Home of Chappo Miranda. L-R: Hadden McFadden, Norberta Miranda, Severa Miranda, Chappo Miranda (on ladder), Matilde Miranda O’Leary,  Harry Heffner, ca. 1900.  Photo courtesy Empire Ranch Foundation

The January 2021 ‘Glimpses’ article tells the story of two of the vaqueros who participated in the famed 1890 cattle drive from the Empire Ranch, owned by Walter Vail, to Warner’s Ranch in California. The focus this month is on Severo “Chappo” Miranda and Jesús Maria Elías.

Since 1880, when the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Tucson, cattle growers normally shipped their stock by rail. In 1889 the Southern Pacific instituted a 25% rate hike for cattle shipments. To defy the railroad rate increase, Tom Turner, foreman of the Empire Ranch, and Vail’s brother Edward volunteered to drive 900 steers overland to the Warner Ranch near San Diego. The drive began on January 29, 1890 and ended two months and ten days later.

Severo Miranda was born in Hermosillo, Mexico in 1837. He was nicknamed “Chappo” due to his short stature. He married Norberta Sasueta in 1869 and they emigrated to the United States in the late 1870s. The couple had two daughters, Matilde and Severa, both born in Arizona Territory. As Edward Vail recounted in the 1920s: “Pa Chappo, as he is called now, commenced working at the Empire Ranch about 1880 and is still on the payroll.” Chappo died of pneumonia at age 85, on April 27, 1922 at the Empire Ranch. His death certificate states he is buried at the Empire Ranch, but there is no known gravesite for him.

When the 1890 cattle drive arrived at Yuma, prior to crossing the Colorado River, Edward Vail wrote in his Diary of a Desert Trail: “The next day we let all of our cowboys go to town to buy some clothing, which some of them needed badly and we gave them free rein to enjoy themselves as they pleased. Of course, they did not go all at one time as some had to stay and herd the cattle. Among the last of our men to get back to camp that night was Severo Miranda (Chappo). He was somewhat ‘lit up’ and made a short speech to Tom Turner in Spanish, which translated amounted to this: ‘Mr. Tom, I am sorry that I am pretty full tonight, and you know that no matter what you tell me to do I am always ready and willing to do it – riding mean mules or anything else.” According to Vail’s diary notes, Chappo was paid for 2 months and 19 days’ work on the trail drive. His compensation was $65.83 with $2.30 off for funds advanced to him.

Jesús Maria Elías was born in Tubac in 1829, so he was 61 when he joined the cattle drive. During a meal of rattlesnake Ed Vail wrote: “The only man among us who tasted it was Jesús Maria Elías, who told us that when he was with General Crook as his chief trailer he had frequently eaten it. I knew Elias and his family well, but I never knew he was so celebrated a man as he really was. I afterwards learned that he was the leader of the celebrated so-called ‘Camp Grant Massacre.’ He with William Oury, eight Americans, quite a number of Mexicans and a large number of Papago Indians marched over to the mouth of Aravaipa Canyon, which was right in sight of the old Camp Grant but then occupied by American troops, and nearly exterminated that band of Apaches.” Elías was paid $56.70 for 2 months and 8 days minus $11.30 for funds advanced to him. Elías died in Tucson in 1896.