History in print…

25th Anniversary retrospective on saving Spur Cross Ranch


(Publisher’s note: As we continue our retrospective on Saving Spur Cross Ranch, Gary Schmitt of Friends of Spur Cross Coalition, shares what prompted founding the group and the issues they faced, key players and milestones. Thank you, Gary!)


“I had just moved to Town from Tempe after doing some course work, some of which was Western American Literature and Native American History.

I decided to attend a Cave Creek P & Z meeting, chaired by Dennis Wilenchik. After the meeting, which was about Spur Cross, it sounded like P & Z was going to rubber stamp a referral to council. I was approached by Chuck Bune from Desert Foothills Land Trust who filled me in on the development’s “real” devastation — native artifacts which are everywhere on Spur Cross Ranch.

I had learned at ASU that archaeology is a “key” — the physical pieces of evidence which inform and factually document civilizations from the past. Spur Cross had real, tangible issues which were supported directly by state and federal statutes; in this case, tons of ancient, undisturbed archaeology: pit houses, surface dwellings, funerary sites and, since it was by a waterway, agricultural terraces where the tribe raised corn and other crops. A fire was lit in me to prevent permanent damage to natural history and archaeology.
We connected with some others; I started making calls to people who knew local friends who might share our disgust for the devastation the developer would wreak on a pristine piece of Native American History.

We started holding meetings in homes. Barry DiSimone was very helpful, offering his large home for idea and strategy sessions. Barry was involved in trying to stop the development at Anthem as well.

The meetings GREW! The Cave Creek community was on board with preservation.
Sonoran News began reporting on our effort; we had bigger and bigger meetings and momentum. The effort grew into a huge movement.

Key players and milestones
We convinced Cave Creek P & Z and the Town Council to deny the amended plan proposal.
Senator McCain’s emergence on the scene and joining the effort was huge. Sonoran News’ Pete Mohr was instrumental in arranging a meeting for me with McCain.

The US Army Corps of Engineers taking jurisdiction over the “Waterways of the US” and particularly over all the antiquities was vital, resulting in the potential imposition of a $75 to $90 million regulatory burden on the developer.
Gail Clement, pivotal with her incredible background as a renowned hydrologist, was able to prove that developer John Lang had not being truthful when he claimed in papers to Maricopa County that he had secured the required “100 year assured water supply” for his new subdivision. A Silver Bullet in sealing defeat of the developer. Maricopa County could not approve the Plan Amendment after that revelation.

Tim Thurmond joining our board as Treasurer and Operations Manager was huge. Tim was always there when needed — through to the final paperwork for Friends of Spur Cross Coalition.

The massive efforts of Melissa Paxton in creating t-shirt art and organizing huge fundraisers for FSCC, which were badly needed so we could pay our attorneys, traffic experts, surveyors and other water experts,sustained us. One major event was a successful auction held at the Carefree Inn. Melissa and her recruited volunteers did all of the work so Gail and I could continue to raise opposition and continue research. An onslaught of volunteers, hundreds, helped with everything we requested including information booths, courier volunteers, putting appropriate pressure on the town council and county supervisors and administrative support work.

The town launched successful and necessary efforts to annex everything north of Morningstar Rd., including Spur Cross, so the entire area would be under advantageous control of the local town government. Mayor Augherton, council members David Phelps and Grace Meeth, Tom Irvine, Patty Wyndes, who was an annexation resident and a hugely important volunteer, as was Caroline Fabrici, were invaluable.

There certainly was a structure to it all and although we encountered some owwwbstacles, mostly it worked like a beautifully conducted orchestra.

In August 1997, after I did a presentation to the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps officially took jurisdiction of all of Cave Creek, but even more importantly, they took jurisdiction over every piece of Native American artifacts on the entire acreage of Spur Cross Ranch. That was a huge Silver Bullet.

The Entire Town’s SPIRIT came together.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, to each and every person who gave their life and time to preserve Spur Cross Ranch. You know who you are and God knows who you are.”

— Gary Schmitt