Some Reflections on James Ellsworth Cambern
July 20, 1939 to January 10, 2010It was probably quite warm on July 20, 1939, out on the Lone Star Ranch near Safford, Arizona, where Jim Cambern was born. Jim was the third child born to Clarence and Fern Cambern. Jim's father was a cattleman his entire life and ran several different cattle operations in Northeast Arizona while Jim was growing up. Clarence Cambern was a real life 24/7/365 day in and day out cowboy as were most of the men young Jim encountered in his early years. One day young Jim and some friends happened to go to town and while there saw a movie. The movie was probably on a silver screen and all the cowboys rode silver mounted saddles and wore two gun outfits all the time. After the movie young Jim went home and lamented to his mother that he hoped that one day he would be able to meet a real cowboy like the ones he saw in the movies.
Jim and his younger brother Kelly bunked together in a ranch house that had neither electricity nor running water. According to Kelly, Jim was always dreaming up ways to get them in trouble. One such incident involved a cooking stick. (Think about a stick you would use as a spit to roast a rabbit or a hot dog.) Anyway, Jim decided to keep this particular stick and put it under the mattress of his bed. After the family went to town to the movies and returned home they noticed that there was a lot of smoke coming from the boy’s bedroom. It was then discovered that Jim had neglected to put out the smoldering coal tip of his roasting stick before secreting it under his mattress which was now smoldering itself.
At the age of 18 Jim joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to both the SEABEES and to something that was then called UDT or Underwater Demolitions Team. Jim's son Jerry told me that the scars that Jim carried on his face and upper chest were the result of an explosion of some sort that happened while Jim was with the UDT group.
After his Navy days Jim began working ranches in Northeastern Arizona. Jim took over at the N O Bar Ranch soon after his first son, Jerry Cambern, was born. Jim ran several different ranches and most notably the Point of Pines Cattle Operation on the Apache Indian Reservation for two years. Jim used a pack string, tents and Dutch oven cooking to operate the cattle lands that he oversaw. Jim was also hired by different ranchers and in particular the U.S. Forest Service to pack in work crews to otherwise inaccessible land in Eastern Arizona. Jim and his string packed in the fencing crew and materials to build the state line fence between Arizona and New Mexico.
In 1969 Jim joined the U.S. Border Patrol and was stationed at Yuma, Arizona, for 7 years. When Tucson Sector decided to open a station at Naco, Arizona, Jim and another agent were dispatched there to accomplish that mission. Jim spent seven years at Naco before his transfer to Willcox, Arizona, where he retired in 1989. Whenever we went anywhere or met I usually referred to Jim as the Senior Journeyman which always elicited a chuckle from Jim. Jim was quite a Gentleman Border Patrolman of the old school and a tremendous asset to the agency.
While at Yuma Jim began making western jewelry in addition to ornamental bits and spurs. His unique style of placing personalized art work on the reverse side of his pendants and matching the theme side to the shape and color of the mounted stones became world renowned. In 1994 the jewelry business had grown to the extent that the trade name Nighthawk Silver was adopted.
In 1985 Jim bought a ranch at Cochise, Arizona, and a second ranch in 1987 North of Willcox, Arizona. Both ranches were named Drag 7 which matched the personalized license plate on his pick up truck. In 1992 the ranch at Cochise was sold before Jim had a massive heart attack in 1994. Jim and Nan stayed on the Willcox Drag 7 ranch until 1999 when they moved into Willcox where Jim built a fine home. In 2000 Jim bought a pair of team mules and then a riding mule in 2004.
Jim turned his mules and wagon to teaching youngsters from the area about some of the old ways of the west. Primarily he would make a 4 day wagon and horse back trip from Bowie, Arizona, to Duncan, Arizona, part of which was on the old freight trail. Jim would load the mule drawn wagon with the gear, grub and Dutch ovens while the youngsters would ride along on their horses. Some of the local kids would go on the trip several times and all remember it with very vivid stories. Jim would also Dutch Oven Cook biscuits and other treats for local functions or run a team for Rex Allen Days.
Jim always had and used firearms. While a fine marksman with a handgun he preferred a rifle and hunting was one of his passions. This love of rifle shooting lead him to using black powder cartridge rifles in both metallic silhouette and target rifle competition. Jim won several major matches and was frequently at the top of the heap when the smoke had cleared. The first photograph (below) is of Jim (white cowboy hat) accepting the award for high senior at the Long Range Black Powder Target National Championships in Raton, New Mexico.
On December 20, 2009, Jim took suddenly ill and passed away on January 10, 2010.
The next photograph is of Jim's trekkin wagon without the cover. Note the sign on the rear of the wagon right in front of Jim's casket. Yes, Jim had a sense of humor. Jim’s wife Nan wanted his girls (brace of mules) to take him for a last ride before he was laid to rest. This final ride was fitting as Jim's email address was 'Muleskinner', and it sure fit the man.
The third photograph is Jim's casket arriving at the Funeral Home where he was transferred to an automobile for his trip to Franklin Cemetery just east of Duncan, Arizona.
The Cambern Family plot in the Franklin Cemetery is on a high plateau overlooking the mountains and New Mexico Line. It is there that Jim was laid to rest by family and friends that bid "Adios" to a real Arizona Cowboy and friend.
Zack Taylor, U.S. Border Patrol (Retired)