C 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins
Copperoplis. Fool’s Gulch. Gold Bar. These were just some of the monikers the pioneers of Yavapai County, Arizona assigned to their settlements. More than a few figured these places would blossom into large metropolises one day, while others simply conjured up a quick name to identify where they were. Either way, the pioneers brought high hopes—and sometimes not much more—when they blazed a trail into this region.
As one of the four original counties established in Arizona in 1865, Yavapai was home early on to thousands of soldiers, ranchers, prospectors and capitalists. Although the county’s current boundaries were established in 1891, close to 200 settlements remain within the 8,100 or so acres that comprise Yavapai today. They range from ranches to stations to whistle stops, with a good smattering of incorporated towns and cities in between. Prescott remains the county seat, with other places like Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Dewey and at least part of Sedona holding their own with large populations. Still others, such as Crown King, Cleator and Jerome sport smaller populations while retaining their historic charm. Scattered in between these places are the remains of towns and camps whose usefulness has ceased for living inhabitants.
The earliest settlements were often named after local landmarks. Anvil Rock Station comes to mind, as does Black Canyon City, Fair Oaks, Glen Oaks and Rock Springs. When the military began exploring the area, their forts and camps were often named in honor of their officers and scouts: Camp McPherson (after General James McPherson) and Fort Whipple (after Lieutenant Emil Whipple), for instance.
More pioneers were honored as ranchers began establishing spreads in the region. The ranches of George Banghart, Theodore Boggs, King Woolsey, James Storm and others became known as settlements, often because a post office was established there or sometimes because one could buy supplies, hear the latest news or even spend the night on the way to somewhere else.
Later, as prospectors discovered gold, copper and other precious metals here, the mines they staked often blossomed into towns. Blue Bell was named after a mine, as were Bueno, Catoctin, Columbia, Congress, Constellation, Hillside, McCabe, Richinbar and Senator, just to name a few. Interestingly, the camp of Crown Point and its mine were both named for a mine at Gold Hill, Nevada.
Stage roads eventually popped up between many towns, but the long distances created a need for such rest stops as the American Ranch, Cienega, Cordes, Gilbert, Goddards and many others. Railroads began connecting the towns beginning in the 1870’s. Places like Abra, Botkin, Clearwater, Hawkins and numerous other stations were established along the tracks. Some, such as the whistlestop of Fields, were named for railroad men.
And then there are those names whose origins seem comical or even puzzling. Was Alexandra so named for co-founder T.M. Alexander, or was it named for his wife, whose name would have been Alexandra Alexander? Arizona City almost certainly hoped to bloom into something bigger when it was founded. Big Bug and Bumble Bee were indeed named for local insects. Cornville was meant to be called Cohnville after a local family; there’s no corn there. Fort Misery was jokingly so–named by its builder, Al Francis. Bagdad wasn’t named for the capital of Iraq but because some kid allegedly asked his father to “Hand me the bag, Dad.” And Skull Valley is actually named for a local landmark, not someone’s displaced head as the name implies.
No matter the name, the intrigue remains the same. Yavapai County’s towns remain as interesting to history buffs now as they did to their founders 150 years ago.