monte Prieto is still deeded in the name of Southwest Grazing Inc., the original Baldrige-Hilliard venture. According to State Corporation Commission records in Santa Fe, officers and directors are Baldrige heirs and in-laws. Mike Cleland, an Albuquerque accountant who is the registered agent for Southwest Grazing, confirmed it belongs to the Baldriges.


30. EDMUND F. BALL, Muncie IN

Ortiz Mountain Ranch, other holdings

45,000 acres in Catron and Santa Fe Counties


     Edmund F. Ball started acquiring land in New Mexico in 1954 and over the years, as he tells Crosswinds, ``the land has sort of shifted around,'' meaning he buys and sells. Ball had a nice cash flow backing him. His father was one of the five glass-making brothers who came to Muncie IN in the 1880s and founded what is now Ball Corp., a publicly traded packaging manufacturer and aerospace firm. In 1918 the well-heeled siblings bought a local private teachers college and gave it to the state, creating what is now Ball State University. Edmund Ball himself eventually became Ball Corp.'s chairman and CEO and is given credit for the company's continued success.

     Now 92 years old, he is long retired from day-to-day businesses but otherwise alert and quite active. Recently, according to (ital)The Muncie Star(end ital), he and his wife, Virginia, visited the North Pole. Around Muncie he is a big, big name.

     Ball's New Mexico holdings, all ranch land, include the Ortiz Mountain Ranch along New Mexico Route 14, the Turquoise Trail, in southern Santa Fe County and significant dirt in Catron County. Tax assessors list the total acreage as about 45,000 although Ball says he thinks it's really under 30,000. Regardless, he says that after he dies, the land will go to the Nature Conservency. ``We do want that preserved as a natural habitat forever,'' he says from his Muncie office.



Mora Ranch

40,000 acres in Mora County


     In 1990 the Smiths, who are large landowners in the Amarillo TX area, where they live, purchased the Mora Ranch, yet another heady chunk of soil derived from the large Mora Land Grant of 1835. The ranch, located northwest of Wagon Mound, is used primarily for grazing. It supports a large herd of 4,500 cattle because of the presence of water from the Ocate River, which laces the property. The Smiths did not return telephone calls.



Salman Ranch

40,000 acres in Mora County


     What is now the Salman Ranch in western Mora County between Mora and Las Vegas was assembled in the 1800s by a man named Vicente Romero. He married a woman who had a piece of the 827,889-acre Mora Land Grant--the third largest in New Mexico--issued by the government of Mexico in 1835.

     For 50 years the spread has been in the family of David Salman. ``As far as ranches go, we're pretty diverse in terms of landscape," says family member Jeff Salman. "We have part short grass prairie, some timber and a lot of water, so the wildlife is pretty diverse.''

     In fact, there is so much water--several lakes in addition to the Mora and Coyote Rivers--that the Salmon raises raspberries. The ranch sports a country store and a cafe that draws tourists during the summer.

     A fair amount of New Mexico history is reflected on the terrain, including old mills, barns and homes dating back to the 1860s. It was also in that time frame that an elaborate seven-mile irrigation system was constructed. It still works. ``At times,'' says Jeff Salman, ``I swear it runs up hill, and how they did that back in those days with horses and shovels, I think it was an incredible feat." These days, the Salmans use big tractors and backhoes to clean it out.

     Mora County assessor records show the Salmans as owning 40,000 acres. The family says it is only 30,000 acres.


33. FRANK CHAPPELL, Waterford CT

Chappell Spade Ranch

40,000 acres in Quay County


     In the annals of ranching, Isaac Ellwood occupies an honored place. During the 19th century he was a co-inventor of barbed wire, which made it possible for ranchers to enclose their spreads without paying a fortune for fencing. Ellwood eventually came to own the Spade ranches near Colorado City TX, one of Texas's famous cattle operations. (Spade is the shape of the cattle brand).

     Ellwood's descendants still own the Spade operation in Texas, which totals about 200,000 acres, and they gather from across the nation every Thanksgiving week for an annual meeting and reunion. But one of them, Frank Chappell, also owns outright the Chappell Spade Ranch near Tucumcari. He bought it in 1947 during the breakup of the Bell Ranch. (See Lane family). Says Chappell, who makes regular visits from his home in Connecticut, ``The land is pretty to look at.''



Bar T Cross Ranch, The Spur Ranch

40,000 acres in Harding County


     After learning the ranching business in Arizona, the Fitzgerald family--E. and son Mike--moved east a bit about 10 years ago, buying two ranches in out-of-the-way Harding County--the state's only county without a numbered U.S. highway. Besides the deeded land, the Fitzgeralds lease another 37,000 acres.

     Like so many of New Mexico's bigger spreads, the Fitzgerald holdings reveal the ups and downs of ranching. ``There's lots of old homesteads on the ranches,'' says Mike Fitzgerald--meaning that the homesteaders at some point had to sell out. On the other hand, there are also several old churches, one of which still regularly draws worshipers.

     Says Fitzgerald about his now-retired father and himself, ``We're not pioneers. We're trying to take care of the land. Besides our cattle operations, we're conservationists in our own right.''



James Ranch, O Bar Ranch, Rock Ranch

40,000 acres in Quay County


     Newton S. James came from several generations of Texas and Oklahoma ranchers, but that wasn't the only family tradition here. ``Newt was the seventh son of the seventh son of the seventh son,'' the family once wrote in a Quay County history book.

     A former postmaster, hotelkeeper and military pilot, James operated ranches and feedlots properties in the Texas Panhandle and Colorado. He started buying cattle land in New Mexico in 1970 and in 1977 moved from Kerick TX to his present spread eight miles northeast of Logan. Part of it had been owned by one of those six older brothers decades earlier.

     James died in 1991. He left behind just one son, Louis, and a daughter, Mary Catherine, who manage different parts of the holding. Asked how things are going, Newt's widow, Inalue, told Crosswinds, ``We're doing fine. But of course we'd be doing better if the price of cattle went out. Go out and eat a steak tonight.''