Monthly Archives: December 2017

On Leaving 2017 Behind…

I’m sitting here on the next-to-last day of 2017, in my office. I am still in my pajamas at 3 p.m. Outside, the chilly day has bits of blue sky hiding behind patches of low fog. But the sun is mostly shining, I am warm, it is quiet, and my cat, Amos, is snuggled in his bed. He is staring at the curtain, waiting for drowsiness to overtake him for his fourth nap today.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve nearly always offer some solace that, right now, I have nothing urgent to do. Everybody out there has taken the week off, or is short-timing between three day weekends. I can spend at least one or two days lazing around my house, watching t.v., idly doing chores or doodling with my new gel pens. Or, I can work solely on what I want to work on for a change, no deadlines, no worries.

It is during this time that I, like many others, reflect on both the outgoing year and what the new one might bring. I did a lot last year: lived in our motorhome with my family for awhile, sold a house, bought a house, fixed it up, got rid of a lot of junk, settled into my new surroundings and did a lot of exploring. I did this on my own free will, taking on hardships and then working to overcome them. Not once did I ever go without money or a meal unless I chose to. Knowing that my fate was completely in my hands was quite freeing, as is knowing that my future is all up to me.

There are those catting around on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other social media sites who are saying the same thing they do every year: “I can’t WAIT for 2018!” and “Boy am I glad 2017 is over!” and worst of all, “Things will be better in the coming year!” How much better can they be if you sat around 2017 lamenting how awful your life was, and doing nothing to change it? And, was it really that awful? Are you going to solve it by making a list of resolutions for yourself for the coming year?

Screw that crap. Here’s what I found out: you don’t have to wait for January 1 to start fresh, lose weight, quit smoking, start working out, get a better job, deal with your health, find a new crowd, or improve your life. As my poor husband noshed on some pizza the other day, commenting how he should do it now before he starts control of his diet in the new year, I zapped him right where it hurt: his stomach. What if, I said, you began putting your diet in check right now, today, instead of setting yourself up for failure in January?

January 1 is just a calendar date. I myself happen to like even-numbered years for no apparent reason, and 2018 sounds great to me. But my personal resolutions were actually formed some time ago, and I plan to continue working on them with no time limit or start date in mind. That has included chasing off bad memories, incidents and people, some stemming from years ago. Those suckers have been loaded onto a train and it has chugged right out of Janville. I am certain the train will make a return trip. More baggage will be sent on its way as needed, and I am ready for it. There is no freight charge.

So here is my challenge to you: I submit that today, you can think of something you want to achieve right now, without waiting for the new year. Even though it’s only two days away, surely there is something you plan to do come January? Why not start right now. Live for this minute. Fool that little New Year’s Baby into thinking you’ll be carrying out your mission on January 1 (or January 2 if you have a hangover), and get the jump on him. Most importantly, whatever you do, even if it’s nothing, do it with vigor and purpose. And have a glorious 367 days until New Year’s Eve 2018, living your life the way you want to live it.

Nothing Ever Happens in Mayer…Until You Find Bones

C 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

When my husband and I first moved to Mayer, Arizona, the first fifteen people we met uttered the same sentence to us: “Nothing ever happens here.”

For the most part, they were right. Mayer, located south of Prescott, is a sleepy little town that once served as a stage stop and later a rail stop on the road south to Phoenix. There are a few small businesses, residents scattered in town and along the hills surrounding town, and a fine library. That’s about it.

One day in 2014, when I was working for the Prescott Daily Courier, I got a most interesting phone call. A man named Garry Cooper, who lived on the homestead of town founder Joe Mayer, had found some bones in his yard. What follows here are the articles I wrote for the Courier regarding the matter.

Mayer Resident Unearths Skeletal Remains in Yard

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

The digging of a grave for a beloved Mayer pet has led to the discovery that the spot is already taken.

Longtime resident Garry Cooper, who takes in rescue dogs, was recently shoveling out a final resting place for one of his beloved canines. “I have an elderly dog, Cubby,” he says, “and I started digging a burial spot for him.” After digging down two or three feet, Cooper found what resembled animal bones. But a friend who visited last week, and who works as a registered nurse, saw the remains and immediately determined they were human. She advised calling the police.

Local deputies from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Mayer arrived on the scene and immediately determined the burial was not recent. “We sent out an evidence technician and determined the remains to be of historic origin,” explains Dwight D’Evelyn, YSCO Media Relations Coordinator.

The case was referred to the Arizona State Museum but Todd Pitezel, Assistant Curator for Archaeology Mandated Programs confirmed on Thursday that the Museum “will not be excavating” the body. Pitezel said the case has now been referred to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. “I am consulting with the Hopi and Yavapai Prescott [tribes], and we will figure out what to do,” he says.

In the meantime several questions remain. Are the bones really those of a Native American? Whose body is it? And how did it get there?

When Cooper purchased his property in 1987, it was known as the former second home site of town founder Joe Mayer and his family. Mayer’s first home washed away in the flood of Big Bug Creek in February of 1891, so he rebuilt at the new location a bit further away from the creek. Mayer’s second home included a general store, post office and restaurant.

Mayer’s former home succumbed to fire in the early 1970’s, according to Cooper. Not much was left when Cooper acquired the property except the barn. The foundation posts were supported by metatas, grinding stones of the type local Native Americans would have used. The barn remains intact, and Cooper has since constructed a new house on the property. During various landscaping and construction projects over time, he also has  unearthed various artifacts, from glass and rusted metal to arrowheads and pottery shards.

Some of the items have been found while digging burials spots for Cooper’s other pets of the past, a total of nine in all. But there’s been nothing like this. “The two main leg bones are sticking out of the bank,” says Cooper, who ceased work and has covered the pit until officials can come and examine the remains. On Friday a member of the Yavapai Tribe, who did not wish to be identified, arrived for a brief look at the bones but declined to elaborate on what comes next.

Until an official examination takes place, speculations continue about the origins of the bones. They were found roughly twenty yards from Mayer’s former home. Cooper says the original terrain on the property was as much as two feet higher, so the body was originally buried four to five feet underground. Big Bug Creek, which runs nearby, is situated some twenty seven feet below the site. There are no records that Mayer, the little Frenchman with a big heart who was known for his generosity and kindness, offered up a final resting place for anyone prior to the Mayer Cemetery’s establishment in 1907.

Officials appear to be leaning towards the remains being of Native American origin. The theory is certainly plausible since Hohokam, Yavapai and other early agricultural tribes once inhabited the area. For now, however, the true ethnic origins of the skeleton remain a mystery. Cooper said he did not find any signs of clothing or other artifacts, just bones. He is worried, however, that the discovery might delay Cubby’s inevitable burial. “If my dog dies tomorrow,” he says, “I can’t dig another hole.”

Bones Likely Native American

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Human bones which were recently unearthed in a Mayer resident’s yard are thought to be Native American, according to authorities.

Earlier this month, Garry Cooper was digging a grave for his dog when he found some skeletal remains. Deputies at the Mayer substation called in Forensic Anthropologist and Evidence Technician Katie Hoffman, who determined the bones were indeed human, and very old. Hoffman recommended contacting the Arizona State Museum.

The remains were found on the former home site of town founder Joe Mayer. At one time the homestead included a post office, store and restaurant, but there is no evidence the Mr. Mayer offered up burial space as part of his services. By the time Cooper purchased the property in 1987 the old buildings were gone.

According to a report from the Yavapai County Sheriff, Cooper said the bones were unearthed close to the base of a large cottonwood that was once located on the property. In an interview last week, Cooper likened the tree to a “Centennial Witness Tree” across the street, which in 2012 was verified to be at least a century old. Cooper’s tree was dead, however, and he removed it.

Mayer’s cemetery was not founded in 1907. Because the area was once populated by Native Americans, and because Cooper has unearthed Native American artifacts on his property from time to time, the remains could very well date to before the town of Mayer was established. For now, however, the bones’ origins remain a mystery. “Unless it’s fully excavated, there’s no way to determine the origin,” Hoffman said.

On Thursday Todd Pitezel, Assistant Curator for Archaeology Mandated Programs confirmed that the case has been referred to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. But an official investigation to establish the origins of the skeleton may take several weeks or even months. “There’s always a lot of tape around these cases,” Hoffman said. “It can take a great deal of time.”

Mayer Bones Reburied

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

A Mayer resident who recently unearthed human remains now has an official grave on his property, as well as a new burial spot for his beloved dog.

Garry Cooper was digging a final resting place for his ill canine earlier this month when he accidentally unearthed human bones. Investigations by law enforcement and an evidence technician from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, a member of the Yavapai Tribe and officials from the Arizona State Museum concluded the skeletal remains were indeed human, and very old.

On Tuesday James T. Watson PhD, Assistant Curator of Bioarchaeology for the Arizona State Museum, visited the site to document the partially unearthed remains and rebury them. “I just want to see what material is here and what the relationship of the bones are,” Watson explained. “The most important thing is to determine whether the skeleton is Native American. If it is, obviously the tribe has say over its disposition.”

Watson, who makes about a dozen such field calls each year, says the absence of a skull could indicate the bones may have been exhumed elsewhere and reburied. Without observing morphological analysis of the cranium—aspects that would tie the bones into certain groups of ancestral people—there is no way to determine at this time whether the remains are Native American, Anglo or some other race.

Watson’s examination of the site included looking for artifacts that might better identify the remains, which according to him could be hundreds or even thousands of years old. The bones appear to be those of an adult, but it’s too soon to tell whether they are male or female. Upon completing his investigation, Watson planned to rebury the remains and dig a new grave for Cooper’s dog.

Whatever the conclusion when Watson files his official report, there are no plans to remove the bones out of respect for the body. “There is never a good reason to disturb human remains, ” he said. Cooper said he will later plant a tree to mark the spot, so that future property owners will know the bones are there.


Jerome, Arizona: America’s Ghost City

c 2016 by Jan MacKell Collins

Everyone, it seems, knows where Jerome is. From locals to tourists and people in far away places, this enigmatic little town—perched on Cleopatra Hill between Flagstaff and Prescott—draws visitors daily. There is an unexplainable charm about Jerome, ranging from its rollercoaster of historic mining eras to the unique shops scattered throughout town.

Jerome’s humble beginnings date to 1876 when the budding mining camp formed as claims were staked in the area. Copper was the name of the game, and in 1880, Frederick Augustus Tritle (soon to be Territorial Governor) and mining engineer Frederick Thomas began buying up claims. Soon after Tritle was named Governor, the partners brought in several eastern investors to form the United Verde Copper Company. One of them, attorney Eugene Jerome of New York, was made secretary and, consequently, the mining camp was named for him.

By 1883, Jerome had a post office and smelter. The “UV”, as it was known, also constructed wagon roads leading to Prescott, the Verde Valley and the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad at Ash Fork. A school opened in 1884. The miners of Jerome included those of American descent, but also Chinese, Croations, Irishmen, Italians, Mexicans and Spaniards. Their families mingled among each other and attended churches and social functions together.

The success of the UV was short-lived due to the price of copper falling by 50% in late 1884. Jerome suffered the first of many downward slides until about 1888, when William Clark purchased the mine, made improvements, enlarged the smelter and built the United Verde & Pacific Railroad to Jerome Junction some 27 miles from town. A public library opened in 1889, and by 1890 the population was up to 250 people.

Jerome eventually grew to be the fourth largest town in Arizona, but suffered from no less than four disastrous fires over time beginning in 1894. The town rebuilt after each conflagration, but also suffered issues as certain buildings occasionally slid downhill in the wake of jarring mine blasts. Hardy as it was, however, Jerome overcame these problems and incorporated in 1899. Local merchant and rancher William Munds was the first mayor, and within a year the population had reached 2,500 residents.

Being a large mining town naturally brought some unsavory elements to Jerome. Although there were plenty of upstanding businesses, there were also plenty of saloons, gambling halls and brothels. In 1903, the New York Sun dubbed Jerome “the wickedest town in the West”. Two years later, Mayor George W. Hull (who incidentally owned most of the land in town), ordered Jerome’s soiled doves to cease business along the main drag. The ladies complied, moving one street over—to Hull Avenue.

By 1917, Jerome’s mining industry was thoroughly broken in. There were roughly 20 working mines and during World War I, as copper prices reached an all—time high, miners went on strike for higher wages. Most of them were in turn deported from the district, some courtesy of two cattle cars belonging to the UV. The men were taken as far away as Kingman and even Columbus, New Mexico where they were released and advised never to set foot in Jerome again. Only a few of them ever returned.

The Great Depression once again slowed mining operations, and the UV was purchased by Phelps Dodge. Things picked up again due to high demand for copper during WWII, but the mine eventually closed again in 1953. Recognizing Jerome’s amazing and lively history, the Jerome Historical Society formed that same year. The Society began working with Phelps Dodge to preserve the town buildings, and even purchased numerous structures. In 1965, mine owner Jimmie Douglas’ palatial mansion on the outskirts of town was made into a state park, and two years later Jerome was designated a National Historic District.

Jerome’s history continues today with museums, shops and history spread all throughout the town. In 2012 the Jerome Historical Society formed the “Trilogy of Metals”, linking with Victor, Colorado and Virginia City, Nevada. Visitors can get a special passport, spend time and money in each town and return their stamped passport to the Historical Society for a wooden plaque with commemorative coins. A visit to Jerome is a great place to start, and end, an amazing journey about mining history.

Stories of Jerome’s wicked past can be found in Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona by Jan MacKell Collins.