History of Watrous Valley Ranch
Watrous Valley Ranch, located in Mora and San Miguel Counties, New Mexico, is comprised of the original Watrous House, an adobe compound built by Samuel Watrous circa 1841 to be his home and store, and the parts of the old original New Mexico land grant given to Samuel Watrous and partners. Watrous Valley Ranch currently encompasses the restored Watrous House, 5.0 miles of Mora River frontage and 40,000 acres of land that has sustained cattle and horses in the valley since the Santa Fe Trail began in the 1830’s. In 2002, the current owners assembled the old Watrous holdings and combined those with the Phillips Ranch (link to target about Phillips Ranch below) located further down the Mora River to form what is known today as Watrous Valley Ranch.
When the Watrous House was built, materials such as lumber, windows, doors and other materials were not easily obtainable so they were hauled in by wagon over the Santa Fe Trail. Watrous House was one of the first houses built on the Santa Fe Trail during a time when the land was still a province of Mexico.
In an article written by Anna Nolan Clark for New Mexico Magazine in 1938, she describes the Watrous House: “There he [Samuel Watrous] built his house, an immense fort-like place of ‘adobe’ having twenty rooms all opening on to an inner patio (enclosed courtyard). At one end was a huge store and in back of it two storerooms each twice its size.” To create a shady driveway around the house, Watrous planted trees. Transplanted cottonwoods and Vermont Willow trees reminded him of the beauty that surrounded him as a young boy. He took time out of his busy schedule to plant trees, trees and more trees.
Today there are hundreds of Black Willow trees around the house and the pastures today, all originally planted by Sam Watrous. Many of the large cottonwood trees remain as well.
In the 1850’s, after New Mexico had become part of the U.S. Territory, troops were sent in to the vicinity to offer protection. During this time, relations between Anglo settlers and many of the Indian tribes were at their worst. Fort Union, near the junction of the Mora river and the Sapello river , called the” La Junta Valley” was set up and became a principal fort which helped to supply all the other forts in the region. The fort was home to 600 troops and was the largest army fort west of the Mississippi at that time. Nearby ranches found the fort a viable market for all of the grains and forage that they could produce.
The setup of Fort Union created a great amount of traffic on the Santa Fe trail and therefore increased the number of travelers which passed by the store of Samuel Watrous. Watrous had to quickly increase his herd size to keep up with the sudden demand. Watrous also was the chief supplier of beef to the men stationed at Fort Union, which added to his need for larger herds. During this time Watrous enjoyed a sustained period of prosperity.
After the Civil War, the demand for cattle decreased significantly and Watrous went back to planting trees – and eventually the first orchard. He protected the orchard by planting more willow trees.
Watrous contributed a great deal to the La Junta valley and because of that the area came to be called Watrous, NM. Perhaps the greatest thing that Samuel Watrous did was the planting of trees up and down La Junta Valley where the Sapello meets the Mora.
Watrous House Ownership
The compound, “The Watrous House” was owned by three other families since the Watrous family. Current owners completely restored the house in 2004-2009 consistent with its original form.
One of the previous owners, the Shoemakers, raised purebred Palomino horses on the ranch. Their horses were some of the original foundation bloodlines for today’s quarter horses.
The Phillips Ranch
The Phillips Ranch, which is now part of the Watrous Valley ranch, was founded in 1959 through the purchase of the southernmost acreage of the historic Ft. Union Ranch. The ranch was owned by Chope Phillips, whose family as founders of Phillips Petroleum, acquired large ranch holdings in New Mexico. The Phillips Ranch, a traditional cattle ranch with large open range pastures, has operated as a commercial cattle operation since the days of Samuel Watrous.
Many old wagon roads, historic buildings, prehistoric Indian dwelling sites, petroglyphs, ancient trails and wagon ruts from the Santa Fe Trail can still be seen on the ranch today.