Mary Kidder Rak

Ranch Woman

Among the wide gamut of working women in the West were not only schoolteachers, nurses, restaurateurs, seamstresses, good time girls and even outlaws but there were also and ranchers.

Among those was a college-educated lady named Mary Kidder Rak. After graduating from Stanford University she married a cowboy named Charlie Rak in 1917. Her career as a ranch woman and later an acclaimed author began in two years later when she and Charlie bought a 22,000 acre ranch at Camp Rucker, a former military post in Cochise County’s Chiricahua Mountains. The round trip from the ranch to the town of Douglas took ten hours over rough roads that weren’t even jackassable, much less passable.

She wrote about her introduction to ranch life: “I didn’t know straight up about a cow.”

Then, and after becoming an old hand: “After a day of riding up and down our rocky mountainsides and through oak thickets after cattle, I am convinced that the cattle are really working us.”

During the 1930s Mary authored two books, Ranch Wife and Mountain Cattle on her life as a ranch woman, including her struggle to learn the cattle business and cope with isolation, dealing with the devastating effects of drought and the difficulty of finding good help.

Mary hated to cook and Charlie was a great cook. It turned out that Mary was better at working cattle than he so they swapped roles. However, when some of Mary’s classmates from Stanford paid the ranch a visit they were shocked to see Mary out in the corral wrestling calves while Charlie was in the kitchen. They were sure she was being abused by her husband and it took some explaining to get them to understand why she was not in the kitchen.

In exasperation one of them said, “Mary, I have one of those new electric ice boxes and it makes the cutest little ice cubes. Wouldn’t you give anything for an ice box?

Mary sighed and replied “I would just give anything for a half an inch of rain.”

Spoken like a true Arizona ranch woman.

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