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Legendary Pioneer Peter Kitchen
Little is known about Peter Kitchen before he became one of the first pioneers to settle in Arizona Territory sometime in 1854. Except for the fact he was born in Covington, Kentucky in 1822 and participated in the Mexican War, his past was a mystery.
According to newspaper accounts of the time he was a well known, respected farmer and rancher who, along with his wife Dona Rosa, built a ranch near Nogales, called the Potrero. He was described as being about 5’ 10” and a quiet, soft spoken individual easily recognized by his signature wide brimmed sombrero.
Arizona Territory at the time was untamed and settlers had to be ever vigilant for marauding Apaches who killed, scalped and harassed white settlers. Livestock was frequently slaughtered or stolen and crops destroyed. Life in this hostile environment became even more unbearable when the army who had been providing protection withdrew their troops in 1861. Many settlers moved on to greener pastures, but not Kitchen. He was determined to stay come hell or high water.
Kitchen had built the Potrero with high fortified adobe walls. In effect, he basically had a self sustaining fort. The ranch had its own blacksmith, saddler and wagon maker. One journalist described it as having guards on every rooftop and every man and boy inside carried firearms, cocked and at the ready. This state of constant vigilance kept the Indians at bay. On many occasions he and his employees were forced to stand off Apache attacks. Many of Kitchen’s neighbors and friends had already been murdered by Apache as well as his own son.
The Potrero was located near the Sonora line making it an easy target. However, the Apache soon discovered breaching its defenses was not easy. Eventually, after years of attacks, it became a thorn in their side and a source of humiliation, as every attempt to take it failed.
Over the years Kitchen came to know the ways of the Apache, how they thought and would react in any given situation. He learned to track and read their signs on a trail. In fact, he became far better at being an Apache than if he had been born one. They soon learned he was someone to be reckoned with. While the Apache came to fear him and his skill with a rifle the settlers considered him a folk hero. He evaded all the Apache’s attempts at ambush. If an Apache warrior was even able to catch a glimpse of the elusive Kitchen they immediately gained a measure of fame amongst their peers.
One night Kitchen felt something didn’t feel right and he took his wife to a dugout under the ranch house while he and his men stood guard. For hours they watched for signs of an attack. Finally he thought he saw a movement in a nearby field. He fired his rifle and heard a scream as the bullet found its’ mark. Later when daylight broke Kitchen searched the area but found no body. After tracking sign he found where the Apache had buried their fallen comrade.
Kitchen only wanted to live in peace. Everybody was welcome at the Potrero, even the Apache if they came as friends. On the Potrero, Kitchen had a cemetery where he buried friends as well as enemies. Several Apaches were interred there in addition to 2 outlaws he had hung. Years later when the railroad laid tracks alongside the cemetery it became a popular site for tourists.
One story told about Kitchen’s extraordinary determination tells how when 3 horse thieves stole several of his favorite horses he doggedly pursued them for days eventually catching up with them in Sonora, Mexico. He killed one with a well aimed rifle shot. A second fled before he could take aim again. The third he captured. On the way back to Arizona, near exhaustion, he stopped and made camp. Before going to sleep he bound his prisoner hand and foot and left him sitting on his horse. As an added precaution he put a noose around his neck and tied the other end to a tree limb.
Kitchen arrived back at the Potrero alone. When he told others about his trek to Sonora and capturing a prisoner he was asked what had happened to him. Kitchen replied "You know while I was asleep, that damned horse walked off leaving that fellow hanging there."
Kitchen stayed at his ranch until the railroad moved in. The railroad made goods he sold more accessible. He eventually sold out and moved to Tucson, where he lived the rest of his life.