While doing an internet search of Don Kimble, you’ll get several hits where he has been interviewed and quoted with regards to the secure border issue of southeastern Arizona…
While doing an internet search of Don Kimble, you’ll get several hits where he has been interviewed and quoted with regards to the secure border issue of southeastern Arizona. He is an authority on the subject and people far and wide have asked his opinion. Long before he became famous for that however, Don was a well known rodeo cowboy and before that, he was known a top ranch hand.
In the 1950s, Don attended a one-room school house at Apache, AZ. He has now been a member of that school board since 1984. Today, much the same as it’s always been, the one-room school is a place for local ranch kids of San Bernardino and San Simon Valleys to start their education. At the time of this writing, there are nine kids (grades 1 thru 8) a teacher, teacher’s aide, and three school board members making up the entire faculty, administration, student body and board.
You might say Apache, AZ, located 40 miles northeast of Douglas, is little more than a wide spot in the road. There are a couple dozen widely scattered ranches and about as many families to match in this secluded, remote area along the New Mexico, Arizona line. However, an interesting side note from the area is there are numerous National Finals Rodeo (NFR) qualifications credited to the folk calling this ranch country home. Kimble, Darnell, Glenn, and Snure are some of the names who not only ranch here, but have competed at “the Show;” this is the story of Don Kimble, a man who qualified for the NFR while holding down a full time teaching job, was a college rodeo coach and was ranching at the same time!
The Kimble family migrated to Arizona in 1919 from Oklahoma and Texas. The women of the family claim they came because it was good ranch country; the men joke the other reason is because prohibition was in effect at the time and Agua Prieta, Mexico (just across the border) had whiskey available in large quantities . . . and it was legal.
Don Kimble lives today in the house he was born in on the ranch; he is the third generation of Kimble to ranch there. The remote, scenic place straddles the New Mexico, Arizona state line between Lordsburg, NM and Douglas, AZ. Don is proud of his heritage and points out one of his great uncles fought at the Alamo while the family was still Texans. Kimble County, Texas, is named for the uncle.
As a kid, Don learned the art of ranching from his grandfather and father. He learned to ride and rope doctoring cattle for screw worms after branding season. Don says they used to ride all day roping and doctoring those screw worm cattle. “I was probably 12 when I started roping range cattle.”
About then is when Don also became his own cattleman. “I started building my herd of cattle when I was 12, running them on the family ranch. By the time I went to college, my herd had grown enough that I leased a ranch of my own. I’ve been in the cattle business my whole life.”
Don attended high school at Douglas and then went to Cochise Community College (also in Douglas) for two years before completing his education at the University of Arizona, Tucson. While in college, he maintained good enough grades to be listed in the Who’s Who among Students in American Universities and Colleges.
Don, by then an avid roper, won the West Coast region of intercollegiate rodeo in the team roping event all four years he attended college. He competed as both a header and heeler, along with bull dogging and calf roping.
After graduating with Bachelor of Science degrees in Animal Science and AG Education, Don worked around Tucson, putting on ropings and doing construction for a couple of years. Then he became very ill with valley fever, losing a lung as a result. Don moved back to Douglas after the ordeal, taking a job teaching agriculture and as rodeo coach at Cochise Community College. Don was a busy man between running his cattle operation and taking care of his duties at the college, but that didn’t stop him from following his roping passion on the side.
In the 1970s, Don was a tough competitor on the Turquoise Circuit of professional rodeo, winning the circuit a couple times. In 1978, he narrowly missed qualifying for the NFR after going to only about fifty rodeos in his spare time, so in ‘79 he set a goal of getting there. While holding down a full-time position at Cochise College and managing his own ranching operation, Don qualified for the NFR in the team roping event as planned. He did this going to only about sixty rodeos throughout the year, while most of the other top fifteen qualifiers went to closer to a hundred rodeos. Don repeated this amazing feat in 1980.
An interesting thing about the ‘79 & ‘80 seasons most rodeo competitors wouldn’t be able to claim is this: Since Don had a teaching job and ranch income; he decided that he would put any check he won roping over $1,000 into savings. He cashed smaller checks, living and rodeoing on that and his job’s income. At the end of the season, he had managed to put away $50,000 (quite a lot of money back then)! He has left that account alone through the present, still having the “rodeo” money stashed away . . . just incase.
Other highlights from 1979 include winning Denver, CO which was the biggest one-rodeo check in team roping history at that time. Don and partner, Kent Winterton were on the front page of the Pro Rodeo Sports News for that. At the NFR in ‘79, the team won or placed in each of the first five rounds (a pretty amazing feat considering the competition) and they finished 5th in the world as a team.
A humorous rodeo story which is laughed about in certain circles to this day involves the 4th of July run one summer. Don, partner Kent, Doyle Gellerman and Walt Woodard threw in together and chartered an airplane to make as many rodeos as possible during “Cowboy Christmas.” One morning the two teams roped at Prescott, AZ and then on to West Jordan, Utah that night, then back to Prescott the following day for their second steer. Kent invited his wife and three small daughters along for the turn around trip as they had family at West Jordan and there was room in the plane. Immediately after take off, Walt kicked off his boots, reclining for the trip. Next to him sat one of the little girls, who was beginning to get air sick. Shortly after getting airborne, the little girl couldn’t handle it any longer and vomited; the most convenient place she could find happened to be Walt’s boots, sitting on the floor next to her.
While Don, Kent and Doyle were laughing so hard their sides hurt, Walt kept repeating in disbelief, “She puked in my boots!” It was all in good fun.
After two NFR qualifications, Don settled down to roping mostly at the Turquoise Circuit events and the larger pro rodeos which he could get to. He remained a tough competitor at the circuit level for years to come.
Summertime was a favorite of Don’s as he could get away from his job and go to prestigious rodeos such as his all time favorite, Salinas, CA. While he’s never won Salinas, Don says he always roped well there and managed to pull several large checks from the rodeo.
Don’s only regret rodeoing is he had a chance to head at the NFR, while back in college, for a heeling partner of his who had made the finals (remember, then the top 15 team ropers, regardless of heading or heeling status, made the finals and invited their partners if said partner wasn’t also in the top 15). Don wound up declining the offer to rope at the finals because he was worried about his grades suffering with missing two weeks of school.
“Looking back now, I wish I would have accepted the invitation and roped. I believe I could’ve kept my grades up and then I’d join the elite group of team ropers who have roped at the NFR both as a header and a heeler,” says Don.
In 1988, Don’s dad, Ralph, became sick with cancer so Don took over duties at the family ranch, quit teaching college and slowed down on the rodeo trail as well. The last professional rodeo he entered was Salinas in 1995, since then he has remained a tough jackpot roper and PRCA gold card member placing regularly up through the present.
Don’s father died in 1991 and he has been a full time rancher since. It took a couple of years, but Don bought his uncle’s portion of the ranch and at present is the majority owner of the original Kimble ranch along with his mother as a partner. He has owned or leased several ranches throughout the years, but his main operation is now centered on the old home place, which as I mentioned before has been continuously ranched by his family since 1919 (the days of Pancho Villa).
While Villa raided along the border region back then, the ranchers felt little or no fear of the Mexican bandit (or revolutionary depending on how you look at it). Today however, bandits are a real issue in the border area of southern Arizona and New Mexico. One of Don’s closest friends, Rob Krentz, was murdered on his own ranch in March, 2010 and the killing has been linked to the issues of the area. Don says this is one of the toughest issues facing his part of the country today. Other struggles include the higher cost of overhead compared to lower returns from cattle sales.
At the Kimble ranch, they leave their bulls out year-long in this fairly mild climate. As a result, there is always work to do and calves to brand. The ranch usually ships about 400 calves both spring and fall. They raise predominately Black Angus type cattle. The headquarters sits above the San Bernardino Valley near the entrance to Skeleton Canyon and the scenery is breathtaking. The ranch home was built in 1890 and was originally part of the historic San Simon Cattle Company. Before that, Cochise and Geronimo roamed these lands.
Good rancher, good cowhand, roper, a man of his word, are all phrases used in describing Don Kimble. While he has no kids of his own, Don is also respected for his attributes toward youngsters. College professor, school board member, father figure to countless young folk, mentor and friend; he gives over and above where the young are concerned.
A friend of Don’s summed it up this way, “Don is a man of his word, a man of integrity, a man of complete trust and this is something I really admire about him.”