By Jean Cross

As you travel down the hill on Interstate 17 to Camp Verde, the casual driver cannot help but be in awe of the vista before him: verdant valley, red rocks and limestone cliffs.  It is sometimes difficult to stay focused on the task of maneuvering down the hill with trucks and cars racing by.  It would almost seem that there should be reduced speed limits in such a scenic area to give the traveler a chance to absorb the beauty of such a panoramic scene. 

There was a time when travelers were forced to creep down this mountain on their way to Fort Verde and places to the east.  Between 1865 and 1870, a road paralleling today's Interstate 17 to the west was the route used by freighters and military between Fort Whipple and the Verde Valley.  Without modern technology, the builders of this road could not have known that the course they chose to traverse this mountain was probably the most difficult one in the area.  The road climbed out of the valley a few miles west of the present location of the town of Camp Verde, up the precipitous and unbelievable rough terrain to the top of the hill.  The Arizona Miner of February, 1870, gives credence to the name of this road when it referred to it as "an infernal break-neck pitch known as Grief Hill."


The following is an excerpt from an article written by Bob Munson appearing in The Journal of January 26, l994: 

"The earliest penetration of the Verde Valley by a vehicle requiring a road was by wagons of the Swetnam party in February 1865.  The fact these men were able to bring a wagon into the valley suggests that a crude track may have been previously constructed by the hay cutters operating in the valley in 1864, or possibly by early rancher King Woolsey. 

It appears this road was along the route now referred to as the Grief Hill Road.  By August 1865, the settlers were taking wagonloads of grain to Prescott and returning with supplies, again suggesting the presence of a road.  When the Verde Valley's first garrison, Company K, 1st New Mexico Cavalry, entered the valley they did so over the Grief Hill route.  The fact this was probably not much of a road is suggested by the fact their wagon tipped over within 100 yards of beginning the descent into the valley." 

Grief Hill has attained some of its fame from tales of Indian attacks in the vicinity, in fact, legends of the Grief Hill Massacre may be found in old accounts of the area.  In 1972, Jess Goddard and John Schreiber, while exploring the route, found wagon parts and what looked like six mounds giving some credence to the massacre tales.  However, Museum of Northern Arizona personnel visiting the site at an earlier date concluded that the mounds were actually the remains of mescal pits previously constructed by historic Yavapai and Apache Indians. 

Records from the U.S. Army personnel at Fort Verde do report, on two occasions, when there were some sort of attacks by Indians.  A Private was killed when a detachment of Company "C", 14th Infantry was attacked on Grief Hill in December of 1866.  Another attack occurred in May of l869, when an escort of one sergeant and four privates from Company B, 8th U.S. Cavalry and one corporal with three privates from Company C, 14th Infantry Guard were detailed to guard a train from Fort Whipple.  It was attacked by a band of about 100-200 Indians at the foot of Grief Hill.  Five of the escorts were wounded and one man was killed.  The entire train was confiscated by the attackers.  These two attacks are the only ones recorded by troops at Fort Verde. 

Schreiber, in his account, concluded: "Legends and myths once conjured up are sometimes hard to kill.  Such is the case of Grief Hill and its "Massacre".  It would seem more proper to honor the pioneers and early soldiers who developed the first wagon road into the Verde Valley by remembering Grief Hill for the hardships they suffered, than to continue the legend of a massacre that could hardly have ever been a fact." 

Since this road proved to be such a difficult one due to its very steep and rough terrain, it was used only until 1870, when troops of the 21st Infantry stationed at Fort Verde began a new road through Copper Canyon.  A century later, with the use of bulldozers and modern equipment, a road was built in this same canyon with four paved lanes and a median allowing modern conveyances to travel this same route in a matter of minutes when in the late 1800's, a wagon could take several days.  It would seem that the name Grief Hill could now be changed to Brief Hill. 

Recently activity on the old road has begun to increase due to a local organization desire to preserve old roads and document their history.  On January 9th, about 24 members of the Historic Trails Committee and interested people turned out to begin their first adventure into locating a historic trail.  Under the leadership of Eldon Bowman of Flagstaff, the caravan proceeded north along a dirt road to a staging area where horses were unloaded, riders saddled, and hikers assembled to begin the task of locating the Stoneman Trail on the south side of Grief Hill. 

The neophyte pathfinders were shown the location of the trail on the top of the hill as determined by Eldon Bowman, Denis Lockhart and Bill Cowan in the fall of l998.  Though evidence of the trail was difficult to recognize, even by a seasoned pathfinder, the search followed a predetermined but not confirmed route.  The activity took the form of working in groups and looking to left and right of this marked path.  Since no other area seemed to contain evidence of a trail, our leaders seemed satisfied that their original determination was, indeed, the correct one. 

This first experience in locating a historic trail proved to be a valuable one in many ways.  Participants not only received some first-hand experience in locating and hopefully preserving an important historic trail, but they had the privilege of working with leaders who have the expertise necessary to recognize the telltale signs which indicate the presence of such a trail.  An added bonus manifested itself in being in such a picturesque setting on such a beautiful day.  A spirit of camaraderie prevailed as participants became weary from trudging over the rocky terrain and a lunch break was indeed a welcome respite. 

This activity has been the result of the efforts of a group of hardy souls who have persevered in organizing a group to locate, record and to preserve the historic landmarks in the Prescott area.  Beginning with the organization of a Historic Trails Conference last August, interested attendees have been meeting to form a Historic Trail Committee.  While still in its formation, Eldon Bowman called Mary Banning to propose the activity recorded above.  Needless to say, acceptance was unanimous.  Some upcoming events include a program on the Hardyville Road by Bruce Fee at Sharlot Hall Museum today at 2:00 p.m., a field trip along part of the Hardyville Road on the following Saturday, February 27, led by Bruce Fee and Jay Eby and a field trip to Camp Date Creek later in the Spring.  Both trips require pre-registration with the Museum at 445-3122 and more events are posted at  If you wish to join the Historic Trails Committee, information may be obtained by calling Mary Banning at 632-7222. 

Jean Cross is an Active Member of the Historic Trails subcommittee of the Yavapai Trails Association.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (mil171p). Reuse only by permission.
In the 1870s Prescott's Fort Whipple was on one end of the busy trail that ran to the Verde Valley.  This trail's crux was where wagons encountered "an infernal break-neck pitch known as Grief Hill."  Recently, a local group is trying to identify and preserve this road.