Father-Son Duo Top National 10
It's Monday morning and Ace Peterson and his 14-year-old son, Whip, are headed to a new place in Morenci, Arizona, one they partnered on with his wife's cousins.
“It has a forest allotment and we needed to get the cattle off,” said Kay, who has been married to Ace for 19 years. “It is very brushy country, hard to get around. I was actually helping them a little by telling them what I could see on google maps from our home computer. They got rained on, were hot from the work they’d done and trying to find a trail out. It got dark and I imagine then they got cold, hungry and tired. They called me at one point and said they were going to stay the night out there! My cousin Ryan came to the rescue, so they stayed with him and went back to get the mavericks the next morning.”
Born and Raised
This is just a typical day in the life of a ranching family and Ace has been doing it since the day he was born. Six generations deep, Whip is following in his footsteps. “I was born a rancher and a cowboy,” said Ace, who grew up on his family’s Hidalgo County ranches and then bought the Hatchet Ranch in Hachita, New Mexico, with his brother and parents. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.”
Kay also grew up in a ranching family, originally near San Simon, Arizona, and then closer to Bowie and Willcox. “I went to high school with Ace’s cousin who dated my step sister, and he wanted us to meet,” Kay explained. “We met in high school but didn’t end up getting together until he was 22 and I was 20.”
Two years later they were married and living on the Hatchet Ranch.
“We lived right across the driveway from his parents,” Kay explained of her in-laws, Andy and Louise Peterson. “We wondered how it would be, but they were great. We could work together during the days and have dinner with them at night. If I went out with the guys doing cowboy stuff, then Louise would get dinner ready. They always respected our space.”
The Hatchet Ranch is located in the southwest corner of New Mexico in the high desert along the US-Mexico border and it’s not the easiest place to make a living at it.
“There’s not a whole lot of easy when you’re ranching,” Ace said. “If it doesn’t rain steady enough you have to sell cattle, and it seems we go from one drought to the next. But you make it work.”
As a way to skirt around drought conditions, the Petersons would move their cattle onto forest land in neighboring Arizona each winter.
“That’s kind of why we ended up here, in Arizona,” Ace explained. “It got to be hard moving the cattle across the state line. Forest was cheap, and we had an opportunity, so we moved off the Hatchet Ranch. My parents are still there, but I think Paradise is where the Lord wanted us to be.”
The Peterson’s purchased a ranch that bordered the forest and relocated to 100 sections near the ghost town of Paradise, Arizona, in summer of 2017. While it’s still high desert the adjacent forest allotments provide cheap, more lucrative grazing ground for the cattle.
“There’s a little store and cafe in nearby Portal, then a post office, gas stations and a church in San Simon,” said Kay, who enjoys home schooling her kids. The kids, on the other hand, would much rather be outside doing ranch work.
“You pretty much have to hold them all back,” Ace laughed.
“Oh, I hate school,” agreed Dally, 11, who is third in line and the only girl. With three brothers she “never had a chance to be a princess,” as the family likes to say. Rewind to life on the Hatchet where the Peterson’s four kids were born and raised.
The Next Generation
“Quirt was due on our first anniversary,” said Kay, who also never had a chance, this time at picking her son’s name. “Ace had told me he was going to have two boys and name them Quirt and Whip. I kind of laughed but I went along with it.”
Three years and three months later Whip was born.
“Whip has always been pretty quiet,” Kay said of her second son. “He didn’t have to talk because Quirt was always there. Quirt was shy at first, but he was always the outgoing one. And he was always passionate about roping. I can remember him swinging a little string at 1, following Ace around. He won his first dummy roping buckle when he was 3. When it came to school, he wanted to get his work done as fast as he could, right or wrong, and get outside.
“Whip on the other hand might be quiet, but he has a little twinkle in his eye,” Kay continued. “He’ll take his time with his work and likes to get it all right.”
Another three years and three months later Dally was born.
“She loves to win,” Kay said of her only daughter. “She’s small for her age, she’s pretty quiet too. She’s a good helper for me in the house but she’s a cowgirl. Dally was never passionate about roping the way Quirt and Whip were but we just kind of made her. With our lifestyle you need to know how to rope and we weren’t going to be buying barrel horses.”
Five years later Rowel, now 6, entered the scene.
“He’s pretty wild,” Kay said of her youngest. “Our goal is to not let him be the spoiled brat. He thinks he’s boss. He talks a lot and makes a lot of jokes, but he likes school, and for that I’m grateful.”
Gone Too Soon
On October 10, 2018, tragedy struck when Quirt was involved in a ranching accident that took a talented young cowboy much too soon. News spread like wildfire throughout the Arizona and New Mexico ranching communities of which the Peterson family has been a part for decades. In the worst of times their impact was clear. People rallied support for the young ranching family with an online benefit auction that went viral. You could read for days condolences from people who had known and loved Quirt.
“It's hard to believe that this young man has already been called up to ride with Jesus,” Nick Robbs exclaimed in a post following his untimely passing. “I met Quirt Peterson at our recent Rodeo Bible Camp where I took this picture of him. He didn't get thrown (I'm not sure if anything could throw him) and he settled his horse down quickly after this shot. He was the poster child of 1 Timothy 4:12, ‘Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.’ Quirt was that example!”
“I wasn’t raised Christian,” Kay said, “but then I met Ace and his mom. She was the main reason I became a Christian. I learned that it was the way I wanted to raise my kids. Throughout my spiritual growth over the last 20 years I have witnessed little miracles that have proven it’s real.
“I would say my most fun miracle to talk about is one from this past January. I was reading my morning devotional and it said essentially to ask God for something big. I always like looking at pictures of Quirt and I thought if I could look at his pictures without being sad that would be amazing. A few hours later we went to our church and I had this thought come into my mind. ‘He moved.’ That’s so simple and I kept thinking, he moved, he just moved. Maybe people are going to look at me like I’m crazy. I don’t care. If you believe what the Bible says, and we do, Quirt is alive, he just moved.”
The Petersons attend the San Simon Baptist Church which has an average congregation of about 20-25.
“That’s more than the Hachita Baptist Church, where there’s about eight,” Ace laughed. “We also have a little youth group the kids go to in Willcox every Wednesday night.”
Before kids and when the kids were younger Ace and Kay attended a lot of the ranch rodeos. As the boys got older, they started to team rope. It was something they could do as a family and they enjoyed attending NTR events in recent years—where Ace could rope with the boys and the boys could rope together.
Quirt and Whip had in-fact qualified for the 2019 National 8 Finale up and back. Ace was allowed to take Quirt’s place, but they had to move to the National 10 Finale.
“Neither one of us was roping very well,” Ace said, “We didn’t want to ask anyone else. We don’t have a lot of time to practice but we darn sure made a point to practice before the Finals.”
The father-son duo came back sixth high call and had to wait it out. Whip has ice water running through his veins when it comes to short rounds. “I didn’t think that we were going to place so I wasn’t worried,” he explained. “When it got down to the third high-call and I thought we had a chance, I was nervous then.”
Ace self-confessed he was the anxious one and ultimately feels the pressure anytime he’s roping with his kids. After five teams fell short Ace and Whip were crowned the 2019 National 10 Finale Champions.
Whip, a freshman in high school, has been attending the Arizona High School Rodeos heeling for Kenzie Kelton, Mayer, Arizona. In addition, he enjoys going to the local ranch rodeos and even competed in a couple of Working Ranch Cowboy Association Finals qualifiers last year.
“We’re trying to get a team again,” Whip said. “We just a need a bronc rider.”
Although he’s a former National Junior High Finals qualifier in the steer saddle bronc he says no way will he be riding broncs— he’ll stick to roping, and he’s equally talented at both ends of a steer.
“I like heading and heeling, both,” he said “When I’m struggling at one end I go to the other. It usually works.”
And work it did. Not only did he win the National 10 Finale heading for his dad, he turned around and won the National 8 Finale the following day heeling for Zane Compton (read more on page TK). They were high team back and made a clean run.
"Being high team back for $20,000 was nerve-racking for me,” Kay said.
In the little spare time they have left, the Petersons help produce the Hidalgo Youth Rodeo Association (HYRA) rodeo series in Lordsburg, New Mexico, July through August.
“We’re the first ones there and the last ones to leave,” joked Ace, who is hesitant to admit they are the ones in charge. They have been involved with the HYRA rodeos for about 11 years and now Whip is helping as a stock contractor.
“I bring the steers,” he said. “I’ve got about 50 cows now. We rope them at the house, then haul them there.”
In addition to building his herd Whip likes to buy, sell and trade horses. His goals in the arena include a trip to RFD-TV’s The American in Arlington, Texas, and the Cinch Timed Event in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Aside from roping his real passion is punching cows on the Arizona and New Mexico desert.
“Whip loves roping,” Kay said, proud of her son’s accomplishments. “If he’s ever going to get a present, he wants a rope. The first afternoon we got to Wickenburg he was so excited to go to the new NRS (National Roper’s Supply) store. He bought a handful of ropes and when he won, he said he wanted to go back. That’s all he wanted to do.”
A cohesive ranching family, they work together, rope together, laugh and learntogether.
“When I look at the picture of our family with the Finals background, I see Quirt and Jesus standing there with their arms around us,” Ace said. “Quirt is alive and with us. We were so blessed at the Finals. It was truly a miracle.”