When Manly and Theresa Chase crossed Raton Pass on the New Mexico-Colorado border just after the Civil War, they had brought with them everything they could carry by covered wagon. Along the way they rounded up a number of wild horses and upon reaching an area near what is now Cimarrón, New Mexico, they traded those horses for 1,000 acres and launched what would become a ranching dynasty.
Four generations later, the last living descendant of the Chase family, cattlewoman Gretchen Sammis, an inductee to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, has made certain the famous Chase Ranch, which had grown to 1,100 acres through the years, continues its heritage by establishing a foundation to preserve the rich history it represents.
The Chase Ranch Foundation, owner of the historic Chase Ranch near Cimarrón since Sammis passed away in Aug. of 2012, and the adjacent and famous Philmont Scout Ranch, have announced the joint signing of a long-term lease and operating agreement that will help restore facilities at the ranch and open the ranch up to scouts and the general public in the years ahead.
“Gretchen Sammis was a model of community service and integrity, hard work and gracious hospitality, a stalwart protector of her ranch and her friends, a generous benefactor, a woman whose words and blue-eyed gaze were direct and discerning,” Thelma Coker, one of the foundation’s directors, said in a prepared statement last week.
“This is just an unbelievable opportunity to preserve, protect, and enhance the dream of one of the great women in New Mexico ranching history,” John H. Green, the Boy Scouts of America’s National Group Director for Outdoor Adventures, said at the signing ceremony.
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Upon her death, Sammis specified in her will that the ranch should be preserved and operated as a model historic operation, after her life partner and fellow Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee Ruby Gobble lived out her years there. A little less than a year later, Gobble, 83, passed away, setting into motion the operating agreement between the ranch foundation and the Scout Ranch.
Gobble, a trick rider and world champion roper, was Sammis’ companion for 49 years and also served as ranch manager down through the years. Noted for their veracity and community involvement, the two women have been heralded as meeting the criteria for induction into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, namely, being "women who shaped the West and changed the world."
Sammis, who also taught in Cimarrón Public Schools for 26 years, took over operations at the ranch after her grandfather died in 1954. Gobble quickly joined her as ranch foreman and the two women are credited with performing the work of wranglers to keep the facility operating in good order.
"If a well went down, they fixed it on the spot. If the snow trapped the herd in a pass, they were the ones who rescued them. There is nothing they couldn't and didn't do on that ranch and they did it with old fashion determination and pride," said Clarence Wrigley, a ranch historian in Fort Worth.
Restoration and educational programs are planned
The original ranch house, constructed of adobe, was well maintained through the years with wood burning stoves in each room. Sammis' bedroom suite seemed a little out of place and out of time, but that was because it was brought across the Santa Fe Trail by her great-grandfather a century before.
"Born to be a ranch woman, she (Sammis) attended college, then taught school while managing the ranch until 1972,” Coker said. “A community leader, Gretchen was the first woman to be president of the Northern New Mexico Livestock Association, first woman on the Cimarrón School Board and first woman chair of the Colfax County Soil and Water Conservation District," reads the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame biography of Sammis.
About her fellow honoree and friend, Gobble, the Museum and Hall of Fame is just as generous.
"Ruby can be described in many terms: accomplished horsewoman, trick rider, roping champion, rodeo queen, movie actress, and ranch foreman. Raised on her family’s Arizona ranch, she learned to ride at age three on burros and mastered roping shortly after. Beginning her rodeo career as a trick rider, Ruby switched to roping competitions, quickly winning several awards and championships. Always a capable ranch hand, Ruby made use of her versatile talents as foreman of the Chase Ranch," her bio reads.
Ed Pease, president of the Chase Ranch Foundation, noted that the Philmont Ranch, owned by the Boy Scouts of America, has the experience and resources to preserve the history of the ranch and the legacy of the women who made it successful in modern times.
“Philmont has decades of experience doing exactly the things she wanted done – preserving historic structures, managing high-quality museum collections, creating educational programs through living history presentations of New Mexico and American Southwest history," Pease said.
The agreement between the Philmont and the ranch foundation calls for no money exchange. In return for maintaining the facilities in good order, the scout ranch can utilize the land for scouting programs, establish a museum in the main ranch house, and will develop educational programs for both the scouts and the general public.
Officials say it is possible the ranch may be ready for its first public visitors next year.