Questions remain over use of ‘Big Bo’


It was, by far, the most controversial land purchase in the history of the Navajo Nation, a purchase that helped to bring down a tribal chairman and caused a revolt that included sweeping changes that are still felt today.

But what is the current status of the Big Boquillas Ranch?

Navajo Nation officials said this week that not much has changed since the tribe spent $33.4 million in 1987 to buy the ranch.

Mike Halona, director of the Land Administration office, said part of the land is still being leased to the same company that sold the land to the tribe and it is being used as a cattle ranch.

Navajo Times/Paul Natonabah
Navajo Nation President Peter MacDonald (1970-1989) walks away from one of his hearings with his wife, Wanda, guarded by Navajo Nation police.

But despite a lot of discussion over the years, the Navajo Nation still has not figured out a way to use the land that would benefit the Navajo people.

Back in 1987, the Boquillas (the Navajos added “Big” when they purchased it) Ranch consisted of 729,381 acres and was said to be the largest cattle ranch in the state. It was divided into 491,334 acres of deeded land and 238,047 acres of state lease land.

Members of the tribe would learn two years later that the ranch was purchased by Bud Brown and Tom Tracey early in the morning for $26.5 million and then sold an hour later to the Navajos for $33.4 million, giving the two a $7 million profit.

Tribal members would also learn in 1989, thanks to hearings by the U.S Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, that a third and silent partner in the purchase was the tribe’s chairman at the time, Peter MacDonald. MacDonald, according to statements given at the hearing, would call up Brown and Tracy or have someone else do it and ask for “golf balls,” with each golf ball equal to $1,000 in payments to MacDonald.

Brown and Tracy were given immunity for testifying against MacDonald who was later tried and found guilty for his involvement. He served a short time in tribal jail after his conviction and was then transferred to a federal prison for his federal conviction of conspiracy in connection with the June 1989 riot in which two of his supporters were shot and killed by Navajo Nation police after they took guns away from police officers.

Members of the Navajo Tribal Council later, while MacDonald was serving his time in prison, pardoned him.

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Categories: Politics

About Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.