A ride into the soul of Scottsdale: story of Hispanic pioneer

Gerbacio “Harvey” Noriega (photo by Scottsdale Historical Society)

Gerbacio “Harvey” Noriega (photo by Scottsdale Historical Society)

With his deep tan, handsome features and wiry build, Gerbacio Noriega caught the eye of many a Scottsdale resident.

Known to the locals as “Harvey,” he was the real deal when it came to the Cowboy Way. Noriega was raised on a cattle ranch in Sonora, Mexico, and found his way to the hamlet of Scottsdale at age 18.

He worked his way up to lead wrangler and foreman at DC Ranch, the collection of corrals and cattle stations that once sprawled across 42,000 acres of north Scottsdale.

He split his time between those primitive outposts and his well-kept, modest home on Second Street, just a few doors down from the Cavalliere Blacksmith Shop.

Mr. Noreiga, on left, branding cattle. (photo by Scottsdale Historical Society)

Mr. Noreiga, on left, branding cattle. (photo by Scottsdale Historical Society)

Noriega bought the house in the 1930s, one of the original tenants of Scottsdale’s tight-knit Mexican community the locals called Eskatel. He lived there until his death in 1998 at age 104.

Noriega’s home was razed shortly after his passing. A parking structure shares the space today with a small building that whispers of his legacy – the Noriega Livery Stable.

But Noriega’s handsome profile and his bronco-busting acumen are branded deeper into local lore than a mere store sign. Truth be told, he remains an integral part of Scottsdale’s every day identity.

When local artist Gene Pennington sat down to design the original city seal … one striking image kept coming to mind.

Pennington was the daughter of E.E. Brown, who owned DC Ranch and employed Noriega. The men were a team and Pennington spent her youth watching them herd and brand cattle, train horses and scratch a living out of the north Scottsdale desert.

Pennington knew the image she wanted to capture for the city seal and it’s become as much a part of Scottsdale’s landscape as the boulders of Pinnacle Peak or the SkySong canopies.

It’s the cowboy, of course — flush in the saddle, torso erect, riding a mean-tempered bronc into the future and Scottsdale’s soul.

Pennington once told a reporter that Noriega was her “mental image of what a real cowboy looked like.”

Scottsdale historian Joanne Handley once tried to pin down Pennington to confirm that Noriega was indeed her model for the city seal.

“She kind of giggled,” said Handley, “and then she said, ‘Well … I guess so.’ “

Folks can argue all day over Scottsdale’s motto as “The West’s Most Western Town.” But somewhere over the mesquite flats around Brown’s Mountain, the spirit of Gerbacio Noriega rides on, as does his image on the Official Seal of the city of Scottsdale.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Phillips is a public affairs manager for the city of Scottsdale.

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