Women of the West - Christin Peterson
Interview and photograph by WALTER WORKMAN
This Arizona rancher is undeterred by long hours, border unrest, or the difficulty of running cattle in a harsh desert environment.
Christin Peterson ranches in the rugged mountains of southern Arizona, so close to the Mexican border that drug traffickers routinely do trail maintenance on her land leased from the U.S. Forest Service. Add in factors such as handling livestock in an unforgiving landscape and climate, and it becomes clear that Peterson isn’t afraid of a challenge.
When I believe in something, I just do it. Being a woman doesn’t enter into it. My husband, Larry, and I make the business decisions, but I’m the one that checks on cows and handles the day-to-day operations.
I’m from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, growing up on the lakes. I raced sailboats in school and got a degree in physical education. After school, looking for adventure, I went to Haiti to teach PE. there, I met my husband and left my teaching position to teach at a mission school for the handicapped. Larry and I began importing and training Arabian horses, and raising our family.
A business opportunity for Larry brought our family to Arizona—first to Tucson, then to Sonoita, and finally to Patagonia. In Sonoita, we bought an Arabian stud and started crossing him with Quarter Horses, looking for the endurance of the Arabians with the strength of the Quarter Horses.
I didn’t really start riding until I was 35, in Arizona. We bought the ranch in ’97, but our lease needed time to recover, so we had a non-use permit for several years. That allowed time to plan our growth strategy. We wanted Black Angus, and many doubted they would make full use of our steep, rugged pastures. Fortunately, we have proven them wrong.
My son, Thor, is my partner out there. With a son named Thor and Peterson as a last name, can you tell that we are of Scandinavian descent?
I started out by hiring a local cowboy, Rex Dalton, who’s a really good hand, and he helped me up the learning curve in a hurry. I have really good neighbors, like Sonny McCuistion, who, at 89, has ranched his whole life. Sonny and I still work together on an almost daily basis.
Besides working with the USFS, which leases us our pastures, we also have a bat cave on our lease whose inhabitants are being studied by the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]. When I had a calf killed the first few days of hunting season, we had to contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department to determine its cause of death. The [Drug Enforcement Administration] and the Border Patrol are frequently on our lease, due to the drug smuggling and illegal immigration from the border, only eight miles away. Working with all the agencies requires communication and teamwork to build trust.
It’s not unusual to be 10 miles from a four-wheel-drive road, and I rely on my horse, Sis, to warn me. If there’s something within a mile, she’ll let me know.
I’m never actually afraid when I’m out there, even though I know I’m not alone; there are eyes on me. I know what is happening regarding the drug smuggling coming through here. The local Border Patrol chopper pilot often flies over, and I know they [government agencies] will be there if there’s a need.
I wake up between 3 and 4 a.m., work on the computer for an hour or so, try to be at the barn by sunup—especially in summer to avoid the heat. After feeding, I saddle up and head out checking on cows, or over with Sonny and his cows, or carrying out salt, checking water lines, or meeting with agency people or the lion hunter, or running into town to the doctor or feed supply. About sundown, we all usually meet at our friend Carrel’s and make dinner, attended by family, neighbors and guests. By 9 o’clock, I’m back home. My husband calls me the Energizer Bunny. I believe when it’s time to sit down, it’s time to sleep.
Getting into this a little later in life, I see things differently. You are the only person who can make yourself happy, and after raising my family I am living the dream I’ve had since childhood.