Monday, May 8, 2017


Wpdms arizona territory 1860 idx.pngAfter the Mexican/American War and the Gadson Purchase, all the land of present day Arizona and New Mexico was lumped together as the New Mexico Territory.  The local government in Santa Fe quickly realized that this huge land mass was too unwieldy to govern effectively from so far away and they talked about splitting it in two.  But instead of putting the resulting territories next to each other, they proposed placing the New Mexico Territory on top of Arizona with the border being a horizontal line at the 34th parallel.  As a side benefit, the New Mexican legislature also proposed moving all of the Indians to Arizona.  Nice.

The US congress pretty much ignored all of this.  The whole territory aligned itself with the confederates during the civil war, but were too far away from the action to have much impact and at the war's end congress sort of pretended the confederate states of New Mexico and Arizona never existed.  They reset the boundary line in a north-south direction and gave the then territories the shape the states have today.  President Lincoln appointed John Gurley to be Arizona Governor and he was so excited he promptly died before taking office and was replaced by John Nobel Goodwin. 

Goodwin toured the territory and selected an area near Granite Creek for the capital of the territory, an odd choice given that there was no town there.  But there were already mining operations underway, and that seemed important.  The town was surveyed and laid out in 1864.  In May they held a public meeting and chose the name Prescott, after a local historian, and in June they started selling lots.  The town wasn't officially incorporated until 1880.  Prescott was only the territorial capitol for 2 years, when the government moved to Tucson.  It returned to Prescott in 1877 and remained there until it finally relocated  permanently to Phoenix in 1889.

The magnificent Governor's Mansion
Much of this history can be gleaned from a visit to the Sharlot Hall Museum, a collection of buildings in downtown Prescott.  The original governor's "mansion" sits there where it was built.  Other buildings were either moved to the site or built new.  The whole complex covers about 1.5 acres in the middle of downtown, basically the entire 400 block of Gurley Ave.  The reason for the scare quotes around "mansion" above is that the building was essentially a  largish log cabin.  Nice but hardly a mansion in any normal use of the word.  The fear of Apache raiders impelled them to protect their livestock by keeping it in the Governor's bedroom, forcing him to move upstairs into the attic.  Government meetings were accompanied by the smell of manure, much like today. 

The main museum building houses exhibits covering archeology, paleontology and town history.  Buildings include Fort Misery (the oldest log cabin in Arizona), a local ranch house, a tiny school house, the one time home of John Fremont (a nice Victorian home) and several others.  Going through everything takes at least a couple of hours and is time well spent.

Our campground was just north of town in the Granite Dells.  This area is a combination of several lakes and large granite boulders.  There is
Vicki and schnoodles in the Granite Dells
hiking, of which Vicki partook more than I, and the lakes allow fishing and boating, but no swimming.  A few miles further up the highway is the Phippen Museum, a western art museum.  We spent an hour and a half going through this art gallery.  Western art is a rather specific genre that we expected to laugh at, but the paintings and sculptures were really quite good.  They had a special display of night scenes and a variety of collections of the work of specific artists.  We enjoyed it.

Whiskey Row is a city block just across from the courthouse that was at one time solid saloons and brothels.  There are still some saloons and restaurants but no brothels I could find.  The most famous is the Palace Saloon, where you could wet your whistle and conduct business in comfort.  We ate there one night. The food was actually pretty mediocre but the ambiance was fabulous.  It has a huge wooden bar in the main room. 
120 year old wooden bar, definitely worth saving
The last time the block burned, in the early 20th century, the patrons risked their lives to carry the bar across the street to safety in  the court house square.  Then they sipped their drinks and watched the rest burn to the ground.  When the building was rebuilt (of brick this time)  they moved the bar back in.  The Palace is the oldest continuously operating business in the state.

While we were in town the local theater group staged a performance of Alice in Wonderland Jr., a version of Lewis Caroll's classic based primarily on the Disney Movie and designed to have as many cast members as possible.  There were, for example, three Alices (big, little and normal) and three Cheshire Cats.  The piece was clearly specifically written for schools and community theaters and contains reworked versions of many songs from the movie as well as, for some unknown reason, Zippity Doo Dah from Song of the South.  It was about what you would expect for a children's production but was a lot of fun and we were happy we went.

After the curtain call

Grand dining room at the Governor's Mansion
Lovely Governor's Bedroom

John C Fremont house
Local Indian basketry
Images from the Phippen Gallery


Vicki standing at the entrance to the Palace Saloon
Local Indians didn't make pottery.  They traded for these with their neighbors.


  1. I keep saying I want to go up to Prescott and spend a week wandering around. But somehow we've never gotten that done. Your post just makes me want to get up there even more.

  2. "Government meetings were accompanied by the smell of manure, much like today.

    Love it!