October 3, 2021

1878: Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman is Amazed With Prescott

It was Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s first trip to Arizona. He was on the way to inspect the area Army camps. He would visit Camp Verde prior to Prescott, and then would head “to Yuma and thence to the Pacific,” the Weekly Arizona Miner wrote. It was a trip that he had “been contemplating for a long time past.”

Sherman would traverse a wide portion of Arizona, but his welcome in Prescott would be the one he would remember the best.

Upon the news of the General’s visit to Prescott, committees were quickly formed and plans hastily completed to offer the General the finest reception in all of the Arizona Territory.

Thomas Fitch was nominated to give the welcome speech. Fitch suggested that someone else might be a better choice, but he soon “‘submitted’ gracefully to the wishes of the populace.”

As Sherman and his party left Camp Verde, a party from Ft. Whipple, including Gen. Wilcox, met up with them to help them navigate through the wilderness.

Sherman arrived at Ft. Whipple September 19, 1878. “On arrival, the invited guests were ushered into dressing rooms elegantly fitted up,” the paper described, “in addition to the necessities of the toilet,” it was also “supplied with cigars and exhilarating refreshments. All the rooms were handsomely decorated with evergreens, flowers and bunting.”

A small dinner with a dozen attendees was served for him at Dr. McKee’s house. Early the morning of the 20th, he “inspected the post informally,” and visited the hospital before he came into town.

His first stop was the Free Academy (Prescott’s public school.) He was invited by the children who were “introduced to him, rather than the reverse,” the paper noted. The academy was “beautifully decorated for the occasion with ensigns, evergreen, etc.” The students “marched in by time beat on a drum,” and presented a program which the paper described as “highly interesting.” It included music and a scene from Shakespeare’s “Richard The Third” which was performed “admirably.”

Sherman was asked to speak and took the stage standing in front of “a large number” of adult VIPs, including other army generals and Gov. Hoyt. “I am perfectly willing to speak few words to the children,” Sherman proclaimed, “but certainly not to these men who are behind me.” The General then spoke of how children possess a magical quality. “It is a pleasure to me, at all times, to speak to children,” he declared.

He articulated the “advantages of education and the acquirement of knowledge for the obtaining of great wealth now in the rocks of Arizona, and concluded with a vigorous, patriotic peroration on: stand by the flag of your country,” the paper reported. Gen. Wilcox, then related “that Gen. Sherman expressed the greatest pleasure to visit the school [over] any other invitation he had received.”

Gen. McCook turned down the opportunity to speak twice before he acquiesced and “made a splendid address…in which he told them, plainly and unmistakably, that the public schools of the United States are the only bulwark and hope of the country.” As for the Prescott Free Academy, he thought it to be “the finest school he ever saw this side of Ohio, and that it was not excelled even there or elsewhere.”

In 1878, what we call the “Old Courthouse” was brand new and the perfect location for a noon reception. The courthouse flag was raised “at an early hour” to be sure the General would notice it when he first arrived into town. The public was informed “that General Sherman [would] be pleased to meet any and all citizens at the rooms of Judge Silent, in the new Court-house” from noon until 2pm. “Mayor FW Blake did the presentation,” the paper reported, while “the 12th Infantry Band, in full uniform, rendered appropriate music.”

A humorous look at the shoddy construction of Yavapai County’s Old Courthouse which led to its early demise.

That evening, nothing was spared for the Grand Ball. The paper boasted that it was “the greatest social event that ever occurred in Arizona… The large hall which was elaborately decorated and brilliantly lighted, was well filled by the gallantry and beauty of Prescott.” 

After Fitch’s welcoming address, Gen. Sherman replied: “I do not intend to delay [the dancing] longer than to thank you one and all, collectively, for the welcome you have extended to me, not only in words but deeds; ever since I have come within the region of Prescott. I have felt it in the grasp of the hand, in the kindly look of the eye, and in words of welcome, and in the deeds of welcome… We [saw] signs of civilization and refinement here in this town of Prescott." (Italics are the source's.) "I am simply amazed: at your school, your courthouse, and your nice little dwellings.”

After leaving Prescott, Sherman shipped “215 pounds of petrified wood [and other] minerals” back to Washington that he collected while in Arizona.

As Gen. Sherman proceeded to Yuma, he was still abuzz about his visit to Prescott. The Miner published a report from the Yuma Sentinel: “Prescott quite got on the blind side of [Gen. Sherman],” the paper wrote. “He was charmed with the kindness and attention shown to him in Prescott. He did not say that he was surprised to find gentlemen there, but he did express surprise at finding so much culture and refinement on a distant frontier.”

However, it wasn’t just Prescott’s refinement that struck Sherman. During the dance at the Grand Ball, where the finest millinery and custom-tailored suits reflected the city’s refinement in all its glory, a stark contrast appeared at the entrance.

An unnamed miner “with unkept hair, soiled face and hands, and the usual miner’s outfit: trousers in boots, in shirt sleeves, a belt filled with cartridges, pistol and knife; approached the entrance door and [asked]… ’How much does It cost to get into this lay-out?’ ‘Ten dollars’” was the reply, (which would be the equivalent of a stiff $273 today.) “Does that give a fellow the right to go in and shake hands with General Sherman?” When assured that it would, he handed the attendant a ten-dollar bill. 

It must have been a most curious and aberrant sight as “he wended his way carefully through the crowd, avoiding the lady’s trains as deftly as he could.” Finally reaching the General, he declared: “General Sherman, I merely want to shake your hand. I fought under you in the March to the Sea.” 

Keeping true to his word, he then turned around and left the gala immediately. Sherman was moved. “If the General has ever had a more sincere compliment paid him,” the newspaper observed, “it has never been announced.”

The true story of Will Rogers' surprise visit to Prescott, Arizona in 1933 to visit Frontier Days (now the "World's Oldest Rodeo").


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Weekly Arizona Miner, 9/20/1878, Pg. 1, Col. 5.

IBID. Pg. 2, Col. 4-5.

IBID. Pg. 3, Col. 3.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 9/27/1878, Pg. 1, Col. 5-7.

IBID. Pg. 4, Col. 1. 

Weekly Arizona Miner, 10/4/1878, Pg. 2, Col. 5.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 11/1/1878, Pg. 2, Col. 2.

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