Local rancher P. D. (Sonny) McCuistion turned 90 in October. He has spent his life riding and raising cattle along the Arizona border, and he still rides and tends to routine ranch maintenance. He appears to be in good health, although he says, “Some days I think I could use a brain transplant.”
Sonny grew up in South Texas, where his parents had a small ranch. He entered rodeos from time to time to earn a little extra money. “Nothing like they can make these days,” he says in amazement. After graduating from high school, he came to Tucson, where some cousins had started a construction business. They were doing well enough that they decided to buy a ranch and sent for Sonny. Over the years he managed several ranches in the Patagonia area.
In 1990, Sonny and his wife, Nancy, bought their own ranch. Nancy, who died four years ago, named the ranch Brush Hill after a historic property in western Pennsylvania. Sonny says that Nancy’s mother came to Patagonia from Pennsylvania in the 1920s to stay at the Circle Z Ranch. She fell in love with a cowboy who was working there. They married and lived on a ranch near Fort Huachuca, where young Nancy became comfortable with the daily chores and ups and downs of raising cattle.
Today, at Brush Hill ranch, Nancy’s east coast heritage is reflected in an antique Steinway grand piano that holds pride of place in the living room. The ranch sits on 80 deeded acres and leases 7,920 acres from the US Forest Service, about which Sonny, says, “We try to have a good relationship.” The cattle grazing on this rugged land are black angus, and Sonny says they are good quality stock and “They’re taken good care of.”
In his comfortable kitchen, Sonny keeps a TV monitor tuned to RFD, a site with up-to-date information on beef prices, auctions, sales, and other arcane aspects of the beef industry. His neighbors, Christie Peterson and her son, help him with ranch maintenance and management of his cattle.
At his age, Sonny is pretty relaxed about most everything, but the mining trucks that go up and down the road out front and the possibility of an open pit mine in the mountains get him a little riled up. “I absolutely do not like the mines,” he says, pointing to the wear and tear on the road and the fact that he has to clean his water filter far more often than he used to. He shakes his head. “I’m lucky though; I’ve seen the best of everything.”
Sonny remembers the time when a Mexican would come across the border and work for him, then go home when the work was done. When border crossers were heading north, most ranchers would give them water and food. “They were really good people,” he recalls. Another memory includes doing a little business with Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons, who were looking for a ranch to buy in New Mexico and enlisted his help.
Nowadays Sonny doesn’t drive further than Nogales, and he is always happy to get back to the peace and quiet of his ranch. He thinks he lives in the best place in the world because of the open country, the climate, the rainfall, and the good neighbors. “I’ve got my horses, my dogs, my cattle. I think that’s about as good as it gets.”