November 10, 2019

Before Prescott Valley, There Was Massicks, AZ

The Barlow Massicks "Castle on the Creek"
Thomas Gibson Barlow Massicks had just visited his Catoctin Mine and was riding back to Prescott in his buckboard, May 17, 1898. Although the road was especially rugged, Massicks made haste, bouncing about abruptly as the buckboard wheels dropped into a rut or launched off a bump. As he endured the ride, his six-shooter slowly made its way out of its scabbard and fell to the wagon floor. With the sheerest of bad luck, the gun landed on its hammer and fired, barely missing Massicks’ right kidney and coming to rest on his right lung.

Despite excruciating pain, Massicks drove his team even harder in hopes of reaching Bates’ Station, 4 miles away. When he arrived the house, he “was so far gone from the loss of blood and from the shock, that he was almost in a state of collapse, and had to be at assisted into the house,” the paper reported.

Mr. Bates immediately took Massicks’ buckboard and completed the trip to Prescott to summon a doctor who undoubtedly saved his life. However, the wound would slowly prove mortal both for Massicks the man, and for the town of the same name, which was located in the Prescott Valley area on lower Lynx Creek.

Massicks was a right, proper English gentleman, who was thrilled by the stories of free gold in the Southwest and immigrated to Prescott before 1890. According to author Peggy Magee, “the Massicks family back in England had been involved with the mining industry. Thomas' father managed a local mine in Cumberland.”

“Thomas was about 30 years old and unmarried when he arrived in the Arizona Territory.” He would soon land in Prescott and acquired claims along Lynx Creek, starting at and continuing from today’s Fain Park.

Massicks would work his claim in a most surprising way in the arid climate--by floating a large dredge and washer (or “amalgamator”) to tear into the rocky base of the creek and wash out the gold.

This method of gold mining, called “hydraulic placer mining,” would eventually be utilized in many places around the world, but it was Massicks, who through trial and error perfected the system, acquiring many patents in the process.

First, a dam was required to capture water. It was designed to be 65 feet high from bedrock but only reached to 43 feet in 1890. This was to allow the cement to cure before the top portion was added. It was built entirely with Portland cement.

However, the following February, just one day before he planned to start mining, a flood struck. “About 30 feet of the center of the dam was washed away…down to within a few feet of the ordinary Creek level,” the paper reported. “They were unable to complete the dam last fall on account of frost, and were not fully prepared” for the flood. “The break was caused by logs floating down and breaking the masonry walls.” About 200 feet of flume was also washed away. 

Within a week, a second flood washed away whatever was left. Massicks had to begin again from square one. It would take two and a half years before operations were in full order. Massicks had purchased a large steam shovel and in 1893, a dredge was purchased and was working the banks of Lynx Creek in two 10-hour shifts each day.

Although this picture was taken well after Massicks'
operations, it offers some sense of what his operation looked
like on Lynx Creek..

Massicks found that working a dredge in a creek required many adaptations, which he designed himself. “The machine at work now differs very materially from the original machine sent out, in fact, but little of the original machine is left,” the paper described. 

First, the gravel was dug from the bank with rotating dredge buckets which carried it to an “amalgamating tank.” This consisted of a large, revolving steel cylinder which broke up the dirt as it was being jet-washed to separate the gold which fell to plates beneath. Tailings were carried off with a second set of buckets, out of the way of the dredge. The entire operation was run with only 5 men and could work in only 3 miners inches of water. At one point Massicks hoped to eventually have 6 dredges running, but this was not to be.

The operation became a marvel and dozens would come to witness it in action. At one such demonstration, nearly a full ounce of gold was captured after only 43 minutes of run-time.

A small settlement appeared nearby and in November, 1894, Granite Station was renamed “Massicks” and a new town was born. Massicks applied for a post office for the town as early as 1892, but it was not granted until 1895. Soon Massicks was recognized as a voting precinct with ballots being cast at Wilkin’s store. Today there is little to nothing left of Massicks’ legacy except for the “Castle on the Creek” located in Fain Park, which was Massicks’ residence. 

The town’s most newsworthy social event occurred in late March, 1897, when “400 humans of all classes from the sleek looking officer to the washed out dry rancher, from the delicate counter jumper to the wild and woolly cowboy, from the swamp banker to the votaries of the square box—all pulled their freight for the cow ranch of TG Barlow Massicks,” the paper reported. Highlights included two ranch foremen competing in a two-event rodeo match and two prized horses racing to an exciting dead-heat. 

“Many ladies of Prescott and the surrounding county were seen,” the paper observed, as “some visitors came 20 miles” to take part in the festivities. “White and red soda were served the thirsty” and a delicious barbecue was enjoyed by all.

Before Massicks, there were the Fitzmaurice Indian Ruins
CLICK HERE to read about the findings there!

A second dredge was put into operation and things were going quite well for Massicks until his shooting accident months later. It was thought that he might overcome his injury, but an infection developed on his right lung. Surgery was unsuccessful and he died 11 months after his shooting accident.

The man from England had become especially popular on Prescott’s social scene and his loss was deeply lamented. He enjoyed the game of cricket and organized a team. 

“(His) funeral was held at the Catholic Church under the auspices of the Elks Club,” the paper reported. At his request, the bachelor was buried next to his dear friend and businessman JL Fisher, a fellow Elk, who died earlier that year.

It would be Massicks’ complicated estate and a worsened economy that would strangle the town to death. Massicks had borrowed heavily on his assets, and his holdings were no longer worth his debt. The court decided to wait for the economy to improve and the workings laid idle for years. The people moved away and the small settlement eventually melted into the ground.

Perhaps some day in the future, Massicks will become of interest to archeologists.

At this date, 37 towns and places are described.

Coming in September 2020!
"Murder and Mayhem In Prescott"
Drew's first book with co-author Bradley G Courtney

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Weekly Journal-Miner, 5/18/1898; Pg. 1, Col. 8.
“Castle on the Creek Offers Colorful History” By Peggy Magee.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/3/1890 Pg. 3, Col. 5.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/25/1894 Pg. 1, Col. 8.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 11/28/1894 Pg. 3, Col. 2.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/8/1897 Pg. 2, Col. 5.
Weekly Journal-Miner, 3/31/1897 Pg. 1, Cols. 6-7.
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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