WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


Down Aravaipa Canyon in 1919, Rocky Vindiola was born. Rock said, “There weren't even doctors around then.” Rocky was one of 12 brothers and sisters who grew up on the T-rail Ranch. They were farmin’ and ranchin' and everything that comes with it.

He started school in Aravaipa, but at age 18 he headed for Pima. At first he did a little farming, but he soon went to work for Ray Cluff on 4 Bar One Ranch. This was a rough mountain ranch on the east end of Mt. Graham, which Rocky called home for 3 years.

After 3 years with Mr. Cluff, Rocky went to work for Skeet Bowman out on the Indian reservation by Coolidge Dam. They were way out there in the "boonies," 50 miles from anywhere. The desert was hot and flat, and Stanley Butte was very rough. This was one long, long year for Rocky.

One day Rocky was in Safford, just minding his own business, walking down the sidewalk, when a pick-up pulled up beside him and rolled down the window. In the pick-up was a man named 'Woody" Wilson and he offered Rocky a job working on a ranch on the Safford side of the Graham Mountains. Rocky said he didn't have to think long, one year chasing cattle on the reservation was more than enough. He said he was so happy "I wanted to hug Woody." For the next 9 years Rocky cowboyed for Woody Wilson.

The last stop in Rocky's cowboying career was working for Preston Larson. For the next 18 years Rocky took care of a few cows and calves and a whole bunch of steers as they roamed around the Winchester and Galiuro mountains. This 50-section ranch covered deep, deep canyons, huge bald ridges and rugged mountain peaks. Rocky talked about working with all the neighbors. He worked with W.D. Wear, Homer Byrd, Alvin Browning, the cowboys at the Hooker ranch and Simon Chivera from the 76.

But no story about Rocky Vindiola would be complete without talking about his rescue of six Davis-Monthan airmen when they bailed out of the flaming B-50 bomber just before it crashed near Bassett Peak. Just after midnight on July 13, 1950, Rocky and his wife saw the flames and heard the explosion as the plane went down. At daylight the next morning Rocky saddled up 6 horses and headed toward the crash. Rocky said, "I don't know why I went. I could have picked up the phone and called for help, but I guess God told me, “You'd better do something. There is somebody waiting for you.” Four hours later, Rocky rode up on the burning wreckage. The aluminum was flowing like water it was still so hot. Rocky found six stunned survivors and he helped them mount up for the ride out of the canyon. Those hurt the worst rode on the horses through the roughest spots. Later on, some preferred walking. It was a long, long torturous trek out of the mountains. The airmen began to wonder just how long the ride to the ranch would take.

They would ask Rocky if they were getting close to the house and Rocky would answer, "It's just over the hill." Each time they asked the answer came, "It's just over the hill."

Finally by mid afternoon they got close enough to the ranch where an ambulance could reach them, loaded them up and took them away. The six exhausted, thirsty, hungry, airmen were awfully glad to be alive and ever grateful to the cowboy named Rocky Vindiola.

Rocky left the Larson ranch and drove a road grader for 7 years and he also worked at Farmer's Pump Company for 11 years before he retired for good. Rocky is married to Rita Vindiola and they have 3 kids and 3 step kids. The day I visited Rocky's house for my interview, the 'ol cowboy was babysitting his two year old great granddaughter.

Rocky spent two years in the Army and he spent 40 + years working cattle down Aravaipa Canyon, on top of Mt. Graham, on the flats of the Indian reservation and all around the rugged Galiuro's. Rocky said he liked cowboying because of the fresh air, but it wasn't easy. Amen, Rocky, Amen

Prepared by Eddie Browning.