Monday, November 28, 2016

Calling All Arizona History Enthusiasts - Upcoming Event!

Black Canyon City is a community with a surprisingly rich history - so rich I'm midway through the research for two books on the subject. Settled by miners and those who supported the mining operations, the town's past boasts stagecoach robberies, turn-of-the-century murders by highwaymen, felons and fugitives by the dozen, and unthinkable tragedies. The town's history is diverse; bring together miners, ranchers, homesteaders, and the occasional hermit, artist, and novelist, blend in quirky places and people, and toss together with the daunting forces of Arizona's weather and you're sure to have interesting tales.

 The townspeople today not only honor that history with the Old Cañon School Museum and its overseers from the Black Canyon Historical Society, but by cherishing and protecting many historical sites on private property such as several old homesteads and, notably, the ruins of Jack Swilling's stone house.

It's the perfect site to convene a gathering for Arizona history enthusiasts - and the authors who write on the subject. So irresistible, in fact, we're doing just that on December 3rd, 2016 at the First Annual Cañon Arizona History Book Festival.  We've invited several authors who represent some of the more unique and surprising aspects of the state's history to join us at Black Canyon City's Heritage Park from 1:00 to 3:30 in order to sign books and talk history with visitors.

A few of us (like myself) who've written historical books for Arcadia's "Images of America" series will participate.  If you had the good fortune to grow up in the valley in "the good old days," you likely have happy memories of the amazing Legend City - a unique theme park that boasted western-themed rides and setting.  John Bueker, author of Arcadia's "Legend City," will be on hand. Mr. Bueker also maintains a popular website on Legend City.

If you've driven the iconic Apache Trail, you'll want to get a copy of Richard Powers' book, also in the Arcadia series.  We are pleased Mr. Powers will be there to sign copies.  So will Jerry Cannon, structural engineer and author of "Arizona's Historic Bridges."  Mr. Cannon inspected the old I-17 bridge across the Agua Fria River at Black Canyon City after its collapse in 1978; I'm covering that tragedy in a chapter of my own upcoming book. I'll be there, too, of course - signing copies of "New River."

The "new" I-17 bridge over the Agua Fria that replaced the collapsed bridge.
Copyright (c) 2016 MJ Miller
Reflecting the diversity of our state history, David E. Brown will be on hand to sign copies of his books on the history of Arizona's wildlife and game management, including "Arizona Wildlife:  The Territorial Years 1863 - 1912."  Mr. Brown is a retired biologist and adjunct professor at ASU in addition to his work with Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Many old-timers and long-timers of the valley will fondly recall Jerry Foster, our pioneering pilot for 12 News in his news chopper Sky 12.  Jerry is Arizona history and was on-scene and directly involved in many of the biggest stories in the state back in the day. Jerry will join us to sign copies of his book, "Earthbound Misfit" along with Dee Dees, his co-author.  Dee will also sign copies of her book on writing your own life story - "Write Your Life Story in 28 Days" - for those who want to document their personal histories or work with others on doing so. Interested in writing oral histories? You may find some valuable information in Dee's book.

Black Canyon's own Michael Sandford will sign copies of his books, which include the history of the one-time homestead and long-time restaurant Rock Springs. Rock Springs Cafe, renowned for its pies, was originally the homestead of the Warner family.

We'll have live music, too - Mr. Russ Lane will surely please with his covers of country favorites.  This is a free event, by the way, music included!

Mr. Russ Lane in action at the Horny Toad Restaurant in Cave Creek, October 2016
Copyright (c) MJ Miller

In case of that rare day that we don't have user-friendly weather, we'll move our outdoor event indoors. Don't let a little drizzle stop you from coming out to meet some amazing authors, fellow history buffs, and to do some Christmas shopping for the Arizona history enthusiast in your life!  Signed and personalized books make thoughtful and unexpected gifts. 

Heritage Park is at 33955 Old Black Canyon Highway right on the main drag in Black Canyon City.  Take either exit off I-17 into town. You'll see Heritage Park on the east side of the main road, across from Nora Jean's Coffee Kitchen. (They have great food and coffee at Nora Jean's, in case you bring your appetite.) 

Please support local history and the arts. Come on out and visit with us. The event will be followed by a stargazing event, also at the park. Arrive early and enjoy a leisurely walk around the pond, stop in at the museum, and make a day of it!



Saturday, November 19, 2016

An Afternoon at Orme Dam Victory Days Rodeo at Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

For twenty five years a U.S. Cavalry post in Arizona territory, on April 10, 1890,  Fort McDowell transitioned to its role as a reservation for the Yavapai people. The government allotted the reservation more than 25,000 acres of land straddling the Verde River. The Yavapai farmed the land, eking out a living from crops and cattle, and formed a stable community in the river-fed desert northeast of Phoenix.

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller


As the population of the now-state of Arizona grew, the need for water soared. By 1968, officials planned construction of a mile-long, billion-dollar dam to create a reservoir for the much-needed water. The dam - to be called Orme Dam - would offer flood control as well as a recreational lake. Backed by the Arizona Republic, influential Mayor Margaret Hance of Phoenix, and - at least initially - powerful politicians such as Senator Barry Goldwater, the dam would have had dire consequences for the Yavapai Nation. Over two-thirds of the reservation would be inundated, wiping out the critical Yavapai farm, ancestral burial grounds, bald eagle habitat, archaeological sites, and basically an entire community. The Yavapai were offered over 33 million dollars and 2,500 acres of land in exchange for leaving their homes and yielding their land. They refused.

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

The Yavapai people organized a lengthy - and ultimately successful - battle against the dam. Banding together to protest, they raised funds to send representatives to Washington. They participated in a three-day march to the state capitol in Phoenix. They convinced Senator Goldwater, Senator Dennis DeConcini, Representative John J. Rhodes, and other key Arizona politicians to back alternatives to the dam - and in November, 1981, Secretary of the Interior James Lee Watt announced the plans for Orme Dam had been withdrawn.

Today's Orme Dam Victory Days rodeo and PowWow annually celebrate the Yavapai victory over what would have been the sure destruction of their culture. Open to the public, the All-Indian rodeo brings top-ranked cowboys - and cowgirls - from not just distant corners of the United States but from Canada as well.


Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller


This bronc was particularly wild, eventually slamming his rider into the fence a split second after I took this photo. The cowboy was not seriously injured.


Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Rodeo royalty serve not only as ceremonial figureheads but also as working members of the rodeo event staff, ushering livestock from the arena.



Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller 






Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
We were honored to join the Yavapai in their festivities today. All-Indian rodeos have grown to be my favorite rodeos for the community pride, the laid-back atmosphere, the inclusion of women's roping events, and the darned good cowboys and cowgirls who participate. 

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

The livestock - from the rope and barrel horses to the rough stock and even down to the last calf - were particularly healthy-looking, gorgeous animals, bright-eyed and glossy.

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Copyright (c) Marcy J. Miller

The cowgirls rode hard. The cowgirls-in-training cheered them on and charmed the rest of us.

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Rodeo is a family event and everyone in a rodeo family - from the elders to the toddlers - are involved. The young cowboy in the photos above and below already has a job releasing the calves from the tie-down roping event.

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

The two gorgeous girls above are Fort McDowell Royalty, Miss Fort McDowell Makayla Doka and Junior Miss Fort McDowell, Tara Smith.  Miss Doka grew up in a rodeo family - and she is the descendant of the late Robert Doka, who served the United States as a U.S. Marine in Korea before dedicating the remainder of his life to serving his community as police officer, tribal chairman, and one of the leading warriors in the fight against the Orme Dam.

The Orme Dam Victory Days festival is held every November in close proximity to the anniversary of the announcement the Yavapai had triumphed against the Orme Dam. Don't miss it. Plan on spending a day - not just at the rodeo, but make time to watch the gourd dancers, enjoy a Navajo taco, ride the carnival attractions, and shop the native crafts located near the PowWow tent - all with the sweeping backdrop of Four Peaks to the east.



Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without permission * Links, however, may be freely shared and are appreciated * Thank you for linking, liking, loving, sharing, forwarding, tweeting, +1ing and otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thank you for visiting and for sharing my love for this amazing state and its incredible people.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Link to The Foothills Focus

Thank you to Elizabeth Medora and the Foothills Focus for this lovely article!

Local Author Discusses Inspiration

Hope to see you tomorrow from noon to two at the Old Canon School Museum at Heritage Park in Black Canyon City!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Open Invitation to Upcoming Events

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

It's fall. Although the summer heat felt endless at times, fall has finally - and suddenly - arrived. 

My October calendar is blossoming along with the citrus and the yerba mansa. In addition to some private gatherings, I'm scheduled for book signing events that are open to the public. Please join us at any of the following! I will have copies of my book of New River history available - or just stop by and say hello.

On Saturday, October 1st from noon to 2:00 p.m., Old Canon School Museum at Heritage Park in Black Canyon City have invited me to do a book signing.  The museum is inside Canon's former one-room schoolhouse. Here's an opportunity to visit the museum, tour the Heritage Park, and talk history.  The historic schoolhouse, pictured below during its recent repainting and restoration, is waiting to welcome you. While you're there, consider joining the Black Canyon Historical Society. Small town historical societies and museum depend on the support of those who recognize the value of keeping local history alive.

Only twelve miles apart, Black Canyon's history is closely intertwined with the history of New River.  Although the communities had significantly different historical foundations, the cast of characters and the forces of nature largely overlapped. The road that gave life to both communities - the Old Black Canyon Stagecoach Road - forged a link between residents and wayfarers alike.  Many of the original homesteader families intermarried. Local cowboys worked ranches that spanned the region. 

Address:  33955 S. Old Black Canyon Highway, Black Canyon City

Copyright (c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller

On October 18th from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., I'll be signing books at the historic Wrangler's Roost Resort in New River. The Roost represents not only New River's local history, but the influence of the hospitality industry in Arizona. One of New River's original homesteads, colorful Oklahoma-born Chief Meyers developed the Roost into a guest ranch. Chief sold the ranch to Port and Lois Halle in 1941. The Halle family continued its operation as a guest ranch for several years until selling it to the famous Lew King of Lew King's Rangers television show. 

The site still boasts its original stone lodge and bunkhouse. It is still in operation as a resort and wedding venue. Don't miss the chance to see Wrangler's Roost. It has such an interesting history it merited its own chapter in the book.

Address:  25500 W. New River Road, New River

Wrangler's Roost
Photo courtesy of Lance Halle

For the holidays, look forward to a gathering of authors on central Arizona history at the Old Canon School Museum on December 1st.  Stay tuned!


Copyright (c) 2013 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without the author's express permission * Links, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, sharing, tweeting, +1ing, forwarding, and visiting * Hope to see you again soon!





Monday, September 5, 2016

Now in Print: My New River History!

There's nothing quite like the feeling of opening that newly-arrived box of one's own books. It has been quite a journey writing this smallish edition.  It involved meeting with thoroughly amazing people who were either a part of New River's history or who help to keep it alive. It meant hundreds of hours late at night poring over old census records, newspaper archives, land patents, and as many other primary sources as I could find. During the research and compilation of this book, I contended with one torn rotator cuff, bouts of lameness due to multiple foot conditions exacerbated by too many birthdays and too many miles, an utterly miserable oral surgery, husband's heart issues and procedures, husband's broken ribs, two newborn calves, one miscarried foal, the loss of two beloved old dogs and the arrival of two beloved puppies, and my elderly mother's multiple hospitalizations. The book research kept me grounded throughout. It has been exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. Most of all, it has been an incredibly rewarding process.

The distinctive landmark Gavilan Peak,
also known as "Twin Peaks" or "Twin Buttes" to locals
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
I transitioned from feeling as if I merely lived on the skin of New River to actually being a part of it. I visited as many locations I wrote about as possible, hiking to ruins, riding old trails, studying old maps and new aerial photos. Most of all, researching history involves human research: studying family histories, listening to anecdotes, reading letters and memoirs. At times I'd cry when I read about the tragedies and losses of those families I came to know so well. Mostly, I'd revel in the courage and grit they exhibited as they settled in the area. I shall be forever honored to have met the Jackas, the Gees, the Halles, June Evans Bond, and so many others who contributed to the book - and who built the community. These were the sons and daughters of ranchers, homesteaders, cowboys and soldiers, who watched their parents sacrifice and struggle. I felt as if I was watching those labors myself as I heard their stories and studied their photos.

So, here it is, at long last:  Images of America: New River 

I collected far too many stories and bits of local history to include in this volume. I also photographed  the places I visited along the way and, as the current book is solely comprised of vintage photos, I could not include the current photos. In the future, I'll release the longer, more complete story of New River with the "now" photos to complement the "then" photos of the current book.

For now, I'm enjoying sharing New River's story with anyone who wishes to hear it. Thanks to the families who shared their photos with me, I can also share the area's images with you.

Jerry Jacka and Lois Essary Jacka generously contributed a tremendous amount of photos and information. For an outstanding history of the Jacka's historic Sun-Up Ranch, contact Jerry directly:  Jerry Jacka's Website. (You'll also want to look at Jerry and Lois' other stunning books!)


On Tuesday night, September 13, 2016, I'll speak about the book at the New River - Desert Hills Community Association meeting. It's open to the public. Join us from 7:30pm to 9:00pm at the Daisy Mountain Fire Department Station #141, 43814 N. New River Road. 

Should you have an interest in having me speak on local history or if you'd like a signed copy, please contact me at:  marcyjmiller06@gmail.com. 

Thanks for stopping by!






Saturday, April 23, 2016

Gillette: An Agua Fria Ghost Town




Ruins, Gillette, Arizona
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
By 1877, villages had sprouted up throughout the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona Territory to support the numerous mining efforts within. One such mine, the Tip-Top, produced a great deal of ore that required freighting to Wickenburg for milling - an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Recognizing the need for a closer and more convenient stamp mill, the legendary Arizona pioneer Jack Swilling founded a new ranch and town on the banks of the Agua Fria where the Little Squaw Creek feeds in from the New River Mountains to the northeast.

Open shaft near Gillette
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Already living nearby at their Black Canyon ranch, the Swillings were but five or six miles from the new townsite. Jack had been operating three mines in the region in addition to his ranching. Despite his then increasingly ill health, he claimed 160 acres at the new site to be his new ranch and soon began selling properties in the area.  By early 1878, he and his family had moved to the new site.

On October 15, 1878, John J. Hill was appointed postmaster at the new town. It was called "Gillette" after the superintendent of the Tip-Top mine, D. B. Gillette. Soon, Gillette would become the mill site for the Tip-Top ore.

Looking at the ruins of the townsite today, it's hard to imagine it as a once-bustling mining town, but bustle it did. Situated as it was on the Old Black Canyon Stagecoach Road from Prescott, Gillette was ideally positioned in the treacherous and unforgiving terrain for a stagecoach station. It would become the last station before travelers would reach New River Station, twelve miles south. Gillette and its sister settlements in the Bradshaws were quickly populated by a veritable litany of characters that would make any western movie proud. The 1880 census of the district - including Gillett (the "e" is fickle and is sometimes dropped in records of the time), Boulder Creek, Big Bug, Bumble Bee, and Black Canyon - includes gamblers, miners, packers, station keepers, and Chinese cooks. The area boasted an international cast of Swedes, Germans, Mexicans, Prussians, Irish, English, Chinese, and plenty of Americans. Names include the founder of Wickenburg, Prussian miner Henry Wickenburg; a stagecoach driver boarding in the area, W. Humphreys; a gambler from California, William Boond; a Hanoverian miner named John Tipp; and even a Cuban cigar maker.

Relics of Gillette's past life as a mining town have been gathered on a plywood sheet near the ruins.
Note the ox shoe towards the bottom, just right of center.
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Mining towns were notoriously rough, attracting hard-working miners and the many opportunists who sought their share - earned or not - of the takings. Robberies along the Black Canyon Stagecoach Road were commonplace. In one of the more notorious incidents, in November 27, 1879, three Mexican bandits - Demetrio Dominguez, Gomecindo Moraga, and Fermin Tramblas - robbed a coach approaching Gillette from the north. Just two miles before its destination, the coach was stopped by the highwaymen. They fired at the driver, Bill Ayers, but missed him. They then attacked the passenger, William Thomas, who owned a claim at Tip-Top. Wounding him first with gunshot, they then brutally stabbed him until he was mortally wounded. The robbers then took anything of value before fleeing. The following January, based on Ayers' description, Demetrio Dominguez was located in Tucson. He still had upon him personal effects that had belonged to William Thomas. Dominguez was convicted and hanged for his part in the robbery in November, 1880, in the county courtyard in Phoenix.
Myself, standing before the ruins of a stone building at Gillette.
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved

Today, although much of the Old Black Canyon Stagecoach Road has been incorporated into the I-17 freeway, the winding, oft-steep road through Gillette remains unpaved. The ruins of the town are west of the freeway. Finding the rocky dirt road we'd intended to take to Gillette closed, we opted to hike in along the Little Squaw Creek. The going was slow - in part because of my bad feet, but also because the creek bed is rocky most of the way. Where it is not rocky, it is thick with sand. Gorgeous craggy cliffs line much of the creek.

Little Squaw Creek
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Occasionally, there's even a small, shallow pool of water to be found. (Our Arizona creeks are often on the dry side.) Behind me in the photo below, you can see some greenish water in the creek bed - and the scale of the rocks that slowed our hike.

Little Squaw Creek
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
As we approached the Agua Fria, beef cattle (a day-old calf among them) stared curiously. Giving the bull among them a wide berth, we rolled up our pants legs and forded the mighty river. Wet-footed and toting ample sand in our shoes, we had yet one more obstacle before reaching the ruins - a deep, slippery crevasse cut into the earth just past the river. 
An idyllic setting for an Arizona pastoral scene
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
The ruins are protected by wire fencing; perhaps to keep the cattle out, perhaps to protect what little is left from souvenir-hunters. Somewhere - I do not know where - are buried the bodies of many who died in this little town. In an altruistic endeavor that would spawn a series of events ultimately resulting in his own death, Jack Swilling reburied his friend Colonel Snively's body on his ranch in Gillette. Swilling himself did not receive such a posthumous privilege; his own remains are unmarked, somewhere in Yuma, undeserving of such anonymity.

(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved

The trek back, heading east
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Copyright (c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared! * Thank you for linking, liking, forwarding, emailing, sending by passenger pigeon, or otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The House that Jack Built

On the corner of a neatly kept property in Black Canyon City are the ruins of a small stone house. Built by one of Arizona's most intriguing and influential citizens, it is surprisingly intact - that is, if ruins might ever be considered "intact." The walls and doorway remain. It's astonishing, really, when you consider the house was built in the 1870s; that it is on the banks of the Agua Fria, a river given to violent flooding that too often decimates buildings in the community; and that it has withstood generations of treasure hunters and adventurers.

The Swilling House, Black Canyon City
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

It is the house that Jack built: Jack Swilling, who contributed so much to the settlement and founding of Phoenix. Swilling was a man of stunning contrasts. A kind-hearted and thoroughly courageous man, Swilling was also deeply flawed and tormented most of his life not only by physical pain, but by addiction to the opiates and alcohol that helped him face it. A Confederate officer and a prominent Indian fighter, Jack was known for his generous nature and in addition to his own large brood, even adopted two Apache children. He married at 21, ostensibly much in love with his 16-year-old wife Mary Jane, yet left her and his young daughter behind as he moved west, never to see them again. Unlike many western pioneers, Jack held no apparent bias against Indians or Mexicans: his second wife, Trinidad, was Mexican, and he loved her and their children dearly.

Prone to bloviation, Jack both alienated and inspired affection from his acquaintances in perhaps equal measure. Plagued by ill health and injury, Jack was yet industrious to an extent that nearly defies imagination. By 1874, he had already achieved more adventures and accomplishments than many far more celebrated westerners. It was in this year that he moved to Black Canyon and built the stone house on the river, bringing his wife, Trinidad, to the site the following year.

Black Canyon village, at the time, was but a motley crew of roughly 50 miners who worked claims in the Bradshaw Mountains. Trinidad was the first non-native woman to arrive in the community. They planted crops such as watermelon and pumpkin, Jack began a vineyard, and they ran over a hundred cattle as well as maintaining horses and mules. There, they welcomed their fifth child, a son named Berry, and buried their second-oldest child, a daughter named Matilda. There, they often sheltered the travelers who made their way down what was called "Swilling's Road."

The stone house - not by any means as large as the house Jack had built in Phoenix many years before, when he was postmaster and mayor of the fledgling city - was never a stagecoach stop, although Jack had spoken of such plans for the future. Located where Black Canyon Creek met the Agua Fria, it was ideally situated on the ever-busier route between Prescott (then the territorial capital) and Phoenix.


The Agua Fria
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Jack never had the chance to turn the ranch into a stage station. By 1878, Jack had been wrongly accused and arrested for a stagecoach robbery that occurred near Wickenburg. Confined to the county jail in Yuma (not the far more humane Territorial Prison), Jack's already-precarious health deteriorated rapidly. In the heat of summer and locked up in a jail that was even then considered a cruelly primitive facility, Jack died on August 13, 1878.


A Legacy in Ruins
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller


Left destitute and in grief, Jack's wife and children moved away from the stone house on the river. Although Jack's name was later cleared, his legacy had been tarnished irreparably. His Black Canyon house is a poignant reminder of the hardships Jack faced - and obstacles he overcame - in settling this rugged land.

For his work in helping found Phoenix by restoring water to the ancient canals, Jack's papers have been carefully archived and maintained by the Salt River Project and by historical associations and libraries. Jack's small, hand-built stone house, though, remains thanks to the care of private landowners. The lovely naturalized landscaping frames it beautifully.

For further reading, I recommend Albert R. Bates' "Jack Swilling: Arizona's Most Lied About Pioneer" (Wheatmark, 2008) and R. Michael Wilson's "Tragic Jack" The True Story of Arizona Pioneer John William Swilling," (Two-Dot, 2007) as well as the Salt River Project's "Jack of All Trades" exhibit and collection.

For Further Reading: Find "Tragic Jack" available on Amazon here 

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the permission of the author * Thank you for linking, liking, +1ing, tweeting, emailing or otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thank you for visiting and reading!