July 5, 2020

Early Independence Day Celebrations

Surrounding the Civil War, not everybody was inclined to celebrate Independence Day. Many who lived in Yavapai County were sympathetic to Southern causes. “There was an apprehension that such diversity might exist here,” the Prescott paper observed, “and interfere with a genuine and hearty observance of the day.”

Although a committee was formed to organize Prescott’s first Independence Day celebration in 1864, very little materialized. Of course the population was small and could only accomplish so much.

Back then, there were no buildings or monuments on the Plaza. So, in its middle was erected a pine flagstaff on July 2nd. It “stood 144 feet above the ground,” the paper reported, and “the stars and stripes were first thrown into the breeze on the morning of the 4th.” It was a simple celebration with a simple statement.

It took only a couple of years for the celebration to blossom. In 1866, the celebration began at sunrise. People surrounded the flagpole at the center of the Plaza “which had been repaired for the occasion.” As the sun began to turn the sky blue, the Stars and Stripes was hoisted. “As it went up, the Prescott Brass Band played appropriate airs,” the paper reported. As the flag rose, the assembled crowd happily fired their guns and pistols into the air.

The 1st Courthouse
Yavapai County’s first courthouse, located on Cortez where the old Masonic Hall is today, was the scene of the day’s formal program. At 11AM an overflow crowd gathered. The paper noted “an unusually large number” of ladies at the event. The speaker’s desk was covered with the American flag.” The band, which was perched on the courthouse balcony, began to play. 

This was followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, and more music, before the Governor of the Territory, Richard C McCormick, delivered an oration. He spoke of the importance of the Arizona Pioneer Society to preserve its early history. He then spoke of many early anglo pioneers throughout the entire west and their contributions. The paper remarked that it “seemed to give general satisfaction.”

The charming story of William Howard Taft's visit to Prescott, Arizona in October, 1909.

After further music from the band, and exactly at noon, two mountain howitzers were fired on the Plaza by a detachment from Ft. Whipple. “They stirred the whole town with their brazen echoes,” the paper declared.

That afternoon people enjoyed a horserace and made social calls. Saloons were closed for the day “to which some objected,” the paper stated, “but which probably saved much noise, if not disturbance, and added to the success of the day.”

Despite men outnumbering women by 2 or 3 to one, the evening Ball was Prescott’s best to date. It was held inside a well-decorated Montezuma Hall. “The band was well placed, and everything was as merry as a marriage bell…and the dancing was kept up until nearly 2:00 in the morning, all enjoying it greatly,” it was reported.

The Ball, which cost $5 per couple (about $80 today,) was used to raise money for the Prescott school fund. $100 (or about $1600 today,) was raised for this purpose. “Everything passed off so pleasantly that the day will long be remembered with the utmost satisfaction.”

The following year, 1867, Prescott’s 4th of July celebration was similar, but was largely held in Miller Valley. A cannon from Fort Whipple and its crew were sent to the Plaza to fire a salute. However, the fort was running low on powder for its artillery and the townsfolk needed to provide it. Unfortunately it was not the right type of powder, and the bang “was not loud enough to alarm a spring chicken, the paper said. 

Then attention turned to the Miller ranch. Festivities started with a horserace followed by an evening ball. Earlier in the day, two different couples got married on the nation’s birthday. The paper noted that they “were ‘the observed of all observers.’” 

A delightful time was had by all.

Prescott Independence Day parade, 1895
Prescott's Independence Day parade, 1895


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Arizona Miner, 7/6/1864; Pg. 2, Col. 4.

Arizona Miner, 7/11/1866; Pg. 2, Cols. 1-2.

IBID. Pg. 1, Cols. 1-6

Arizona Miner, 7/13/1867; Pg. 3, Cols. 1-2.

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