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Coffee Stain

WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees

JOHN O. MACGOFFIN (85)
1920-
2005 COWBOY HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE



John MacGoffin was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1920. He was not born into a ranching family. In fact, he was born and raised as a blue-blooded easterner. It was apparent that his family would have preferred for him to pursue the family business, which was a bookstore in New York, and forget the foolishness of being a cowboy. However, they tolerated him in hopes that "he would get is out of his system."

John spent his early childhood in Buffalo. His father was a mechanical engineer who designed cars. His mother had delicate health, and her doctor recommended she spend time in Arizona, so John came with her.

As a youngster, John had read about the West, but now he was able to see first hand the wide-open spaces and blue clear skies of Arizona. John's first stay in Arizona was short as his mother passed away, and John returned to Buffalo to live with his grandmother and two aunts.

John attended Cornell for one year and studied animal husbandry. After that year, he came to Arizona with intentions of attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, but he ended up working on a ranch in Sasabe until June of 1941.

John returned to Buffalo and enlisted in the Air Force. John was a navigator assigned to a B-24 crew and was sent overseas to the South Pacific. Coincidentally, John's birthday is March 13th, he left for the South Pacific on October 13th with the 13th Air Force. His first tent was #13. Obviously his lucky number was #13. He flew 46 missions on his tour of duty and felt lucky to get back to the States in one piece.

It was in January of 1946, that John arrived at the Dos Cabazas ranch of Bill Colombo and Ida Berry Riggs to go to work. It was cold and snowing that January morning when John drove up in an old Army command car. It was a four-wheel drive, with a cloth top and no sides. John said it was true air conditioning. Bill said John was pretty blue when he arrived.

In 1947, John got a job on the CS Ranch in Cimmaron, New Mexico, and he also worked one winter on a ranch east of Trinidad, Colorado. John said, "Three spells of minus 28 degrees weather cured him of ranching in cold country." It was back to the Dos Cabazas, where he again worked for the Riggs', plus he also worked for Will DeBoarde. John said he worked four days a week for the Riggs’ and the other three days a week for Will DeBoarde. That didn't leave much idle time. In the bio that John provided for me for this story, he stated in the summer of 1949, he met a girl of the golden West, Mary Elizabeth Burnett, and we were married in February of 1950. This short sentence certainly states the facts correctly, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

His future bride worked on a ranch about 15 miles away from where John worked. Mary worked for a lady named Mattie Pressie. Mary was her cowboy and roustabout. The neighbor ladies decided to play matchmaker by arranging a lunch with Mattie and Ida Berry, but they made sure that Mary attended with Mattie and John would also attend. The arranged lunch was only the beginning of a summer courtship. From August of 1949, until they were married in February of 1950, John made the 30 mile round trip traveling on the back road between the two ranches to go see Mary. I asked John how many times did he make that trip. Mary quickly answered for John, "Quite a few." This past February they celebrated their 55th year of marriage. Mary said, "He is an excellent father and husband." John and Mary have four kids, Margaret (Meg), John, Jr. (Buz), Mary Elizabeth (Molly), and Matthew (Matt).

In 1952, John and Mary bought the Giff Allaire ranch in Cochise. For $12 per acre they bought 20 sections of land a mile east of Dragoon Road, up in the foothills toward Cochise Stonghold. The kids went to school in Pearce, and the MacGoffins operated the ranch long before there was a place called Sunsites.

In 1966, they sold most of the ranch to Charlie Prude and bought two ranches in the corner of the state. They had 9 miles of fence on the Mexico border and six miles of fence on the New Mexico border. John said, “We were the corner of the state.”

John said he first learned about the west by reading books by Will James. And that he learned how to be a cowboy when he worked for the Riggs. The bitter winters of Colorado sent him back to Southeast Arizona where he has spent 53 years being a rancher. He said there was never a dull moment. If things started leveling off you could depend on something happening.

John is proud that he was one of the founding fathers of the Valley Telephone Co-op. John is the last living Charter board member. John was active in many of the industry related organizations. He also served on the Pearce School Board, is a member of the local Historical Society organizations, and was the past President of the Southwest Pioneer Cowboy Association.

John has now retired and his son, Matt, takes care of the ranch. John and Mary live at the entrance to Cochise Stronghold living the Golden years of retirement. Their time is filled with volunteer work and lending a hand to the kids when need be.

I asked John what was the best part of his life. He said, "I liked being out in the country, looking at nature and working cattle." But what he is most proud of is his family, a wife of 55 years and raising four kids." John is proud of his family and his family is proud of John.

These words from his family bet describe John MacGoffin. First, and foremost he is honest. He is frugal, not to be confused with "tight" as he is generous to a fault. He has a sense of getting a dollar's worth out of everything. He is perceptive. He is a gentleman. He was born 50 years too late. He was never afraid to turn a horse loose to catch a wild cattle, but he has been in his share of wrecks.

His daughter summed it up by saying, "He prepared for his career and his dream on his own. Many people have dreams they never pursue. Some don't even have dreams. Then there are the ones that have a dream early, and they pursue it, and that best describes my Dad. He had a dream to live and ranch in Arizona, and he made that dream come true."