March 19, 2017

Entrepreneur Joseph Mayer & His Town

Joseph Mayer

It was with a small amount of irony that Joseph Mayer's funeral was held in Prescott. For it was a fateful trip to that city that unexpectedly ended 30 miles short that would define his life and his legacy.

"He was loved and mourned by all who knew him. People came from all over the state, rich and poor alike, hundreds of them. They said among themselves, 'There will never be but one Joe Mayer'" (*1)

An Apache chief who lived across the creek came to pay his last respects. "My people have lost their Big Chief," he said, "our brother and best friend." (*1)

"Tears were shed by both men and women as the remains were lowered into their last resting place." (*2)

As both an entrepreneur and a kind-hearted man, Joseph Mayer brought a great deal to both his town and Yavapai county.

He was born Joseph Hoffmeyer, "a name unknown even to his most intimate friends and learned by his children only after his death. He was born in Olean, NY in 1846." (*2)

"He grew to manhood and acquired the effective education that results in the confidence and the ability to put things across in the school of hard knocks." (*3)

Indeed, he ran away from home and a domineering father around the age of 14. At first he found work in a cigar store, then at a cracker factory. "Eighteen months later he heard the call of the West when the circus came to town. He joined the troupe, doing jobs and watering the animals, and traveled all over the western states." (*1)

Eventually Joe made his way to Silver City, New Mexico were he met his future wife Sarah (Sadie) Bell Wilbur. "After she and Joe Mayer were married they struck out for new frontiers, landing first on the Arizona-Mexico border and later in Tip of the most active mining camps in Yavapai County. There they opened a restaurant and a store." (*2)

"The Mayers were thoroughly successful there, but Mr. Mayer recognized the fact that the camp was on the decline and in the spring of 1881, he started on horseback for Prescott." (*1 & *3)

Little did he know that the intended journey would terminate at the Big Bug Station owned by Bill Muncy. (*1)

"The beautiful valley at the feet of the Bradshaw Mountains and the ancient old stand of cottonwood trees intrigued him." (*2) As Bill and Joe talked over the evening meal, "Joe revealed that he was on his way to Prescott to look for a new home and a new business." (*1)

"Why look farther, Joe?" Muncy asked, "I will sell you this place for a reasonable price--$3500 in gold." (*1)

"Far into the night they sat discussing the possibilities; then closed the deal with a handshake." (*1)

Joe went back to liquidate his holdings at Tip Top. The return trip that brought his wife and children to the Big Bug Station was filled with anxiety. "Many travelers on that road had been robbed and murdered by Apaches or highwaymen. With that fact in mind, Sadie put their gold pieces in the bottom of a buckskin bag and covered them with her sewing and socks in need of mending." (*1)

"(Joe) told his family in later years that...he knew he had come home." (*1)

From this point on, Joe's entrepreneurial skills would run unbridled. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for his town. A home and new stage station were built on the banks of the creek.

"The building was a roomy one with the central hallway dividing the guest rooms from the family living quarters. There were long porches front and back. One big room was used as a general merchandise store and adjoining this was a large dining room and kitchen. At the far end of the store was a small bar for thirsty miners and cowboys." (*1)

"By 1882, the settlement had become known as Mayer." (*2)

Mayer, Arizona

Joe's hospitality and meals were legendary, as was his charity. He never turned anyone away from the door.

Part of his business enterprises involved agriculture. He bought horses and accumulated quite a herd of cattle. He also planted a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and walnuts. (*1)

"Business got better as people moved into the country. Many new ranchers settled near Mayer. It was mining, however, that brought most of the people in." (*1)

"The town had been a tent city, but as families moved in, more permanent structures were built." (*2)

Joe himself had many mining interests in the area owning a few outright and shares in some others including the French Lily and the Henrietta.

Joe had the contract to ride the mail service from Stoddard to Mayer for his wife, the postmistress. (*1)

"In 1888 the Mayer Hotel was built to accommodate the travelers and miners. Its 23 rooms were almost always full." (*4)

People began to call Joe "Lucky," but he had his fair share of life's adversities. One such major disaster occurred February 21st, 1890. The same torrential rains that caused the Walnut Grove Dam break disaster also caused mining dams along the Big Bug to fail. Although the people in Mayer were ready for the worst and there were no fatalities there, the town of Mayer would be washed away.

The complete, heartbreaking story of the Walnut Grove Dam Disaster of 1890. It is still regarded as the worst natural disaster in Arizona history.

"Late that night the dam broke. The roar of the coming water could be heard long before it was sighted and everyone knew what was happening. Huge boulders, uprooted trees, bodies of cattle--all rushed by on the flood of black water. The Mayer Station folded up like a cardboard box and was gone." (*1)

Joe salvaged what lumber he could and began to rebuild on higher ground while the family stayed in a two room cabin. The second home was large and spacious with long porches front and rear. It had a store and a restaurant. "A row of wood cottages was built across the street for guest rooms." (*1)

"He enlarged his corral and soon had a good sized livery stable in operation. He bought wagons and more horses (and) built a barn to store hay and grain." (*1)

As the mining industry expanded, Joe saw the need to educate the children and built the first schoolhouse with his own money. Before long a second school was built "about two miles out from Mayer so it would be within walking distance for the miners' children." Joe provided a light wagon to take the kids to and from school. (*1)

Another successful mining endeavor involved a partnership between Joe, Buckey O'Neill and the McCann brothers. It developed the largest onyx mine in the U.S.

Not all of Joe's business endeavors were successful. His kind heart often succumbed to offering a hard-luck miner a grub stake to work. Often theses miners left without giving Joe his fair share. (*1)

Another business venture showed just how much Joe was willing to think "outside the box." With a partner he patented a chemical process to remove the barbed skin of cactus needles to make them suitable for toothpicks. The Indian Souvenir Toothpick Company was short lived due to manufacturing costs that could not  compete with standard wooden toothpicks.

The story of an early Mayer, AZ industry that manufactured toothpicks from cactus needles and what happened to the popular product.

Joe realized that if Mayer was to grow, it would need the railroad. "Through (his) efforts, the Santa Fe Railway was persuaded to build a line there from Prescott." (*2) Those efforts included providing the right-of-way through his town. (*1)

"Mayer became the commercial center for the whole area. Cattle, sheep and ore from the mines were shipped by rail. The ride from Mayer to Prescott (still) took hours, for there were stops at Huron, Humboldt, and Dewey, with much switching, loading and unloading, but it did not take all day as formerly." (*1)

Years later, one of Joe's daughters, an 88 year-old Winnie Thorpe remembered: "It was a very quiet life, but once in a while somebody would get drunk and kill the other one." (*4)

She recalled one incident when "This Indian got drunk and he went to the hotel and let out a wild war whoop and jumped from the roof. Everybody thought he was dead. But he just got up and left and never came back." (*4)

In fact, Joe had an excellent relationship with Native Americans and "became protector of all outlaw Apaches in the area so they would not have to live on a reservation." (*2)

"There was a large Apache camp across the creek. The chief, his family, the medicine man, and members of the tribe lived there. The women wove baskets and made water jugs to sell. They were friendly people," according to Joe's daughter. (*1)

"Often at night when the Indians danced, the townspeople would gather to watch them. It was a colorful sight. They were accompanied by the beating of drums and their...musical chants, with painted bodies moving in slow grace. Seen by the light of the campfires, it was something one did not soon forget." (*1)

Once Joe secured water and a railway into the town, he "sponsored one of the West's first land promotions, touting Mayer as a healthy, dry climate in which to live." (*2)

The Mayer Reality Investment Company was organized and in 1904 they incorporated the town, laid out streets, and sold lots." (*1)

"Some of the lots were sold as bare land and others developed with homes on them. To make it easier for people to buy, baby parcels were sold on the installment plan. Businesses were encouraged and loaned money to help get them started. No land for the purpose of a saloon was sold for five years after the new Township was laid out." (*4)

The colorful history of Mayer, Arizona's iconic smokestack, with a look to its future.

Then Joe's untimely and accidental death took place.

Many sources, including Joe's own children, place his death as happening "in December, 1909." However, when this author researched the newspapers, he found that it was his funeral that was held in December--his passing seems to have occurred November 27th, 1909.

The Wednesday December 1st, 1909 Weekly Journal-Miner recapped a story from the Sunday (November 28th) Daily Journal-Miner that stated: "Yesterday morning (the 27th,) the shocking news reached the city that Joe Mayer, the popular pioneer of Big Bug, and one of the most prominent citizens of Northern Arizona, had accidentally shot himself, inflicting a mortal wound, and later in the day the sad news was received that he had succumbed to the injuries." (*5)

UPDATE: Thanks to researcher Patrick Fogarty for sharing this copy of Joe's Death Certificate! It states his death as being on November 28th. (Perhaps the Weekly J-M misstated the day the story ran--perhaps it ran on Monday instead of Sunday...that would account for the discrepancy.)

A little before 6 am, Joe was awakened by the disturbance of several skunks trying to take his chickens. Mayer went out with his .44. "It was raining hard as he entered the yard, and the ground was slippery from mud. He stumbled over a large rock, and as he fell the gun was discharged, the bullet penetrating his left breast above the heart." (*5)

Joe's son-in-law, Dr. R.N. Looney was sent for and he was accompanied by Dr. Yount, "both of whom traveld by special train and made the run in a short time."  (*5)

The doctors soon discovered that the case was hopeless. "He was bleeding internally...The bullet after passing through the left lung imbedded itself beyond, and the question of a surgical operation was out of all reasoning." (*5)

"Mr. Mayer informed those at his bedside that it was purely an accident, and that he did not wish his friends or relatives to entertain any other reason. This was born out by a deep gash that was seen on his head and face, which he received when falling to the ground, striking a sharp pointed rock." (*5)

When Joe Mayer was laid to rest, the Prescott Courier reported that the service was "the largest funeral ever held in this city. Northern Arizona's businesses and courts closed for the funeral and hundreds of mourners who could not squeeze into the small Catholic church stood outside in the freezing cold to pay their last respects to the beloved pioneer." (*2)

Mayer closed its schools, businesses, and the church bell tolled as the the funeral train passed by. (*1)

Ultimately, "the fortunes of the town of Mayer fluctuated with the growth, activity and depression of the mining business." (*2)

At its height "in 1912 Mayer, which had a population of 600, boasted 2 saloons, 19 mining companies, a meat market, 2 mercantile stores, a hospital, 2 doctors, 2 real estate offices, 2 livery stables, a Chinese laundry, a blacksmith shop, a Western Union office, the Wells Fargo Express, the Santa Fe Prescott and Eastern Railway Depot, 2 lumberyards, 2 stockyards, 2 restaurants, 2 hotels, a shoe shop, barber shop, the Prescott Electric & Telephone Company and 2 smelters." (*4)

Joseph Mayer's legacy was locked in place. He "was not only a man whom all loved because of his kindly dispositions and unostentatious charities, but he was one of the men who will go down in history as one of the builders of the great commonwealth of Arizona." (*2)

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(*1) "Joe Mayer and His Town" by Winifred L. Thorpe. Journal of Arizona History; Vol. 19 #2, Summer, 1978, pp 131-168
(*2) "French Runaway in Arizona" By an unnamed great-grandchild of Joe's. (Learned to be daughter of Mrs. Looney. Mrs. Looney was Marty Mayer, Winifred’s sister.) (Undated). Sharlot Hall Museum Archives: Vertical file-Biography-Mayer, Joseph.
(*3) "Builders of Yavapai: Something About the Man Who Recognized the Big Possibilities in Store for Mayer" Yavapai Magazine; March 1918, Pg. 3.
(*4) Prescott Valley Tribune; 6/5/1985; Pg. 7, Col. 3.
(*5) Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/1/1909; Pg. 5 Col. 3.

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