November 18, 2018

The Mysterious, Phantom Fort Misery Near Oro

Many are familiar with the first building in Prescott, and oldest surviving log cabin in Arizona, “Fort Misery.” 

Then there was a second Fort Misery near Oro—or maybe there wasn’t. The mystery and controversy about the military presence near the banks of Humbug Creek during the Indian conflicts has flared-up in recent years.

When Tom Burkdull researched the subject, he wrote that "Fort Misery was a Calvary outpost established in the 1880s for protection against Indian raids on the miners and their families at Oro, a community of several hundred pioneers nestled along Humbug Creek, three miles above the fort."

"Information regarding Fort Misery is meager," he explained. "Even the War Department reports that a search of its archives reveals nothing concerning the fort’s establishment or discontinuance. However, there are letters to confirm that the headstones (there) are official military markers."

Ten years later, writer Thelma Heatwole cited Mrs. William Nelson, born in 1906, who said that "the house that still stood there was built by Al Frances who helped build the railroad at Crown King." She insisted that it was never a fort. "Al used the term misery because of the hard times and loneliness of the remote place," she explained. Of course, "hard times, loneliness and remoteness" could be attributed to a hundred different places in 19th century Arizona. Did Frances really believe his locale was particularly worse than others, or did he adopt the name the military informally used? After all, if Frances so disliked remoteness, why would he settle there in the first place?

For many years this building was thought 
to be the barracks at Fort Misery.
Neal Dushane, researcher for the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project, has dealt with this mystery off and on over several years. He wrote: “Our extensive research has found not only was (Burkdall’s) writing (un)substantiated in this instance, but the pictures shown as ‘Barracks’ were not accurate. (These) are actually the buildings at ‘Kentuck’s Place’ a distance of one-half mile south of Al Francis’s Fort Misery.”

Additionally, Du Shane “spoke to Lloyd Clark, Arizona historian, who has...documented all the historic military forts in Arizona. He indicated there was never a military fort at Al Francis’s Fort Misery.”

Still, the documented military graves there are particularly intriguing and bear undeniable silent testimony of some event. "The question remains," Dushane mused, "was there an actual Fort Misery, (or was it) just a name Al Francis dubbed for his home?”

Recently, researcher Michael Spencer uncovered newspaper articles regarding this mysterious fort. 

In one of these articles, AM Nash wrote a harrowing tale to his father in Kansas about the fighting in Oro: “Oro, Arizona, April 23, 1881. This morning I am well and thankful that I am above ground. I was at a funeral yesterday where 4 persons were buried in one grave and seven in another. Up to this morning, we have picked up 64 whites and Mexicans who fell under the Apaches’ war hatchets and scalping knives. But myself and the Hite boys are alright yet. Eli has a sore eye, caused by a piece of steel from a drill striking him in the eye. As soon as we can get out of here with safety, we are going up into New Mexico or Colorado, or home. —AM Nash"

Sixty-four killed would be a rare, high tally for the Native Americans. The battle there in 1881 must have been intense. There is no mention about how many Indians might have been killed, however, and it is curious that such a battle was not covered more thoroughly by the local papers.

A comprehensive primer of military posts in Yavapai County, AZ during the Indian Wars. Included are dates, locations and the reason behind each post's name.

Perhaps we are looking for this “phantom” Fort Misery in the wrong place. In fact, there really shouldn’t be any expectation of finding military buildings near Oro. Constructing anything for the military involved a certain amount of paperwork and bureaucracy. Requisition forms would need to be completed and purchase orders for hardware issued.  Had a structure been built there, THEN there would be a record of it in the War Department.

It was over a decade later in May of 1892 when the paper reported that “GA Allen returned yesterday and will assume command at Fort Misery tonight at 8 o’clock. He wishes it stated that the old-time tactics of the Hassayampa barracks will be maintained as of yore, and that the sally port is filled with an article guaranteed to cause a general assault being made on it.” This surprise may have been a gatling gun.

For those unfamiliar with a “sally port,” this reference only adds to the confusion. A sally port is “a secure, controlled entryway to a fortification. The entrance is usually protected by a fixed wall on the outside, parallel to the door—which must be circumvented to enter and prevents direct enemy fire from a distance.” 

The use of “sally port” certainly implies a structure just as much as the word “Fort” does. But how could there be protective infrastructure if no materials were ever requisitioned to build such?

Could the fort actually have been comprised of some earthworks? It is theoretically possible. The US Army utilized earthen walls and even trench warfare in the closing days of the Civil War. Although this idea is pure speculation, it would at least answer the riddle of having a protective infrastructure without "officially" constructing one.

Still, the skirmish described in Nash's letter would definitely leave signs: bullets and buttons and perhaps even a belt buckle or gun barrel. It may well be that confirmation of Fort Misery may not lie above the ground, but rather below it. There certainly seems to be a compelling story buried near Oro. Ultimately it will be archeologists who will be able to tell it best.
Tourist Tip:
Is again from Neal Dushane. It is his description of how to get to this mysterious site:
"Fort Misery is not too hard to find, but requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. From Phoenix take I-17 (the Black Canyon Freeway) North to Crown King exit. The Fort Misery mine was five miles southwest of Crown King, 7 miles from what was the Old Senator Highway.
Be advised there is another road called the “Crown King Trail” that comes in from the south off Cow Creek Road. The heavy rains in 2002 – 2003 have turned this road into an extremely treacherous venture. This is a true 4 X 4 road and should not be traveled unless you are in a group of experienced 4 X 4 drivers. Also be advised if you continue south from Fort Misery you are on the Crown King Trail. Travel at your own risk, it’s a long walk out in either direction!"

A visit to the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Project website is always interesting. CLICK HERE for their homepage and consider donating to their worthy research and preservation.

#PrescottAZHistory publishes a new article four times a month on Sundays. Follow the blog in one of the following social media to be sure you get the latest article!

Want more Prescott history? Join the "Celebrating Historic Prescott" group.
(Daily pics and featured articles.)
Drew Desmond is on Facebook (For the latest article and posts about Drew's writing.)

Follow the Prescott AZ History Blog on Twitter @PrescottAZHist
(Daily pic featured at 7 am & 7 pm and featured articles.)

Prescott AZ History is on Pinterest
(For the latest article.)

Follow PrescottAZHistory on Instagram



“Lonesome Walls” by Tom Barkdull. Exposition Press, Jericho, New York; 1971. ISBN: 0-682-47298-0. PP 79-81.

“Ghost Towns & Historical Haunts in Arizona” by Thelma Heatwole. (c) 1981, Golden West Publishers, Phoenix, AZ. ISBN # 0-914846-10-8. PP 49-50.

Wilson County Citizen (Fredonia, KS); 5/19/1882, Pg. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 5/16/1892, Pg. 3

No comments:

Post a Comment