Filed Under Education

Rugged West Prep School

Evans Ranch School for Boys

In the beginning of the twentieth century, many affluent American families sent their children away to school in the rugged mythical west as a way to help shape them into better men and better leaders.

In the early 1900s, ranch schools became popular in the Western United States. This was largely due to the example of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose success was attributed to his rough experiences in the West. Arizona led the nation in the number of ranch schools. One of the first ranch schools in Arizona and the first preparatory school in Arizona, was started in 1902 by Henry David Evans, a Cambridge educated Englishman who came to Arizona in 1899.

Evans purchased 160 acres of desert two miles southeast of Mesa and named it El Rancho Bonito. Here he set up a school made of simple tent structures set in the shape of a quadrangle. The classes and meals were held in a main house. There were enough tents to house 20 boys. Behind the living quarters was a long barn for the horses. Each boy had his own horse which he was responsible for. Automobiles were not allowed at the school.

Evans believed, “first that a school with but few rules, and those based on common sense, would teach a boy self-reliance, independence and initiative. Secondly, that life in the West, with its vision, distance and colour, could kindle a boy’s imagination, and leave him that ethereal spark which might at any time burst into flame.” To provide a quality education that would prepare the boys for Harvard and Yale, Evans only hired instructors who had graduated from top universities. They were usually Harvard graduates. The student to teacher ratio was usually around 3:1.

Mornings and evenings were set aside for instruction and study, while afternoons were free for outdoor recreation such as sports and horseback riding. Boys were encouraged to take off on camping, hiking and hunting trips with their horses on the weekends. Younger boys were required to set out with older boys who had some experience. Two or three longer horseback/adventure trips were taken throughout the year with the entire school. These were usually to Roosevelt Lake or the Grand Canyon.

The boys at the school competed in sports with other high schools and colleges in the state. The sports they competed in included baseball, tennis, golf and polo. In 1909, they beat the Tempe Normal School (ASU) in baseball. It was common for the Evans boys to place first or second in state championships. Swimming, skeet shooting, riding and roping were also very popular with the boys at the school. Many boys became skilled at horsemanship and some competed in rodeos. They helped out on cattle drives and learned all other aspects of cattle ranching. With natural resources all around them, they studied archaeology, geology, minerology and botany.

In 1921, Evans moved the school to Tucson leaving the school in Mesa under the direction of Major Lionel F. Brady and A. D. Carlisle. It became known as the Mesa Ranch School until its closure in 1939. During WWII the school became home to Italian prisoners who were brought to Arizona from California to work for the Salt River Water Users’ Association; in fact, my father-in-law grew up nearby and remembers playing kickball with the Italian prisoners. A fire destroyed most of the school buildings in 1943.


Welcoming Party for President Roosevelt
Welcoming Party for President Roosevelt The students lined up on their horses to greet President Roosevelt. He visited the school when he came to Arizona for the dedication of Roosevelt Dam, which was located northeast of Mesa. Source: Donald Myrick, “Recollections of an Arizona Ranch School in 1911,” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 12, no. 1, 1971, p. 56 Date: 1911
Professor H. David Evans
Professor H. David Evans Evans was a Cambridge graduate who left England in search of a better climate. He moved to Arizona in 1899 and discovered the climate to be a perfect place for a school for boys that incorporated rigorous outdoor activities with freedom and adventure. Evans, a good-looking, charming man had an instinct for impressing affluent people. This ability contributed to the great success of the Ranch School in enticing the wealthy and well-known sons of the American elite. Source: Arizona Historical Society, Bowditch Collection via Ellinwood, Sybil. “East Meets West in the Field of Education.” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 15, no. 3, 1974, pp. 269–296. JSTOR, JSTOR, Date: 1926
Evans Ranch School
Evans Ranch School Each boy had his own tent with board floors, a shingle roof, and canvas sides. Eventually the canvas sides were replaced with board and batten wood siding. The furnishings in the tents consisted of a small wood stove, a table, a book shelf, a chair and a canvas cot. The boys were responsible for maintaining their personal tent. Source: Myrick, Donald. “RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ARIZONA RANCH SCHOOL IN 1911.” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 12, no. 1, 1971, pp. 51–63. JSTOR, JSTOR, Date: 1911
Evans Ranch School Boys in Chandler, Arizona
Evans Ranch School Boys in Chandler, Arizona Dr. Chandler was eager to make connections with the elite boys and their families. The boys from the school were invited to many events at the San Marcos Hotel, including the grand opening. The boys were instructed in golf by the San Marcos golf pro and played polo on the San Marcos polo field. The Evans Ranch School may have started the first Polo Team in Arizona. Source: Chandler Museum via The Arizona Republic, accessed 30 April, 2018, vi Date: 1919
The San Fransisco Call Newspaper
The San Fransisco Call Newspaper An account of life at the E. R. B. including details of adventure trips taken throughout the year. Source: San Fransisco Call Newspaper via Chandler Pedia, accessed 30 April, 2018.,_Churches_%26_Schools/E/Evans_School,_Mesa,_AZ/Evans_School_newspaper_articles,_Page_1/February_16,_1908,_San_Francisco_Call,_page_7 Date: February 16, 1908
President Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt The highlight of the year for the students and staff of the school was Roosevelt’s overnight visit in the early spring of 1911. Source: Donald Myrick. “Recollections of an Arizona Ranch School in 1911,” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 12, no. 1, 1971, p. 57 Date: 1911
Archie Roosevelt
Archie Roosevelt Theodore Roosevelt's sons Archie and Quentin, attended Evans Ranch School in 1911. Source: Myrick, Donald. “RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ARIZONA RANCH SCHOOL IN 1911.” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 12, no. 1, 1971, pp. 51–63. JSTOR, JSTOR, Date: 1911
John Davis Lodge
John Davis Lodge Source: Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. "John Lodge" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 1, 2018.



Candace Reeb, “Rugged West Prep School,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 19, 2024,