By William Bork
Prescott prior to WW II, and even into the fifties, was a town set in a landscape which provided a natural playground for growing children. If we headed in any direction, a distance of three or four blocks or so, we were in the midst of mostly untouched countryside. The area was especially attractive on the west side of town because of the piney woods and rocks from under which there seeped small amounts of water which often flowed all year round.
Aspen, Butte, Miller, and upper Granite and Wolf Creeks in the Spring always had tadpoles and often waterdogs (axolotls) which we captured and took home to watch as they went through their stages of growth. The Emory oaks in the fall had many red-shelled acorns with delicious orange-colored kernels, and the shrub oaks bore acorns with white kernels. We did not know it then, but these were part of the staple diet of our predecessors hereabouts, the Yavapai Indians. There were also pinyon trees with their tasty nuts like the pine nuts still cultivated for sale in Italy and elsewhere on the Mediterranean.
Nowadays it is still apparent to anyone who perceives such things that Prescott is basically a place of two climates. If one draws a diagonal line across the city map from about the last block of South Mount Vernon Street toward the edge of town at Ponderosa Plaza across Iron Springs Road, he roughly traces the boundary between what is pine and oak forest and what is called "chaparral". Northeast of the line one seldom saw a ponderosa pine or many Emory oaks. Along the creeks there were and still are willows and cottonwoods. The pinyon is the only pine, and the oaks are nearly all shrub, with cedars and junipers dispersed among the other shrubs, which include squaw bush (three-lobed sumach), Fremont's barberry, service berry, manzanita, and, of course, many wild grape vines, plus Virginia creeper (woodbine), among others. One finds what is thought of as the typical Eastern or European mistletoe on the cottonwoods, and a very different kind on cedars and junipers, with a kind of dwarfed Eastern-like growth on the shrub oaks.
This climatic difference is also noticeable in the fact that the soil in the east end of town is red of volcanic origin, and the stones lying on undisturbed surfaces are basaltic instead of granitic as on the west side. Geologists tell us that these differences are due to the primeval eruption of a great mountain of which there now remains only Glassford Hill.
As kids in Prescott, we were sort of subconsciously aware of these "climate differences", I believe, and later, much later, in retirement, perceived or learned what pioneer residents, as well as the native Yavapai, were forced to do in order to survive off the land.
In the mid 1850s, when the Gadsden Purchase took place, everything north of the Gila River was wilderness. Advent of the Civil War a scarce ten years later brought the creation of Arizona Territory and the arrival, mostly, of Anglo-Saxon Americans from New England, the Middle Atlantic States and Ohio. Kentuckians and Tennesseeans there were also, and not a few German and Swiss immigrants. Southerners were few because of the Civil War, so that the new arrivals were forced to live off the land occupied by the Yavapais and Hualapais and some of the Apaches. These whites were unused to such survival foods as acorns and cactus and yucca fruits. They were used to pork and beef, all of which had to be brought from places almost always no closer than five hundred miles. Deer, antelope, and sometimes black bear furnished sufficient meat in the early beginning with squirrels and rabbits also filling in, as can be seen in early notices in the Arizona Miner, Arizona Territory's first and only newspaper, a weekly. Flour for bread was scarce and expensive, often not available. Beans were a scarce staple, although New Mexican and Sonoran traders brought some from the very early days of the white man here.
White settlers, of course, were competing directly with the native Yavapai whose right to exist and live off the land they made no effort to recognize. By the beginning of the 1900s those of us first and second generation sons and daughters born in those years knew little of the early pioneers and even less of the native peoples, but we enjoyed an easy acquaintance with the open countryside surrounding our little city of Prescott.
William Bork was born in Prescott in 1906.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (pb006i1). Reuse only by permission.
Park Avenue was open space in this photograph from about 1910.