April 10, 2022

Williamson Valley's Astonishing Duck Migrations

Prescott Journal-Miner, 2/9/1917

They would usually appear in February after the harshest days of winter, and stayed until May. Reports of thousands upon thousands of ducks and other waterfowl were annually noted until the climate took a turn toward our more arid conditions today.

A report in the Prescott Journal-Miner in 1917 stated that “the sun was obscured for over five minutes” as a gigantic wave of migrating ducks were settling in for the Spring in Williamson Valley. One man who wanted to boost tourism via duck hunting proclaimed to the Weekly Journal-Miner: “It is safe to say that 80 percent of all water fowl flying from the north to the south use Williamson Valley as their course.”

Yet in spite of these incredible numbers, is it really possible to bring down thirteen ducks with only two shots, as one pioneer rancher claimed?

Williamson Valley used to be much wetter; even marshy in some spots. In August 1892 the mail driver reported to the Arizona Republican that he had to “abandon the road and take to the top of the divides,” because “the upper part of Williamson Valley was one great lake and the water was from three feet to six feet in depth.” While no rain was reported in lower Williamson Valley, “heavy rains fell at Camp Wood, and Walnut Creek was on a regular bender,” he added.

Ducks weren’t the only species that spent time in Williamson Valley; geese were also reported in large numbers. In 1875, another bird was reported. Billy Dearing of Mint Valley shot the bird and brought it to the Arizona Miner office. “We searched the pictures in Webster,” the paper reported, “and found nothing to suit its description. However, a local ornithologist “at once pronounced it a Columbus Glacialis or ‘loon.’” 

One resident of Williamson Valley, Ernest Marlowe explained to the Journal-Miner that the waterfowl were “feeding in pastures, where green grass [was] plentiful.” The birds must have loved the conditions, because year after year thousands would appear. In 1917 Marlowe confirmed to the paper that the area was “swarming with thousands of duck and geese.” In 1919 a number that was “quadrupled over that of last winter” arrived, “but hunters were respecting the season which closed on January 31, and the birds were unmolested,” the paper reported.

The history of the ghost town Massicks, AZ and the man who founded it: Thomas Gibson Barlow Massicks.

Indeed, Williamson Valley would become renowned as a fertile ground for duck hunters. Undoubtedly duck hunting existed in Williamson Valley as long as there were humans and ducks. But some of the earliest newspaper accounts appeared in the Arizona Miner in 1870. In January Captain E.D. Baker returned to Ft. Whipple with fifteen harvested birds. The following month, pioneer rancher CC Bean bagged twenty in one day. He told the newspaper that “the rivers and lakes [were] alive with ducks and geese.” After heavy rains in 1891, SP Behan related the same news. He was the one who claimed to have brought down thirteen ducks with only two shots. 

In March 1897, a group of six hunters, including some well-known, successful businessmen, spent two days together in a duck hunt and brought back 128 ducks—an average just over 21 ducks per man. A similar average was achieved by a group of four men the following year. After their two day trip, they came back with 83 birds. The Weekly Journal-Miner reported that it broke the record for that season. 

The area’s rich duck hunting caused Art Davis, manager of the Williamson Valley Farms company, to conceive a plan to increase tourism. He desired to build a dam at the head of the Verde River which would create “Lake Sullivan.” He predicted it would be “one of the most beautiful lakes for hunting and fishing in the western country,” the paper related.

Davis’s dream was grandiose. “The company also proposes to make this lake a resort for fishing, duck shooting, boat riding and all kinds of camping. First class golf links will be laid out, and a large up-to-date sportsman’s clubhouse will be one of the attractions around this beautiful Lake Sullivan,” the paper reported. A charge for each of these activities would “be a big paying proposition for the Williamson Valley Farms company,” he forecasted.

Davis did his homework. He estimated the cost of the dam would be $415,000 (or $6.6 million today). However the water captured would allow the Farms to sell 15,000 acre water rights for $2.55 million (or nearly $40.5 million today) providing a profit of 614%. Charges for resort activities would add to the profit.

As an inducement to get locals to buy stock to fund the plan, Davis promised that everyone who invested $100 in stock (about $1600 today) would receive a free membership to the sportsman’s club for ten years.  Membership cards would be issued stating that “The holder of this card is entitled to all of the sporting privileges of Lake Sullivan.” (Today plenty of people would be quite happy to pay $1600 for ten years of free golf alone!) 

But Davis’s dream did not materialize.

Yes, there is a Sullivan Lake today right where Davis had planned; and yes, it was meant for duck hunting. But it wasn’t Davis nor the Williamson Valley Farms company that would build it. Instead, sixteen years later, it would be a 1937 work project during the Great Depression that would construct the dam. 

Even then, however, the project was doomed from the start. To learn why…

Please enjoy: The Mysterious Ruins at Sullivan Lake

The story and history of Sullivan Lake, Arizona (located between Chino Valley and Paulden on "Old Hwy. 89") and the mysterious ruins surrounding it.


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Prescott Journal-Miner, 2/9/1917.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 3/5/1919; Pg. 6, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/7/1921; Pg. 5, Col. 1-2.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/25/1891; Pg. 4, Col. 1.

Arizona Republican, 8/27/1892; Pg. 1, Col. 7.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 3/19/1875; Pg. 3, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/21/1917; Pg. 6, Col. 3.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 1/22/1870; Pg. 3, Col. 3.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 2/15/1870; Pg. 3, Col. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 3/17/1897; Pg. 3, Col. 4.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/16/1898; Pg. 3, Col. 5.


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