By Karen Despain
A small world of Murphys will descend on Prescott next week to weave more threads into their family’s tapestry.
Progeny of Billy and Julia Murphy already have one ancestral saga upon which to add more, and it is the anniversary of the particular episode – a tragic one – that will unite 80 of the clan for its first-ever reunion Nov. 6, 7 and 8.
“One hundred years ago this November, a violent incident in Arizona history will be the impetus for a family to reunite and tell old tales,” writes a Murphy great-grandchild, Peggy Ryan of Phoenix.
“A well-respected mining superintendent, Billy Murphy, was called out to the Trilby mine in the Red Picacho Peak area of the Bradshaws.
“He was informed of two claim jumpers working near the Trilby mine. The newspaper accounts vary slightly, but essentially Billy arrived on horseback to find the two men working in a restricted area.
“Words were exchanged, tempers flared, and the shooting began. The result was that two men died.
“My great-grandfather, Billy Murphy, was shot twice, once from the front and once in the back. He lived long enough to identify the shooters.”
Ryan says her family knows little more about Billy Murphy, other than tidbits researchers have found in old newspaper articles. There is little mention of the fact that Billy left his widow, Julia Purcell O’Connell Murphy, with seven children and another on the way.
What the Murphys have learned is that Billy was born in New York in 1854 and that somehow he got to the McMillen Camp (now a ghost town) near Globe. They also know that his mother’s maiden name was Gleason, and that his parents were born in Ireland.
A booklet of Murphy family history compiled by offspring digging into the past reveals that Julia was born in St. Louis, Mo., but no one knows whether it was in 1858 or 1863, because sources differ. Her family does know that she was an orphan and that she came to McMillen Camp with an aunt when she was about 14 or 15. Her parents were born in Ireland, too.
Billy and Julia met at the McMillen Camp and eloped to Globe, where their first two children were born. Billy supported his young family raising cattle and mining, and must have become a man if note because Gen. John C. Fremont, Arizona territorial governor, appointed him sheriff of Gila County in 1881.
Ryan notes that mining became her great-grandfather’s vocation and this search for livelihood apparently took the family all over Arizona.
“We know this because almost all of the children were born in different places around the territory – McMillen Camp, Tombstone, Globe, Tonto Rim and Prescott,” she writes.
“The family grew to eight children when the tragedy changed the family forever.”
The author of the family’s booklet of history says in a comment alongside a picture of Julia: “Julia here is a woman that commands our admiration. She raised her children under the most difficult circumstances. They were leaders, self-confidant, happy people. Hats off to Julia!”
“When Billy was killed in November 1898, and Walter yet to be born, Julia met her greatest challenge. Living at 209 N. Mt. Vernon in Prescott, she raised her eight children without any of the resources we know today,” the family history states. “The older children worked and there must have been help from the church and community.”
One daughter, Anna, told the story of her mother and her young brood when fire destroyed much of downtown Prescott in July 1900.
Julia sat her children down to eat all they could hold because she did not know when they would eat again. Fortunately the fire didn’t reach them.
The Murphy family has also gleaned that the Buckey O’Neill family helped Julia care for her fatherless children, even after Buckey died in the Spanish American War not long after Billy Murphy died.
Despite the tragedy of Billy’s death, the Murphy children grew into successful adulthood, Ryan notes.
“The Murphy children went on to be engineers for the highway departments in Ash Fork and Pearce; a campaign manager for Henry Ashurst, Arizona’s first U.S. senator; a Dominican priest; and an elementary school teacher.” One was a Phoenix city councilman and later mayor of that city.
Of Billy and Julia’s 12 grandchildren, 11 will gather in Prescott for the family reunion. Joining them will be about 70 more descendants who make up the Murphy, Wolfe and Hagan clans that emanate from the original Murphy tree.
“A lot of people will be meeting each other for the first time,” said Murphy grandson Joe, who now lives in Sedona.
On Friday, all will celebrate the birthday of one family member. Saturday, the group plans to visit Sharlot Hall Museum, the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza and then have lunch at The Palace bar and restaurant. After that, they plan to visit Julia’s and Billy’s graves at the Citizens Cemetery on Sheldon Street.
If there’s time and weather allows, “We want to have a softball game,” said Joe Murphy of Saturday’s festivities. Some will meet in Wickenburg for a trek to the Trilby mine.
The highlight of the reunion will be Saturday night at the Prescott Resort when Billy and Julia’s family meet for a banquet and storytelling. They hope to add more color and details to the picture they have painted of their family history.
Anyone in Prescott who has who has information about this Murphy tree may call Peggy Ryan in Phoenix, 602-277-6973, or Joe Murphy in Sedona, 520-282-4366.
“Stories are an important part of this reunion,” Ryan said. “Hopefully, a few new ones will surface and with sadness, wonder and amazement, we will honor the strength of our grandparents, the kindnesses of family friends, and the unique history of Arizona.”