May 25, 2015

An 1871 Journey to Prescott was Long, Difficult, Dangerous and Expensive

It was November of 1871.  For W.H. Meacham, "the destination was Prescott, Arizona" where he was "bent on the pursuit of health, wealth and happiness--to grasp a goodly portion of Arizona gold dust, which (he) had been led to believe could be scooped readily for the pains."

Meacham had high hopes, but he couldn't have foreseen going through truly hostile, lawless Indian country where killings were common; in a stagecoach that had sun shining through recent, deadly bullet-holes; and with no promised soldier escort!

Describing himself as a "tenderfoot,"  Meacham's knuckles must have grown white as he tightly clutched his borrowed Colt revolver during the harrowing trip.

The trip started with a two day ocean and rail trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles--"then a small metropolis by itself."  Then it was a 60 mile stage ride to San Bernardino--"a hot, dusty ride of ten hours."  That is where one caught the stage to Arizona.

When he reached San Bernardino on a Sunday, he was informed that the stage to Arizona left only once a week and that was yesterday.  Meacham and his party would have to pay pricey room and board for six days while they cooled their heels waiting for the next stage.

"Finally the eventful day arrived--Saturday, December 16th, 1871."  Each rider paid $80 in gold (3 months pay back then) for a first-class passage on Grant's stage--"the Pullman train of the day and date."  But before the stage left, an agent for the company rushed up to the coach and asked Meacham if he had a weapon.  When informed that he did not, the agent gave him "a formidable Colt's six-shooter" to have on the trip.

The agent admonished Meacham "not to let it out of (his) grasp after crossing the Colorado River."  The Indians "had been cutting up some serious capers in Arizona...hence the precaution."

Between San Bernardino and the Arizona border were many stagecoach stops.  In his story, Meacham rates them all: a couple being "memorable" but most being "abominable" and all charged 4 to 8 times more than the standard fare.  "Passengers slept the best they could while in motion."  Still, the party was in good spirits.  After all, they hadn't yet reached the Colorado River and the dangers that laid beyond...

That day started inauspiciously enough until it came time to change coaches at the Arizona border.  Meacham's "attention was drawn to a number of bullet holes" in the coach.  He was told that this was the stagecoach that was recently involved in what later would be called the "Wickenburg massacre" by a bigoted press that was eager to blame the Indians.  At worst, the tragedy was a small ambush and there is still question as to whether the Indians played any part in it at all.  Many locals thought it was a simple stagecoach robbery gone bad.

For Meacham, the bullet-holes "almost took the starch out of (his) desire to proceed further."  However, the party was reassured that such an episode would probably not happen again and "as a precaution, a soldier guard would escort the stage through the dangerous places clear through to Prescott."

However, on the leg to Wickenburg, scene of the most recent killings, there was no promised soldier escort.  At one point, the driver told his passengers to get out and walk behind the stage "so that in the event of an attack, (they) would not all be shot at once."

How reassuring.

The interesting history of Prescott Valley, Arizona's most iconic natural feature, Glassford Hill.

Fortunately, the only incident of note on the way to Wickenburg was the chilling sighting of a dead stagecoach horse that "gave silent evidence of the recent (killings)."

The next dangerous leg of the trip was to Date Creek, 30 miles distant, again with no escort.  There was a military post there and it was earnestly hoped that a soldier guard would be secured for the last portion of the trip.  But as the coach driver talked privately with the commanding officer, the passengers overheard the dismaying news that "on account of a fire...he could spare no men to act as escorts on this trip."

The hearts of the small traveling party were completely dismayed.

From Date Creek, anxiety was at a fever pitch as they took a route west of today's State Rt. 89 to Skull Valley.  (Trails west of 89 can still be seen on Google Earth.)  Skull Valley was already known to be a place of deadly skirmishes with the Indians, including a fairly sizable one in 1864--only seven years prior!

Story of how Skull Valley, Arizona earned its name as a killing field.

The tension and angst must have been extraordinary until, finally, Mr. Bower's inn in Skull Valley was reached.

So assured was Bower that there would be no further trouble for the travelers,  he accompanied them for the entire last leg into Prescott "with his trusty combine strapped across the saddle horn."  It must have been heartening.

The entire trip, starting from San Francisco, took nearly a month.

There were no bands playing when the group finally arrived in Prescott on December 22nd, 1871, just a silent, light snow.  But the small party of intrepid travelers certainly must have been overjoyed and relieved.

In the end, the "three passengers found their friends and acquaintances to rest from the long, tiresome, and expensive trip."

Meacham's two co-passengers were: Mrs. A.D. Boren who was visiting her daughter (the wife of a jeweler and the first mayor of Prescott, L.B. Jewell); and Col. C.P. Head; "a capitalist looking for a business opening."  Indeed, Col. Head found one.  He bought a mercantile store from the Henderson Bros. and ran it for many years becoming a well known staple in the Prescott business community.

Tourist Tips:

First, be glad you're not planning your trip in 1871!

The house that CP Head lived in is still standing.  It's located at 309 E. Gurley St. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are many beautiful and historic houses near downtown Prescott, especially on S. Mount Vernon Ave., S. Pleasant St. and Union St.  These mature, tree-lined streets offer a pleasant and scenic walk or drive.

Prescott Journal Miner, June 1st, 1913 pg. 3 col. 1


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