Gardner Canyon is named for Thomas Gardner who was an early resident of the Canyon. Gardner was born in Buffalo New York on 13 April 1820. He arrived in southern Arizona in 1859 and settled along the Mexican Border in the area that was to become the future site of the town of Lochiel. He grew vegetable crops and raised beef that he sold to miners at the Mowry Mine. Although the Apaches were always considered to be a threat, the Chiricahua Apaches under Cochise did most of their raiding in Mexico until February 1861 when Cochise and Lt. George Bascom had their infamous altercation at Apache Pass. After that, Cochise went on the rampage and vowed to wipe out all of the American Settlers. Gardner was shot twice by the Apaches and nearly killed. In 1867 he decided to leave that area and moved his family to the Sonoita Valley where they would be under the protection of the U.S. Army at Fort Crittenden. At times, up to eight soldiers were billeted at the Gardner Ranch for 2-week periods to provide additional protection.
In 1872, Gardner gave up his holdings in the Sonoita Valley and moved his family to the eastern slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains. There he established the Apache Springs Ranch in the canyon that would eventually bear his name, Gardner Canyon. Gardner occupied the Apache Springs Ranch until 1896 when he sold it to Walter Vail of the Empire Ranch and moved to Patagonia where he lived until his death in 1906.
An article in an 1888 issue of the Philadelphia Times described Gardner as follows: “He can neither read nor write, but he is well informed on all current topics, and is sharp and shrewd on any type of trade. He is a tall heavily built man, with long iron-gray hair and grizzled beard. His whole appearance betokens a robust constitution, and people in the mountains say that, not withstanding his age, in a rough and tumble fight, he can whip any man for miles around.” “He is known far and wide for his sterling integrity and when Arizona eventually takes its stand among the other states of the union his name will rank among the foremost pioneers.”
The Apache Springs Ranch that Gardner founded is currently (2007) the home of the Epona International Study Center and Equestrian Retreat. The owners are author and horse trainer Linda Kohanov and her husband, recording artist Steve Roach. The ranch features a large covered and lighted arena, conference center, cantina and guest quarters which are open for public bookings. The facilities are available for equine events, single day meetings, weddings, family gatherings, team-building events, concerts and anyone looking for a renewing destination environment.
UPDATE: After operating at Apache Springs for four years, the Epona Center at Apache Springs was forced to cease operations due to the recession and in July 2009 the ranch was placed on the market. As of May 2010, the ranch was still for sale. It is interesting to note that one of the buildings on the ranch is an adobe structure originally built and occupied by Thomas Gardner
Summarized in 2007 by T. Johnson from the Apache Springs Web Site and an Arizona Archaeological & Historical Society article on Thomas Gardner. Updated in 2010 by T. Johnson