Caroline Bishop Stanley was born in 1879 to a Nahant, Massachusetts family that had lived near Boston for generations. Her family was related to many of the well-known Massachusetts families of the period, including the Cabots, Choates, and Perkinses. While the Stanleys weren't wealthy, they were comfortable, and Caroline seemed destined for a prosperous and circumspect Victorian lady's life. She had the leisure to pursue higher education and graduated from Boston's New England Conservatory of Music in 1905.
She was already "old" (by marriageability standards of the time) and still living at home, looking for a job as a music teacher. However, she wouldn't remain in Boston long. During the next few years, she went to Chicago, where she got involved with the social settlement movement. According to author Lesley Poling-Kempes, she:
. . . taught music at the Chicago Kindergarten Institute and began to move in a circle of educated and socially active women. . . . In her late twenties, Stanley joined this league of women who would later be called progressive idealists--educated, motivated women seeking meaningful work that led them out of a boring and useless existence in Victorian America. . . . Music, Stanley's friends believed, was a birthright of all people, and music education a vital part of any person's development and growth.
However, the biggest change in Carol Stanley's life was yet to come. In her mid-30s, she fell in love with a musician in Boston of whom her parents disapproved. She apparently acquiesced to their plans to send her out West to forget him. Most likely, her family thought a year or so away from temptation would be enough, and that she would return to Boston and take up an "appropriate" life.
But Carol never returned to Boston or Chicago (except for some brief visits). She took the train to Santa Fe sometime in 1914,
and with a Chicago friend spent a couple of years riding horses into the remote country in the Four Corners area, camping under the stars, and experiencing a kind of life that was completely foreign to her East Coast upbringing. (It's worth noting that Pancho Villa raided New Mexico in 1916--life was still pretty wild and woolly on the frontier!)
In 1916, Carol was part of a groundbreaking horseback excursion, which, according to Poling-Kempes:
. . . began in mid-September in Santa Fe, and wove across northwestern New Mexico and into the Navajo country of the Colorado Plateau. This particular expedition made headlines because no one had ever attempted to ride horseback to the Indian Country of northern Arizona and southern Utah from Santa Fe.
Near the end of the trip, on October 2, Carol married Richard LeRoy Pfaffle, one of the tour guides (whom she had met for the first time in the spring of 1916). Carol and Roy moved into a guest house at the Ramon Vigil Ranch, a guest ranch about 20 miles from Santa Fe, to act as caretakers. Several years later, they decided to open their own guest ranch, and bought a "crumbling but historically rich and outstandingly beautiful rancho" in Alcalde, NM, near the San Juan Pueblo. They renovated the property, and opened San Gabriel Ranch in 1920.
San Gabriel was a popular destination--the Pfaffles' guests included Rockefellers, Archibald MacLeish, and Willa Cather. Carol taught music at the Pueblo, and in Alcalde, during the winter months. But business was severely hurt by the Depression, and in 1931, after divorcing Roy (who was by this time a seriously ill alcoholic), Carol abandoned San Gabriel to foreclosure, and moved, with her Steinway piano and her Navajo rug collection, to a decrepit homestead outside of Abiquiú, a property that Roy had won in a card game a few years earlier.
Carol called the property Ghost Ranch, and she set about renovating it for another try at the guest ranch business. In the summer of 1934, the woman who was to become most associated with Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keeffe, showed up, looking to spend some time in a casita there. Carol had only one room available for one night, and O'Keeffe took it. During the night, another guest became ill, and the family left their casita precipitously. O'Keeffe moved in, "and I never left".
In 1935, Stanley sold the ranch to one of her regular visitors, Arthur Pack, married her foreman, Lloyd Miller, and eventually settled with him in Arboles, Colorado, where Carol worked as the postmistress. She died of a heart attack in 1948, at the age of 67. Poling-Kempes writes:
Although it was a long drive over the high mountains in winter snow, Dorthy Burnham Fredericks remembers that "all the cowboys showed up for her funeral. All of them."
Illustration Credits and References
The photo at the top of this post is of the New England Conservatory in Boston, taken in 1904. It is from the Library of Congress collection.
The Ghost Ranch photo was taken by the author.
Information about Carol Stanley comes from Lesley Poling-Kempes' wonderful book, Ghost Ranch, published by the University of Arizona Press in 2005.