By Allan and Cathie Englekirk

In the fall of 1863 when a young Albuquerque merchant named Manuel Yrisarri learned that the U. S. Army would establish a military outpost near the recently discovered gold fields of the Central Arizona Highlands, he determined that this would be a business opportunity too promising to miss.  It was obvious that the few settlers of this isolated area were eager if not desperate to obtain essential goods and would be happy to pay for them with gold.

Thus he and at least two other merchants from New Mexico prepared wagons loaded with durable foodstuffs and other merchandise and gathered herds of beef and sheep they would drive west.  For protection from Navajo and Apache raiders they kept in close contact with the Army expedition led by Major Edward B. Willis, arriving at the diggings in late December 1863.

The special territorial census of 1864 reveals these personal details: Yrisarri was 25 years old, born in New Mexico while it was part of Mexico, American citizen by choice, occupation merchant, married (with his wife remaining in New Mexico) and an Arizona resident for five months.  He claimed substantial assets of $1000 in real estate, and a $12,000 personal estate.

Yrisarri—sometimes spelled as Grasarri, Yrrisarri, Irisary, Lisaro and Yrisorri in public records of the time—soon built a small store on the banks of Granite Creek that became a hub of community activity.  The two-room cabin was hastily constructed from Ponderosa pine logs, with a flat pine pole roof covered with a thick layer of dirt to keep out the winter snow and rain.  Even as a temporary shelter, it was sturdier than the tents that made up most of the early dwellings.

The people who frequented his store addressed him using the Hispanic title of respect, “Don,” a title used in Mexico, Spain, and other Spanish-speaking countries with older adults, but also with people of greater wealth, or higher social status.  “Don Manuel” was well-known in the area by the spring of 1864 when an anonymous notice was “widely posted” saying, “There will be a public meeting held at the store of Don Manuel, on Granite Creek, on Monday evening, May 30, 1864, for the purpose of considering and adopting the best mode of disposing of lots in the proposed town.”

Attendees at the meeting approved the town site as surveyed by Robert Groom, named it in recognition of a prominent historian, and the Town of Prescott was born.  Auction of lots in the new town began five days later.

Whether Yrisarri attended this seminal event is not certain, but by offering use of his cabin for the meeting, he demonstrated an interest in promoting activities fundamental to the successful establishment of a new town that soon would be designated as the capital of the Territory of Arizona.

Don Manuel left Prescott after selling the merchandise he had transported to the new capital and returned to New Mexico.  He apparently returned to Prescott once again in 1871 as is evidenced by the advertisements he placed in The Weekly Arizona Miner from July into September of that year for goods brought from New Mexico.   He passed away at an early age in the 1870s in New Mexico Territory.

After Don Manuel returned to New Mexico Territory his “temporary” structure had a long and useful life under new owners.  First were Mary and Cornelio Ramos who, for a time, ran one of Prescott’s earliest boarding houses—locally famed for providing goat’s milk with their coffee.  The next occupant was a lawyer named John Howard who used it as his office and residence and improved it to the extent of adding a peaked roof.  It was during Howard’s occupancy that the cabin gained the name Fort Misery.

After “Judge” Howard married and moved into more comfortable quarters, the building fell into disrepair.  It remained unused except for storage until Miss Sharlot Hall had it moved to her museum grounds in 1934 where, after extensive repairs, it was opened as the exhibit named Fort Misery.  Manuel Yrissari would be very surprised to see that the temporary shelter he built over 150 years ago still stands and is available for visitors to explore on the grounds of the Sharlot Hall Museum.

“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.