November 20, 2016

Story Behind the Name: "Wilhoit" "Woodchute" "Bumble Bee" "Big Bug"

Arizona has some interesting and colorful place names. Here are four from around the greater Prescott National Forest area:

Wilhoit, Arizona

First, the charming story of Wilhoit, Arizona.

During the early years of automobiles, there was a greater need for more frequent service station locations than there is today. Cars simply needed maintenance much more often.

Enter a man named Francis Aloysius Wilhoit. Wilhoit was working for a produce company in Yuma, when internal company problems had him dispatched to Prescott. "He liked the area so much that he decided to stay," but he needed to find another source of income. (*1)

In the fall of 1924, Wilhoit was successful in obtaining a subcontract to build culverts for the new "White Spar Road," (known today as AZ Rt. 89.) While doing this work, Wilhoit realized the need for a service station at the bottom of the mountain entering (or leaving) Prescott. (*1)

Driving a mountain road was a physical challenge back then. There was no power steering or brakes--one needed to use his muscle to make his way along difficult, rocky, and unpaved roads. Also absent was anti-freeze, making it quite prudent for motorists to check their water level prior to climbing the mountain into Prescott.

It was during this culvert building time that Wilhoit chose the location where the town stands today. "He loved the view and described his chosen location as being 16 miles and 208 curves from Prescott." (*1)

From the start, obtaining water for the business was a problem. "Several attempts were made to strike water by digging wells...the first (try) was dug by hand," but all early attempts were unsuccessful. In 1927, "an individual arrived and claimed he could locate water by using a diving rod." He failed as well. (*1)

However, Wilhoit was able to obtain water from an agreement with the Surprise Gold Mining Company and "Wilhoit's Service Station" was born. (*2)

However, in the summer of '27, the mining company tried to back out of the water deal and Wilhoit was forced to obtain an injunction to keep the water flowing. (*2)

For a time, water had to be trucked in from Peeples Valley or Prescott. Finally in 1929, Wilhoit spent "his last dollars" on a mechanical drill which did locate water "in a washy area east of the highway." (*1)

It turned out that Wilhoit picked a perfect spot for his business. As business flourished, he was able to hire a few workers and expanded to a second garage on the opposite side of the road. (*1)

Then an unexpected thing happened. People who were looking for inexpensive land (that was still within reach of Prescott by car) found the idea of living close to a service station to be convenient.

The GlenArm Land Company developed and subdivided the area into 160 lots of one to two acres each. (*1)

From the single seed of a service station, a small burg bloomed.

Tourist Tip:
Gas station at Wilhoit--Fill up in Prescott!


Map of the Woodchute Mountain Wilderness Area

Woodchute Mountain:
Today's visitor to the Woodchute Wilderness would probably not realize that not too long ago, the mountain was as bare of trees as Glassford Hill.

"The original forest was cut down when the copper mines at Jerome were in operation and loggers came to this mountain to harvest shoring timbers for the mines. They transported the logs by way of a chute extending down the north side of the mountain to loading platforms for the narrow gauge railroad that served Jerome. It is from this chute that the mountain" received its name. (*3)

It wasn't just shoring timbers that led to the denuding of trees on the mountain. Timber was also widely used as a fuel to burn away sulphur from the ores, creating toxic fumes that further hindered the ecosystem. (*4)

Tourist Tip:
Today, the Woodchute Wilderness is absolutely gorgeous! It is a testimony to the resilience of nature.

Trail #102 is of particular interest with stunning views of Lonesome Valley on one side and Verde Valley on the other. Camping and picnicking are also available. CLICK HERE for a printable map of the entire Mingus Recreation area which includes Woodchute.

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

Bumble Bee:
It was around 1870 when Bumble Bee received its current name. Prior, it was known as "Snyder's Station;" named after pioneer horse and cattle breeder, W.W. Snyder.

Curiously, there are several versions as to how Bumble Bee got its name. This might be due in part to both the creek and the settlement bearing the same moniker. Two of these name origin stories are more focused on the creek:

"One was that some early settlers came out second-best with bumble-bees over 'water rights.'" (*5)

A second story states that around 1863, a group of prospectors found a large cache of honey along the creek and while pilfering it, were severely stung. (*5)

Then there are two versions that seem more focused on the settlement:

One version is that the US cavalry frontier post, led by Colonel Powers, reported that the Indians in his locale were as "teak (big) as bumblebees." (*6)

The last tale involves a company of young, raw recruits who were reconnoitering the area. Upon hearing the "Indians having a pow wow, (they) thought the noise was caused by bumble-bees (and) beat a hasty retreat." (*5)

Whatever the true version is, it was meant as some kind of warning.

Tourist Tip:
Have you heard about the Bumble Bee Ranch? They offer trail rides, cattle drives, Hummer tours, and target shooting. It is also a place where people hold their weddings or enjoy a "getaway weekend."

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

Working smelters at Big Bug, Arizona.

Big Bug:
As one might expect, Big Bug Creek was also named for an insect. John Marion named the creek in 1863 "because prospectors found numerous large bugs here." "These insects, which still abound, are large, dark brown, shiny, flying beetles about the size of a walnut." (*4)

When the mining district and settlement took the name of the creek, a post office was established. Yet it seems that the people weren't satisfied with the spelling of the town's name.

The first post office was established as "Bigbug" on March 31, 1879. Six months later, the name was changed to "Red Rock" (November 28, 1879.) A year and a half later, it was again changed to "Big Bug" (March 29, 1881.) Then on August 22, 1895, the name was changed back to its original "Bigbug," finally closing March 31, 1910. (*7)

Big Bug's most colorful resident was Theodore Boggs. "His father was the former governor of Missouri and had driven the Mormons out of the state in 1846. Theodore traveled with the ill-fated Donner party when he was 10 years old." In 1862, he came to Arizona from California settling on Big Bug Creek. Here Boggs and three compadres dug their living quarters out of the side of a mountain where they continued to prospect and mine. (*7)

The four were sleeping one night, when one awoke to the sound of their dog crying. The miner peeked outside and saw the dog, pierced with an arrow in his side. The attack was on! The Apaches rolled large boulders down the mountain side in an attempt to crush the dugout with the men inside. Two of the men held a bed frame over their heads to keep the roof from caving in, while Boggs and the fourth manned their rifles. (*8)

When the Apaches pressed close enough, the two stuck their guns outside a few small portholes they just hastily dug and fired. Two of the Apaches were killed immediately, dropping to the ground. (*7)

Thinking the fight was no longer worth the cost, the Apaches recovered their dead and retreated up the mountain side. Once at the top, they cremated the two dead warriors in full view of Boggs and the others before withdrawing. (*8)

At its peak, Big Bug hosted about one hundred people living in and around the vicinity of the camp. The Big Bug Smelter, which operated between 1880-90, produced over a million dollars worth of placer gold and silver. (*7)

Tourist Tip:
Here's a back road adventure through the Bradshaw Mountains that's fairly easy for off-roading vehicles and includes Big Bug: CLICK HERE.

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(*1) "The Founding of Wilhoit" by Jan Shields; 1986 (Located in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives Vertical Folder: "Wilhoit, AZ.")
(*2) Prescott Evening Courier; August 8, 1927 Pg. 3, Col. 4.
(*4) "Arizona's Names; X Marks the Place" by Granger, Byrd Howard. 1983. Falconer Publishing Co. ISBN 0-91-8080-18-5.
(*5) Arizona Highways Magazine; May, 1960, pp 31-32.
(*8) "Ghost Towns of Arizona" By James E. & Barbara H. Sherman. University of Oklahoma Press, 1969; pp 13-14. ISBN 0-8061-0843-6.


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