By Bob Baker
In the late 1800s, Prescott was a very remote and isolated location. Commodities such as sugar, coffee and flour were in short supply and expensive. In 1864 one hundred pounds of flour cost $40 to $50 in gold ($1430-$1902 in today’s dollars). The high price was attributable to high transportation costs. Teamsters carried flour by pack horses, later wagons, over exceedingly long distances, as there were no local flour mills. They transported flour from mills in the Pima Indian villages south of Phoenix, California or New Mexico.
In March 1865, Tom Saunders, a pioneer teamster, drove a team of oxen pulling four large freight wagons from Prescott to the Pima Indian villages south of Phoenix to pick up flour. He joined four other teamsters driving similar teams, each pulling large freight wagons. In his memoir, Saunders described the hardships they endured on this flour expedition. They all drove six yokes (teams) of oxen (12 oxen per team) pulling four large freight wagons each. After several days, they reached the Agua Fria River and found the river too high to ford. After waiting two days for it to lower, they obtained a boat. Due to the size of the boat, they had to disassemble the wagons to ferry them across the river. After the oxen swam across, the teamsters reassembled the wagons and hitched up the oxen. When they reached the Gila River, they had to repeat this cumbersome procedure to cross that river. After crossing, they left the boat on the river’s edge should they need it on their return trip.
Upon arrival at the Pima villages, the teamsters were able to purchase 15,000 pounds of flour from Mr. White, who owned the mill. They loaded their wagons with three tons each and set off for Prescott. When they reached the Gila and Agua Fria Rivers, they again found them too high to ford. So, they offloaded the flour, disassembled each of the wagons and ferried the wagon parts and barrels of flour across the rivers on the boat they had left behind. Once the oxen swam across, the wagons were reassembled, the flour loaded and the oxen hitched to the wagons. They took an additional four days at each river crossing to complete these tasks. On May 1, they finally arrived in Prescott, having traveled 340 miles in two and one-half months. This is just one the many arduous trips as a teamster that he details in his memoirs.
In 1863, at the age of 18, he and his brother Robert arrived in Arizona Territory looking for gold. A year later, they brought their parents Julius and Celia to the new town of Prescott. His mother is believed to be the first white woman to settle in Prescott. In the early years, Tom hired out as a packer or teamster. After buying his own team and wagon, he hauled food, building materials and commodities between the Colorado River port towns of La Paz and Ehrenburg and Prescott. He also contracted to carry military supplies between the military installations in the Territory. During this period, he lived in several different places including Prescott, Miller Valley, Coyote Springs, Camp Verde and Jerome. He reportedly built the first house in Jerome. On October 2, 1873, he married Cynthia Miller, daughter of Jacob Miller in Miller Valley. In 1910, they resided at 423 Black Street in Prescott. Two years after his wife died, he moved into the Arizona Pioneer’s Home where he died at the age of 81. He is buried in the Arizona Pioneers’ Cemetery in Prescott.
“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.archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at email@example.com for information or assistance with photo requests.