By William "Bill" Peck
In 1887, Morris Darnell built a store and bar which probably had rooms for rent upstairs across the railroad tracks abut 500 feet south of the depot in Hillside. Finding he was on the wrong side of the tracks and had built in a mud hole, he somehow moved the rather cumbersome building in about 1900 to its present site where it serves as the Hillside Store, a cooperative affair run by our town's retired women.
When I first arrived in Hillside, Morris's son Ryland was in partners with Emmet Coleman. The business had degenerated into little more than a package liquor store with only a smattering of groceries. Still, it was the destination for all of the 10-day miners and winos that traversed back and forth between the mines and cow camps.
I remember one fellow sitting down to two cases of beer and downing it all in two hours. They rolled him outside at closing time and he snoozed away for 24-hours on the porch, people stepping over him. He then gathered himself up never to take another drink for a year.
Emmet, too, had that problem. I watched him on Christmas day down on his knees at his kitchen table with the bottle resting on its top pouring whiskey into his mouth, his hand too wobbly to hit it, otherwise. This behavior was natural since that it sometimes seemed that cowboys, miners and railroaders alike worked only to obtain money for a binge. On any given day half a dozen men occupied the "jungle" beside the stockyard. The most beaten path in town ran from there to Emmet's store. The stockyard fence looked like a laundry line and broken whiskey and wine bottles paved the ground like snow.
They came and went by the "rods" of the freight trains and some of the plusher actually rode the Kingman Stage, an open-topped Packard, that plied from Phoenix to Kingman three times a week, up one day and back the next, a twelve hour trip, carrying the mail as well as passengers. When riding the Stage, it was advisable to carry one's bedroll as well as water and food. Sometimes the Packard was marooned for weeks between Burro Creek Crossing and the Big Sandy by floods. At the time, Hillside was the edge of civilization, the country beyond being inhabited by only the Olea Brothers, Frank Howard and the Finch's 7U7 Ranch. Passengers carried shotguns and lived off of the myriad quail along the way.
Rice's store was another matter. The shelves were adequately stocked with such unknowns as fresh vegetables, meat, milk and some essentials such as kerosene, Blazo (a white gasoline used in pressure lamps), chicken feed, rolled barley for the horses and milk cows, and rabbit pellets. These never made sense to me since the wild critters were everywhere under foot. Cattlemen would bring a freshly slaughtered carcass to trade for supplies and the meat would hang in the cold box for 14 days or until it grew "hair," a measure of its consumability. Most of the miners from the Hillside Mine and Bagdad traded there since it was the nearest thing to a trip to the city -- Prescott being too far.
All the roads were washboard dirt, highway 89 being the sole paved road. The CCCs built a bridge across the Santa Maria River on the Hillside-Bagdad road in 1937 alleviating the need to ford the river on the concrete apron a mile up-stream, an accomplishment impossible during frequent floods. Hillside was the gateway to the world for these isolated folk who depended on the reliable railroad to get about. Now, 60 years later, we'd love to have the passenger train back.
The depot was more than a ticket to a train; it was where the Western Union office was, being one and the same, and was a much used method of communication and as a way to transfer money over long distances quickly. The Internet has never been such a quantum improvement as the telegraph was in it time.
Strangely, telephones were common in the early west long before electricity arrived. The "T" Ranch, just outside of Hillside had a phone line built in the twenties or thirties as did many other ranches including the Muleshoe, 7 miles into nowhere. There was the usual crank and wait system where the operator came on line and relayed your call if it was off the local grid. Of course we had the usual problem of eavesdroppers who sometimes got carried away and entered conversations. This sometimes had the advantage of speaking for the benefit of the third or fourth party, also listening in. Nothing went unnoticed in this tiny world anyway so it really didn't matter. We didn't get electricity until 1952.
The road south to Congress Junction was an iffy thing in the winter. Date or Cottonwood Creeks made it dangerous to cross in flood season. I was sitting out a flood trapped between the creeks one time when an old gent on the other side of Date Creek yelled that he was searching for his father's locomotive that had plunged into the water when the bridge washed out around 1901. He said that the locomotive has never been found. Now there's a challenge for you people with metal detectors!
(William Peck is a long time resident of Hillside. There will be more of his stories coming in the following months ,
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (rr169pa). Reuse only by permission.
In August of 1915 this train leaped off the tracks at Date Creek. When there weren't wrecks or washouts, the railroad was the "gateway to the world" for the isolated folks who lived in the Hillside, Kirkland, Congress area.