By Mick Woodcock
Ever wonder what Prescott was like in its early days, back before photographs were taken? Many of us have, I'm sure, that is why it is a rare treat to discover a published account that opens the window to early days and times.
Such a window is provided by John G. Bourke in his classic On The Border With Crook, originally published in 1891. Although twenty years after his first visit, Bourke's account is clear in its presentation and conjures up a mental image of "our town" one hundred and twenty-eight years ago.
"A few words should be spoken in praise of a community which of all those on the southwestern frontier preserved the distinction of being thoroughly American. Prescott was not merely picturesque in location and dainty in appearance, with all its houses neatly painted and surrounded with paling fences and supplied with windows after the American style - it was a village transplanted bodily from the center of the Delaware, the Mohawk, or the Connecticut valley. Its inhabitants were Americans; American men had brought American wives out with them from their old homes in the far East, and these American wives had not forgotten the lessons of elegance and thrift learned in childhood. Everything about the houses recalled the scenes familiar to the dweller in the country near Pittsburgh or other busy community. The houses were built in American style; the doors were American doors and fastened with American bolts and locks, opened by American knobs, and not closed by letting a heavy cottonwood log fall against them.
The furniture was the neat cottage furniture with which all must be familiar who have ever had the privilege of entering an American country home; there were carpets, mirrors, rocking-chairs, tables, lamps, and all other appurtenances, just as one might expect to find them in any part of our country excepting Arizona and New Mexico. There were American books, American newspapers, American magazines - the last intelligently read. The language was American, and nothing else - the man who hoped to acquire a correct knowledge of Castilian in Prescott would surely be disappointed. Not even so much as a Spanish advertisement could be found in the columns of The Miner, in which, week after week, John H. Marion fought out the battle of "America for the Americans." The stores were American stores, selling nothing but American goods. In one word, the transition from Tucson to Prescott was as sudden and as radical as that between Madrid and Manchester.
In one respect only was there the slightest resemblance: in Prescott, as in Tucson, the gambling saloons were never closed Sunday or Monday, night or morning, the "game" went, and the voice of the "dealer" was heard in the land. Prescott was essentially a mining town deriving its business from the wants of the various "claims" on the Agua Fria, the Big Bug and Lynx Creek on the east, and others in the west as far as Cerbat and Mineral Park. There was an air of comfort about it which indicated intelligence and refinement rather than wealth which its people did not as yet enjoy.
Bourke's preoccupation with things being "American" stemmed from his culture shock introduction to the "American" Southwest which he found to be not too "American." A native of Pennsylvania, Bourke graduated from the Military Academy in 1869 and joined F company of the Third Cavalry. His march with them from Ft. Craig, New Mexico, to Camp Grant, Arizona in March 1870, transported him to a different culture entirely.
While Camp Grant was an American Army post, it was built somewhat on the "Mexican" plan with Army variations. Quoting Bourke, "There were three kinds of quarters at Old Camp Grant, and he who was reckless enough to make a choice of one passed the rest of his existence while at the post in growling at the better luck of the comrades who had selected either one of the others. There was the adobe house...the '"jacal"' sheds, built of upright logs, chinked with mud and roofed with smaller branches and more mud; and the tents, long since 'condemned' and forgotten by the quartermaster to whom they had originally been invoiced."
Bourke was then transferred to Camp Lowell on the edge of Tucson. Of that metropolis Bourke wrote, "My eyes and ears were open to the strange scenes and sounds which met them on every side. Tucson was as foreign a town as if it were in Hayti [Haiti] instead of within our own boundaries. The language, dress, funeral processions, religious ceremonies, feasts, dances, games, joys, perils, grieves, and tribulations of its population were something not to be looked for in the region east of the Missouri River." More was written, but space does not allow its current publication.
Although the years have passed, Prescott still retains some of Bourke's "American" charm and also the vision of a modern Prescott in the environs of the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Mick Woodcock is Registrar at the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (ina156pb). Reuse only by permission.
This photo by C.S.Fly in 1886, shows the council between General Crook (second from right front) and Geronimo (third from left front), arranging terms of surrender in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Capt. John G. Bourke is to General Crook's right.