By Mark Ziem 

Growing up in Williamson Valley in the early 1970s, a favorite place for my brothers and me to explore was the abandoned gunnery range behind our house. When we found enough nerve to hop the fence, the long sandy ridgelines and oak-sheltered washes made great places to "play army." Occasionally, on our treks we would find dozens of tarnished brass casings, grenade levers, and evidence of war games performed in earnest decades before our arrival. Today this 1000-acre tract is the home of Pioneer Park, our future County fairgrounds and the latest place to hit a homerun or jog a trail.

Inquiries about the old range commonly ask how far back into history does the trail of brass lead? The hills of Sandretto above Willow Creek have long been the favorite hunting ground of antique brass collectors. In recent years, several archeological surveys have produced evidence of this area's link with Prescott's military heritage. In this, the first of two installments on the history of the Whipple Barracks Target Range, these early origins of Pioneer Park are explored. 

The long running hills of Pioneer Park are dedicated to recreation and sport, but this area, formerly government-owned, owes its beginning to a solemn visit from General Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas MacArthur, at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. The occasion was yet another rumor that Fort Whipple would be deactivated. When the capitol was lost to Phoenix in 1889, the remaining garrison of soldiers at Whipple reassured Prescott's economic base and prestige. As an inducement to retaining Fort Whipple after the Spanish-American War, the city fathers extended to General MacArthur the use of a remote area located north of town for a gunnery range. 

The wager of additional lands for military expansion may have tipped the scales in Prescott's favor. The War Department decided to keep the Fort open for the rehabilitation of veterans wounded in the Phillipine campaign. This inaugurated a new phase of building construction and government contracts for local businesses. The earliest structures on the present hospital grounds date to this turn-of-the-century renovation. 

Years after General MacArthur's departure, interest in maintaining a National Guard presence arose in Prescott. Recalling the courage of Buckey O'Neil and the First Cavalry Volunteers under Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider command, Prescott was eager to re-polish its military distinction. Enthusiasm began for the creation of a National Guard unit based in Prescott. Thus, an Arizona Journal-Miner editorial of March 7, 1908 recommended that the "target range located north of the city" be used for annual training by the Arizona National Guard, then stationed in Phoenix. 

Far from federal jurisdiction, the early wilderness populations depended upon volunteer units for the protection of property and preservation of order. Among the earliest of these units, Prescott can lay claim to Companies "B" and "C" of the First Territorial Rifles. Unfortunately, there are no dailies to document the annals of Prescott's early National Guard Units. 

Did these early units train at Whipple Barracks Target Range? The next installment will focus on the results of recent historical surveys of the old gunnery range and their findings. 

Mark Ziem is a Yavapai County Engineering Department employee and has worked as an archeological consultant in the Prescott area. 

Illustrating image
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(National Guard) Reuse only by permission.
Article appearing in the Arizona Journal-Miner, March 5, 1908, recommending a target range north of Prescott and a National Guard Unit for the area.