By Mick Woodcock

By 1863, the central mountains of Arizona had not been explored by Anglo-Americans. Several different parties of men headed into the mountains, but the first to arrive and find gold was guided by Joseph R. Walker. The discovery was made in May on the headwaters of the Hassayampa River, in the Bradshaw Mountains south of present day Prescott.

The Walker Party then moved onto Lynx Creek with more gold being found. At about the same time a party organized by A. H. Peeples and guided by Paulino Weaver discovered gold at Antelope Peak (Rich Hill) to the south and west of the Hassayampa.  News of the claims being filed brought other gold seekers to the area.

General James Carleton, commander of the military Department of New Mexico, sent Surveyor General John A. Clark with an escort of First California Volunteer Cavalry to inspect the diggings and report on the activity. He wrote on September 19th that there was gold.  He added, “The Indians surrounding the mines … are now friendly, but it is not unlikely that they may be at war with the miners in a month.”

The local Native Americans called themselves Yavepe—The People of the Sun.  A semi-nomadic people, they were primarily hunters and gatherers with a little farming done on the side.  It is estimated that there were 10,000 of them scattered over 9,500,000 acres when the Walker Party arrived in 1863.  Initial contact was peaceful enough, but as more miners arrived who shot the Indian’s main food supply, the mule deer, things became tense.  Raids on small groups of white men, and their freight teams and isolated ranches accelerated until no one, including the Yavapai, felt safe, anywhere.

Captain Pishon returned to New Mexico and guided Major Edward B. Willis with companies C and F of the First California Volunteer Infantry to a site at Del Rio Springs, north of present day Chino Valley.  Fort Whipple was established there December 23, 1863, and by March 1864, a flagstaff had been raised and “The Hospital, Commissary, and Quartermaster buildings are finished….”

The Governor’s Party arrived January 22, 1864. Consisting of most of the officials of the new territorial government, this group camped at the Fort. Governor John Goodwin used it as his base while he visited the territory to determine where to place the capital.  The site of future Prescott was announced in late May, after the territorial elections.  Ft. Whipple was ordered to be moved closer to the mines and the site of the territorial capital.  Major Willis chose the present site moving supplies and troops without delay. The old site was renamed Camp Clark and later sold, becoming Postle’s Ranch.

Clark’s prediction of problems with local Yavapai proved to be true. In defense of their homeland and their lives, they began stealing horses and mules, and killing men when they could.  Soldiers were kept busy scouting for them while trying to build the new post.  Three civilian scouting expeditions under King Woolsey, a local rancher, operated independent of the Army.  With the constant pressure to protect lives and property, work went slowly on the fort.  Trees were felled, log buildings constructed and a palisade put up forming a rectangular enclosed area.  Barracks, stables and the post hospital were built outside the log walls.  It took several years for all the work to be completed.

This post was destined to be replaced beginning in 1872 when Colonel George Crook became the commander of the military Department of Arizona.  Although only eight or less years old, the post was so poorly constructed that there was some concern that it would fall down.  There had also been a fire that claimed the south side of the palisade that included administrative offices leaving the enclosed quadrangle open.  A new post was greatly needed.

The new post, with accompanying enlarged quartermaster facilities and newly constructed staff housing for officers attached to the Department of Arizona staff, became known as Whipple Barracks.  It retained this designation until 1886 when headquarters of the department was transferred to Los Angles by General Nelson A. Miles.  After that, the post once again became a fort.

Next week: How a Frontier Fort Became a Veteran’s Medical Facility.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.