March 5, 2017

The Legend of Burnt Ranch

The Burnt Ranch house that replaced the burned cabin.
It was 1961 when plastics manufacturer Arthur Edison bought the 160 acres for future development. He paid $150,000--less than $1000 per acre for the land located west of Williamson Valley Drive between Iron Springs Road and Pioneer Parkway. (*1)

By then the property had been known as "Burnt Ranch" for nearly a century.

This is the tale of the Apache-Mojave (aka "Date Creek") Indian raid that gave the ranch its name.

Jake Miller and a partner whose name has been lost to history had two vocations at the ranch: producing much needed pine shakes for roofing; and keeping livestock for residents in town. (*2)

The ranch was located "in one of the best grassed sections of the country and this fact led (Judge) EW Wells, who owned a small band of cattle to arrange with Mr. Miller to care for them." (*2) Allowing the cattle to graze by day, "Miller brought the cattle in early to avoid evening skirmishes with marauding Indians." (*1)

"One afternoon Miller went to drive up the cattle feeding in the valley just below him. As Miller neared the cattle and begun to round them up, he noticed a raven flit from one clump of oak brush near him to another. A second and a third raven followed...until an incautious movement revealed the head of an Indian." (*2)

Miller had his gun with him, but acted nonchalantly and continued to round up the cattle prodding them toward the 500 foot corral that was adjacent to the small cabin. Then, knowing the Indians were about to strike, Miller started rushing the cattle to the pen. (*3)

"A yell split the silence. Jake glanced around and found the Indians in close pursuit. Prodding the cattle, he turned and fired, bringing down the foremost Indian. His bulldog leaped on the [Indian's] body and savagely mangled it. As the other Indians ran up, the dog fought with them until it was killed. By then the dog had bought the men enough time to pen the cattle and fasten the gate." (*3)

See how Native Americans successfully used the tactic of "guerrilla attrition" to keep a prosperous gold mine from operating.

"The two men were armed with muzzle-loading rifles, while the Indians had only bow and arrows." (*1)

The Native Americans knew that they strongly outnumbered the two men, so they took up the siege of the cabin slowly and carefully. This gave an advantage to the two anglos.

"As they watched the Indians run from cover to cover, they would remove a bit of chinking from between the logs [of their cabin,] fire their guns, quickly replace the block and scurry to another part of the room. For they knew that as soon as a puff of smoke came from a chink in the wall that a volley of arrows would cover the spot." (*3)

"The white men wasted very few shots, both were expert with the rifle and Miller particularly so. He kept cool...but his companion, a young man, was excited and after the first half hour made some mistake in loading by which a bullit (sic) was caught halfway down the barrel of his rifle. He could neither draw it out nor ram it home and the rifle was rendered useless." (*2)

"The fight now fell upon Jake who continued to pick off the Indians as they crawled along the log corral in an effort to get nearer the cabin. The unarmed man stood at the door with an ax ready to fell anyone entering therein." (*3)

Miller kept picking-off Indians until he had one shot left, which, by tradition and code of the West, was usually saved for oneself to avoid the torture accompanied with capture by the Indians. However,  "Miller and his companion discussed the matter and decided to risk their last bullit [sic] to get [the Chief]--for once he was killed or wounded they knew the fight would be over...since the loss of their leader always threw these Indians into a panic." (*2)

True story of how the Apache tribe massed to attack Prescott in 1864 and what stopped them.

"During the heat of the battle the Indian Chief had lain close against the log cabin in the place where the corral joined it--directing the movements of his men. He lay close to the ground, hugged against the logs. There was no point within the cabin from which he could be reached." (*3)

"Jake decided to explore a bit. He crawled under his bunk, at the back of the room, and cautiously removed a bit of chinking. He poked his rifle through the hole in the wall and the Indian chief grabbed the end of the barrel. Jake struggled, wrenching the gun from the hands of the Indian. [Jake] fell backwards missing the covers on his bed and accidentally putting his hand on an old horse pistol loaded with buckshot which he had forgotten." (*3)

"This gave him one more chance--one more shot. He also remembered (there was) a small square hole like a window near the head of the bed which was closed with a board that could be removed at will." (*2)

Miller carefully removed the board and saw the Indian Chief laying directly below him paying close attention to the hole in the chinking that Miller's rifle came through. "His broad, great chest was exposed as he cramped his body to see better. Silently Miller lifted the pistol and poked it through the hole, then he fired." (*2)

"The Indian chief jumped up. He staggered back 20 feet before he fell--his breast torn and bleeding in a dozen places." (*3)

"Rushing to their falling chief with yells, the Indians picked him up and carried him to the hills. As they ran, Jake flung open the door and with a triumphant call fired his last bullet bringing down one more Indian." (*3)

Late that evening the mail-carrier stopped by to water his mules. Miller asked him to send word of the raid to Fort Whipple and to tell Judge Wells to come and get his cattle. (*2)

When Wells arrived the next morning, he found the two men packing. "Miller said that he had fought Indians since his boyhood--all over the United States from Kentucky to Washington and this was his closest call." He complained that "he was an old man and had enough of fighting." (*2) Indeed, Jake Miller was the father of Sam--teamster of the pioneer Walker party and founder of Miller Valley.

The story of the harsh winter of 1864 and how the Miller brothers saved the settlement of Prescott, Arizona from starvation.

As Wells prepared to drive his cattle back into town, he noted that "the ground all along the outside of the corral was as bloody as a slaughter pen--'exactly like a barnyard in hog-killing time.'" (*2)

That very night the Indians returned to the freshly abandoned structures and burned the cabin and the corral to the ground. "From this incident came the name Burnt Ranch." (*4)

The Date Comes Into Question:
The original source for this story is an oral history given by Judge Wells and transcribed by Sharlot Hall herself. In it, Wells describes the year of this raid as being 1867. However, in an effort to find the corresponding 1867 newspaper account, this author found this news article from the February 9th, issue:
Indian robbery at Burnt Ranch--on Tuesday last our town was again shocked with the intelligence that the entire stock of horses and cattle herded at the Burnt Ranch, by Lorenz Nickol and Co. about 3 miles west of town, had been driven off by Indians. The stock consisted of between 30 and 40 animals, mostly horses, and belonging to a number of our citizens. Pursuit was made by a party from here, with no other result then the accidental wounding of one of the pursuing party. This is a heavy loss of property in the aggregate, and it is severely felt by several who can hardly afford it. (*5)
Without question the Burnt Ranch raid must have taken place prior to February 9th, 1867. Researching the newspapers that cover the 39 previous days of that year shows no hint of this raid occurring then. This brings Well's recollection of the correct year into serious doubt.

Further research found a newspaper article that transcribed a historical talk Judge Wells gave to the Prescott Library Association on February 27th, 1877. In it, he describes the occurrence of the incident as "early in 1865." (*6)

Clearly more research needs to be done. This author longs for the day when he might come across the newspaper account of what became known as the Burnt Ranch raid. Only then will the true date be known. Hopefully that article might also bring to light the long lost name of Jake Miller's partner. (Be sure to watch this space for an update, if and when it is found.)

The raid reported February 9th was not the last to occur on the ranch. From April 6th, 1872:
"We next hear of (the Indians) at Burnt Ranch, a few miles west from Prescott, from which place, on Saturday last, they stole two good horses--the property of Adam Rissbeck who, we learn, followed their tracks until they entered the gorges of Granite Mountain, where he very well knew it would not be safe for him to go." (*7)
Perhaps the reason the Native Americans kept their attention on the Burnt Ranch area was its proximity to sacred Granite Mountain. Perhaps the rich grassland on which the ranch was situated was (is) also sacred to them.

Judge Wells' 1877 history lecture revealed one last interesting detail offering a reason why the ranch's name stuck: the burned ruins of the cabin and corral were still visible for at least a decade afterward. (*6)

Tourist Tip:
Today Granite Mountain is a National Monument and Wilderness Area. Recreational opportunities include picnicking, hiking and other opportunities. The trails run from the easy "Baby Granite Loop" to the highly strenuous trail #261 which leads to the 7,600 foot top and some breathtaking views.

CLICK HERE for information on the Granite Mountain Wilderness.

CLICK HERE for a printable map of the recreation area.


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(*2) "Fight at Burnt Ranch"--Notes of Sharlot Hall's from account given by Judge Wells. Available in the Burnt Ranch Vertical File at either the Prescott Public Library or the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives.
(*4) Arizona's Names: X Marks the Place, by Byrd Howell Granger; 1983; Falconer Publishing Co. ISBN# 0-91-8080-18-5

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