One of the most prominent cattlemen in Arizona and California during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Walter Lennox Vail led the Empire Land and Cattle Company for 30 years. Overseeing its expansion not only as a multi-state “breeder-feeder” operation, but also into mining, oil, horse racing, and real estate, Vail was appointed Livestock Sanitary Commissioner of Arizona in 1893 and directed efforts to modernize Arizona’s cattle industry.
A native of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Vail and Herbert Hislop, an Englishman purchased the 160 acre Empire Ranch southeast of Tucson, Arizona, in 1876. Eventually, along with various partners, Vail expanded the ranch to over one million acres. In 1890 Vail began purchasing land in Temecula Valley, California, and in 1901 Vail and his partner C.W. Gates bought the entire Santa Rosa Island off the California coast for cattle grazing. The grazing land around Temecula was owned and leased by various ranchers until 1904, Walter Vail began to buy up the local ranches around Temecula in 1904, piecing together four Mexican land grants: Pauba Rancho, Santa Rosa Rancho, Temecula Rancho and Little Temecula Rancho to form the Pauba Ranch. Eventually, the Vails would own more than 87,500 acres surrounding the little town of Temecula.
Tragically, Vail was killed in a streetcar accident in Los Angeles in 1906. His heirs managed the ranches until 1964.