Sandra Day O'Connor's childhood home at Lazy B in Arizona still a working cattle ranch

Sandra Day O'Connor, rides her favorite horse, "Chico." at the Lazy B Ranch outside of Duncan, Ariz., in the 1950s.

There is no monument or plaque that tells the public that the remote ranch on the eastern edge of Arizona was the childhood home of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman named to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But there is cell phone service. And people who have found their way along the miles of rugged dirt road have realized that they had come across the place where O’Connor, who died Friday, grew up.

Back before the electronic one was installed, some would even open the gate and make their way to the homestead, marked by the windmills whose sound O’Connor described in the book about her time there.

The current owner and operator of the ranch, Kristen Sorensen, doesn’t have much for tourists to see. Though, at times, she might accept the helping hands should visitors want a taste of the rugged ranch life that shaped O’Connor.

"The ranch is thriving," she said. "It's still a cattle ranch."

Sorensen, reached by phone Friday, said the ranch was operating in much the same way it was when O’Connor knew it — if maybe with a few more motorized vehicles replacing the horses O'Connor rode about the property.

“She would recognize this and be like, ‘This hasn’t changed,’” she said. “Literally, the fence lines have not changed. The corral lines have not changed. Even the colors of the cattle haven’t changed.

“It’s still very much the way it was when it was founded in 1881.”

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O’Connor knew it was a curiosity that a U.S. Supreme Court justice would come from a remote ranch in Arizona.

It is why she co-authored, along with her brother, Alan Day, a book about it. "Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest" was released in 2002.

The home where O’Connor was raised had no running water for some of her childhood and no electricity through her school years.

In the book, O'Connor wrote that she followed her mother's practice of wearing feminine attire on the ranch, not a cowboy hat, jeans and long-sleeved shirt. Still, she wrote, she participated in all the ranch activities.

"Before I rode occasionally on the roundup, it had been an all-male domain," O'Connor wrote in the book. "Changing it to accommodate a female was probably my first initiation into joining an all-men's club, something I did more than once in my life."

O’Connor left the ranch during her school years, living with her grandparents in El Paso, Texas. But she spent as much time as she could at the Lazy B during breaks.

After graduating from Stanford University, where she met her husband, the couple settled in Phoenix. O’Connor became a lawyer, a state lawmaker, a county judge and a state appellate judge. From there, she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brian O'Connor, the justice's middle son, said Reagan and his mother bonded through their mutual ranch connection. Reagan had a vacation home on a ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains in southern California.

"I think he connected with that image," Brian O'Connor said in a 2018 interview.

'It was no country for sissies, then or now'

The Lazy B was no vacation spot, however.

"It was no country for sissies," O’Connor wrote in the book, "then or now."

O’Connor was frank in the book about the sights, sounds and smells there. She wrote of the smell of burning flesh as the cows were branded, detailed castrations and how her father fed those freshly roasted cow parts to her suitors.

One of those suitors was William Rehnquist, who was O'Connor's classmate at Stanford and would also become a Supreme Court Justice. According to the O'Connor biography "First," written by Evan Thomas, Rehnquist "gamely" ate the roasted testicle when it was offered to him. But at dinner, the book says, offended O'Connor's mother with his table manners.

John O'Connor made a better impression after he was served the still-sizzling bite in his visit to the ranch with Sandra. He declared the mountain oyster was good after it was handed to him by Sandra's father.

'Welcome to the Lazy B,' I thought," Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in "Lazy B." There is nothing like a gracious introduction to ranch life."

The two were married at the ranch in December 1952. An account of the ceremony, written by Sandra's mother, Ada Day, made it into the next month's edition of the Arizona Cattlelog, the official publication of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association.

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The ceremony was in the small living room of the ranch house, she wrote. Then luminarias lined a path to the more spacious barn for the reception. A ping pong table served as the banquet table that held the food: pit-cooked barbecued beef, turkey, ham and zucchini corn pudding, the article said.

O'Connor would return to the ranch as often as she could after she was named to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the book, she described it as a cocoon of sorts. Her life in D.C. would float away and she became an Arizona ranch hand.

"Within minutes it would be as though we had never left," she wrote. "The immediate needs and problems of ranch life became the topic of conversation: the cattle, the rainfall and grass conditions, the conditions of various wells and fences, the cowboys and the equipment."

Day, O’Connor’s brother, said the book was a long answer to the constant question she often received.

“How could someone from a rural, humble, agricultural background — and being a woman — achieve what you've achieved?" Day said in a 2018 interview.

The values she carried through life were learned on the ranch, her brother said. She did not know where her life would lead, but she knew she would be served well by keeping those principles learned in the rugged ranch lifestyle.

"She wasn't who she was because she had an end in sight,” Day said. “She was who she was because she wanted to be a good person and do good things."

Water determined where O'Connor grew up

That O’Connor was raised in Arizona was a twist of fate provided by Mother Nature.

O’Connor’s father was looking for a water source for a well. When he found it, he built a home there out of adobe, Alan Day said. Had he found water a few miles to the east, O’Connor would have had a New Mexico pedigree.

Water was pumped out by two windmills on the property. Though, for the past 50 years, the windmills have served an ornamental function.

They sit on the property near the cattle tank that O'Connor used as a swimming pool when she lived at the ranch.

Sorensen has wanted to keep the windmills functioning as a way to preserve their place in history.

The wooden towers they stood on were rebuilt to look just as they were before using fresh timber from Montana, Sorensen said.

The windmills themselves were bent and in danger of falling. Sorensen found a windmill rehabilitation business, Hoosier Windmills, in Kendallville, Indiana.

And she discovered a connection: The business also operates the Kendallville Windmill Museum and Historical Society and the manager told her that O’Connor came out for a dedication ceremony. O'Connor visited in 2004 along with her brother.

She hopes to get the windmills installed in early 2024, possibly for what might be a ceremony involving O’Connor’s remains.

Rainbow over the Lazy B Ranch

O’Connor’s parents are buried on top of Round Mountain on the property. And O’Connor’s brother, during the 2018 interview at the ranch, said that O’Connor had told him she wanted at least some of her ashes spread there.

“This is our heritage,” Day said. “We were raised here and it’s in our blood and it’s just the place we feel most at home.”

The actual home where O’Connor was raised sits mainly vacant. Sorensen said she lives in the bunkhouse. She did use the dining room for Thanksgiving.

She is open should someone want to partner with her to make the house a museum of some sort. But, she said, most of her time is spent operating the ranch.

The ranch grows grass-fed calves. They are then sold off to other cattle houses in Utah and Texas that prepare them for slaughter. Most, she said, end up sold as premium, natural beef. Though, the vagaries of the marketplace means she can’t be entirely sure whether the beef ends up at McDonald’s rather than Whole Foods Market.

On Friday morning, Sorensen started her day before sunrise bottle-feeding calves.

She returned to her bunkhouse and saw an alert on her phone that told her O’Connor had died.

Then, she said, it started to rain. “It hadn’t rained here hardly at all,” she said.

The rain lasted about an hour, she said. Then, there was a rainbow.

Reach the reporter at or at 602-444-8473. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, at @ruelaswritings and on Threads at @richardruelas.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sandra Day O'Connor grew up on a cattle ranch. It's still operating