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!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Patriot Day at Cave Creek Fiesta Days Rodeo 2016

Rodeo, from the fans to the trappings, is a uniquely western sport that not only honors our western lifestyle and heritage but traditional American values as well.  Rodeo is unashamedly patriotic and unabashedly value driven and family oriented.

Today's final performance of the 2016 Cave Creek Fiesta Days Rodeo was "Patriot Day" - almost a redundancy, since just about every day of a rodeo is patriot day. Rodeo-goers (with some greenhorn exceptions) still put their hands on their hearts and remove their hats for the presentation of the flags and the singing of the national anthem; performances are generally still opened with a brief prayer. The Cave Creek rodeo once again featured a military color guard with a female soldier singing the anthem; in a few weeks, she'll return to active duty in Iraq.

Arizona's own 2016 rodeo queen, Alanna Hamilton, is herself a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corps.
Arizona's 2016 Rodeo Queen, Ms. Alanna Hamilton
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Rodeo still offers a refreshing mix of family values and lighthearted, non-PC humor. Rodeo clowns and their close cousins, the cowboy's own bodyguards against angry bulls known as "American bullfighters," still might affect a lisp for comic affect or make jokes calling another's masculinity into question - and it's okay. Nobody calls for a safe space. 

American Bullfighter, Hollywood Yates
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
The Cave Creek rodeo featured prominent American Bullfighter, Hollywood Yates. Also known as "Wolf" from American Gladiator, at 6'4" "Hollywood" made the cowboys around him appear small. Don't let his muscle-bound appearance fool you: he limbered up by effortlessly doing the splits a few times before the bullriding began.

A Close Call
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
In this sanitized, risk-averse world, rodeo is still about risk-taking, adrenaline, and putting yourself in harm's way as either part of competition or to assist others in the arena. Although riders now routinely wear protective gear, there's just no way to make rough-stock riding safe. The horse above came out of the shoot backwards and soon fell; although being on a bucking animal is not exactly safe, being under a 1,200 pound animal is even less optimal. (Neither horse nor rider was injured in the fall).
Saddle Bronc: Flying without Wings
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller 
Unlike traditional "bullfighting," the American Bullfighter is responsible for protecting the bull rider. They do not torture the animal nor injure it in any way, but instead draw the aggressive bull's attention away from the rider until the rider can move to safety. 

American Bullfighter Luring a Bull from the Fallen Rider
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Rodeo saves the most popular event, bull-riding, for last. Unlike bronc riding, where a "pick-up man" rides next to the rider and assists him in dismounting by climbing onto the pick-up man's horse, there's only one way off a bull.

(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 The true "rodeo clown" is now a separate function from the "bullfighter" task. The rodeo clown entertains the crowd during lulls in the action, such as when the arena is being dragged between events or when stock is being changed out. They keep the pace from lagging and provide humor. Note the Coors-can barrel: Coors has long supported rodeo and is ubiquitous in the cowboy world. Cowboy Artists of America painter Gordon Snidow long ago began using a Coors-can holding cowboy as a motif that distinguished his work from his colleagues.
Justin, a Rodeo Clown (and Proud Father of Triplets)
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 Bronc riding takes two forms: saddle bronc riding and bareback riding. Ironically, there's a "bareback saddle" used for the latter event. A saddle without a seat, it gives the rider something to hold onto with one hand (the other must remain in the air).
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
I mentioned above that there's only one way to come off a bucking bull - the hard way. However, the "shape" that takes has infinite variety.
Cowboy: Flying without Wings
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 Another proud American tradition honored at rodeo is ... capitalism. Rodeo relies on sponsors as much as it does fans. Whether it's bull-riders wearing a sponsor logo on their custom chaps or the flags carried by riders in the opening ceremonies, rodeo's not afraid to recognize the companies that make the sport possible.
Cowboys and Coors Go Together
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 Rodeo's also about civic involvement, charity, and service organizations. From the "Pink Day" supporting breast cancer awareness where the cowboys and staff wear pink shirts, to the Boy Scouts' merit projects, rodeo encourages contribution to the greater good. The attitude shows throughout the event: from people in the stands taking the hands of strangers climbing up the steep bleacher steps at each row, to "retired" riders assisting unpaid at the stock gates, rodeo's a joyful blend of self-sufficiency and lending a hand to those around you.

(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Copyright (c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be used without the express permission of the author * Thank you for sharing, liking, emailing, +1-ing, tweeting, or otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thanks for stopping by!