By Al Bates
As important as Fort Whipple, the VA now sits were the old fort was situated, was to the area, relations between the civilians and the military were sometimes strained. Two particular incidents could have escalated into serious conflict between the miners and the military but for the timely intervention of Governor McCormick.
The first incident occurred sometime during 1865, before news of the confederate surrender reached central Arizona. A forged document indicated that an armed insurrection was at hand. Fort Whipple prepared for an attack and a sergeant and 25 soldiers started out on their own account to "clean out" Lynx Creek. Fortunately they encountered Governor McCormick who convinced them that to go into the well-armed mining camps with hostile intent was foolhardy. The soldiers returned to the Fort and things ultimately calmed down.
Probably the lowest point in relations between the miners and the soldiers came in the summer of 1867, when a group of 30 to 40 soldiers of the 14th Infantry Regiment decided to take over a Prescott bar for the evening. They began by running off the bartender. This irritated the half-dozen miners present who began firing their pistols at the soldiers. Luckily only one soldier was killed, knifed actually, and several were wounded or cut as they hastily departed, some though the front window. Again it was Governor McCormick who prevented the soldiers from retaliating, and serious bloodshed was averted.
Fort Whipple's contribution to Prescott's permanent resident population got a jumpstart in September, 1864, when most of the 1st California Volunteers were mustered out on expiration of their one-year enlistment. The garrison size dropped by eighty percent, from 124 to just 24, but many of these men stayed to mine or to pursue other civilian occupations in the Prescott area. An early example of Fort Whipple's contribution of permanent residents to Prescott was Dr. George Demetrius Kendall who commanded the post for short periods in 1865, and 1866. Mustered out in California, he returned to Prescott in 1867, as a doctor. He practiced medicine, ran a drugstore and served as Yavapai County coroner. He also was a county supervisor; was mayor of Prescott twice; was a member of the Territorial Legislature; and was the Yavapai County Physician.
It did not take long for the Fort to become prominent in the town's social scene. On January 30, 1869, the Fort Whipple Dramatic Association advertised a "thrilling drama in two acts" followed by a "screaming farce." Admission was $1.00 in the Prescott theater. The Arizona Miner followed with a favorable review.
The Miner was not always happy with what was going on at the Fort. In the November 20, 1869, issue Editor John Marion made sarcastic remarks about large force of cavalry that went in search of hostile savages and returned with all the Indians they saw, two "squaws." It was about that time that Marion was feuding with ex-Governor McCormick over the award of a Fort Whipple printing contract to McCormick's new Tucson newspaper. Marion described McCormick's paper the Arizonian as a newspaper fungi.
In those days, travel in Arizona Territory was chancy, and travelers had to be watchful if they were to survive. Mike Goldwater, his brother Joe, and a business partner were returning to Ehrenberg from an unsuccessful attempt to get a grain supply contract at Fort Whipple when they were ambushed by a band of some 30 Mojave Apaches. Joe Goldwater was seriously wounded but recovered, thanks in part to medical supplies rushed from the Fort.
The Indian problem became so bad that President Grant assigned General George Crook to command Army forces in the Territory. Already famous as an Indian fighter, Crook did not want the job. He was tired of Indian wars and was wary of the Arizona climate. However, he assumed command of the department of Arizona on June 2, 1871, with the intent to drive the Apaches to the assigned reservations and to keep them there. General Crook's first move on arriving at Prescott was to return the department headquarters to Fort Whipple.
For some time the headquarters had been at Los Angeles, and in the absence of railroad and telegraph, the headquarters might just as well have been in Alaska. Crook quickly established a corps of Indian Scouts. These were enlisted soldiers paid and armed by the Federal government, but recruited from among the local tribes. They were formed into 40 man companies with Indian non-coms and they were under nominal command of a white officer. Real control of these companies was vested in the civilian guides, or scouts as the press called them. Two of the best known of the civilians employed at the Fort to work with the Apache Scouts were Al Sieber and Tom Horn; both survived the Indian campaigns, but later met violent deaths. Horn was hanged, quite possibly unjustly, in Colorado in 1903, for murder. Sieber died in 1907, during construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. On the day of his death, Sieber was overseeing an Apache road crew. A six-ton boulder had to be removed, and the Apaches had undercut it on the downhill side and pried at it from above, but the huge rock would not budge. Late in the day, Al decided to check underneath to see what was holding it up. Bad timing; the rock finally started rolling with Sieber squashed underneath.
General Crook brought another budding scientist, John G. Bourke, to Whipple as his aide. Bourke was happy to leave the adobe of Tucson for the rural American-style homes of Prescott. To him the only thing that Prescott and Tucson had in common were their 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week gambling saloons.
Bourke began as an enlisted soldier at age 15 and was awarded the congressional Medal for gallantry in action during the Civil War. He graduated from West Point in 1865, and later was Crook's aide for 17 years. He became passionately interested in the Apache and the ethnology of all the Indian tribes. In 1884, Bourke published The Snake Dance of the Moquis of Arizona, the first scientific study of Hopi ritual, preceding by almost 20 years publication of the Fewkes Smithsonian report on Hopi Kachinas. This was but one of the three major ethnological works and almost 50 articles that Bourke produced. He also wrote three popular memoirs of the Indian campaigns, including the well-known On the Border with Crook.
General Crook's Indian campaign began in September 1872, and within seven months the last of the large bands of Indians surrendered. Crook discharged most of the Indian Scouts and their guides and brought the officers of his command to Whipple for parties, balls and such other diversions that Prescott had to offer. Thus began the period, 1873-83, later called by some of the participants "days of the Empire," as Whipple became increasingly important to the Prescott social scene.
Al Bates, an Independent Researcher and Active Member of the Prescott Corral of Westerners, will follow up occasionally with more history of Fort Whipple and the people who have lived there.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bure4137p). Reuse only by permission.
George Demetrius Kendall stands on the porch of his Marina Street home. Kendall was one of the early citizens of Prescott who originally arrived with the military and decided later to return to live permanently. Not only did he run a drugstore downtown, but served he also served in the territorial legislature.