A beautiful day for a trip to a old sheep ranch

A bright blue sky, a few wispy clouds, temperatures in the low 80s made for a perfect day trip spent on the rim and in the White Mountains. Leaving early last Wednesday, we drove for three-hours to Heber with a stop in Payson at the Beeline Café for breakfast. The reason for our trip today – a visit to George Wilbur Ranch!  My husband and I were met by Gerald and Gunnar Hancock who graciously took us on this adventure.

George Wilbur/Ryan/Thude ranch

The ranch has had a few owners since it was first started in 1885. George Wilbur was the original owner. Later it was owned by Bill (William) Ryan and his family.  Ryan bought the property from the widow of George in the 1940s. Gunnar Thude in turn bought it from Ryan and he sold it to his daughter, Elma, in the late 1960s. Gerald and Gunnar are grandsons of Gunnar Thude and Elma Thude Sanudo was their mother.  The present owners are in the process of remodeling – house, barn, workshop, root cellar and other places – to be made livable. As much as can be is being preserved as it was when it was used by Wilbur, Ryan, Thude and Sanudo.

One of the biggest changes that have been made at the Wilbur homestead is the solar system (seen on the picture above), allowing for electricity in the house and other buildings. Some cosmetic changes have also taken place. The floor in the cabin had to be replaced and so did the flooring upstairs. The bed in the upstairs is one that Gunnar told me he remembered sleeping in when his mother owned the ranch. 

Elma and Carlos Sanudo’s ashes have been scattered over the ranch. Gunnar told me that he would like his ashes scattered over the rocks he remembered playing on.

All four of these families grazed sheep here and on forest permits in the surrounding area. Sheep grazed these lands up to the late 1990s when Elma Thude Sanudo sold her sheep outfit to the Auza Sheep Company in Casa Grande. Today, sheep may graze for a day or two on the land and use the water tanks that have been here from early times. The tanks have been expanded over the years.


Sheep before shearing or tagging taken in 1984
Sheep summer of 2018 or 2019.

I am thankful that I was able to visit this unique ranch with its connection to the sheep industry.  The Hancock’s drove around the area for a glimpse of the sheep that are grazing in the area, but we had no luck in finding them.  Another visit is planned soon as one of Ryan’s granddaughters wants to visit and I would love to have her stories to go along with her family’s time at the ranch.  Maybe sheep viewing will be on that trip. So, stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “A beautiful day for a trip to a old sheep ranch

  1. For a short time in the early 60’s I held a spot as a stepdaughter in the Thude family. My mother was married to Gunnar’s son Eldon. I knew these people and was always drawn to Elma. She was a role model for me. If there is any way ~ I would love to reconnect with the Hancock boys and Eldon’s children, Nicky, Eldon, and Donnie.


    1. Hi Mike. Which outfit did you work for or was it a family operation? I always trying to get information on the sheep industry in Arizona. Only one family left- a dad, his son and his son. You might have heard of them – Joseph Auza?


    2. Which book are you referring to? There is Where Have All the Sheep Gone? Sheep Herders and Ranchers in Arizona-A Disappearing Industry. There is also the shorter family story of the Thude/Sanudo in Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame Vol. III. I’m working on writing more on your mom for a second book and also for the collection that the Livestock Pioneers are putting together.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s