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Let’s Take a Look at the “High Country”

by Peg Matteson, Maverick Arizona Historian

I am still confused as to what the Phoenix TV newscasters consider the high country here in Arizona, but most of the time they are talking about the Prescott and Flagstaff areas. Soooo… we will start it from there in Prescott (I-40 – Hwy 89), which is actually just a few hours’ drive from our Rim Country and here is where we will find what I want to tell you readers about this issue, old Fort Whipple, about one mile northeast of Prescott, Hwy 89.

In May of 1864, the fort—then known as Camp Clark, was moved, along with Prescott (our territorial capital) about 18 miles south to a site closer to the gold diggings at Granite Creek. The post was renamed Fort Whipple, after General Amiel Whipple who had recently fallen in the Battle of Chancellorsville (although it was also called Prescott Barracks).

During the 1860s, Fort Whipple was a primitive post with a scattering of rough-hewn cabins. The soldiers were kept on constant alert as they were surrounded by hostile bands of Apaches and Yavapai Indians. The post records indicated numerous punitive expeditions left from the fort during these years, and the then-thriving community of Prescott, offered those stationed there amenities not found elsewhere in Arizona in those days.

The Apache Wars ended in 1886, which quieted down Fort Whipple and lead to it eventually being abandoned in 1898 only to reopen four years later and stay open until 1913, when it was permanently closed as an Army post. In 1922, the facility was turned over to the Public Health Service and Fort Whipple became a veteran’s hospital, which it still is today.

Now while researching the high country to write this article, I came across a canyon I have never heard of before. It is called Hell Canyon and I went ahead and researched it further. Here, I found what I consider to be Arizona history. It evidently is located on Hwy 89, but for some reason when they completed 89 during the 50s, they took the thrill out of the drive through Hell Canyon, which, incidentally, is located between Paulden and Ash Fork, and has very treacherous twists and turns (which today motorists glide by hardly noticing the deep chasm).

Here is the story I found about Hell Canyon, which I thought would interest our readers. In 1885, a raging snowstorm at Hell Canyon delayed the stage the Tucson delegation to the 13th Territorial Assembly was taking to Prescott. High waters on the Salt River had already caused a major detour, and now time was of the essence as the Tucson delegation was hoping to bring Arizona’s capital on wheels back to Tucson and were trying to get to the assembly in time to make their bid. When the stage became snowbound, a desperate delegate named Bob Leatherwood rode a mule the rest of the way to Prescott carrying a satchel full of money (supposedly to throw some vote-winning galas), but he arrived too late. Prescott’s political warrior, Buckey O’Neill, had already partied his way into victory and Prescott retained its capital status.

So, that is the story I found about Hell Canyon. Maybe next time we’ll have time to look at Granite Dells and Chino Valley in this high country area of our Arizona… our state with a heart.

See you all next month and a Happy Mother’s Day to our ladies!

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