By Al Bates

Whipple Barracks remained headquarters of the Arizona Department during the Geronimo war, but with the removal of Geronimo and his band to Florida the most serious reason for retaining either an Arizona Department or a large garrison and depot at Prescott ceased to exist.


In the spring of 1887, General Miles, who is generally credited for introducing the heliograph system to connect the Army outposts of Arizona and New Mexico, had peremptorily moved his headquarters to Los Angeles, but was feted in Tucson and presented a gold encrusted sword as the conqueror of the Apaches.  The residents of Prescott were far less enthusiastic.  One of Whipple's drawbacks was the lack of a railroad.  Not until January 1887, did the Prescott and Arizona Central connect Prescott with the Atlanta and Pacific at Seligman.  This "makeshift" railroad was built with lightweight rails discarded by the A&P and operated only two antique locomotives.  Nonetheless, the first train arrival rated a 100 gun salute at Whipple Barracks.  (At times, the Fort was also known as Whipple Post and Camp Whipple.) 

The 1890s were a time of down-sizing for the Army, and Fort Whipple was one of the few Indian-fighting outposts to remain open.  During the years from 1892 to 1898, the Whipple band, led by Bandmaster Achille LaGuardia, performed at every event of importance to Prescott.  The bandmaster's son, Fiorello, grew up to become the colorful mayor of New York City and is fondly remembered for reading the funny papers to the City's children over the radio during a newspaper strike. 

By 1895, the buildings and utilities of Whipple had deteriorated badly.  The army surgeon general stated that "all the buildings at Whipple Barracks are old and dilapidated, overcrowded, drafty and poorly ventilated."  The sewer system, was reported as "wretched in the extreme; the pipes are constantly leaking and foul odors are prevalent."  Congress refused to appropriate funds for renovation and in the autumn of 1897 the post was scheduled for deactivation.  The last troops had departed and the officer who was to "take the final inventory and lock the gate" was on hand on April 25, 1898, when congress declared war on Spain.  Four days later the closing officer became mustering officer and began enlistment of 200 men for the Spanish-American war. 

Governor McCord telegraphed Prescott to have Arizona National Guard commander Alexander Brodie assemble volunteers at Whipple.  Brodie was a West Point graduate and former cavalry officer who was superintending a goldmine near Prescott when the governor nominated him to be a major in the volunteer regiment being formed by Colonel Wood and Lt. Colonel Roosevelt.  To backtrack just a bit, Mr. Brodie eight years earlier was chief engineer and superintendent of a diversion dam being built on the Hassayampa River below the Walnut Grove Dam.  It was his good fortune to be on a business trip to Phoenix on February 22, 1890, when the Walnut Grove Dam overflowed and burst and some 80 lives were lost in a disaster that made headlines across the nation. 

One of the Walnut Grove survivors was a young lady named Mary Hanlon, a niece of the water storage company president.  Miss Hanlon was celebrated as a heroine of the disaster and, in a ceremony that featured the Fort Whipple band, was presented a five-and-one-half-ounce gold nugget found in the river bed after the flood.  Incidentally, Miss Hanlon later became Mrs. Alexander Brodie and her husband went on to become Territorial Governor. 

The Prescott area recruits gathered at Whipple from April 29 to May 4, 1898, and formed a squadron of the First United States Volunteer cavalry.  On May 4 they marched from Whipple to the Prescott courthouse square for ceremonies and thence to the train depot and on to San Antonio, Texas, to join the rest of the Rough Rider Regiment. 

The Captain of Troop A was William O. "Buckey" O'Neill, Prescott's multifaceted mayor who would die on San Juan Hill.  Buckey's previous military experience was as a captain in the Milligan Guards, one of two troops of Arizona Militia.  Due largely to his efforts, the unit was incorporated into the National Guard and became known as the Prescott Grays with headquarters at Fort Whipple.  There wasn't much military work, so the grays were primarily a social organization.  Buckey's wife, Pauline, had her own Whipple connections; she was the daughter of a Captain stationed at the Fort and was first introduced to Buckey at a Whipple band concert. 

After the Rough Rider departure, the Fort was inactive until 1902, when Civil War hero General Arthur MacArthur (Five Star General Douglas MacArthur's father) paid a visit.  Prominent citizens escorted the MacArthur party on a tour of 160 acres that the city would give the Army if the post was reopened.  It is unclear what became of this property, but it may have been part of the former Whipple Gunnery Range, site today of Prescott's Pioneer park.  In any event, the Army moved in a company of infantry, and the Whipple razing and reconstruction started three years later.  Many of the buildings erected between 1905 and 1908 are still in use. 

When reconstruction was complete, four companies were assigned to the Fort, bringing with them a post band.  Once again the people of Prescott could enjoy free band concerts. 

In 1912, Arizona achieved statehood, Fort Whipple was declared obsolete, and all but caretakers and a few hospital personnel were withdrawn.  The remaining troops were sent to patrol the Mexican border because of a series of insurrections that at times threatened Southern Arizona communities. 

In May 1918, the Army reactivated Whipple, not as a fort but as a general hospital for care of patients with respiratory problems.  The June 5, 1918, flag raising ceremony lacked an Army bugler, so Grace Sparks, long-time Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce secretary, performed on the cornet.  Soon afterwards the War Department voiced misgivings about Prescott's moral climate, too much bootleg whiskey and too many immoral women free to ply their trade.  Mayor Morris Goldwater did what all 20th Century politicians do; he named a blue-ribbon committee to investigate.  The Brisley Drug Co. pled guilty to selling intoxicants consisting of fermented fountain syrup.  And that was about it. 

Once again, Whipple began to add significantly to the rolls of Prescott citizenry. 

One of the first World War I patients at Whipple was Marine Corps veteran John (Jack) Sills.  In 1920, Sills, despite opposition by the hospital administration, organized the Whipple Stage (bus) Line.  The hospital's commanding officer invested government funds in a surplus bus and started competitive service.  The government service failed after only one trip because the surplus bus could not negotiate Elks Hill.  Sills ran his Whipple Stage line for 45 years.  E. C. "Doc" Seale came to Whipple in 1921 as executive officer and resigned after two years to manage a Prescott service station.  He later owned Yavapai Fuel and Feed, was a three-term mayor, and served as county highway commissioner.  Another Whipple physician, Dr. James H. Allen established Prescott practice and helped develop Yavapai County Community Hospital.  Probably the best-known success story about former Whipple patients concerns the quintet of Peterson, Brooke, Steiner, Howard and Wist who individually and in partnerships started several local businesses.  The best known of these businesses, known as PBSW, at one time was the largest office, school, and athletic supply company in Arizona and remained in business from 1922 to 1963. 

That brings us to today, when Fort Whipple, now officially the "U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Prescott, Arizona," continues to serve the people of Prescott and the surrounding area although in a way far different from its role in Territorial days. 

Al Bates interest in Fort Whipple began about in 1940 when his father, a World War I veteran, spent six weeks in the Whipple veterans hospital.  During that time he and his mother lived at a motor court on Gurley street across from the Armory.  Al has fond memories of Saturday matinees at the Elks Theater and hours spent at the old Carnegie Library.  That's when he first came to love Prescott.  It took another 50 year before he, and his wife, managed to move here.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (po0596pd). Reuse only by permission.
In 1938 Mayor of New York City Fiorello LaGuardia returned to his childhood home of Prescott.  During the years from1892 to 1898, the Whipple band, led by his father, Achille LaGuardia, performed at every important event.