“These have been wonderful years, forty of them. It hasn’t been a job, it’s been a wonderful life, and not one single day in those forty years have I gone home tired at night. Not many people are privileged to work at the same thing for forty years, and for such grand people. I’ve been proud of my job and the envy of every other woman.”— Abbie Keith, in her farewell letter to the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association
When Abbie Keith retired as secretary of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association and editor of the Arizona Cattlelog in 1963, ranchers, meatpackers, and government officials from across the country wrote letters to express how much they would miss her.
“You may not realize it,” wrote Tom Glazer of Swift & Company in Chicago, “but the State of Arizona is not the only benefactor of your time and talents … I have heard many of your associates in neighboring states express appreciation for the devotion and farsightedness of Abbie Keith.”
Other letters came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service, the Montana Stock Growers Association, and from ranchers throughout Arizona. What had Abbie Keith done to earn such esteem in the eyes of these ranchers? Bob Bowman, President of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association explains:
“Mrs. Keith’s greatest contribution was keeping Arizona’s isolated, far flung, and disconnected ranch families together so they and their industry could continue their great contribution to the young state’s economy.”
The newsletter which Abbie Keith founded in 1923 was the single medium through which isolated ranch families, who often owned no radios or telephones, learned about cattle sales and markets, weather conditions, university research, conventions, legislative actions, and personal affairs such as births and deaths. Keith also impressed upon the often-struggling ranchers the importance of their work to the rest of the nation.
Abbie Ware was born on a farm in Olatha, Kansas, on May 23, 1888. When she was eleven years old, her family moved to Oklahoma. After finishing high school in 1909, she took a job with the Forest Service in Magdalena, New Mexico. It was there that she met Jack Elbert Harvey Crabb, a young man who was also born in Kansas but raised on a farm west of Phoenix. Abbie and Jack were married on December 1, 1910. Jack had also worked for the Forest Service, but in 1911 he joined the Coconino Cattle Company in Arizona, the range of which ran from the Verde Valley to Rogers Lake, south of Flagstaff. The Crabbs’ first two children died before their second birthdays. In 1915, they adopted Jack’s two nieces, whose mother died while giving birth to Saralee; Verna May was five years old. Abbie’s parents also lived with the family. It was during this time that Abbie learned how isolated ranch life could be. The Crabbs had no radios, newspapers, phonographs, or telephones. The family ate beef three times a day, and vegetables came in a can from the store.
Jack Crabb died in 1921 of a ruptured appendix. The next year, Abbie and her family moved to a five acre peach orchard in Phoenix. In 1923, Abbie accepted a position as a secretary for the Arizona Cattle Growers and so began her tenure as the center of information for Arizona’s ranchers. At the beginning, Abbie helped to publish a weekly, one-page market report. Very quickly, the single page became four pages, as ranchers began to drop by Abbie’s office and give her information. As the years went by, people began to send her letters and bulletins through the mail, and by 1945, the association decided to publish a monthly magazine called the Arizona Cattlelog.
In 1920, Abbie married John Murray Keith, a rancher from Bellson, who had two daughters, Lillian, 15 and Murray Louise, 12. Since John Keith spent a good deal of his time at his ranch, Abbie raised the four girls on her own. After Abbie resigned as secretary of the ACGA in 1963, she was anything but idle. She worked as a volunteer for the Maricopa County Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Prescott, earning high praise and letters of appreciation. As a member of the Republican Women’s Club of Phoenix, she worked on several political campaigns, earning letters of thanks from Governor Jack Williams and Senator Barry Goldwater. Abbie was a member of the Altrusa Club of Phoenix, and an honorary member of the Arizona Cowbelles; she did volunteer work for both organizations.
Abbie Ware Crabb Keith died on July 8, 1984, at the age of ninety-six.