From Ghost Ranch to Romance

- September 2, 2011

"Beyond ranching, Peg and Henry uphold the ways and traditions of the old West"

I had been working on this story when I realized Tom Wright had already authored a 2009 New Mexico Free Press article about two of the most accomplished cattle ranchers in New Mexico - Henry and Peg McKinley  Their lives are interwoven in the past 80 years of Santa Fe history. Thanks Tom, for permitting this excerpt and add updates (in italics).

At age five, Peggy Pack had her second serious bout with pneumonia. Her parents realized the seriousness of her condition, and set out for a home out west. In the spring of 1933, Peg’s father, Arthur Pack (publisher/editor of Nature Magazine), and his wife “Brownie” set out for the little Penitente village of Abiquiu.

They picked up a guide who took them up a sorry road through the Chama Canyon to “…a place where a half-remembered flat-top mountain stood sentinel over a grassy basin rimmed with shear sandstone cliffs of pink, purple and gold.” [From We Called it Ghost Ranch”, Pack]; to the spectacular cliffs known as “Rancho de los Brujos.” Local folklore said it was haunted by witches, so the Packs called it Ghost Ranch.

They settled into their original home on Ghost Ranch - the “Burro House.” After building a new home situated in the present grouping of buildings, they sold Burro House to Georgia O’Keeffe, who Peg and Henry remember as children.

Peggy’s dad wanted to establish a dude ranch and settle into a life of entertaining many of the sophisticated and well established people he knew back East, but Brownie was a woman of adventure. After five years, they divorced and she married a big game hunter and adventurer.

Brownie moved the two girls to Albuquerque and they began a life of world travel, returning to Ghost Ranch to visit their dad. Living on the ranch was a top hand named Jack McKinley, who wrangled and ran much of the ranch operation. Jack had a son, Henry, who was Peg’s playmate until she moved to Albuquerque. Peg remains an avid traveler; parasailing in Bermuda earlier this year and returned to Alaska with her daughter in 2010.

Henry had ranching in his blood. He admired his dad, Jack, who fast became one of the leading names in New Mexico ranching. Jack, who had married an heiress of Johnson and Johnson, bought the Diamond K Ranch which ran from Lamy Hill to the Galisteo River.

After college, Henry did his hitch in the US Army, serving in Korea and Hawaii where he made news on two occasions in the “Stars and Stripes” for his roping ability. Henry rejected Officer Candidate School, choosing to conclude his tour of duty in two years instead of the required three for officers. He wanted to get back to ranch life.

A degree in range management led Henry to the BLM where he served as range conservationist; riding and camping on the BLM lands with a horse and pack animal. After hiring on with the BIA, he continued riding as a range manager for the Indian lands of the Eight Northern Pueblos. Henry believes that he has ridden more of New Mexico than any other man alive, and I think he’s right.

Henry also pursued his lifetime passion of roping, traveling to surrounding states and winning about every calf and steer roping contest he entered, including the New Mexico Quarter Horse Championship in 1965. To this day, anyone that needs to rope a wild longhorn calls Henry.

All agree he has a great love for people. If you're “green and citified” and want to learn about cattle, go talk to Henry. He is glad to take the time to teach, but suffers no fools in the pens or pasture. If you do go to the pasture with him, you had better be ready to ride.

He teaches children and adults how to rope and ride, and trains roping horses.

Reconnecting in the 70s, Henry and Peg were married in 1979 settling on the La Bajada Ranch while building their home at Lone Butte. Finding Henry, she also renewed her love of ranch life. With Henry, Peg has ridden many of the old haunts of her youth as well as the ranches where they raised cattle. From La Bajada to their Las Vegas ranch to the 30-section Rancho Viejo, Peg has covered every inch, worked every round-up on horseback, branded, shipped cattle and cooked meals for the neighbors who helped.

Peg is truly devoted to Henry and the life they have together. I asked her what she saw in Henry, and she said, “He is a wonderful man, a wonderful husband, a wonderful horseman and a wonderful rancher. What more could I want?”

Beyond ranching, Peg and Henry uphold the ways and traditions of the old West. Their hospitality is abundant and their love for a gathering with neighbors is high on their list.

Peg and Henry are kindred souls with a zest for life and friends. Theirs is a romance full of life and substance.

Henry and Peg McKinley – For roping / riding lessons or boarding call 505-471-4321