December 30, 2018

Wild Wagoner AZ: Founded 1864

Wagoner, Arizona was the kind of town that Hollywood loves portraying. There were outlaws, gold, guns, fights and killings.  Like desert grass, Wagoner bloomed in the monsoon of its gold rush and quickly perished soon after.

The town was named for Jaye Edward Wagoner, who successfully ran the store, the saloon, and a two-story, 10 room hotel. “A lean-to was added on the south to house the Wagoner post office which was maintained in the same room with this saloon.” Wagoner’s wife Minerva was postmaster.

“Down the road a short distance was another saloon and dancehall combination. The only other building was a large barn which had eight stalls and space to house us stagecoach.”

Before the railroad was completed, “Phoenix mothers would bring their ailing young children to the Wagoner area via stagecoach during the summer months to escape the sweltering heat in the valley.”

A comprehensive listing of buried treasures, still undiscovered, in Yavapai county, Arizona.

“According to local historian and rancher, John Cooper, Wagoner boosted of having the oldest Sinclair gas station franchise in Arizona.” This gas station was located in front of the General Store dispensing the fuel by a hand-cranked pump. Sources describe the General Store and gas station as still in business and hand-cranking gasoline to hunters, mostly, as late as 1966.

“From dates on the earliest homestead patents, the Wagoner - Walnut Grove area was settled in 1864. Most of the 160 acre grants bordered on the (gold-rich) Hassayampa River.”

Wagoner was more a mining camp and stage-stop than a town. At its height, it only had three houses. Its success, however, was largely due to the main “Prescott to Phoenix” road that ran through Wagoner and connected with the Hardyville “Toll Road” seven miles south of town. “Being on the main thoroughfare between Phoenix and Prescott kept the town thriving and full of activity,” one historian noted.

Mining and its supply was the chief industry as the surrounding hills crawled with gold seekers “who depended on Wagoner for supplies and liquor.”

The area also included a few ranches. One of these was the scene of a simultaneous murder “when (one rancher) cussed a Mexican sheepherder for crossing his range. Each drew his gun and shot the other dead.” Standing in witness was the Mexican herder’s 12 year-old son. Not knowing what else to do, the boy started moving toward Prescott and the sheriff’s office.  Authorities, who were initially puzzled by the murder scene, finally caught up with the boy. Gravely, they found  “the poor child was near Prescott with his father’s badly decomposed body and an exhausted band of sheep.”

The construction of the Walnut Creek Dam, (which would later become the worst natural disaster in Arizona history,) brought a boon to the town. During this time, “Wagoner was a busy, wild place often referred to as 'Wild Wagoner.' Many fights and killings occurred in or nearby” the construction camp, while “two more saloons came into existence.”

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

However, after the dam was completed “trade fell off” and Wagoner sold out and moved to California to spend the rest of his days. “A man named Beasley bought Wagoner (but he did) not seem to have prospered.”

Then two men came to town; one named McKinley, the other Cole. Driving a buckboard, it took them 6 weeks to make the trip. "The carriage met with so many obstacles that McKinley left and boarded the train. However, Cole ended up beating him" into town.

McKinley soon hired Cole and employed him “for several years.” McKinley ended up buying Wagoner, but by this time, the camp was already on the decline. 

“The story goes that when McKinley found gold too scarce and the store (was) no longer a stage change stop, he (gave) Wagoner to Cole to pay his back salary.”

“At any rate, HW Cole received clear title to Wagoner and maintained it (until at least 1966)…serving as postmaster for 50 years.” He once related “that when he took over, there were all the gambling devices then known to man in the two saloons. These have vanished. Gone also is the hotel, having burned in October 1942. The dance hall burned in 1948. The barn, built so long ago for the stagecoach horses, succumbed to the elements. Wind blew most of it down in 1950.” 

As the town decayed and safety became a genuine concern, “a local rancher and property owner bulldozed all remains of Wagoner into a hole in 1997.” An old windmill and water tank are the only visible signs of Wagoner that still remain.

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“Ghost Towns & Historical Haunts in Arizona” by Thelma Heatwole. (c) 1981, Golden West Publishers, Phoenix, AZ. ISBN # 0-914846-10-8. Pg. 64.

“Nel Cooper Stories: True tales of the Wagoner, Arizona area.” Self-published; copyright 1966, revised 1974.

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