History

Tonto Bar & Grill in Cave Creek, Arizona, honors indigenous traditions by incorporating Native American philosophy into its cuisine and ambiance. We respect the traditions of the people who have lived on this land before us and incorporate their stories and heritage into our mission. We enjoy sharing their history and creating a new page for future generations.

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The ground that Tonto Bar & Grill sits on was once home to American Indians. But the high desert oasis also made an ideal stopover camp for U.S. Cavalry en route from Camp McDowell in Phoenix to Fort Whipple in Prescott. They were the first non-Indians to settle in the area and fought ferocious battles with the Tonto Apache tribe.

During this time in Arizona, General Crook, a shrewd and sinewy six-foot soldier who spoke little and led by example, led skirmishes starting in 1871. They gave the Apache no rest, using Indian guides to root out their locations. Eventually, the military secured the land for miners and ranchers to move in and create a new community.

Forward to the 1940s, and tenderfoots looking to recapture what had become a romanticized notion of this cowboy-and-Indian past were coming out to dude ranches in the area. China and Ted Loring of Chicago and partner Romaine “Romy” Lowdermilk, a cowboy musician and author, took over the Howard Ranch in the mid-1940s and renamed it the Rancho Mañana dude ranch. It became the largest and most prestigious in the state.

The Lorings, a handsome couple, lived on-site and raised their children there. Photos in the original lounge area (now The Grill Room) depict this traditional but upscale lifestyle: Family members pose on horseback; men in cowboy hats gather around a campfire next to the now-famous boulders of the Boulders Resort, long before it was built. One photo shows the cozy dining hall – still in use as an office – with tables set for service. Nearby, a natural spring fed a tiled swimming pool.

The charm of this era remains at Tonto Bar & Grill, which was part of the original dude ranch. Date palms and olive trees still dot the property today. It’s easy to imagine ranch guests clustered around the fireplace under the rough-hewn wood ceiling beams, listening to Lowdermilk telling stories or strumming his guitar and singing.

The ranch changed hands a few times before becoming a golf resort. Current owners and former roommates Eric Flatt and John Malcolm reunited to restore the building to its glory days while updating it for contemporary tastes and uses. Tonto Bar & Grill opened in 1994 and has become a favorite of local residents as well as visitors to nearby Cave Creek and Carefree resorts. Two indoor dining rooms, a bar, a covered patio and an open patio seat 225.

It’s the perfect choice for travelers looking to connect with the authentic taste of Arizona as well as locals proud of this young state with a rich old history.