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Monte Ray Stewart papers, 1947-1952

MS 331

Collection Summary

Creator: Stewart, Monte Ray, 1892-1980
Collection Name: Monte Ray Stewart papers,
Inclusive Dates: 1947-1952
Physical Description:1.0 linear feet
Abstract:The official daily diaries kept by Monte Ray Stewart from 1947-1952, document his daily activities as District Ranger of the Prescott District, Prescott National Forest. Activities described include work on timber sales, forest fire suppression, law enforcement, and encounters with wildlife, poachers, arsonists and an occasional cattle rustler. The photographs document Monte Ray Stewart and his family.
Collection Number:MS 331
Repository: University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections
University of Arizona
PO Box 210055
Tucson, AZ 85721-0055
Phone: 520-621-6423
Fax: 520-621-9733

Biographical Note

by Alex Witzeman (grandson of M. R. Stewart), edited by Peter L. Steere

Monte Ray Stewart was born on December 24, 1892 on a small ranch in Coke County Texas. He was one of seven children born to Rance and Caledonia Stewart. In addition to operating the ranch, Rance was a leather worker, building saddles, harnesses, and tack. The most important event in Ray's early life occurred when he was eight or nine years old. His father had taken a job as a leather worker in nearby Ballinger, Texas and moved his family in a wagon from the ranch to live there. After a short time in Ballinger, Rance accepted a job as a cook with a cattle company that was preparing to drive a herd to El Paso. Against the wishes of Caledonia, he went on the cattle drive, leaving his pregnant wife and six children behind in Ballinger.

Rance did not return from El Paso and the family was forced to move back to their place in Coke County. Ray and the other older boys assumed primary responsibility for supporting their mother, who had a newborn to care for, and their other brothers and sisters. Ray left school after completing only four or five years of formal education and worked the ranch until he was bout fourteen or fifteen years of age. With his younger brothers now old enough to handle the work of the ranch, Ray began a series of jobs as a cowhand, working in New Mexico and Texas. He was employed on a ranch near Deming, New Mexico owned by a Mr. Pride for a few years. During 1910 and 1911, he worked on the Matador Ranch in West Texas. By this time, Ray had acquired all of the skills of the West Texas cowboy. By all accounts, there were not many men who, even in those days, could best Ray in any contest of horsemanship, roping or shooting. In his later years, I myself saw Ray outride, outwork, and generally put to shame cowboys half his age.

He was drafted into the Army in 1917, served a short hitch taking care of horses for a cavalry unit, and was discharged in 1918. At this time, he undertook his first entrepreneurial venture, purchasing a herd of horses from the Army in New Mexico and shipping them by rail to Globe, Arizona. From there, he drove the remuda to Payson, where he sold them to ranchers in the Tonto Basin area. Ray decided he liked the country and bought a small ranch on Reynolds Creek in the Sierra Ancha Mountains of Arizona. During this time, he began working part time for the Forest Service. According to his son, Don Stewart, his first assignments were "smoke chasing and enforcing grazing regulations." The supervisor valued Ray's skills as a cowboy and his steadiness and dependability. He also recognized the respect Ray won from the local ranchers with his honesty, modesty, and West Texas civility. He suggested that Ray apply for a permanent position. Ray said that he would like to work for the Forest Service, but that his meager education would probably prevent him from passing the required Civil Service examination. According to Ray, his supervisor told him to submit an application, saying, " don't worry about the test, I'll take care of that."

Ray was hired by the Forest Service around 1920 and assigned to the Roosevelt District. Around this time, his father, Rance reappeared in Coke County. Spurned by Caledonia(always called Granny by family members) who he had abandoned twenty years previously, he sought out each of his children, most of whom also refused to have anything to do with him. He traveled to Globe, Arizona and located Ray. Ray always had resented his father, but he treated him with respect and did not reject him. Ray told me the following story about his encounter with his father, Rance in Globe.

"I never did have no feelings for the man, but he was my father. When I met up with him in Globe after all those years, he said he wanted to give me a horse. He described this horse to me, and told me that it was down in the Papago country by the Mexican border. He told me where he had last seen it, what brand it had on it, and told me if I wanted to ride down there and find it I could have it. It was the only thing he ever gave me. So I rode down there and found it and brought it back to Roosevelt."

Ray traveled briefly to Coke County in 1922 and married May Idella Smith. They returned to Roosevelt where they took up housekeeping and began their family which eventually consisted of three children: Alva Gene (my mother), Donald, and Harvey. After their house in Roosevelt burned down, Ray and his family moved to Young, and a few years later they moved back to Reynolds Creek. Ray was employed by the Forest Service during this period.

When the depression hit in 1929, Ray moved his family back to Coke County, Texas. He built a modern house with indoor plumbing and electricity on a ranch that May had inherited ("The Home Place") and lived there for six years. Perhaps because of his impoverished childhood, Ray was always frugal without being miserly and was able to wring every last cent of profit from a cattle operation. He was sable to save enough money to buy another nearby ranch during this time; "The Rankin Place." Both of these ranches remain in the family today, as does the "Edith Place" where he was born.

Ray moved his family back to Reynolds Creek in 1935 and resumed his career with the Forest Service. Soon after they returned to Arizona, the ranger at Young died and Ray was assigned to the Young District. He served in that position until 1943, living with his family in a remote Ranger station in Pleasant Valley. During this time his assistant was a man named Todd Joy. In reference to Ray's management style, Todd once told Don Stewart; " Ray never gave me an order the whole time I worked for him. We just talked over what needed to be done together and then went out and did it." Ray loved the Tonto Basin country but was appalled by the damage done to the area by overgrazing. Like his colleague Fred Croxen, he had seen first hand the changes in the land caused by cattle ranching and mining. Throughout his career in the Forest Service, Ray was a powerful advocate for conservation and the protection of public lands. He was effective in this role because of his intimate understanding of and ability to communicate with ranchers.

In 1943, Ray accepted a position as District Ranger of the Prescott District in the Prescott National Forest. With his family, he moved to Prescott. He held this position for eleven years, an unusually long period for such an assignment. Ray felt that he did not rise to a higher position in the Forest Service due to his lack of education. However his Forest Service Daily Activity Log (diary) is well-written, legible, and constitutes an excellent record of his work. He valued education highly and saw to it that all of children went to college. Alva Gene and Donald both attended the University of Arizona, Harvey was educated during his career in the Air Force. Alva Gene graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism in 1945, the first person in her family to graduate from college. Two of Ray's grandchildren subsequently graduated from the University of Arizona and a great grand daughter is currently attending that institution. Ray Stewart retired from the Forest Service in 1954 and moved for the last time back to Texas. He purchased another ranch with money he had saved for his retirement. This one was in Dawson County near Big Springs and included large cotton fields. Donald, who had just completed a hitch in the Navy and had married a girl from Crown King, Arizona (Martha), moved into the house on the ranch with his new bride. Ray and May purchased a home in nearby Lamesa. Donald and Ray worked together to maintain herds of cattle and sheep on the Dawson County place as well as on the Coke County properties. In the late 1950's, Ray signed exploration leases with an oil company and they began drilling test wells on the Dawson County ranch. Several productive wells were brought in making Ray financially secure during the last years of his life. Ray was adept at forcing oil operators to clean up any and all spills on his property, to build roads where he wanted them and to protect the groundwater. On his properties, he was able to avoid the pollution and general mess that oil drilling often left in its wake. He also undertook many improvements on his ranches, installing tank dams, fences, and seeding the land with hybrid grasses suited to West Texas conditions.

Ray died at the age of eighty-seven years in 1980. The day he died, he spent the morning on a horse working cattle with his grandson, Mike Stewart. He came in at lunch time and said he didn't feel well. He laid down on the sofa in the ranch house for a quick thirty minute nap, as was his habit. Mike soon realized he was seriously ill and helped out to the pickup. Ray Stewart was dead from a heart attack by the time Mike had raced the thirty miles to the clinic in town. He is buried next to May (who died three years earlier) in the little cemetery outside of Lamesa, Texas.

Scope and Content Note

The official daily diaries kept by Monte Ray Stewart from 1947-1952, document his daily activities as District Ranger of the Prescott District, Prescott National Forest. Activities described include work on timber sales, forest fire suppression, law enforcement, and encounters with wildlife, poachers, arsonists and an occasional cattle rustler. The photographs document Monte Ray Stewart and his family.


This collection is organized into two series
Series I: Official Daily Diaries, 1947-1952
Series II: Photographs, No Date





It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents for the University of Arizona, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Access Terms

Personal Name(s)
Stewart, Monte Ray, 1892-1980

Corporate Name(s)
United States -- Forest Service
United States -- Forest Service -- Southwestern Region

Geographic Name(s)
Prescott National Forest (Ariz.)

Forest Districts (Ariz.)
Forest Reserves -- Arizona -- Prescott National Forest
Forest Service -- United States -- History
Forest and Forestry -- Arizona

Genre Form(s)

Administrative Information

Credit Line

Monte Ray Stewart papers (MS 331). Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries.

Container List

Series I: Official Daily Diaries, 1947-1952
11-36 Official Daily Diaries. , January, 1947-December, 1949
237-72 Official Daily Diaries. , January, 1950-December, 1952
Series II: Photographs, No Date
273 Photographs. , No Date