This article is one of a series that will appear in this space during this year on historic events relating to the Arizona Territory’s Sesquicentennial and the founding and establishment of Prescott as the Territory’s first capital.

By Al Bates

The first Arizona Legislature convened at Prescott in a floorless hall rented from Sheriff Van C. Smith, on September 26, 1864, but because of the late arrival of some members, it was adjourned from day to day until September 29.  Both houses then chose their officers including Coles Bashford as President of the Council and W. Claude Jones as Speaker of the House.

Judicial District Three (soon to become the basis for Yavapai County) was represented on the Council by Henry A. Bigelow, Robert W. Groom and King S. Woolsey.  Those in the House of Representatives from this area were John M. Boggs, James Garvin, James S. Giles and Jackson McCrackin (later spelled McCracken).

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Coles Bashford, Council President for Arizona Territory’s first Legislature (Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress, Brady-Handy Collection, Call No. LC-BH83-494-cropped).

The selection of chaplains for the two houses proved to be controversial.  It took three weeks before Henry W. Fleury, the governor’s private secretary, was appointed chaplain for both houses.  The Arizona Miner wryly reported that, “The selection has caused much merriment in Prescott and was brought about by the persistent efforts of a party, not liked by the members, to secure the position.”  It continued with the observation that “Mr. Fleury makes no claim to the sacred office, but we presume this will be of little consequence to our legislators.”

On September 30 Governor John Goodwin addressed a joint session of the legislature proposing goals to be met.  His highest priority was the rejection of the laws of New Mexico Territory—then still in effect for Arizona—with adoption of a code of laws better suited to Arizona conditions.  In particular he railed against a form of peonage permitted under the New Mexico laws.

That disdain for the laws of New Mexico Territory started when the Arizona officials first encountered them in late 1863.  But how to replace them?  A draft code of laws was needed in order for the first legislative session to start their work, but there was no official way to prepare them.  So a work-around was necessary and Territorial Supreme Court Justice William T. Howell began a semi-secret effort that occupied several months.

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Territorial Supreme Court Justice William T. Howell began a semi-secret effort to write a code of laws for the Arizona Territory (Photo Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum Call Number: PO-2045p).

On the day following the Governor’s speech to the Legislature, Robert Groom introduced Council Bill number one authorizing the governor to appoint a commissioner to prepare and report a set of laws to be considered for adoption.  Governor Goodwin completed the charade, by selecting Justice Howell as the commissioner—despite the fact that Howell had left the territory permanently.  Two days later the governor presented to the legislature a 400-page document (with a cover letter from Howell), containing the requested set of laws.  After debate and some amendments, the “Howell Code” was adopted as the overall code of laws for the Territory of Arizona.

Governor Goodwin’s proposed list of goals included some that the legislature could do something about and others where they could only petition to Congress for action through the territory’s congressional delegate.  High on the list of problems to addressed were actions necessary to end the twin problems of isolation and Indians, with additional priority assigned to mail service and transportation (roads, railroads and steamboats).  Further down the list were schools and a need to regularize the mining laws across the various mining districts.

After noting that control of hostile Indians was primarily a federal government problem, the Governor recommended that, because of our isolated situation, the need for raising companies of citizens organized as rangers to operate against the hostile Apaches “until the last one is subdued.”

He raised the question of where the “permanent” Territorial Capital should be located, thus beginning the process that resulted in Arizona’s “Capital on Wheels.”  He affirmed that, “The legislature and the Governor are . . . required to locate the permanent capital of the territory,” and then deferred the selection process to the legislators.

Legislative action came to a chilly halt in mid-October when a sudden cold snap made temperatures in the unheated legislative hall unbearable.  The Miner reported that because of the unavailability of any heating devices other than for cooking, Secretary McCormick bought some sheet iron from Mr. William Hardy and, in less than 24 hours, two blacksmiths made two huge stoves after an old New England schoolhouse pattern.  The stoves worked “to a charm” and the session continued to a successful completion on November 10.

 “Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com.