Pete Kitchen

In the days of early settlement by Anglos in southeast Arizona, there was probably no one more feared and respected than Pete Kitchen. He was one of the last few settlers to hang on after the 1861 troop withdrawal, and consequently, he felt the full wrath of Cochise’s war. It has been claimed that more men lost their lives in the stretch between Potrero, Arizona, and Magdalena, Mexico, during Kitchen’s years there than in all the rest of the Arizona Territory put together, and if "all the bodies were laid side by side like railroad ties, they’d make a track from Nogales to Potrero." To the Apaches, Kitchen was more terrible than an army with banners. To the settlers, he was a folk hero.

Pete Kitchen came to southern Arizona around 1854. With his Mexican wife, Dona Rosa, he stayed to farm the rich bottom land at the junction of the Santa Cruz and Potrero creeks. Today, this area lies about halfway between Tucson and Nogales. His adobe home had a flat roof with a four-foot high parapet surrounding it. From this vantage point, a sentinel could stand guard in relatively safety. And there was always a sentinel on duty. The hacienda commanded a view of the valley in all directions, as it sat on a rocky summit. If the Apaches crept up on the house under cover from any direction, the guard would fire his rifle. The shot would bring everyone up from the fields to huddle together in the main house, where Kitchen and Dona Rosa would parcel out the rifles and ammunition. This state of constant vigilance never allowed the Apaches to gain any advantage.

Year after year, the Apaches attacked, trying to destroy him or drive him away. They shot his pigs full of arrows, stole his horses and cattle, and drove away all his neighbors, but Kitchen held on. On one occasion, his adopted son of twelve went with the workers to the fields, where he fell asleep in the hay stacks. When the Apaches struck, the workers ran for the house, leaving the boy behind. His family could do nothing but watch helplessly as the Indians came upon the youth. The boy made the sign of the cross just before they killed him.

Pete Kitchen was exceptionally Apache-smart. While on the trail, no Apache could every ambush him. He was a crack shot with his rifle, and he never traveled the same trail twice. The Apaches lived in fear of him, and it was considered a great coup if one could get close to him. Many tried, and many failed. His interpretation of Apache signs---or better yet, the complete lack of Apache signs---always kept his senses in overdrive. He understood only too well that any mistake would be fatal. His courage quickly became legendary in the region.

On the night that one of his men said things didn’t feel right, Kitchen took his wife to the dugout below the ranch house to stand guard. Hour after hour they kept watch. When the clouds finally passed from the sky, he though he saw movement. He fired his rifle and heard an awful scream. Although no body was found at the location in the morning, he followed the sign. In an area in a nearby field, he found a section of disturbed earth. Digging deep into the ground, he found the body of an Apache.

Out in front of his ranch house, Kitchen had his own private "boot hill." He buried everyone, friend and fiend alike, with Christian charity. Outlaws he shot and killed lay there, and Dona Rose followed her Catholic traditions by burning candles at the graves of the men. Two of the men Kitchen buried were bandits he had hung. Several Apaches reposed in the cemetery. The railroad later laid down tracks past the cemetery, and it became somewhat of a popular tourist attraction.

Among the stories told of Pete Kitchen is the one about the bandits he tracked into Sonora, Mexico. Three outlaws had raided his livestock, making off with several of his favorite horses. He tracked them for days, finally coming close enough to kill one of the men. Another one fled before he could shoot, but the third one became his prisoner. Taking the man back into Arizona, he camped in exhaustion. Before dozing off, he secured the prisoner hand and foot on his horse, leaving a rope around his neck with the other end tied to a tree limb. "You know," Pete is quoted as saying, "while I was asleep, that damned horse walked off leaving that fellow hanging there."

Kitchen was well-known for his Christian hospitality. His place was completely self-sufficient, having its own blacksmith, saddler, wagon-maker, and all other officials needed to keep the machinery running smoothly. Anyone was welcome and made to feel at ease. Besides Pete and Dona Rose, other family members included eight of his wife’s nieces, girls he treated as his own. If food was not already prepared, someone would get busy fixing the traveler a hot meal. He welcomed everyone to stay as long as they wished and to come back as often as they wished...and this included all Apaches who came in peace. He believed that Apaches were human beings out to defend a way of life which had been theirs for centuries. He became known as a champion for their cause, at the same time that he never ceased his vigil against attack. Cochise came to respect him, and since Cochise made war on all whites for more than twelve years, this gesture speaks volumes for Kitchen’s reputation with the Indians.

Pete Kitchen lived comfortably at his ranch until the railroad moved in. Competition from goods now much more accessible caused him to sell out and move to Tucson, where he lived out the rest of his life. When he died, he had little in the way of fortune, but he had an unblemished reputation among scores of friends, admirers and Apaches. One old-timer gave this epitaph: "Muy valiente! Muy bueno con rifle."

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