ARIVACA, Ariz. — Birds chirping, sun shining, and thousands of acres of land for ranching. Jim and Sue Chilton thought they would have a peaceful life in Arivaca, Arizona.
“We had no idea when we bought this ranch that there would be an immigration and drug packing issue,” said Jim Chilton.
The Chilton ranch curves around other properties before cutting south and meeting up with a 5 mile stretch of the border.
“So everybody who goes through their ranch goes through my ranch also,” said Chilton.
The Chiltons hide surveillance cameras on their property. They've documented the comings and goings of people they say are involved in the drug trade.
“I've had as many as 17 drug packers in my front yard," he said. "I took my gun and I slithered out and yelled 'Agua agua! Water, water!' Everybody filled up their water bottles and took a drink, and then I yelled 'Adios!' and they marched on.”
Things weren't always so tense.
“After about 2008, the Sinaloa Cartel took over,” Chilton said.
Sue says thousands of people used to come through the ranch every year looking for a better life. But since the cartel took over the area, it is a much smaller group. Sue says they wear camouflage and carry heavy packs of drugs.
“We are very aware that one of our rancher friends was killed the day after he reported a drug load,” said Sue Chilton.
On top of living with a certain amount of fear, Jim says it hurts their business. He loses five to 10 cows a year because of the trash the drug smugglers leave behind.
“The cows munch on the trash and it stops up their system and they go a slow, slow, horrible death,” he said.
Despite a strained relationship with the people passing through his ranch, Chilton has scattered 22 wells with water fountains across his 50,000 acres.
“It is really awful to find dead people on your ranch,” he said.
He does it because of what he's seen. He found one woman and her family when it was too late to save her.
“You should have seen her son and her husband crying and bawling," Chilton said. "People don't need to die.”
Chilton supports a wall or border fence and increased security to keep more people from dying in the desert. In the meantime, the Chiltons will continue to live an uneasy balance between the life they dreamed of and the nightmare they're dealing with.
“We hope they, the cartel, believes it's bad business to kill Americans," Chilton said. "And if I get bumped off we have a family cemetery so I’ll either be on top of the ground or below ground."