Monday, February 17, 2020

An Arizona Visionary and a Long-Forgotten Town: Marshall Shelton and Acre City


Sleepy, dusty Phoenix had not even 25,000 residents by 1916, but had more than its share of visionaries who saw a chance to make a better life or better world. From those who found ways to bring water to the desert to those who built resorts to help "lungers" (tuberculosis sufferers), people who dreamed of making a difference found fertile ground in the arid earth of the Salt River Valley. Some live on in our daily lives by leaving their names on streets, dams, mountains, or hospital wings; others never achieved their dreams at all. Many, if not most, occupied that middle ground between the magic and the tragic, where they achieved some success but ultimately watched their castles crumble.

Marshall Shelton's name is unfamiliar to most Arizonans. On some online maps, it appears as a neighborhood name tagging part of the area between Van Buren and Washington, from 30th Street to 34th Street. Adjacent to the "Shelton" area is an area labeled "Acre City," and below that, between Air Lane and Madison, is "Pacific Place," and to the east is "Portland." These Monopoly-game names are all connected, historically as well as geographically, in a unique tale of a man who dreamed of giving a small, disenfranchised population their own exclusive community to follow their own dreams.

Marshall H. Shelton arrived in Arizona a couple of years before it achieved statehood, accompanied by his Tennessee-born wife, Genevra, and their two adopted sons, Charles and James. Born in Missouri on April 2, 1870 (or the 21st, or March, 1873, depending on which official records you choose to believe are correct), Shelton had come most recently from Seattle, but had lived in plenty of other states before making his way to the southwest. As a young adult he worked for several years as a porter at various places in Kansas City, including The Tuxedo Club (1898). By 1900, still in Kansas City, he'd married his wife, Genevra Williams, to whom he'd remain married until her death. They moved to Seattle by 1910, and Marshall worked as a solicitor. 5'10" and a slim man, Marshall was ambitious and hard-working.

Soon the couple found themselves in Arizona, settling near Washington Street in what was then the fringe of Phoenix, an area verdant with alfalfa crops and citrus groves. Marshall, by then a real estate broker, conceived of a lofty plan. He established an office at 215 W. Washington and from there he began marketing the opportunity of a lifetime: Giving people who were otherwise not likely to be able to buy real estate a chance to buy their own acreage in his planned community, which he called Acre City. By May, 1914, Shelton was advertising lots at $350 an acre, some of which were already planted in alfalfa. He promised the area would soon grow into a thriving town of industry, with a general store coming to the corner of National Avenue and Division Street. Shelton encouraged those who dreamed of raising chickens or cattle to buy in his new town, even offering to help them get a cow if they didn't have one.

Shelton laid out the streets of his new town with attention to every detail. He named one street, Genevra Court, after his wife; others were given women's names such as Leola, Zelda, Edna, Maria, and Elvira. The street he called Genevra (sometimes appearing as Genevie in newspaper articles) is now Madison Street, and the National Highway he proudly raved about is what is now Van Buren. At the time, the area he developed - Washington to Van Buren between 32nd Street and towards 44th - was in between the cities of Phoenix and Tempe, and Shelton saw it as an "intermediary" town.

The Arizona Republic carried frequent mention of Acre City in its section devoted to local news from around the state. A woman named Hope Edson was Acre City's designated correspondent. Her columns were filled with optimism for the emerging community as she informed readers of critical events. Mr. George Cagle planted fruit, pecan, and shade trees on the George Utley property, she wrote; her husband, P. J. Edson, harvested a crop of pears for Mr. Carr.  She told us when Mrs. Carson had left for the mountains to partake in the bracing air up north, and when Mr. Cotton and his son, Fred, were in the mountains for Mr. Cotton's recuperation from an unspecified illness. Ella Stevenson bought an acre to raise chickens on, and Mr. McNeff bought the property north of F. R. Towar on Genevie Court. As for Marshall Shelton himself, Hope Edson boasted that Marshall had a flock of 80 colorful ducks.

So the town grew. Five houses popped up on Division Avenue. Mrs. T. V. Parsons, from Fresno, purchased five acres in the Zeibenow addition nearby. By fall of 1914, acres were going for $525 apiece. The next year, the Cauthen family moved to an orange grove north of the Desert Inn, and Belle Grissinger, a farmer's daughter, made plans to convert her seven-room house into apartments. Roberts Willabos visited his brother Louis, and Mrs. Carson built a chicken coop. Babies were popping up all over: by March, 1916, Acre City boasted no fewer than a dozen infants and toddlers under the age of three years. Children had become so abundant that the city had an active boys club that promoted reading, writing, recitations, and cornet playing. Residents circulated a petition in an effort to bring a primary school to town, as the National Highway had become so heavily trafficked that it was unsafe for the little ones to walk to school. 

A big event happened in January, 1919: Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Waschan had twins. Hope Edson referred to them as the "famous" twins, and the newspapers carried the news that the Waschans were going to name the babies with the public's help. Ruby Bowers and Mabel Weaver submitted the winning names: Milton and Marie.

Meanwhile, Marshall and Genevra themselves had added two boys to their family. There's a  mystery involving the boys, though - their origin, and whether or not they were actually their biological sons or not. One census record specifies the boys are adopted, but there are reasons to doubt this assertion. You see, the reason Marshall and Genevra Shelton began master-planning a community was that they wanted people like themselves to have an opportunity to own land. In a time when banks generally denied mortgages to black people, Marshall and Genevra - designated "Neg," for "Negro" on census records, or with a "C" for "colored" on voter's rolls - were themselves a black couple who saw a chance to create an exclusive community where blacks were able to buy property and achieve the dream of home ownership and cottage industry. By 1920, only about 4% of the population of Phoenix was black. Perhaps it was because, compared to most states, Arizona's was relatively hospitable to blacks drew the Sheltons to the valley. Already Phoenix had a black newspaper, the Phoenix Tribune, devoted to civil rights issues and local black news. The well-established Arizona Republic praised the paper and its publishers, and encouraged readers to subscribe to the Tribune, in addition to promoting the news and marketing of Acre City. News of the settlement spread and even the nationally-known black educator, Hattie Q. Brown, bought land from Shelton for her winter home. Whatever the reason, the ever itinerant Sheltons stayed in Arizona for the remainder of both their lives.

Here's the mystery regarding the Shelton boys. Charles Courtney Shelton was born in 1921 in Denver, Colorado. His brother, James Curtis Shelton, was born March 8, 1925, in Portland, Oregon. In the 1930 census, Charles and James are listed as adopted, and their race is designated as white. In the 1940 census, the boys were not cited as adoptees, and their race has been designated "Neg" for "Negro." Shortly after that census, the young men went to war. On their draft cards and subsequent military records, they're both designated as white. I assume that, whether or not the sons were in fact adopted or were the biological sons of Marshall and Genevra, that they were light-skinned enough to "pass" and that their parents made the decision to identify them as adopted white children to offer more opportunities to the young men. I could find no birth records or newspaper accounts of their births, but that isn't in itself unusual. On James' 1942 draft card, his description is given as 142 lbs., 5'8", with brown hair and brown eyes and a "sallow" complexion. I could find no photographs of them - yet - but I did find yearbook photos of Charles' two sons, Curtis James and Bruce Eugene, and they each have features that appear consistent with some African descent. Clearly I do not know with any certainty the facts of James' and Charles' birth or ancestry, nor the motivations for the family changing their racial identity to "white" on documents, but based on that being a not infrequent occurrence in those years, and the understandable inclination to want their sons to be as free as possible of bias and closed doors, it makes sense to me.

Marshall's two sons, as mentioned, went off to fight in World War II. Private Charles Courtney Shelton, service #18017448, served in the 60th Coast Artillery Corps., I Battery Anti-Aircraft, in the Southwest Pacific Theatre: Philippines. In 1943, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and detained at Hoten POW Camp (Mukden) in Manchuria. Pvt. Shelton was liberated on May 7, 1942. He suffered greatly during his detention and became disabled. Upon his return, Pvt. Shelton lived only until April 9, 1949. He left behind his widow, Alice, who briefly stayed in Phoenix with the two small children. In March, 1951, Alice accidentally backed her car over two-year-old Bruce in the driveway of her home at 9101 N. 12th St. in Sunnyslope, breaking his leg. Not long thereafter, she took the boys to Springfield, Missouri, and raised them there. Both eventually returned to Arizona after graduation from high school.

The younger brother, Bruce Eugene Shelton, was born on December 7, 1948, seven years to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He attended Phoenix College and ASU. Like his father, he went off to war and served in Vietnam in the First Cavalry 11th. Bruce died on September 7, 2012 and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery on Cave Creek Road in Phoenix. Bruce's older brother, named Curtis James Shelton in tribute to his uncle, was born June 1, 1947, also went to Vietnam. On November 28, 1967, he was wounded in the war. Curtis survived and returned to Tucson, Arizona, where he died on March 15, 2003.

The uncle Curtis was named in memory of, Marshall Shelton's younger son James Curtis Shelton, (born March 8, 1925) enlisted in the 1402 Army Air Force on June 15, 1943. On March 31, 1945, he was killed in action. James' body was brought home to be buried at Tempe Cemetery, not far from Acre City. On February 3, 1949, Marshall Shelton applied for his son's grave marker. His address at the time was 33 North 11th Street, Phoenix, still near the place he'd built a city in the desert.

By then, Genevra Shelton had died. Born on February 1, 1875, in Nashville, Tennessee, to James Williams and Julia, Genevra was a petite 5-foot-tall, 100-pound woman on her voter registration in 1928. (Both she and Marshall were registered Republicans.) Genevra, despite her birth as a woman of color in the 1800s in a southern state, was literate. She and Marshall formed a business with a partner from Los Angeles. They were both founding officers of the Phoenix and Los Angeles Investment Association formed on April 18, 1928. 

During this chapter of the Sheltons' life - the 1920s - the were hard at work on developing acreage known as "The Portland Tract" into another exclusive community for black Arizonans. By 1923, Shelton advertised that the land was near a meat packing plant and that a cement plant would be built as well, offering more opportunities for industrious-minded people. The Portland Tract was bordered by Van Buren on the north; "Four Mile Road" on the west (now the 40th Street alignment) and "Chicago Avenue" on the east (now 44th Street) and the northern edge of what is now the Sky Harbor Airport grounds. Shelton, acting as agent for his Los Angeles partner Edward L. Minsoh, requested the platting of the tract for his new city. That tract was the NW 1/4 of Section 7, TWP 1N, Range 4E. 

The Portland Tract - which it appears was to be called "Pacific City" - remained mostly undeveloped into the 1930s. It is likely the Great Depression halted Shelton's progress. In 1941, Sky Harbor (nicknamed "The Farm" because of its location in rural farmland of the valley) began rapidly expanding. Much of the Portland Tract was consumed by the airport. It was noted to have been occupied primarily by squatters in cars and tents by then [FAA Sky Harbor Environmental Impact Statement, June, 2005]. Once - in the 1890s - owned by livery stable owner Joseph S. Drew, the land then became a failed city for people of color, and was now to be part of an airport that would one day grow to be the busiest in the nation. 

His dreams halted by the economy, Shelton stayed in the area throughout the 30s and 40s. At 11:40 a.m. on November 29, 1946, at age 71, his long-time wife and partner, Genevra, died of colon cancer in Tempe Hospital after a two-month stay. I could find no obituary nor newspaper tribute to Genevra. Her name on her death certificate was spelled "Genevera"; at times in census records and other documents, it appeared as Genevie. Searches under all such spellings turned up nothing to honor her death. Soon, Shelton would be alone in Arizona, his grandchildren having moved to Missouri; his sons both dead; and his wife gone. On June 16, 1952, Shelton died at his home at 311 N. 32nd Street. Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies served to provide information to the medical examiner regarding his death, as no family was left to do so. He was in his 80s when hypertension-caused heart failure felled him. Shelton is buried in Tempe at the Double Butte Cemetery, near the land he'd believed in. I could find not a mention of his passing in the papers. 

Nothing discernible remains of Acre City, Pacific City, or the Portland Tract except asphalt, dusty weed-filled lots, and a mention on online maps. A few businesses - Circle K, a car lot, and so forth - have been built, and a few aged homes cling to the neighborhood behind chain-link fencing. Planes taxi down runways where Portland Tract once promised to be the promised land. Even the street names have changed; there's no Shelton Road, nor is Genevra still commemorated on street signs. But once, that area was an exciting, thriving community, all because of Marshall Shelton's ambition and vision. 


For anyone researching Acre City or its original inhabitants for genealogical purposes, here are a few of the additional names I ran across. Spellings of names are suspect, so don't accept them as accurate; many were gleaned from Hope Edson's newspaper column about Acre City happenings. I cross-checked many names in census records and other official documents, but interestingly, found very few of the people below were designated as black in those records.

Bates: Little Gordon Bates was ill as of January, 1916, but improving.
Carr: Owned a pear tree orchard
Carson
Nellie Cassity: Lived in Colorado, but attended school in Acre City.
Cotton
Couthen (lived on the Dr. Bond property until moving to an orange grove north of the Desert Inn).
Donaway: Mrs. Donaway lived in Acre City until moving to Phoenix.
Hope Towar Edson: Born in 1901 in Iowa, daughter of P. J. Edson
Gareison / Garelson: "A resident of Acre City for some time" moved to Phoenix in September, 1915, to open a business there.
Emmanuel Gormezis: In 1916, erected a large chicken yard on the Jack verner property just west of Belle Grissinger's house.
Cathuleen Kendall lived in Acre City until September, 1915, when she left for Tempe to attend the Tempe Normal School (now ASU).
Lasem: lived in Acre City in October, 1915.
Lasuer: Mr. Lasuer worked at a quarry near Tempe.
McNeff: owned the property north of the F. R. Toward place on Genevie Court.
Pare: Mrs. Pare was ill in January of 1916 and was attended by Dr. Dameron.
Robert Parscal: The Parscal family owned a ranch and alfalfa fields in Tucson. Robert Parscal was a resident of Acre City in January, 1916 and, at the time, suffered a serious illness.
Ella Stevenson bought one acre in Acre City.
Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Waschan had the twins, Milton and Marie.
Robert Willabos


Residents of Genevra Court (Del Rey Precinct) as of 1930:

Charles and Thelma Norton (white)
Charles M. and Ethel M. Norton (white)
Mary Fraley (white)
Thomas and Frances Brown (white)
Bradbury Thomson (white) 
Silvio Sinforiani (white, Italian immigrant)
Matthew Mitchell (black - listed as "Negro" in census records)

In 1930, the Shelton family lived at 305 Orange Road, one of the north / south streets in Acre City / Portland Tract.

Credit for the inspiration for this content goes to Twitter friend @UncleTom2019, with my thanks for introducing me to such an interesting and little-known piece of Arizona history.


Copyright (c) 2020 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are appreciated * Thank you for stopping by!



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Arizona's Official Anthem, 1901

On March 16, 1901, by way of Act No. 49, the Arizona Territorial legislature adopted an official anthem of the Territory of Arizona. Here, faithfully transcribed in all its sun-kissed glory, are the lyrics.

HAIL TO ARIZONA, THE SUN-KISSED LAND.

O, Arizona, Sun-kissed Land; 
Thy day of birth is near at hand;
Upon they mountains' rugged crest,
They native sons still call thee blest;
Within thy valleys' broad domain,
In love, thy foster children reign;
Fair Land of gold and sunny peace,
Of flower and vine and rich increase,
Of cloud-kissed hills and wooded wold,
Of countless mines and wealth untold.

CHORUS.

Hail: all hail to Arizona:
Sound her praise from sea to sea:
Land of sun and summer showers,
Land of grain and gold and flowers,
In Columbia's diadem
Of jewels rare thou'lt be the gem,
Hail to Arizona, the Sun-kissed Land.

Primeval stands thy forest grand,
The ancient Zuni's fatherland,
The plain and lofty mountain round,
Were many moons his hunting ground,
Unbosomed in thy sun's bright ray
His olden ruins slow decay;
Where once the tribes of Ishamel's band
Marauding wandered o'er the land,
The mighty "Phoenix" rose to fame
From the ashes of destruction's flame.
(Chorus.)

Hoary with age, thou still art young,
Land of renown with praise unsung;
Nature with a master hand
Hath carved thy wondrous Canyon Grand;
Magician-like her wand she plied,
And lo: thy Forest Petrified;
From craggy peak of Castle Dome,
From Copper Queen to rich Jerome,
She pours her lavish treasure forth
In molten streams of priceless worth.
(Chorus.)

Not all thy riches, glorious Land,
Are due alone to Nature's hand,
For man with unremitting toil
Brings forth a bounty from the soil;
From vine-clad hills and limpid streams,
From fruitful vales where plenty teems,
O'er verdant fields he points with pride,
Where flocks and herd are scattered wide,
To schools where art and skill combine,
To homes in love and truth enshrined.
(Chorus.)

Proud Land, thy rock-ribbed hills record
The history of a mighty horde;
The onward tread of centuries old
Hath left its imprint strong and bold
On the hearts and lives of thy brave sons,
In the winsome grace of thy fairer ones;
Thy Rider's Rough, a valiant band,
With loyal hearts forever stand
To guard the flag that floats above
Thy homes where reign content and love.
(Chorus.)

(End anthem.)

The statue passing the adoption of the above anthem also mandated that trustees of the school districts were to furnish copies to all schools to allow Arizona's students to learn and perform the song "as part of the musical exercises of their schools."  

The "day of birth" mentioned in the first stanza refers, of course, to the optimism towards approaching statehood. Due to the "Indian troubles," statehood wasn't granted until several years later in 1912. 

Note that the final verse pays homage to the Rough Riders, of which Buckey O'Neill was a member. In the same legislative session, it was also enacted that the Roosevelt Rough Riders Association would be permitted to commemorate the Arizona contingent of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry - better known as the Rough Riders - with a medallion, inscribed with the names of all the Rough Riders who perished in the Spanish-American War, in the rotunda of the Territorial capitol building. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Whistle-Post on the Railway: Arntz, Arizona

Follow the railroad tracks best of Holbrook, and just a few miles outside of town you'll pass a bare patch of land where a railroad station once stood. You'll know you're there because the Arntz Road crosses the tracks there from the north before veering sharply east. The station took its name from Werner Peter Arntz, the railroad roadmaster for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Arntz may never have even lived in the settlement that took his name. In June, 1921, Arntz succeeded H. C. Storey as the train master on the Phoenix - Ash Fork Line of the railroad upon Storey's death, and resided in Prescott. There he stayed until he received a promotion in November, 1922, when Arntz returned to California to work at the Terminal Division in San Francisco.

Born in January, 1873, in Wisconsin, Arntz was the son of a French-born father and a German-born mother. In 1895, he married Hannah; census records show their children included Jeraldine and Julian. A lifelong railroad employee, Arntz was Chief Clerk at the AT & SF RR by 1915, when he lived in San Francisco at 3727 25th Street.

Arntz moved around as necessary for his railroad job. Just prior to moving to Arizona, he was Chief Clerk at Fresno. Arizona, at the time, was considerably less lively than his California residences. Perhaps the highlight of Arntz's Arizona career was traveling with the popular Sells-Floto Circus when it traveled by rail across the southwest. In September, 1922, Arntz was responsible for ensuring the bigtop and its entourage were safely moved. He joined them from Prescott to Ash Fork, where he left them to make their own way on the train to Winslow for their next show.

In April of that year, the papers were proud to announce the arrival of "high officials" of the AT & SF RR. Traveling in a special five-car train to tour the Santa Fe lines, the lofty executives were joined in Prescott by Arntz himself. His Arizona career, though brief, had its challenges: railroad labor unrest divided communities, and as workers pitted themselves against the railroads, Arntz found that he and his employee could find nowhere to eat in Parker (Arizona) in August, 1922. Four restaurants they tried to eat at closed their doors to the railroad men, hanging signs up saying, "We are not feeding scabs."

As for the tiny way station called Arntz, it remained humble. Its biggest news was excitedly reported by the Holbrook (Arizona) News on November 24, 1922. Calling it "a whistling post" seven miles east of Holbrook, the paper announced that Section Foreman William Melton and a section hand named Liberado Flores were arrested for having "materials and machinery" for the "manufacturing of the product so obnoxious to Mr. Volstead." Volstead, students of American history will know, was Mr. Andrew Volstead, whose name was given to the act establishing prohibition - the 18th Amendment. Melton and Flores were bootleggers, although the newspaper delicately avoided giving them such a scandalous name. The newspaper was more concerned with the fact a place called Arntz even existed: "So it is that Arentz breaks into fame, and we must confess that up to this time we ourselves had been entirely ignorant of its existence."

As for Werner P. Arntz, he and Hannah continued to move around in California after the Prescott office he'd held was abolished November 15, 1922. They lived, in 1932, once again in San Francisco; by 1939, in San Jose; ever moving along the tracks as needed by the railroad. His name remains in Arizona, though, a pin-prick on a wind-blown lot with just a tree-break still remaining along the tracks outside of Holbrook.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Announcing the Release of Black Canyon Underground

I've been remiss, again, in maintaining my blog. I'm blaming life, baby burros, a newly-torn rotator cuff, the long hot summer ... oh, and the release of my latest book on Arizona history. Book releases aren't just a sigh of relief and a bottle of celebratory adult beverage - they're hard work, really. They entail festivities: a party of appreciation for the people who supported the project ... some live music ... and marketing. It means some public speaking, lots of signing, updating websites, and arranging for online sales. Then there's the business end of things ... and in all of the chaos and fun and learning things about retail I've never had to learn before, I've neglected to update this site.

So here it is, for those of you who love Arizona history, are curious about my efforts at linocut and woodcut illustration, or want to support local authors (and their newly-adopted BLM donkeys): Black Canyon Underground. It's a story-driven volume, with what I consider "the best of" Black Canyon City's historical tales from the 1800s to the 1970s. If you've lived in Arizona for any length of time,  you'll recognize many of the names - but you may be surprised at their often-indirect relationship to Black Canyon City.

Meanwhile, I'm immersed in writing another book on Black Canyon City, one which will be more reference-style than about the story - although certainly stories have made their way in. I expect to have it in print by January.

Although I haven't mentioned the hardcover editions of Black Canyon Underground on my site, I do have a very limited number of them available for those who, like myself, appreciate a book that feels more solid and durable. I'm a bookish person, and I'll never tire of hardcover books. From that subtle sound of the "crack" when you first open them, to the way they stand neatly on a shelf without the saggy trousers of a paperback, they're a book-lovers' book. But they're expensive to produce and ship, and for that reason I have few on hand. Drop me a line if you'd like to get your hands on one.

With a little luck and self-discipline, I'll be back soon with more Arizona history for you!





Sunday, May 27, 2018

May 28th, 1918: On this Day in Arizona History (Memorial Day edition)




It's Memorial Day, May 28th, 2018 - and an appropriate time to remember the first Arizonan killed in World War I, exactly one hundred years ago today. That man who died a hero's death on May 28, 1918, was a Pima Indian, Matthew B. Juan. Born in San Tan, Juan grew up in Sacaton, a village of the Gila River Pima Community. Juan was part of the first American offensive on a German stronghold at Cantigny, France, in the first major American battle of the war. 

Matthew B. Juan had already survived the January 24, 2018 torpedoing of his troopship, the U.S.S. Tuscania, in an attack which killed 210 of his fellow troops. The Tuscania, originally a luxury Cunard liner, had been repurposed as a troopship. The German submarine UB-77, under the command of Wilhelm Meyer, launched two torpedoes at the three-year-old ship and brought her down.

Juan was later transferred to the First Division, 28th Infantry, Company K. As his unit advanced on the Germans at 0645, Juan took machine gun fire and was killed.  Although he was initially buried in France, his body was later exhumed and returned home to the reservation at Sacaton. Nearly three years later on April 9, 1921, Juan was laid to rest in the desert. Juan is honored by a stone memorial at the Matthew B. Juan - Ira Hayes Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton on his native reservation south of Phoenix. The name Ira Hayes, another famed Pima veteran from Sacaton, is recognizable to many from the Johnny Cash song about him. Those who know their history, though, will recognize Ira, a US Marine, as one of the six flag-raisers at Iwo Jima commemorated in the poignant Joe Rosenthal photograph.

When Matthew died, a friend visited the Arizona Republic office to tell them not only of his death but of his life. Matthew (who also went by the name "Matthew Rivers") had been an athlete and a star baseball pitcher at the prominent Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, California. When American entered the war, he promptly enlisted out of Texas, where he was at the time. Matthew's friend also said, "If you put anything in the paper about my friend, tell the people that 30 boys from Camp Kearny, all Indians, have just started for France, and tell them too - tell them that the fighting spirit of Matthew Rivers will live long in the hearts of the Pima Indian people."

That fighting spirit did indeed live on and continue to grow. A tribute to Juan in the May 30, 1941 Arizona Republic, as the nation again faced war, said 81 Pima Indians had entered military training camps to again fight. In May, 1943, the Pima High School at Sacaton had no graduation ceremony. Every single graduate, with the exception of one girl, either enlisted or was drafted into the war. One of those was Ira Hayes.

 Only three of the soldiers in the iconic photo survived the war; one with physical wounds, and all scarred by their experience. Ira's fame - and perhaps the inevitable and tragic survivor's guilt - contributed to his downfall. Ira now lies at rest in Arlington National Cemetery. 


With gratitude to all who gave all under the colors of our flag, and with special respect to the Native American heroes of our wars and conflicts. 









Copyright (c) 2018 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the author * Links, however, are truly appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, forwarding, tweeting, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting and - veterans - thank you for your service.



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Historic, Under-Appreciated Willcox, Arizona

The Willcox Depot


I'm a sucker for authentic old western towns, unspoiled by tourism and kitschy re-creations of sites and events. Put a life-size diorama at an old fort site and I'm unimpressed. Do mock shoot-outs in the streets and I'm heading the other way. But leave the old buildings intact, and do tasteful markers and monuments - well, I get a bit weak at the knees.

That's Willcox. Still a cow-town with cow-haulers parked on the streets and the livestock auction grounds barely on the edge of town, it has that slow-paced and wonderful western feel. There aren't scads of out-of-state plates, nor do easterners clog the sidewalks. It's still genuine. Many of the old buildings are still intact, although perhaps the most famous building of all - what was once Brown's Headquarter's Saloon, where Warren Earp was shot to death - burned down in that most-Arizona-of-fates in 1940.

Willcox, part of the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, owes its origin to the Southern-Pacific railroad. The depot, shown above, was built in 1881 to service the area. It's the oldest extant redwood station in the country and has been lovingly maintained. To the left, partly obscured by the stop sign, you can see the old signal booth, complete with early phone numbers scratched into the metal on the door.



The historic downtown area is quiet now, but during territorial days, it was a notoriously tough town. Many of Arizona's most nefarious characters passed through, and many made Willcox their home. Working girls populated the saloons, and rival rustlers and cowboys engaged in gunplay on the street. Shootings weren't uncommon.  Train robber Burt Alvord, infamous in the state's history, was deputy sheriff under the famed Sheriff John Slaughter (a much tougher Arizona sheriff than Joe Arpaio ever was, by the way). Here in Willcox, Alvord killed the cowboy William King.

At left, the site of the original Headquarter's Saloon, where Warren Earp was gunned down in 1900.



Another notorious outlaw, train robber Bill Downing, kept a house of ill repute appropriately named the "Free and Easy Saloon" on Maley Street (the street across which the above photo is taken). Downing was killed by Arizona Ranger Billy Speed in 1908, just a year before the Rangers were disbanded after an eventful - and highly successful - eight-year run.




Willcox's most famous son, though, was cowboy star Rex Allen. As a boy, Allen performed in a barber shop on the street where today stands the Rex Allen Museum. The museum itself is in the old Schley Saloon building. Rex Allen never let his fame ruin his natural down-to-earth personality. He often visited old friends in Willcox. Leonard Sly performed in town, as well, before becoming Roy Rogers.




Although Marty Robbins was from Glendale, the Marty Robbins Museum and Gift shop stands next to the Rex Allen Museum. You can pick up my favorite Marty Robbins CD there, too - Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. I grew up listening to it on vinyl; it was one of Dad's most-played albums.




In the town square, a larger-than-life sculpture of Rex Allen by prominent Arizona artist Buck McCain looks over the town. Rex is keeping an eye on more than the passers-by, though. In front of the sculpture is a section of concrete imprinted with ranch brands, and beneath the concrete lies Rex Allen's famous co-star and stallion, KoKo. KoKo traveled half a million miles with Rex. 


KoKo's Grave

Throughout town are the sort of subtle gems that make photography a delight: ornate scrollwork accents on building facades; old signs painted on red-brick walls; the occasional amusingly misspelled business sign. 


Willcox is cult-free, so don't hesitate to step inside. They mean "Cutlery."

An accent piece on a vintage building.


Should you make your way to Willcox, stop in at the Friendly Book Store - they're friendly, and they have a good selection of Arizona history books.  The milk shakes at the Mother Lode ice cream store are not to be missed, either. You can pick up a free self-guided walking-tour map at the Chamber of Commerce (or many of the local businesses). 

If you'd like to enjoy some vintage photos and history of Willcox, you can pick up your copy of Arcadia's "Images of America: Willcox" book here:  Willcox, Arizona  (affiliate link).  Support local authors!

On the edge of town is the Old Willcox pioneer cemetery, too - but more on that later, so make sure you sign up to follow my blog by email.  

Copyright (c) 2018 by Marcy J Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, tweeting, sharing, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for stopping by and sharing my enthusiasm in the great American west.





Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Death Site of Sheriff Glenn Reynolds

Cross along the Florence-Kelvin Road
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

Outside of Florence, there's a sandy dirt road that leads east. Called the Florence-Kelvin Road, it's still a rural drive, as yet uncluttered by subdivisions (although they're in the plans for the future) and untroubled by too much traffic or asphalt. You'll first drive by the Arizona State Prison in Florence and if you're lucky you'll get a glimpse of the mustangs and burros being trained by the inmates on the prison ground's edge.


The long, sandy grade where Sheriff Glenn Reynolds was killed.
(c) 2018 MJ Miller
There are no historical markers along this road, but here, on November 2, 1889, Sheriff Glenn Reynolds and his deputy, William H. "Hunky-dory" Holmes, were murdered by Apache convicts they were transporting from Globe to Yuma Territorial Prison. I've described the event in detail here:  The Death of Sheriff Glenn Reynolds

The Florence-Kelvin Road is an old stagecoach road connecting Globe to Florence. Take the road from the east and start at Ray Junction (formerly Kelvin) to re-create Sheriff Reynolds' final journey. Kelvin has since been devoured by the vast Ray Copper Mine, but the old historic Kelvin Bridge remains across the Gila. Soon, it will be closed to vehicular traffic and the much larger, much stronger new bridge will open. Take a few minutes to enjoy the bridge; it's historically significant as a bridge designed by Daniel Luten, constructed in 1916.  More on the bridge here: The Historic Bridges of Kelvin and Riverside

Old adobe at Riverside along the Gila
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

The stagecoach carrying the Apache prisoners - including the notorious Apache Kid - stopped at Riverside in the late afternoon on November 1. There, they overnighted. William T. Branaman, a stagecoach driver himself, opted to guard the prisoners overnight for $5 rather than drive the stage in the morning.  Starting afresh at five the next morning, they left idyllic Riverside (and Branaman) behind, Eugene Middleton driving the stage while Holmes and Reynolds tended the prisoners. 

About four miles west of Riverside, the stagecoach reached Zellweger Wash, the low point at the base of a long, steep grade. The deep sand made the haul tougher on the horses. The prisoners were, according to Branaman's later account, numb with cold. Reynolds allowed six of the eight prisoners - one Mexican and seven Apache - to get out of the stage and walk up the hill, partly for their own warmth and partly to help the horses ease up the grade. The prisoners who got out were shackled; the Apache Kid remained in the coach with one other prisoner and the driver, Middleton, continued onward with them. He was to wait at the top of the hill until the rest caught up.

The prisoners on foot had planned their escape. As the coach got well ahead, two of them attacked Sheriff Reynolds and two attacked Deputy Holmes, killing both. Middleton heard the shots and assumed the lawmen were shooting the prisoners to quell an attack, not realizing the men had been fatally wounded. The lone Mexican prisoner took Sheriff Reynolds' gun and advanced on the stagecoach, shooting Middleton. As the team of horses bolted on, Middleton fell from the coach with wounds to his head, neck, and side. The Apache Kid intervened as the other Apaches caught up and began to attack Reynolds as well, telling them Middleton was already dead and so not to shoot. 

Middleton, though, was not dead. One of the bullets struck him in the right cheek, exiting at the top of his head; it likely followed the path of least resistance as it traveled upward, rather than entering his skull. He later said he'd "played possum" while the Apaches took his gun, coat, and valuables. They also took the orders of commitment to prison and tore them up at the scene.

Middleton was able to walk back to Riverside and, although the papers at the time reported him as "nearly dead," he lived until April 24, 1929, dying in the apartment complex he owned in Globe. Middleton, a true pioneer, had lived in Gila County since 1876.

Sadly, there's no official monument to the incident along the sandy stretch of road. From my own exploration of the area and the landmarks described in the papers of the time, the grade on which the murders occurred is easily identifiable. Precisely where the incident happened is uncertain; it's midway up the hill and out of sight of where Middleton waited at top. The photo of the road above is my best estimate as to the rough location of the murders.  Nearby is the cross in the top photo. I believe it is intended to mark the death of the two lawmen and may well have been where the tragedy occurred.

Reynolds and Holmes were among the first of Arizona Territory's line of duty peace officer deaths. Should you drive that dusty highway, take a moment to remember them.

The Florence- Kelvin Road
(c) 2018 MJ Miller



Copyright (c) 2018 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, sharing, forwarding, and otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thanks for stopping by.