By Rob Bates
Deep within the archives of our regional history lies an itinerant pioneer soul named Albert Franklin Banta. During a full and varied life, he came to Prescott, Arizona in 1863 from New Mexico territory, where he had joined the First California Volunteers under Major E. B. Willis, in Albuquerque, in the humble capacity of bullwhacker. Arriving in central Arizona, they established Ft. Whipple near present-day Chino Valley. In January 1864, Richard C. McCormick, Territorial Secretary, came to Ft. Whipple as part of Governor Goodwin's party, bringing with him a printing outfit which he had procured in Santa Fe. It was an old, wood-bodied Ramage press, originally brought to Santa Fe by a trader named Josiah Gregg on July 27, 1834. Albert Banta was a person of various skills who had run a printing press and helped produce several newspapers in New Mexico in the early 1860's; he saw McCormick's printing press and embarked upon a short career with editor Tisdale A. Hand, producing the first copies of the Arizona Miner, under the ownership of Richard McCormick, at the original Ft. Whipple.
Albert Banta was born on Dec. 18, 1843, in Warwick County, Indiana; he eventually drifted west as a young man and worked at a newspaper in Kansas. Following early Civil War troubles there, he changed his name to Charles F. Franklin and hired on as a bullwhacker for a caravan headed to New Mexico. Arriving in Albuquerque on June 20, 1863, he worked on a paper called the Rio Abajo Press. After leaving there with the Willis party and working at the Arizona Miner, he cowboyed in the area for R. E. Farrington, ever armed with an old Colt's Dragoon revolver. Occasionally he'd "blow into town" and eat at the boardinghouse of "Virgin Mary" (Ft. Misery), now on the grounds of the Sharlot Hall Museum.
In the late 1860s, having no money for boots, he made himself moccasins, and wearing a full buckskin outfit, earned the nickname "Buckskin Charley." Banta had traveled extensively throughout the region, learning the land in detail and keeping a written record of his travels. Because he knew the country well, he occasionally became a scout and guide for the military, going to and from Ft. Whipple as the army relied on his unconventional abilities to guide them through dangerous territory. Eventually he found his way to Tucson and worked for the Tucson Citizen newspaper, meeting Jack Swilling and General George Crook. Shortly thereafter he took a position as a Sub-Indian agent at old Ft. Grant. After a period of time he again turned to work as a military guide, ending up in Yuma where he hopped on a steamer and visited California, working at the San Diego Union for a season, then returning to Arizona. With no definite direction, he came to St. Johns; tired of the poorly paid job of newspaper typesetting, he managed to get himself elected as Justice of the Peace there. At that time Yavapai County extended all the way to St. Johns, and in 1879, because Prescott was so distant, Banta played a large role in establishing Apache County. He was first appointed District Attorney, then elected as Probate Judge. He started several newspapers in St. Johns, one of which was the Orion Era, later sold to the Mormons. While editor of one of his newspapers, Banta became involved in a scrape with one Sol Barth, taking a flesh wound to the neck from Barth's brother's revolver. Banta's gun had failed to fire. This had often happened to him, finding out after the danger had passed that his gun would not function or that he had forgotten to load it. One account claims that after eluding a band of Apaches, he found upon returning home that his rifle had no firing pin in it. He was, though, an excellent shot when his guns worked.
After nursing his wounds and serving a hitch as District Attorney once again, Banta bought a newspaper called the Arizona Populist; and at the advice of his friend, Buckey O'Neill, renamed it the Pick and Drill, and moved to Prescott. Two years later, Banta appealed to Governor McCord on Buckey's behalf to give O'Neill a commission to captain a company of volunteers (Roughriders) for the Spanish-American War. He succeeded, but Buckey never returned from the war. The Pick and Drill was burned out of existence in the Prescott fire of 1900, and Banta again pulled up roots, moving on to found the first newspaper in Douglas, the Douglas Dispatch. Soon thereafter he went broke and he began to travel extensively while making a living at odd jobs, going from Yuma to New Orleans to California, all the way to Panama, around to Florida and up to New York. He at last settled in Wickenburg in 1914, and then entered the Arizona Pioneer's Home in Prescott in 1916. Albert Banta was often seen on the streets of Prescott walking along with his cane, spending much of his time at the newspaper office. He passed away on June 21, 1924, and is buried in the Pioneer's Cemetery, on the side of the hill.
In his memoirs, Banta writes: "I have followed almost every occupation under the sun, from bull-whacking to mule skinning down to politics, with one notable exception, stage robbing. All those well acquainted with me will say that I possess all the necessary qualifications of the Knight of the Road; nevertheless, that particular line of endeavor never applied to me; yet, I actually engaged in politics without going to the penitentiary - lucky me."
Rob Bates is Curatorial Aide and Historic Print Shop Operator at the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (np204). Reuse only by permission.
By 1898 Albert Franklin (Buckskin Charley or Charles F. Franklin) Banta had worked with many newspapers including this one that he had edited in Prescott. Banta said that he had, "followed almost every occupation under the sun, from bull-whacking to mule skinning down to politics, with one notable exception, stage robbing."