WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


Ralph C. Cowan was born in Tombstone on April 3,1899, the son of William and Florence Cowan, a pioneer Cochise County ranching family. Ralph represents the second generation in the Cowan family, which has been involved in over one hundred years of ranching in southern Arizona. Ralph's father, William Cowan, was born at Covey Hill in the province of Quebec, Canada in 1857. After the American Civil War, the "go west" fever struck him. In 1879 he went to Virginia City, Nevada and later moved further south to Tombstone. He started the NI outfit in 1884 with two milk cows he first brought to Tombstone with the NI brand. A miner and banker as well as rancher, Ralph's father was well known for his thrift and his capacity for hard work. He instilled these qualities in his son. Ralph has instilled the same qualities in his three sons William R. "Bill, James H. "Jim" and Robert E. "Bob".

William Cowan had the foresight to understand that the federal government would create and administer regulations for livestock grazing on the federal domain. With that in mind he began buying neighboring ranches and homesteads comprised of deeded land. In doing so, he left a tremendous legacy to his son. Ralph added further to the original holdings.

Ralph spent his school years at Tombstone, Arizona. As a youngster, he rode as "rep" man for the NI's when the neighbors gathered. He was in charge of the chuckwagon at the age of 19.

Ralph married Mattie Geers, a native of Paolo, Kansas who had moved to Gleeson in 1918 to visit her brother. Ralph and Mattie were married on Christmas Day 1921, a union that lasted for more than 56 years.

Mattie soon found out that she had not only taken a husband for better or worse, but she had wedded the whole cattle business. To the Cowans, cattle ranching was their life. In 1939 Mattie founded the Cowbelles, which became a National organization.

The first few years of Ralph and Mattie's marriage were spent living from cow camp to cow camp as drought forced cattle to be moved from Arizona to Sonora, Mexico, to Texas, back to Sonora and finally back home to Arizona in 1925. In 1926, when Bill was two-and-a-half, the family settled in the house at the NI headquarters near McNeal. The Sulphur Springs Valley received an influx of homesteading settlers who hoped to dry farm, and inevitably failed in the brittle climate. Ralph and Mattie bought out a number of homesteads and he also bought the old Reeves Ranch and the JO near Tombstone in 1932. The Cowans raised many of their own registered Hereford bulls and registered Quarter Horses, at times requiring as many as 150 head to keep their cowboys mounted.

Ralph was appointed to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1939 to fill a seat vacated by a death and served through 1940. He then ran for the Senate where he served for some 20 years. Ralph was a tireless advocate for the cattle industry and spent many hours at the Adams Hotel where much of the state's business was conducted. Ralph served as president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association in 1952 and 1953. He was extremely active in the American National Cattleman's Association. He was also a Mason, Shriner and a Past Grand Patron of the Eastern Star. Ralph passed away at home in December 1977.

Ralph's youngest son, Bob is still in the cow business, living at the JO in Tombstone. Bill and Jim live in Tucson. Ralph had seven granddaughters and four great grandsons and two great granddaughters.