Last fall, the Ritter family received the Century Farm and Ranch recognition presented by the Arizona Farm Bureau. Their Century Ranch legacy is quite the achievement and one that not all farm and ranch families can achieve. However, Arizona hosts more century farms and ranches than people realize.

In the meantime, their daughter, Pam, was an Arizona 4-H State Reporter with me in 1979 (known now as ambassadors). So, meeting and recognizing the entire family this year with the Century Ranch recognition made the event that much more special since I had not seen Pam since our State Reporter days.


A ranching profile of the Ritter family from Yavapai County. 

An ongoing series of Arizona farms, ranches, and agri-business families. 



Their Story

The Ritter family’s Ritter Ranch has been in their family for over 100 years. The Ritter Ranch officially began in 1913, though the family started ranching as early as 1868.

Their route to Arizona took some turns. It all began with a planned migration to California in the late 1860s from Texas, a stop in Arizona’s Kirkland Valley and ultimately a permanent home there that lasted until the present day. Yavapai County’s Ritter Ranch dates to 1868 when Jacob Ritter established his headquarters ranch along the old freight road, between Prescott and Ehrenberg, about five miles Southeast of Hillside, Arizona.

The Ritter Ranch brand began as the upside down “T” and approximately 80 head of Shorthorn cattle he brought with him from California.

Originally from Illinois, Jacob Ritter’s family moved to Texas while he was a boy. It was here that the family went into the cattle business near Amarillo, Texas. In 1858 he married Elizabeth Chowning of Amarillo. They were drawn to migrate further west because of the stories of fabulous wealth, especially on the West Coast in California. En route to California, they passed through Prescott and Kirkland Valley and first discovered the possibilities in Arizona. Though they made it to the West Coast they discovered they didn’t like California, thus returning to Kirkland Valley. He ran his Arizona ranch until 1906 when he sold out to a syndicate and retired to live with his son, Will.

Presently the Ritters run a cow-calf operation raising American Wagyu beef, in addition to Registered Hereford Bulls.

“I love being able to tell people that I am a 5th generation member of an Arizona ranching family,” explained Pamela Denney oldest daughter to Tom and Phoebe Ritter. “It is rare for people to have deep roots and I feel very blessed to say that I do. It is a testimony to a lot of hard work, heartache, and sacrifice. It is not easy to keep something like this going, it takes each generation wanting to make it work. It is getting harder and harder to hold on to this type of legacy, not because we don't want to, but because of outside pressure from things like surrounding housing developments, changes in the cattle market, government intervention, etc. But it is worth it.” 

Adds Tom Ritter, “Without ranching, farming, and mining, Arizona would have turned out to be an Air Force base with a city nearby.” 

Ritter, reflecting on the legacy, also points to a more poignant understanding of ranch life. “It is difficult to put into words what my feelings are about being a fourth-generation rancher. However, a few things come to mind, such as the great feeling of gratitude to the generations before me. They are the ones who, through their courage and hardships, made it possible for my family and me to carry on in this highly challenging, yet rewarding, industry. It allowed me to learn the many responsibilities that come with being a steward of the land and pass that on to my children and grandchildren. Few people have the opportunity to spend their time doing what they truly love. In summation, I feel blessed.” 

“I feel growing up a 5th-generation rancher’s daughter was such a gift,” says Keri Delphia. “My grandfather and my father loved this land and they taught each of us that it was a gift not to be taken lightly. I learned what a hard day’s work was. I have always loved taking care of all the animals and was grateful for them whether it be one that yielded us meat or the horse I rode.”