Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Internet Presentation

Version 050412

 

LOPEZ RANCH CEMETERY

N34 14 9.11, W113 46 53.76 (WGS84)

 

Mohave County, Arizona

 

By

 

Kathy Block

APCRP Historical Staff

 

While researching information about Swansea, I found a photo on the Internet with this caption: “Lopez Ranch Graves: Graves of former owners of Lopez Ranch in the Arizona desert. This ranch produced crops to supply to the mines at Swansea, which is now preserved and a fun place to visit.” The photo showed at least 4 rock-covered mounds with wooden crosses laying on them surrounded by bushes, and the main road from the Bill Williams River crossing coming up the hill in the background.

 

Google Earth Map showing location. Courtesy Neal Du Shane.

 

This remote site on the north bank of the Bill Williams River is approximately 12 miles Northeast of Swansea, less than a mile north of the river crossing, downstream from a natural gas pipeline crossing.

 

 A kiosk at Swansea gave this information about OHV Adventures:

 

“EL PASO PIPELINE & BILL WILLIAMS RIVER CROSSING. The above-ground pipeline continues northeast, up-and-down across the terrain to a large wash where it can be seen joining the main three foot diameter El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline, which crosses the Bill Williams River. The river crossing for OHVs is just downstream of the pipeline crossing. Beware: the sand is very loose and the river crossing can be deep! The route cuts through a portion of the historic Lopez Ranch, so please respect private property.” (Italics by author.)

 

In April 2012, we drove north from Swansea to the river crossing on a high-clearance road that sometimes went steeply into and out of steep-sided washes. Part of the road followed the above-mentioned gas pipeline. In places, this road dropped sharply off ridges.  Ed needed to walk ahead to check out the road! Occasionally the pipeline crossed washes, suspended above ground.

 

Ed Block checking downhill drop into large wash, en route to the river.

Photo courtesy Author

Ed Block examines pipe crossing over wash.

Photo courtesy Author

                                                                    

 

The Bill Williams River crossing was challenging.  Ed took off his jeans and boots and waded out into cold, clear water. He found a crossing about a foot deep. We first skirted a shallow sandy backwater and then plunged full speed thru the deeper water, on the other side of a sandy island. If we had stalled, we possibly would have become stuck in the sandy bottom!

 

Bill Williams River crossing – approximately one foot deep. Photo courtesy Author

Ed Block checking water depth. Main channel north side of Sand Island. Photo courtesy Author

 

The rough road on the north side led through thick brush to a dirt road going uphill to the north.  While on this road, we saw a ridge with five graves – the Lopez Ranch Cemetery. They are on a north-south trending bluff at the southern edge of the Rawhide Mountains. A pull-off to the left gives parking access to the trail to the cemetery.

 

A steep 150 foot long path with a pipe across the start (to block access) led up from the road. The five graves are side by side, approximately six feet apart, oriented north to south with the heads pointed north. Three are covered with closely packed stones and the other two had fewer stones and more gravel.  At the time of our visit, one grave had a 2011 nickel on it; two had pennies – 1999 and 2011. (One can examine coins left on graves to have a rough idea of when the graves were visited.)  A recent animal bone was on the foot of one grave. (Dr. William Halliday, a retired heart surgeon, confirmed it was an animal, not human, bone.) There are four adult males, one adult female, according to our on-site research.  Some of the graves had brush growing on and around them, and all had decaying, unreadable wooden crosses held together with rusty bailing wire. The fairly bare top of the ridge was about 40 feet wide, north to south, and 100 feet long, east to west.

 

Map of cemetery and graves by Ed Block.

“X” represents position of crosses and or head in each grave.

 

Author looks down the steep 150 foot long path to road below. Photo courtesy Ed Block.

1999 nickel placed on grave. Photo courtesy Author.

2011 penny placed on another grave. Photo courtesy Author

Animal bone at foot of a grave. Photo courtesy Author

 

Looking North downhill toward southern edge of Rawhide Mountains. Ed Block resting at right (10 Toes up). Photo courtesy Author.

Grave with a decayed unreadable wooden cross. Photo courtesy Author.

 

There is a nice view to the south from the bluff, which is 40 to 60 feet high, to the Bill Williams River below.  Looking east, you can see the gas pipeline crossing upriver. Back down the path, north toward the main road, the southern edge of the Rawhide Mountains begins. A sandy wash is below the bluff, to the west.

 

Looking South towards the Bill Williams River

Ed Block researches the Lopez Ranch Cemetery with pipe line in background.

 

In 1994 a report was written for El Paso Natural Gas Company that includes information about the Lopez Ranch and Cemetery. It listed the five burials in the cemetery. I was able to locate Death Certificate’s for 4 of the 5 burials. Here's what they contained:

 

Grave #1. MARY LOPEZ ALMA. No Death Certificate. Apparently she was the first burial in the family plot. She had returned from a camping trip to Zion National Park and became ill and died without a doctor present, in 1931. She was married and the daughter of Abraham Lopez Sr. and Maria Rojas Lopez, born sometime after their marriage in 1900. She was one of 13 children.

 

Grave #2. ABRAHAM R. LOPEZ, SR. Death Certificate. Dated November 8, 1933 and filed in Yuma County.  (La Paz County, where Swansea was located, didn't become a separate county until 1983. The Bill Williams River divides this county from Mohave County.) His residence was given as “Ranch on Bill Williams River”. He died of inflammation of kidneys and bladder, and was a rancher and “farming.”  He was born in 1878 and left a spouse, Maria R. Lopez. The Death Certificate states he was “buried on the ranch” the next day, Nov. 9, 1933, by “family.” The Death Certificate was not filed until Nov.20, 1933 and was signed “August R. Lopez, Jr.” in Bouse, Arizona.  The family attributed his death to “miner's consumption.” He had worked at various mines and at Swansea.  He was buried beside his daughter.

 

GRAVE #3. ABRAHAM LOPEZ, JR. Death Certificate. He was born July 16, 1913 and died November 17, 1934, age 21 years, 4 months, 1 day.  He was single. He died from first and second degree burns of both arms, chest, back, and buttocks, finally dying from shock 2 days later.  He'd just bought a Model A Ford and was using a gallows frame at Swansea as a hoist to work on the car. The carbide light he was using was knocked into a bucket of gasoline when the car shifted; causing an explosion that killed him. He was taken to the cemetery and buried beside his father.

 

Grave #4. GUMERCINDO LOPEZ. The Death Certificate misspells his name as “Cumercundo” He was born in 1926 and was 17 years, 11 months, and 14 days old when he died from a fractured skull in a jeep accident on January 10, 1944. He was a laborer, miner, and a soldier at Camp Bouse during the final years of World War II. He was the son of Abraham Sr. and Marie Rojas Lopez, and was buried 4 days later next to his brother Abraham Jr. The burial place on the Death Certificate was noted as “a ranch near Bouse”.

 

Grave #5. AUGUSTINE RODRIGUEZ LOPEZ. The Death Certificate states he was born July 6, 1907 and died October 25, 1944. He was married to Hattie Lopez. His parents were Abraham Lopez and Marie Rojaz Lopez. The cause of death was given as “accidental drowning.” He was working at Parker Dam with a maintenance crew on a tugboat, dredging sand bars from an intake area when he was caught in a cable and pulled underwater. He was the last family member to be buried in the Lopez Cemetery, and occupies the eastern end next to his brother Gumercindo.

 

You can see that this family suffered the tragic loss of the father and one daughter and three sons, all buried in Lopez Ranch Cemetery.

 

The Lopez Family ranch began with the marriage of Abraham Lopez and Maria Rojas in 1900. She lived in Santa Maria, a town that used to exist near where the Santa Maria and Big Sandy rivers join to form the Bill Williams River. The site was flooded when Alamo Lake Dam was built. In the 1920s, Abraham and Maria bought a ranch on the north side of the Bill Williams River about six miles S.W. of their later ranch. However, they soon learned they'd been swindled by a Swansea school teacher who sold them the land but didn't have title to the land! It was actually Federal Land that hadn't yet been surveyed. (It wasn't mapped until April 1949.)

 

Finally, Leo Lopez, a son of the late Abraham Lopez Sr., filed a homestead application in June 2, 1950, which was considered “late” in history of homestead applications in Arizona. It took two years and various legal difficulties to gain title to land the Lopez family thought they'd legitimately purchased almost 30 years earlier!

 

Government Land Office records shared by Bonnie Helten show the homestead patent was dated March 20, 1952.  In ornate formal language, the land, located by the Bill Williams River, was granted to “Leo Lopez and his heirs and assigns forever, subject to any vested and accrued water rights for mining, agricultural, manufacturing, or other purposes, and rights to ditches and reservoirs used in connection with such water rights.”

 

An interesting provision of this document, issued during the “cold war,” was that the U.S. Government reserved the right to enter the land and prospect for, mine, and remove ”all uranium, thorium, or any other material which is or   may be determined to be peculiarly essential to the provisions of the Act of August 1, 1946.”

 

The main minerals mined in this area were gold, silver, and copper. There were remains of an arrastra apparently near the river on the east side of the ranch, suggesting some earlier mining activity in the area.
 

Land Patent Certificate, Lopez Ranch,

courtesy Bonnie Helten.

 

The location of this Lopez homestead by the Bill Williams River provided productive bottomlands along the river and water for field irrigation. There are check dams and wells shown on maps of the area. A survey map for 1949, filed with BLM in May, 1951, before the land was patented, indicated there was a farmstead with three buildings, a ditch and fields that were labeled “Lopez”, with no cemetery shown.  We saw no signs of an active ranch or buildings except for an unused-looking road with a gate to the west near the river with a sign, “Private Ranch Road.” There were no fresh livestock signs. A fence began at the river, disappeared near the cemetery, and reappeared along the road as we drove north past the bluff.

 

Swansea, to which the ranch supposedly supplied produce, was active mostly from 1911 to 1929 (see APCRP, Swansea Cemetery), The Lopez family lived in a large frame house with an adobe food storage building and frame bunkhouse, corrals and pens for livestock (cattle, horses, pigs, and chickens.) There are modern day sightings of feral pigs as well as burros in the area. The father, Abraham, had planned to build a new house on the bluff east of the ranch to be on higher ground that would not be flooded, but this was never completed.

 

The Lopez family farmed about 100 acres, irrigating the crops with a diversion ditch from the Bill Williams River. This is shown on some maps. They cleverly picked a location where bedrock forced a continuous stream of water to the surface. Figs and pomegranate trees were planted along the ditch and peanuts were grown nearby! Crops that may have been sold in Swansea to hungry miners were; potatoes, melons, vegetables and fruits. This ditch, modified in the 1940s, curved around the bases of the river bluff below the cemetery area. The family was said to be “subsistence rather than cash oriented.” They butchered their own meat and wild game. The meat was preserved by jerking, and also hung in the adobe storehouse during cool weather! Shoes and leather goods were made from

the hides. Work at the Swansea mines supplemented their income.

 

The children went to school in Swansea (maybe where their father met the crooked teacher?) and stayed in town during the week and walked home to the ranch on weekends. After the mine closed in 1937, their mother, Maria Lopez, moved to Bouse with the young children, who could stay with her while her older sons stayed on the ranch.

 

Angelina Lopez Robbins, a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, is the daughter of Augustine Lopez. She recalled the ranch as a “wonderful place for children.” The ranch flooded at times and once she retreated to the ridge where the graves are located to wait out a storm. Young chickens and pigs were washed away by the flood waters!

 

Leo Lopez, who eventually received title to the ranch, was the last of the family members to reside on the ranch. He sold it afterwards and worked the rest of his life in a ministry in Nogales, and died in December, 1986. There were a number of owners since then. One apparently demolished the ranch buildings and leveled the area, in the late 1950s, removing all evidence of this once thriving homestead.  The fields were abandoned possibly due to a flood in the mid -1990s that scoured away much of the usable soil or deposited gravels in the fields. This could have been from major water releases from Alamo Lake Dam, which is 10 miles upstream.

 

An 1881 publication, “The Resources of Arizona: Its Mineral, Farming, and Grazing Lands, etc.etc.: A Manual of Reliable Information Concerning the Territory.” by Patrick Hamilton, Published Under Authority of the Legislature, Prescott, Arizona, had these comments about the Big Sandy area upriver from Lopez Ranch:

    

 “The soil is equally as rich and productive, (as in Yuma) but it requires capital to open canals, throw up embankments, and put the land in a condition for successful cultivation.  At present farming in Mohave is confined to the Big Sandy, in the southern part of the county, where there are about 1,000 acres under cultivation, producing fine crops of grain, vegetables and fruit. Successful farming in Arizona depends entirely on irrigation. There are thousands of acres of productive land in the leading valleys, which can be made available by a proper distribution of the present water supply. While the wealth of Arizona is in its mines, agriculture will always be a profitable calling, and the products of the soil command a good price. It is not the intention to invite hither a large agricultural population....the area of land which can be brought under cultivation is limited, and must remain so until artesian water shall send forth its fructifying stream, and make the dry valleys and plains to blossom as the rose.”

 

Historically the Bill Williams River was a major route of travel and exploration, beginning around 1860, when gold and silver mining communities such as Planet Ranch on the river and Signal, on the Big Sandy River, were established in the region. See the 1912 map “A Birds -Eye View of Territory Tributary to Yucca, AZ. By A.M. Stene, 1912.”, that shows some of these sites,

 

Historic 1912 map of area.

 

Swansea depended on water from the Bill Williams River and had a pumping plant on the river 3.7 miles northwest from town. All that remains of the Swansea Pumping Plant, reached by a 4x4 road just north of Swansea, is a concrete tank and some footings on the river bank. A short brushy path leads to the water.

 

In addition to the ruins of Swansea and its mines and mill preserved by the BLM, there is evidence of mining activities throughout the area. We found an adit in a remote wash, northeast of Lopez Ranch Cemetery, with a nearby pile of copper ore, and old cans, which may sometimes be useful to date old mining camps. We found one small rusted can that Allan Hall dated from 1887 to 1904 by its distinctive “Norton's side seam.”

 

Site of old mining camp with adit, pile of copper ore and old cans. Photo courtesy Author.

The earthen dam that formed Alamo Lake was completed in 1968. This dam was built just below the confluence of the Santa Maria and Big Sandy Rivers to provide water for irrigation and flood control on the Bill Williams River that now flows 46.3 miles into the Colorado River just north of Parker Dam. The dam and Alamo Lake were approved by Congress to provide public recreation – boating, fishing, and bird watching.  Alamo Lake is capable of capturing large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake once rose 11 vertical feet in one night. It fluctuates according to drought and rain conditions. On the east side of Alamo Lake is a State Park. There are also several small cemeteries near the Lake, with one grave near the entrance to the Park. The west side of the lake is undeveloped and is bordered by the Rawhide Mountains Wilderness. There is evidence of previous mining efforts with shafts, adits, tailings piles, and old cabins. Many mines were flooded by the lake. Some graves may be in the area, also.

 

The lower Bill Williams River was changed by the dam. The once extensive cottonwood, willow, and mesquite forests were largely lost and the wildlife that depended on these habitats was impacted as well. The Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1941 in an area along the river where there is one of the last stands of natural; flood regenerated cottonwood and willow forests and floating reed beds as it flows into the Colorado River. Now, 344 species of birds are listed as residing year-round or seasonally in the Refuge.  There are also deer, wild burros, javelina, coyotes, mountain lions, and small mammals living in the brushy, wild areas, and big horn sheep in the rocky cliffs above the river. This area is accessed by a gravel road, Planet Ranch Road, going east from Highway 95 just south of a bridge over the river. This road ends about 7 miles from the highway. It used to access a ford of the river and Planet Ranch, but flooded out in the 1970s, and is blocked by concrete barricades.

 

Ed Block hiking Bill Williams River. Photo courtesy Author.

The man who gave the river its name was a colorful trapper and mountain man named William Sherley Williams, He was  most often described as tall, skinny, gangly, with wild woolly red hair, a luxuriant beard, eccentric to the point of insanity, and having questionable hygiene!. “Old Bill” Williams was known as “the greatest free trapper of 'em all.” Bill Williams had come west as a missionary to the Osage Indians, but supposedly “they converted him.” He was born January 3, 1787 on Horse Creek in Rutherford County, North Carolina, the fourth of 9 children of Welch ancestry. He learned various Native American languages as a sergeant and scout with the Mississippi Mounted Rangers during the War of 1812.  He had an Osage wife, named A-Ci'n-Ga (Wind Blossom), the daughter of a chief. She died after bearing two daughters, Mary Ann in 1814 and Sarah around 1816.  Bill Williams may have had two more wives, and lived with the Osage for 25 years. His Native American name was “Lone Elk.” as he never returned to European-American life.  He roamed 30 years in the wilds of the Southwest. He lived in Taos, New Mexico with a Mexican widow and her three kids, and had a son Jose with her.

 

 There is some mystery about his burial place. Some records say that on March 14, 1849, a war party of Ute’s killed him and a companion, Dr. Ben Kern, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande in Southern Colorado, and the bodies were never reclaimed. Other stories say he froze to death on a lonely mountain pass. Legends also suggest he is lying in an unmarked grave in the mountains that bear his name.   There is a monument to him near his birthplace in North Carolina that reads: “'Old Bill Williams'. Well-known guide and trapper. Helped survey Santa Fe Trail. Guided the ill-fated Fremont expedition of 1848. Was born near here in 1787.” There is also an 8- foot- tall sculpture by B.R. Pettit erected in 1980 in the Bill Williams Memorial Park in Williams, Arizona.

 

Bill Williams Statue, in Bill Williams Memorial Park,  Williams, AZ

Route to pipeline road from Exit 25 on I-40. Courtesy Author.

 

 

Downriver from the Lopez Ranch is the well-known Planet Ranch on the south side of the Bill Williams River. It was evaluated in 2005 to determine the acreages and habitat types which could be created in support of a wildlife area. Three documented cultural sites were found near the farming area. There is a cemetery near Planet Ranch, called Esquerra Cemetery. It is located 2 - 3 miles to the west and across the river from the historic Planet settlement site, and APCRP has nine Death Certificates for it on file.  At the time the farm area had 45 fields totaling 2,205 acres, 15 of which were flood irrigated (428 acres). Eleven wells and 21 groundwater monitoring wells provided water also. In 2006 the city of Scottsdale, Arizona which had formerly owned Planet Ranch and planned to export water from it, sold the ranch to Phelps Dodge mining company, which is operating it as a nature reserve under a government program for companies to restore habitat in one area to balance environmental damage caused elsewhere. Many copper mines have been opened or reopened northwest of Swansea.

 

The ranching efforts at Planet Ranch have been abandoned. In 1978, Planet Ranch was used as by the Defense Nuclear Agency to study the blast effects of simultaneous detonations. The tests were done at Miner's Bluff.

 

After researching the Lopez Ranch Cemetery, Ed and I headed north towards Alamo Lake Road that winds east from I-40 to the west side of Alamo Lake. Somewhere we took a wrong turn and ended up in a series of progressively smaller tracks through colorful washes with red rock sides in a very wild, remote area. We passed various old mining efforts. Ed often used a compass to navigate us to the north. Eventually we came to a rough track on a ridge overlooking Alamo Lake Road to the north.  We had to drive several miles east towards Rawhide Mountain, until we finally were able to descend to Alamo Lake Road.  We decided we should have stayed on the main pipeline road! But, we would have missed experiencing some rugged, scenic country. A map of the pipeline shows the road emerging on Old Trails Highway.

 

 

 

You will need a high-clearance vehicle, possibly 4x4, for some stretches of the roads north from Swansea and to cross the Bill Williams River. 

 

The author wishes to express a special thank you to: Neal Du Shane for the Google Earth map; Bonnie Helten for finding and sharing the Land Office patent documents; Allan Hall for his astute analysis of the age of old cans from mining camps; and Ed Block for patiently negotiating the back country roads to find Lopez Cemetery and for measuring and drawing the graves for his detailed map of the Cemetery.

 

 

 

 

 

The Lopez Ranch Cemetery is on private property, although not posted, please respect property owner rights, help protect and preserve this historic site for others to enjoy for generations to come.

 

 

 

 

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Internet Presentation

Version 050412

 

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