WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees

Ron Searle (123)


The first time Ron Searle was ever in Arizona, he was a hitchhiker. He was returning to the States after his tour of duty in the Korean War. He was flown back to San Francisco, and he hitchhiked home through Arizona. Little did he know he would spend the majority of his life in in the high deserts of southeast Arizona. Ron Searle has been a rancher and horseman for over 65 years, with the majority of his time on his ranch west of Pearce, Arizona, in Cochise County.

Ron grew up in Wisconsin with one brother, Gerry, and a sister, JoAnn. He didn’t play any high school sports; he just played the trumpet in the marching band. Also, while he was in high school, Ron was part of a four-person band, and he can still scratch his way around on a fiddle. His dad was a house painter, so the ranching “bug” and interest in horses was not something that he grew up with.

Ron was a sergeant in the Air Force during the Korean War, and he was stationed on a radar site in Waverly, Iowa. It was during his days in the service that kindled his love for horses. He worked at a livestock auction sale barn, and it was during his tour of duty that he got involved with some wild and crazy event called chuck wagon races. Ron was an outrider, and there were four thoroughbred race horses hitched to a chuck wagon, and they could flat out run. He said, “That was the wildest event I have ever been involved with.”

After he was discharged from the service, he went back to Wisconsin, where he was a commercial sign painter, and he also built horse trailers with his brother. But the “horse thing” was now in his blood and was not to be denied. He became involved with horse shows in the Midwest. With his Appaloosa stallion, Pecos Bill, he won several state championships in performance and halter.

Ron had the opportunity to work with Monty Forman, one of the premier horse trainers in the country. He also honed his skills more when he broke and rode horses for Bitterroot Stock Farm in Montana for 15 years. Ron learned his lessons well, as he did become an excellent horse trainer.

In 1961, he moved to Arizona, where he started training horses. Ron opened his own training stables and boarding facilities in Tucson and had a very successful business. When he began to teach his own clinics, he wanted to teach his clients how to get the most out of their horse the easy way and that teaching them is not as tough as you think. He held clinics in Alaska, Oregon and Idaho, and even went as far as Nova Scotia to share his knowledge. Along with his ranching and horse training, Ron was also known for his well-trained Border collie dogs.

One of the reasons his training stables were so successful was that he had a contract with a Hungarian countess named Margot Bessenyay. She had escaped Hungary during World War II with a herd of Hungarian horses, and she hired Ron Searle to be her trainer. She wanted her horses to excel in endurance rides and working cattle. This contract lasted for 12 years.

In 1962, Ron married a woman he knew from his Midwest horse show days. He stepped into a ready-made family, as Marilyn had six kids. Of those kids, the 6-year-old little boy is our own Richard Searle. Richard told me, “Ron was not my father, but he sure was my dad.” Ron and Marilyn had two kids of their own, Andrea and Rona Lyn.

In 1971, he purchased the Old Hadley Ranch in Pearce, Ariz., and moved his family to Cochise County. The ranch at Pearce went from the top of the Dragoon Mountains to the edge of the Old Pearce town site, from Middle March Pass to the Cochise Stronghold and ran approximately 450 cows.

Even though he had sold the Tucson Stables and moved to the ranch in Pearce, the training contract with the Hungarian countess was still in effect. Sometimes, his training did get him in some tight spots. At the ranch, Ron had some Percheron draft horses that were crossed with the Hungarian horses, and he thought they should be taught how to pull a wagon. The training seemed to be going well. Ron and brother Gerry were on the wagon, and they took the team to the top of a hill on the ranch. As they were ready to descend, Ron looked at Gerry and asked, “Do you think we need brakes on the wagon?” We think the answer must have been no, as off the hill they started. The wagon ran up on the horses’ hocks, they stampeded, and harness and wagon parts was scattered for a half a mile. Ron and Gerry were fine as they bailed early.

Surviving a wagon wreck, although exciting, is nothing like being hit by a train and surviving. Let’s go back to Ron’s days in Wisconsin, when he was working for the sign-painting company. Ron was driving a company boom truck and, yes, on a foggy morning, Ron and the boom truck were on the tracks when the train came through. When the family got there, Ron had been covered and laid out with the dead.But when a cousin walked by, he saw movement. Ron had wiggled and the cousin saw it. So they shipped Ron to the hospital instead of the morgue.

Ron was actively involved with the Cochise /Graham Cattle Growers Association, serving as an officer for more than four years. He was also an early member of the National Cutting Horse Association, and I do mean an early member, as his membership number is 123. To put that in perspective, his son, Richard, is a member and his number is 62,234. Not only was Ron a member, he also held a judge’s card. Ron judged some of the most prestigious cuttings in the country. He was a judge at the Cow Palace in San Francisco; he judged the New Mexico finals, as well as, the Fargo, N. D., event. To bring it back to local, Ron was a founding member of the Southern Arizona Cutting Horse Association.

Ron sold most of his ranch in 2001, but he still lives on Middle March Road and still runs cattle with his son and grandson. In 2003, Ron’s wife, Marilyn, died. He has remarried, to Janet, a high school sweetheart. And it is very interesting to note that this woman, Janet, has six kids. They have known each other forever and, in fact, when Ron went in the service and was leaving for Korea, it was his high school sweetheart, Janet, that was on the dock to say goodbye. I asked Janet what she thought was important for the world to know about Ron Searle. She said, “He is a very caring man. He cares about everybody and everything. It matters.” It was some 50 years later, but now they have been married 13 years.

Ron said, “It has been a good life with family, cows and horses.” Ronald M. Searle has been an active and influential rancher, horseman and stockman in the Sulphur Springs Valley for over 45 years and is the 2018 Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee.