January 6, 2019

Prescott's Plaza Pets

Through the years Prescott's Plaza has been blessed with a few beloved, exceptional animals that stole the hearts of the entire city. Here are the stories of Old Joe the horse, Stub the cat, and Mike the dog.

Old Joe: Prescott's Beloved Fire Horse

It was on March 6th, 1906, when Joe was purchased to to be a fire horse. He was 7 years-old. He almost at once dropped into the correct spirit of a fire fighting horse and became the pet of every fireman who ever knew him. 

“Old Joe was a registered draft horse and was a real, sure enough horse,” the paper contended. “He was credited with more real 'horse sense' than many young recruits in the fire department."

Joe was the perfect fire horse. Whenever he heard the alarm, he was ready to bolt at full speed. “He (also) stood his ground at many a dangerous and smoky ruin waiting the command of his driver as if he would sacrifice his life rather than move against orders in a crisis.”

Old Joe served faithfully and outstandingly, but eventually age began to catch up with him. “He was a special favorite of all the chiefs, and they were half sick when he had to be taken away on account of being crippled from an accident, and on account of his increasing age, and as well, the coming of the gasoline fire wagons,” the paper reported.

Despite this malady, the city kept Old Joe and gave him duty on the garbage wagon where he “did good service up until” he passed away.

Old Joe’s popularity was due, in part, to his entertaining showmanship. His horse-smarts would rival Roy Rogers' Trigger. “He would kneel down and say his prayers with you,” one rider said. “He would shake hands, and could count his age correctly by pawing the earth the correct number of times, and many other impromptu stunts."

When the end came in May, 1920, the big bay horse died suddenly and unexpectedly. “He was unharnessed as usual (one day) and seemed alright, but later in the evening (he) took sick and died a few hours later" at the age of 21.

“The boys in the Fire Hall are in mourning,” the paper reported. “They have lost an old friend. It is not as if the old friend had been a school mate, or a fellow who went swimming with them on Sundays, but just the same, it was a friend who seemed to understand them and whom they seemed to understand."

One of Joe’s riders testified that “he was the best educated horse he ever knew.”

"All the (firefighting) boys...as well as the garbage drivers, are next to heartbroken, thinking of the faithful service of Old Joe,” the paper observed. “They say he exemplified that great virtue in life often lacking in men: 'Faithfulness to duty, and willingness to work without a murmur.’”

ALSO ENJOY: Fort Whipple's Faithful Dog Abe
The story of a greyhound named Abe and his ability to find Native Americans during the Indian Wars at Fort Whipple, Yavapai county, AZ.

Stub the Cat

Stub probably would have been lost to history if it weren’t for the keen eye of researcher Micheal Spencer who noticed that the cat was included in (of all places,) an inventory of the Old Courthouse.

In 1897, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors requested the inventory. The Sheriff’s Office, under George Ruffner at the time, listed one of his office’s items as “1 Cat (answers to the name of Stub).” When Elisabeth and Melissa Ruffner were asked about Stub, they could not recall him.

According to the newspaper, Stub first appeared at the Old Courthouse about 1887. Although nearly all of his story is lost, the papers did mention the feline on a very few occasions.

Early in 1899, the Courier revealed that the cat was no longer answering to anything: “It has been discovered that ‘Stub,’ the courthouse cat is deaf as a post. His loss of the sense of hearing is probably due to old age and eardrums worn-out from listening to legal declamations in (there.) 

It seems that the Courier wasn’t a big fan of the cat. The blurb continues: “’Stub’ is a courthouse hanger-on of about 12 years standing and it is about time for him to rotate out in favor of another cat.”

The last mention of Stub occurred when the Courier and the Journal-Miner were editorially arguing about the issue of “free silver.” The Journal-Miner wrote:

“I notice, however, in the columns of the Courier (December 4, 1899,) that the free silver idea received quite a substantial endorsement; that paper having stated that ’Stub’ the courthouse cat, had gathered sufficient wisdom in age to declare out for 16 to 1. There has been some doubt for a long time about where the Courier got some of its advanced ideas but it was never suggested that ’Stub’ was being consulted.” 

Nothing else is known of the feline.

The early history and activities of Prescott Arizona's iconic downtown Courthouse Plaza.

Mike the dog…

…crossed over the rainbow bridge on December 14th, 1960. So beloved was he that money was raised for a small memorial plague which still lies on the northwest end of the Plaza. Mike got his name due to where he spent most of his time: St. Micheal’s Hotel.

“Just a black and white canine with dubious origins, the ‘community dog’ was a Whiskey Row landmark that will never be replaced,” the paper wrote.

It was in 1946 when Mike first appeared in Prescott. Exactly how he got there is disputed. Some say a guest at St. Micheal’s left him. Others say he came in after stowing away on the train. Others claim that when he first arrived, his paws were bloody from walking so far.

Mike was an especially friendly dog who took his “duties as Prescott’s unofficial host seriously, in his self assigned headquarters in front of the St. Micheal hotel each day. Mike waited for passers-by to stop and pet him and say a few friendly words. Each evening he would retire to the lobby to greet out of state guests or Prescottonians arriving for their dinner meetings.”

Eskimo Pies were his favorite treat, although he “was rewarded with (many) handouts from bar owners and patrons.” 

“Local man Johnny Jordan would always order two steaks, one for Mike.”

“Several ranchers tried to take him home, but Mike always returned to Prescott streets and the hotel, where he lived royally on leftovers from the dining room.”

One resident claimed that when she was intimidated by some wild dogs downtown, Mike ran across the Plaza barking and growling. He fought the pack’s leader and drove them away. Once Mike’s territorial instincts led him to try to drive away all the seeing eye dogs that were attending a convention for the blind.

“A judge once decreed that Mike was an outlaw because he wasn’t licensed. This created a dilemma because Mike didn’t belong to any one person but to the hundreds who flocked to Whiskey Row." The problem was resolved, however, when local police officers raised the money for the tag.

Then one night, “employees of the hotel noticed that Mike didn’t seem ‘up to par.’" One of Mike’s vets, "Dr. Horace Warner, passed the dog in the lobby, scratched his head and noticed he wasn’t very chipper. Employees planned to take Mike to Warner’s animal hospital (the next) morning,” but instead, he was found dead at his usual post in front of the hotel.

It was requested that he be buried in the Plaza but it was denied since it might start a precedent that would lead to the Plaza becoming a graveyard of sorts.

Mike’s final resting place is debated as much as his arrival. Some say he was buried “in a scenic spot in the Groom Creek area.” Others say he was buried at a private residence near the fairgrounds.

“One man suggested (that) if Mike could have talked, he could have written a best seller. ‘He possessed qualities above many humans,’ he said.”

“In 1961 the pooch was memorialized by a metal plaque placed in the grass in the northwest corner (of the Plaza.) Funds to pay for it were donated by the dog’s many friends.”

The plaque reads: 

In Memory of Our Community Dog
Self-appointed guardian of the plaza, official welcomer of visitors and general ambassador of good will, O'l Mike was known and beloved by all. 
Regardless of race, color, creed, or station in life he was a silent, tolerant, loyal friend. 
Early 1945 to December 14, 1960
Take heed if you will: a moral lies within.

One writer thought the plaque unnecessary because Mike "would never be forgotten."

Try telling that to Stub the cat!

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“Ol’ Mike Served Prescott as Guardian of the Plaza” by Richard Kimball. Daily Courier, 4/21/1996; Pg. 6A, Cols 1-5.

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