Wink Preserves The Lands & Heritage Of The Old West

Wink Crigler Preserves The Land & Heritage Of The Old West

Some of us fall into our roles in life by accident. Others, such as Wink Crigler, are born into them. Described by many as a woman with “natural grit and cow sense,” Crigler seemed destined to become a protectorate of both animals and land—and of the dying culture that binds them. 

As owner of the X Diamond Ranch, Crigler is a true daughter of the Old West. A fourth-generation rancher, she maintains the homestead that her great grandparents first settled in the early 1890s. Today, thousands of visitors come to X Diamond, which is nestled in the South Fork Canyon near Greer, to ride horses, fly fish in the Little Colorado River or to spend time in one of the luxury cabins and simply enjoy fresh mountain air. But for Crigler, the working ranch—it’s an active Black Angus beef farm—is more than a destination. It’s a way of life. “When you’re born into it, and that’s what you grow up knowing, you develop an appreciation and passion for caring for resources and for the animals that sustain and maintain on those resources,” she says. 

“What many people don’t understand—and this is a real message not only of mine but of a lot of conservation proponents—is that about the only landscapes we have left in this state are ranches.” She cites the disappearance of farmland around Phoenix as a prime example. “In order for that land and open space to be available to folks, we have to maintain the source that keeps them in the pristine condition that they’re in. Ranchers are the ones who have always done that—and still do that—in Arizona.”

To protect the traditions and integrity of ranching, Crigler in 2008 helped establish the Ranching Heritage Alliance, an organization dedicated to improving the sustainability and stewardship of the landscape and everything on it. A year later, she received the National Rangeland Management Award from the U.S. Forest Service for her work in conservation planning and resource and livestock management.

Of course, understanding the land means more than just studying the landscape as it is. It means knowing something about its history. “It’s like knowing something about yourself,” Crigler explains.  “When you don’t know about the history of a piece of land, you can’t understand why it is like it is, and then you can make a lot of misjudgments.” 

Her interest in history extends beyond the land to the ranch’s people, as well. In 1985, following the death of her husband, Oscar, Crigler opened the Little House Museum to commemorate her family’s story.  Since then, the museum has expanded in size and scope to several buildings housing family research, local collectibles and historical research on everything from the Little Colorado River to nearby Fort Apache.

In 2012, Crigler was named an Arizona Culturekeeper by the Arizona Historical Foundation, and this month, she joins the ranks of such notables as Sandra Day O’Connor, Barry Goldwater and Eddie Basha when she’s inducted as a Historymaker by the Arizona Historical League.  

“It’s gratifying to be recognized, but it’s also motivating and inspirational,” she says of the accolades. “It makes you want to do a better job because you know that people are appreciating the work you do.

“Ranchers are a dying breed,” she adds. “Everybody likes to read and hear about them, but they don’t understand how important we are. The cowboy legacy—the heritage and the lifestyle—has to be perpetuated.”

Click here to learn more  about this remarkable woman
Credit: Westen Horseman