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Henry Clay Hooker 

Henry Clay Hooker pitched his worn tent next to the cooling waters of Plunge Creek to wait the arrival of his friends. As he waited, he used this time to reflect on the past and dream of the future. Certainly, he had adventures, but nothing as dangerous as what was waiting for him and his friends from Arizona.

 

Henry Hooker was a Yankee down-on-his-luck in California. He had been a store keeper in Placerville, California (formerly Hangtown) when a fire all but wiped out the town, including his clothing store.

 

He was a man with considerable enterprise. He bought 500 turkeys at $1.50 a bird, and with the help of several dogs and a hired man, set out over the Sierras for the Nevada mining camp of Virginia City. Not far from his goal he came to a steep precipice and the birds stampeded, not down the cliff but into the air. Hooker was sure he had lost his fortune, but in the valley below, at the bottom of a cliff, his flock was waiting. He drove the birds to Carson City, Nevada, and there got $5.00 each for them. This was the capital with which he founded his Arizona fortune in cattle. Hooker saw an opportunity in supplying beef to the army posts and Indian agencies in Arizona. From 1867 to 1870 he had beef contracts with Uncle Sam in eastern Arizona.

 

In late 1871, Hooker married his long time sweetheart, Susie. Together, they started a lifelong series of adventures that included starting a family, a ranch that was to become world renown, and she worked by his side fending off outlaws, renegade Indians, and rustlers from south of the border.

In 1872, Hooker set up a homestead in Sulphur Spring Valley in southeastern Arizona, where he built his Sierra Bonita Ranch. He was in a region of government land and eventually controlled a range of over 800 square miles, the largest ranch in Arizona. It was well watered and at an altitude of 4,000 feet. Besides the owner's home, there were half-dozen outlying ranches, each with buildings and corral. To the north of him was a ranch owned by his biggest competitor, Texas John Slaughter. The two men were in constant competition for lucrative army contracts.

One day, near the Cochise Stronghold, many Indians closed in on the cattleman's buckboard and he decided to head into Cochise's camp in order to show he felt no fear. There he was given hospitality, and Cochise assured him that his Chiricahuas had many chances to kill Hooker but had left him unharmed because he brought cattle into the country. Naturally, Cochise did not want to have this operation cease. Later on, as a token of friendship, Cochise gave Hooker a red blanket which the ranchman cherished all his life. 

When Hooker first started, he had to sell any kind of stock he could get, but he decided to work for an improved animal, and settled upon Herefords as a breed. He bought expensive bulls and blooded cows. Soon his ranges were roamed by herds 90 per cent white-faced. Hooker saw the value in improving the quality and reducing the size of his herds. At the Sierra Bonita, nothing was left to chance. There was even a dairy herd to supply the ranch with butter and milk. A garden produced all kinds of vegetables. Poultry houses were installed. With 500 brood mares and six purebred stallions, the Sierra Bonita produced magnificent horses, famous for speed, beauty and temperament.

In the 1880's Henry Hooker's huge ranch in the Sulphur Spring Valley was raising prize horses and cattle. Naturally, this wealth was attractive to bandits who lived in and operated out of the nearest town, Tombstone. Hooker became one of the first lawmen in Tombstone, developing a reputation for harsh and immediate justice. Due to the diligence of Hooker and his wife, Susie, his ranch was seldom a target of local bandits.

 

He became a lifelong friend of Wyatt Earp, a later lawman in Tombstone. Earp and his brothers would frequently visit the Henry and Susie at the Sierra Bonita, often staying for days at a time. After the infamous shootout on Allen Street, near the O.K. corral, the ranch became a good place to rest while trying to elude Johnny Behan and the Cowboys.

On March 27, 1882, Wyatt and his band of invincibles sought rest and refreshments at Henry Hooker's ranch. They were well treated by the sympathetic rancher and headed off in the evening to camp on a bluff not far from the ranch where they could watch for Johnny Behan and his posse.

The next day, March 28, 1882, Behan's posse arrives at Hooker's, and while they get refreshments in turn, they are not provided with information as to the whereabouts of the Earp posse and Hooker is less than complimentary to the composition of Behan's posse. One member of the posse takes offense and there is an altercation nearly leading to a shooting. For revenge, Hooker later tells the posse where to find Wyatt since he knows Wyatt is looking for a fight. From their camp, Wyatt's posse watches Behan's posse move off in a different direction. After the “reckoning” Wyatt, with Doc Holiday and the rest of his immortals return to Hooker's ranch for a relaxing couple of days

 

Henry Hooker and Wyatt Earp, along with John Clum, Mayor of Tombstone and Publisher of The Epitaph, developed an unofficial partnership. All three men eventually became businessmen in Southern California with an eye toward real estate speculation.

Earp, having been raised in Redlands on a farm overlooking Plunge Creek, owned by Nicholas Earp, often brought Hooker and Clum to the area. Hooker and Earp frequently prospected in Plunge Creek but no major find was ever discovered.

 

Redlands also was home to the Clanton family and the Earps knew them before they were in Tombstone. After the infamous vendetta, what was left of the Clanton and McLaury families returned to Redlands while factions of the Earp family moved to Colton, with Virgil Earp becoming the town’s first constable. Plunge Creek was, at that time, referred to as The Bad Lands, and bodies identified as friends of either the Clantons, McLaurys, or the Earps were often found floating in the waters.