Located on along Interstate 8 approximately 20 miles east of Gila Bend, AZ is the Big Horn station, an architectural reminder of the people who lived in the area now known as the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Established by the Bender family in the mid-1920s Big Horn station was the only place for travelers to stop between Casa Grande and Gila Bend on what was then Highway 84.
The Bender family, originally from Oklahoma, settled in this part of Arizona right after World War I. They were ranchers and there was a lot of land available for people who were willing to work hard. Full of pioneer and entrepreneur spirit A. O. Bender and his son A. L. Bender diversified their business interests, but remained true to the core of their chosen occupation, ranching, and made their lives here.
A.L. Bender, Les, along with his wife Laura opened the Big Horn station and sold gas, food and other items to locals and travelers alike. In addition Les drove a fuel truck and delivered gasoline to Ajo, Casa Grande and several local ranches. During his “spare” time he worked their ranch. A.O. Bender was a full time cowboy who made sure ranching operations ran smoothly.
Les and Laura raised their family at the Big Horn station and at their Johnson Well ranch located south in the Sand tank Mountains.
The Bender family sold out in 1952 and moved to Prescott, Arizona.
Today Big Horn station has been partially restored by the BLM with a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Soon there will be interpretive signs highlighting the history of Big Horn station and the fine people who called it home.
For more information about Big Horn Station read Growing Up at the Big Horn by Anita Bender McGee and Letty Bender Hofstra in Dry Borders Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert, The University of Utah Press, Richard Stephen Felger and Bill Broyles, editors.
written by Justin Morkry