Interview with

Congressional Rep. Jim Kolbe

By Kathleen Shull

Sat., Feb. 17, 2001

(Shull) You were born in Illinois and came with your parents to Arizona at about age five, is that correct?

(Kolbe) That's right. I was born in Illinois. We lived for five years there and then we moved to Arizona to a ranch halfway between Patagonia and Sonoita, [Santa Cruz, County, southeast of Tucson]. My parents came out during the war to a guest ranch over on the other side of the Santa Ritas by Tubac.

The ranch is called - the name escapes me now. It's long since been closed as a guest ranch. And they used to come with a couple, two other couples from the north shore of Chicago,. During those war years you couldn't fly so they would take the train.

They would come out and they fell in love with the area. They would drive around and they saw this area and I think about the end of the war Dad decided he wanted to move his family from Illinois to Arizona. So they packed up and made the move much to the surprise of all their friends in Illinois.

(Shull) What are your earliest memories as a child of Arizona?

Kolbe, at age 15, was Senator Barry Goldwater's page.

(Kolbe) Well, my very earliest memory; I actually have one memory going back to the year before we moved here. I was five at that time. I was four in 1946. We came to a guest ranch, 7-Guest Ranch over here by Willcox.

I can remember as a little four-year-old kid, I was too young to ride, they wouldn't let me ride. But I could watch the horses being saddled up and my little brother going out and getting a horseback ride. We used to stand around a campfire at night. There were all kinds of fun things that we used to do.

That would be my very first memory. Other than that my very first memory would be the day we arrived in Arizona to start our new life here.

My father had to stay behind in Illinois. All the household goods were being shipped on a cattle,on a train, on a freight car. We rented one whole freight car packed it up with all the household goods and moved it to Patagonia. The train rolled it into Patagonia. So we flew out. My mother and the three kids flew out.


1947. Just in time to start the school year. My two brothers who were in school. My sister was not yet born yet. Mother was expecting her and she was born three months later in December. That is when we moved out here. I can still remember getting off the plane in Tucson. Then the airport was Davis Monthan A.F.B.. The old airport was of course over there; they shared the runway. AlI I can remember getting off the DC-6 American Airlines four-engine plane and having flown all night and being met by the foreman of the ranch and being taken down to the ranch. Things were kind of a blur after that. As a young kid I kind of rolled with the punches. It didn't seem very exciting to me. This whole experience of coming out and living on a ranch out here.

Well, but didn't you, even as a young kid of five, realize the major difference in the environment. There were cactus and it was much more green in Illinois.

Kolbe's High School graduation photo
with his parents, sister, Beth, and brother, John
Yeah, but when you are that young you maybe aren't aware. You're just there. And to me this is where we were and this is the ranch. This is where I live now. That first year of course that when we got there I wasn't in school yet. Those were those days before kindergartens very widely established. Patagonia certainly had no kindergarten in those days. So, I wasn't in school that first year. My brother, John, was in second grade.

Is that your oldest brother?

No, my brother Walt is the oldest and he was in, at that point, he was in sixth grade. I guess he was. He and John would go off to school everyday and I would stay at home. I can remember that first year as a five-year-old kind of getting acquainted with the ranch and learning a lot of interesting things. Also, it gave me an opportunity as child to really take a hand in our family, in the guest ranch part of the operation.

I should mention that the ranch was us; there were four parts to it really. It was a cattle-raising operation. We had a commercial herd of cow-calf operation. But then we also fed our calves in the winter; we would bring them into the feed lot. So we had a feed lot operation. What we used to feed them was the hay and the grain that we would grow on our four hundred, five hundred acres of irrigated farmland. We had three large springs. One of them very large. That ran about 700 gallons a minute. So we kept three lakes filled with that and we irrigated several acres of farmland.

With that farmland, we would grow the alfalfa and we would grow this corn [we pass over the San Pedro River near St. David moving south in the van and Rep. Kolbe remarks about the water in the riverbed]. Those were the two main crops. We also had some barley and some wheat.

Was this mostly for the cattle or did you grow crops for other purposes?

Young Kolbe (third from left) on the campaign trail for Goldwater

It was mostly for the cattle. We didn't sell anything to anybody else, except we would sell occasionally to another rancher bales of hay, when they needed it for a horse or something like that. We would sell a little bit of hay. But no, we raised that all for feeding to our own cattle, for our cow-calf operation in the wintertime.

How many cattle did you have?

I recall we had about 300-350 mother cows. Of course you have the calves and the bulls that go along with that. But, it was 350 to 450 breeding cows. The third part of the operation was the guest ranch, where we took this very large house that had been built by the previous owner of the ranch back in the 1930s.

He had built this spectacular house up on the side of the hill; built it with beautiful pink stone that was quarried right on the ranch behind the house and so it was called Casa Rosada.

Does that all exist, still today?

It still exists. The house has been changed quite a bit. It is now all white. So it isn't Casa Rosada any more. It is Casa Blanca. But it still exists. It has been modified and changed quite a bit. But the basic house is still there.

It was built by this owner, who was a very wealthy industrialist, who had made a ton of money in the chemical business. He, Jeff Gott, Mr. Edward Jeff Gott, later sold out and became what is known now as Cinnamon. He loved as a sort of hobby building houses. This was truly one of the most spectacular of all of them. It was built back in 1939, 40, 41 - just before World War II. They could still get craftsmen. That they paid these Mexican craftsmen 25 cents an hour. It was the going pay. They just did fabulous work.

There's things you could not have possibly, could not have conceivably have done later, were able to be done in this house. It is filled with just magnificent pieces of furniture and handcrafted wood carving on the ceilings and beams and it's a very spectacular house. So it was really too big really for us and we lived down in the ranch house down at the bottom of the hill there.

This ranch house had been built in 1883. It had three-foot thick adobe walls so it stayed real, real cool during the day. And even in the hottest summer day. And it lots of sprawling rooms. But we were able to convert the Casa Rosada into a guest ranch, by taking the garages, very large garages and converting them into bedrooms and the office space was converted into a bedroom and we ended up with about 10 bedrooms, as I recall in the house.

Our ranch house down below, I don't even remember how many bedrooms, seven I guess or so in it. It was just a sprawling old house, built back as I said in 1883. Then there was other farm houses on the ranch. There was a foreman's house, there was a bunkhouse, there was a house we had for our cow wrangler, an old Mexican guy, who lived on the ranch, a remarkable guy, who lived on the ranch. And there were barns and shops and there were garages for tractors and the trucks that we had.

It was a large facility. It was a working cattle ranch, but of course most of the work was devoted to the farm. It was the farm that took up so much of the time, the energy and the labor. We had one person who looked after the cattle. In the winter, we had a different staff for the guest operation. We had a hostess, and we had a cook and we had two or three maids and had servers. And then my mother really ran the guest ranch. But I was kind of her kid helper. I loved being the little host to the dudes and the guests that came out from the East and I would greet them and I would take them on hikes and show them the ranch and take them down little canyons and things like that. It was really great fun.

You are the third son then of four children...

That's right. That's correct. Four children, three boys and then a girl that came along six years after I was born.

Could you describe then the relationship with your siblings?

Oh, I would say it was pretty normal, standard relationship. Walt was six years older and Beth was six years younger. That age differential made Walt look very much like an older brother and Beth was kind of almost like having, they say like having another parent there. And we used to love to play with Beth and teach school. She would be our pupil and we would be the teacher.

[What subjects?] Whatever it was: spelling or reading or writing or whatever. But that was the fun things about the ranch. We got to do lots of things.

A few years after we moved out there, a movie by the name of "Broken Lance" that starred Spencer Tracey and Richard Widmark and Robert Wagner and Katie Herrado. It was filmed there, so we got to take a couple days off of school to watch them shooting, they used our guest ranch, it was summertime and they were using the guest ranch for the filming. And I guess it was Springtime because the school was still on.

[Were you an extra at all?] No, I wasn't an extra in there, but I remember getting to watch all that. And we thought that was great stuff. So we immediately played it up. Instead, our new game was not cops and robbers. Our new game was filming movies. And we would rig up these cameras and sound booms with cans hanging at the end of a pole or a rope or a clothesline and that would be our sound boom and we would film these daring scenes and the battle and fight scenes in the barn, where we'd push each other off bales of hay and tumble down and it was all great fun.

Describe your mother, please.

Well, my mother is a very interesting character, really, the more I think about her and what she did is truly remarkable. She was born to a very well to do family in Chicago. Her father had been the inventor of a candy machine, candy manufacturing machine, that he invented to make his own candy, which is called Reed's Candy, the rolls of Reed's Candy: butterscotch and peppermint. That was my mother's maiden name, the Reeds.

The company still exists today. You can go in any store and still get Reed's candy. Individually wrapped, butterscotch or root beer or spearmint candies. And so, she grew up in Chicago as a child. There were only two children in her family. And of quite successful, well-to-do family. She met my went to girl's school, met my father at Northwestern University and father had come from a farming community in Minnesota and he and his widowed mother and six siblings, really scraped and scrimped to keep the family dairy farm together.

Dad only knew work from the youngest days of his childhood. So he came from a very different background, one that was quite poor, very modest to say the least and mother, who was quite well-to-do. So when they married, they lived there in Chicago on the North Shore in a very comfortable home and comfortable neighborhood.

Even then the North Shore was considered a very well-to-do area and when they made the decision to move to Arizona a lot of mother's friends were just simply aghast. Couldn't believe that she would do this. How is someone who has never been on a farm or a ranch, certainly never lived on a farm or a ranch. How is she going to adapt to this kind of an environment. But mother did.

That's the thing that is remarkable about my mother. She was a very adaptable person. She was very hard-working. Mother would get out there and bail the hay and ride the round-up and drive the tractors when it needed to be done and feed the chickens and do all those chores. We did a lot of putting up our own meat, slaughtering our own beef and lamb and stuff, cause of the guest ranch, we had to have so much meat.

Did you store it salted or cured or?

No. No. We had giant freezers there on the ranch. They were built before we came there. They were again. Again, the guy who built the ranch, the guest ranch and added on significantly to the ranch house there down below he was like he, maybe because of WWII, he was hoarding. When we came there, there was enough spices there for a hundred years.

There was, I mean gigantic tubs of allspice or Cayenne Pepper. Enough that you would never use it all. Similarly, he had built these gigantic freezers. These were not walk-in freezers, we did have a huge walk-in refrigerator that you could walk in and actually hang slabs of meat and that, and then after it cured we would cut it up and wrap it up and freeze it. We would then use those steaks and chicken and lamb and everything else during the course of the year.

We did a lot of our own. We were very self-sufficient in that sense. We had a lot of dairy cows. Enough to have enough butter and cream and milk for not only the family and the workers and their families, but also for the guest ranch during the year. We always had a 100 chickens or so and would get three, four dozen eggs a day and we always raised turkeys. We had pigs. We had all the basic animals except sea fish, (he chuckled) We didn't have sea fish of course there on the ranch.

What kind of people visited the guest ranch? Where were they from? Were they mostly Americans from back East?

They were Americans. We occasionally had a foreigner, but the vast majority were Americans. Most of them came from the Midwest and the Northeast. But I would say the Midwest is where we drew from mostly. A lot of the Northeasters go down to Florida. But from the Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois areas we drew most heavily.

Why did people then come out West? Was it for their health or were there other reasons?

No, it was, well some might come for their health, but it wasn't a spa or anything. They came for a vacation. In those days they came for an extended vacation. There was air travel. It was the days before jet travel, at least until the last few years before our ranch. There was jet travel then. So people came usually for two week stays. It was kind of the average. And they would come out and they really came for the relaxation and the horseback riding and the country. And there was a bunch of people that came because they liked the working cattle operation. The fact that it was a working cattle ranch. We had some that would always come out in November. That was when we would do the round up. And that was just, we had opened the guest ranch of November 1st. We had some that would come for that first month. Just because they wanted to ride round up with us. And of course I thought as a kid these people were nuts. They were absolutely crazy. Why would anybody pay to come out and do that kind of thing? You know I had to get up in the morning at 5 o'clock to ride round up. I couldn't image why anyone was paying me for this. (He chucked) But they loved it. They were, most of our guests, actually were regulars. In fact we took to having pins prepared five-year pins and ten-year pins for people who came back five years in a row or ten years in a row. And we had many in fact who came back ten years in a row.

Do you know where your parents advertised the guest ranch?

We did some advertising in Sunset magazine. As I recall that's the only magazine. No, occasionally we would put something in the travel section of the Chicago Tribune or couple of the major newspapers in the Midwest. I think we did get a few people in from Sunset. We put a very tiny kind of ad in the travel section, kind of in the back. But I think the vast majority of the people we got was by word of mouth. People would go back and say: There is this fabulous ranch and it's an authentic ranch and there was nothing fake about our ranch. It wasn't a dude ranch built to take care of dudes. It was a cattle ranch, working farm and cattle ranch that we just happened as another piece of the operation or as an aside to it we had this guest operation. So it really was a working cattle ranch. And that was the real draw for people. They would come out and when they went riding. They would be riding, even if they weren't working round up they would see the cattle and they would see the cowboy doing his work and the others. So they knew they were on a real ranch.

So you participated in like the branding and the

Oh yeah. Branding, spraying. In those days, it's hard to believe now, because it was very hard work. I started to say, it is hard to believe now we don't have, people just don't grow up,. They don't know what I am talking about. But our biggest problem in those days was the worms in the cattle. Cattle worms that got there because of blow flies. Cattle, when the calf was born - the umbilical cord - the blow flies would lay their eggs there and very quickly. The maggots would develop and they would eat into the wound there. Or, the calf or the cow would rub against a fence and make a little scratch and just as soon as there was a spot of blood they would lay these eggs and in 48 hours you would have an infestation of worms, maggots. And so most of our work except when we were rounding them up to do the annual separating the cows from the calves and the branding was riding daily to check on the cattle and to see if, and to doctor the cattle when they were wounded, injured that way. Well, that doesn't exist any more, because years ago they figured out a way to eradicate these flies and release in the air by plane boxes of tens of millions of sterilized flies. So basically it has been totally eliminated in two years they totally eliminated the problem, which was the most costly problem for cattle in Arizona, in the Southwest.

Did you lose a lot of cattle?,

Oh yeah, you would lose a lot of them. I mean sometimes as much as you doctored them and put medicine on them to kind of kill the worms and we had kind of like a black, thick tar that you would cover the wound with so that the flies couldn't get in there. They would rub that off and you would lose some every year, especially the calves. They would get infected and they didn't have the strength to withstand the infection. So we would lose a lot during the year. Now it is a thing of the past. You talk to a cowboy now that's been working ten years on a ranch and he would look at your dumbstruck: What are you talking about? Because it just doesn't exist any more. In fact, we have already eliminated the blow flies all the way down to Central America. In fact, I think it has been eradicated all the way through Honduras and Guatemala and down as far as Panama now. Yeah, it's an interesting little example of how a very simple technology totally, totally changed the way we do ranching now.

Could you describe your father a little?

My father was as I said. He was the youngest. Second youngest of the seven children. He grew up and he was born on this dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, a little town called Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. And when he was three years old his father was killed in an accident, a tree cutting accident. And so his mother and the siblings, he and his siblings struggled to keep the family farm together. And they worked very hard to do that, to keep the family farm together and they succeeded. Dad went to part of his high school he stayed there in Sleepy Eye, but most of it he went to Red Wing which was the nearest, really large high school. And then he went to Hamlin University in St. Paul, [Minnesota] and then transferred down and went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and that is where he met my mother.

How old were they when they married?

Let's see, yes, dad would have been 28 and mother would have been 21. There was seven years between them, five years between them I'm sorry.

Kolbe Interview Continued