By Al Bates

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

Previous articles in this series about early Prescott history have told of the discovery of gold on the Hassayampa by a group led by frontiersman Joseph R. Walker, and the establishment of central Arizona’s first mining district.  This article examines some activities that followed soon after.

When in mid-May 1863 the Walker Party returned to Ammi White’s store at the Pima/Maricopa villages for necessary supplies, they took the opportunity to inform friends and relatives of their gold finds in the central Arizona wilderness.  At least two of their letters went to General James H. Carleton, military commander for both Arizona and New Mexico territories, reaching him at his Santa Fe headquarters in June.

General Carleton and his volunteer “Column from California” had played a pivotal role in flushing the Confederate army from Arizona—then a part of New Mexico Territory—in 1862.  The general then assumed military governorship of Arizona until a civilian government would be in place.

A slate of officers had been appointed for the new territory but they would not be in position to take control for another six months.  They were at this point (June 1863) two months away from beginning their cross-country trek from the east coast; meanwhile Carleton had all the reins of civilian leadership for the new territory in his hands.

His response to early letters from Kirby Benedict and Jack Swilling caused the founding of the first Fort Whipple at Del Rio Springs and would divert Governor Goodwin and his party from their intended destination of Tucson to the wilderness around the Hassayampa “diggings.”

In one of his next letters to his military superiors, Carlton emphasized that, “ . . it will be absolutelynecessary to post troops in that section of the country; indeed, the capital of Arizona will be sure to be established there.”

He quickly made plans to verify accuracy of the early reports.  The initial plan was for Surveyor General John A. Clark, with a military escort commanded by Capt. Nathaniel Pishon, to follow a southern route through Tucson and then up the Hassayampa.  Those plans changed when a teamster named Robert Groom appeared at his office.  Groom, who had just crossed northern Arizona from the Colorado River, convinced the general that he was able and ready to guide the Clark party across a much shorter northern route.  And so he did.

Brigadier General James H. Carlton Brigadier General James H. Carlton (Photo Courtesy of author Al Bates).

While waiting for Clark to report back, Carleton had additional encouraging letters from men “whose statements are to be credited.”  These prompted him to send another official letter predicting the new capital, “will be” at the gold fields, “not at insignificant Tucson” which was located in a “sterile” region.

With favorable reports from Clark and Pishon, Carleton dispatched a military detachment to establish a military post near the diggings that would be named for General Amiel Weeks Whipple who had recently died of wounds suffered during the Civil War battle of Chancellorsville.  Whipple had surveyed across both northern and southern Arizona following the Mexican War, at one point on his northern exploration reaching just south of Walnut Creek before turning north and west to the Colorado River.

In a letter announcing departure of the Fort Whipple founding party, Carleton again expressed his opinion that the capital, “will be at the goldfields, not at the insignificant village of Tucson.”  But now he had solid evidence to back up the earlier reports, two specimens of pure gold.  These he sent to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase with the request that the larger nugget be presented to President Abraham Lincoln.

By this time Carleton was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the appointed Arizona officials, wondering if the government, “would ever come.”  When they did arrive at Fort Union, New Mexico Territory—still five days travel from Santa Fe—on November 9, 1863, General Carleton was there to greet them.

There is no record of their conversations, but when Governor Goodwin and his party left Fort Union the next day they had a new destination.  Instead of heading to Tucson, they were headed west to the “diggings” following the route established by Groom.  Still, location of the first capital was not certain, and Governor Goodwin would not make his choice known until the following May.

(Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners, International ( The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Assistant Archivist, Scott Anderson, at SHM Archives 928-445-3122 or via email at for information.)