The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, Arizona

Chapter Two: Holbrook

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, Arizona’s famous cattle outfit, available in paperback, Kindle and on audio at Amazon.com.

Arizona had a lot to offer the Hash Knife brand: lots of land at a good price, ample water, a workable climate and the chance to start over from the rough days in Texas and Montana. Arizona Territory had been established in 1863. By the 1870s, communities and ranches were springing up along major water sources, including the Little Colorado River dividing the north and south portions of the Territory. New settlers to the region included Mexican families, Mormons from Utah, and pioneers from the east.

Near the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Rio Puerco rivers was a place called Horsehead Crossing. At this remote spot, Juan Padilla built a house and Berado Frayre, or Frayde, ran a trading post and saloon. The trading post was also owned by Santiago Baca & Company for a time. It was said that “nobody left without food, even if they could not pay.” Edward Kinsley, of Boston, first laid eyes on Arizona as part of a survey team for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. At the time, the railroad was planning to lay tracks from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Mojave, California. The new rails would run very near Horsehead Crossing. When Kinsley returned to Boston, his mind was still on the abundant land he had observed in Arizona. Such a vast area would be the perfect place to raise cattle.

The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad made it to the Little Colorado in September of 1881. A year and a half later Baca, along with Pedro Montano, Henry H. Scorse and F.W. Smith, filed a plat for the town of Holbrook two miles west of Horsehead Crossing and right along the tracks. One of the first structures built at Holbrook was the depot. The community grew quickly as the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad made Holbrook a regular stop. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company saw an immediate opportunity to use Holbrook as a shipping point. Beginning in 1884, the company began bringing stock cars filled with cattle from Hash Knife operations in Texas. Holbrook soon became a popular shipping point and center of commerce in the region.

Twin brothers Adolph and Ben Schuster opened their A & B Schuster Company at Holbrook in 1884. For decades the Schusters reigned as prominent businessmen in Holbrook. The business later expanded to include a third brother, Max. Holbrook’s business district grew up around A & B Schuster’s and the town depot. Other early businesses included a Chinese restaurant, two saloons, a drugstore, a mercantile and William Armbruster’s blacksmith and wheelwright shop. A German immigrant, Armbruster first came to Arizona in about 1975. He would flourish in Holbrook for over 25 years.

In December of 1884, Edward Kinsley partnered with nephew Henry Kinsley, Frank Ames, James McCreery and a New York bank, Seligman & Seligman, to form the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. The men purchased a million acres from the Atlantic & Pacific for fifty cents per acre. By buying only the odd-numbered sections of land from the railroad, the company prevented other cattle companies from accessing the even-numbered sections. Thus the Aztec Land and Cattle Company owned the million acres they bought, and also had undisputed and sole access to another million acres. As the Aztec Land and Cattle Company began shipping cattle to Arizona, the Hash Knife brand was registered in Apache County on June 2, 1885. Henry Warren filed the paperwork and published and advertisement about it in the June 11 edition of the St. Johns Herald newspaper. The brand was also registered in Yavapai County, on August 22.

The first Aztec headquarters was constructed in 1885 ten miles west of Holbrook, on the south side of the Little Colorado River. The company spent $850 to construct a small ranch house measuring 14 feet by 24 feet, a tiny cookhouse and one or two outbuildings. Hash Knife cowboys were obviously not meant to spend much time here, but rather out on the range, spending the night at line camps as necessary. The line camps were scattered across the Aztec Land and Cattle Company range. At these remote places cowboys could rest, corral cattle, brand and perform other chores. Beginning in 1885, more line camps were built at Chavez Pass near Payson, Pine Springs, Mormon Mill, Sycamore and near Winslow, to name a few.

Edward Kinsley, meanwhile, had hired his nephew Henry, to work for the Hash Knife in Texas before appointing him assistant treasurer of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. Despite allegedly receiving only room and board during his first year, the Boston city boy appears to have taken to cowboy life quickly even if he was occasionally spoiled by his uncle. Soon after Kinsley’s arrival, in 1887, a second Aztec headquarters was located on Washington (later Santiago and then Alvarado) Street in Holbrook. The company shared quarters with the Masonic Lodge, renting the bottom floor for $150 annually. Henry Kinsley was living at the headquarters in 1888. Old timers say the Hash Knife also used the nearby Brunswick Hotel as a headquarters, but the hotel was not known by that name until the 1890’s.

A third headquarters was built four miles south of Joseph City not long after, or even in conjunction with, the headquarters at Holbrook. Most historians agree the construction date was 1886 and that buildings included a kitchen and dining room, the grain house and the main office. Plenty of cowboys whose names still ring a bell worked for the outfit back then. They included Tex Roxy, George Smith, “Peck”, Tom Pickett, Buck Lancaster, Don McDonald, George Agassiz, Ed Simpson and Frank Ames. The cook was Billy or Jeff Wilson. Hash Knife cowboy Frank Ames expressed his fondness for the brand by taking several photographs of the outfit during the 1880’s. Ames, from a well to do Massachusetts family, hired on in Texas, came to Arizona and eventually became the Aztec’s land agent. Thanks to Ames, images today include pictures portraying other cowboys for the outfit: wagon boss Ed Rogers, John Taylor, Charlie Baldridge, Jim Burdette, Don McDonald, Bill Smith, Tom Smith and Tom Beach. Surveyor William Vinal and area ranchers often stopped by the various headquarters for a visit. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company had plenty of neighbors with large spreads in their own right. Some of them later became involved with the Hash Knife. Well-known ranchers and businessmen of the area included Burt Potter, Jug Jackson and Joe Woods. Potter was Woods’ nephew. Both men did business over the years with the Hash Knife; Woods later ran the Pioneer Saloon in Holbrook. He also served as sheriff there.

As the Aztec Land and Cattle Company settled into Arizona, Holbrook continued to grow. A number of other businesses blossomed around the depot along the south side of the tracks. Holbrook’s population was about 250 citizens, with homes scattered around the downtown area. On June 26, 1888, a warehouse filled with wool inexplicably burst into flames burning most of the downtown. A & B Schuster’s, the Cottage Saloon and Frank Wattron’s drugstore were among the businesses to rise from the ashes. Within a year, other new businesses included a feed store, livery stable, restaurant and the Mormon Arizona Cooperative Mercantile Institution. Houses, some of which survived the fire, are still visible in the small neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown area. Holbrook’s fire actually enabled A & B Schuster to build even bigger and better. The company’s success eventually allowed the brothers to open branch stores and trading posts across Arizona, hiring managers to run them. By 1892, the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad depot had been rebuilt at Holbrook and the town was back in full swing as a busy transportation center. Pack trains such as the one pictured here hauled wool and other goods to and from the station. The rail stop was also used to haul sheep and thousands of Hash Knife cattle. Passenger service was available too.The Schusters eventually moved to Los Angeles. Ben died in 1911 and Adolph died in 1934. In 1952, A & B Schuster in Holbrook was recognized as the oldest continuously operated grocery outlet in Arizona.

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