March 8, 2015

Horses, Autos & Primitive Traffic Laws


The teen years of the 20th century brought an awkward adolescence when it came to street traffic.  Animals and autos didn't mix well on the same path.  Car clubs suggested rules that were eventually adopted nationwide.  Yet when it came to issues specific to individual towns, some of these primitive traffic laws are sure to bring a smile to today's reader.

In Prescott, the major issue was the interaction of mechanical automobiles and beasts of burden (mostly horses and mules).  Traffic was becoming crowded and dangerous for everyone.  And as far as Prescott was concerned, it was the animals that should take all priority.


Several issues of the Prescott Journal Miner (during March, 1915,) published a letter from Robert Robbins, Chief of Police, demanding compliance of the newly adopted "Ordinance No. 208 regulating street traffic."  The situation must have become acute because Mr. Robbins had been "instructed by the Common (City) Council to rigidly enforce (its) provisions."  This letter was a strict warning to motorists.  Town fathers were fed-up.

Some of the provisions adopted seem quite common-sensical to us today, but when motorized traffic was in its infancy, the most basic things needed pointing out.

"All persons driving or operating a motor vehicle on the streets must keep to the right of the center of such street and upon overcoming or passing any other vehicle must pass to the left."

Motorists were also told to imagine the very center point of an intersection.  If making a right turn, one must not pass that center point.  When one makes a left turn, he MUST pass that center point before turning.  The ordinance continues: "All motor vehicles shall have a signaling device (and) must display at least one white light in front and one red in the rear when traveling at night."

The colorful, true stories behind the Yavapai County, Arizona place names of: Wilhoit; Woodchute Mountain; Bumble Bee; and Big Bug.

The only requirement to be a legal driver then was to be 18 years old.  Those younger could also drive, but not without "a written permit from the Clerk of the Common Council."

In the early days of automobiles, speed was not always measured in miles per hour.  In Prescott, there was to be be "A speed limit of 1 mile in 4 minutes (15 MPH) in the business section (and) 1 mile in 3 minutes (20 MPH) elsewhere in the City Limits."  Imagine! Using this "minutes per mile" measure would require speedometers where the number would get LOWER as the car went FASTER!  (Traveling faster than 60 MPH would involve fractions! --YUK!)

Fantastic story of the finding (and losing) of a small, rich gold vein around 1905.


Aside from  the most basic of road rules, Ordinance No. 208 would safeguard street animals at all costs:

"A driver of a motor vehicle must use all precautions to insure (the) safety of persons on foot and to prevent frightening animals which are being ridden, driven, or led.

"A driver must stop a motor vehicle at request of a person riding, leading, or driving a restive animal and if necessary, must also stop (the) motor."

Guarding against impairments to driving wasn't even on the radar screen then.

How times have changed.



Tourist Tips:



Enjoy Riding Horses? Yes, we still have horses in these parts!

CLICK HERE for the Foot Hills Ranch Horse Riding
CLICK HERE for Granite Mountain Stables Horse Rides
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ALSO BY Drew Desmond: