Category Archives: Prescott Arizona

Granite Dells, Where Prescott Played

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Daily Courier.

Ask anyone around Prescott Arizona, and they will tell you that Granite Dells is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the west. Here, giant rounded boulders and stunning rock formations hover over the crisp blue water of Watson Lake. Nooks and crannies around the perimeter of the lake offer shady trees, wide meadows and a host of trails where almost all of the area can be easily accessed.

The history of the famous Granite Dells Resort begins in the 1882 when Thomas Wing arrived on a prospecting mission. The family lived in Prescott but homesteaded some land at Point of Rocks, a well known landmark just north of town. The ground was quite fertile and included a small pond. Wing exchanged his pick ax for a rake and began growing fruit, which was sold from the family fruit stand.

The Wings fell in love with Point of Rocks and gave it the more romantic name of Granite Dells. The area was highly attractive to locals and visitors. In 1893 the Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix Railroad was built, and the stretch of track winding through the Dells became known as the “Peavine.” By 1899 the Wings had roughly 500 fruit trees and thousands of grapevines. An article about them in the Prescott Courier praised the successful farm. “People who visit Prescott should not fail to see Granite Dells,” wrote editor E.A. Rogers. “After seeing it, everyone will say that all other spots are in second place.”

After Thomas Wing died in 1905, his family set about expanding the amenities at Granite Dells. The public was welcome to dip in the “Indian Swimming Pond,” so-named because the Wings believed it to have been built by Native Americans. The high and dry altitude also made the place suitable for a tuberculosis sanitarium, which opened in 1902 under a Dr. Sawyer and Major Lovell. But the biggest attraction of all was the “Granite Dells resort and tent city”, which premiered in 1907.

A grand opening was held on May 5. The fun would include the swimming hole, all of the “well known natural attractions” of the area, and the newly built Dells Diamond baseball field, which featured a game between the Diamond Jo’s and a team from Jerome. The resort was a success, and other homesteaders settled around it as Granite Dells grew in popularity. The area became even better known in 1914, when Granite Creek was dammed to form Watson Lake. By 1920 there were several orchards, a dairy, and a University of Arizona Experimental Station. The population was around 140 people.

In 1922 Wing’s grandsons, Morris and Howell Payne, decided to cement the Indian swimming pond and make a proper pool. Over time, this whimsical project included miniature bridges, various slides and a number of diving boards. At its height, the resort included an A-shaped pool with a diving island, a bathhouse, public dance hall, picnic grounds, a fishing lake and five cabins for rent. Lawn bowling was also available, and even a roller skating rink was built.

The pool was not without the occasional tragedy, such as the accidental drowning of Donald Olverius in 1927. Overall, however, Granite Dells had a good safety reputation with very few mishaps. A second body of water, Willow Lake, was constructed in 1935. Now Granite Dells sat nestled right in between Willow and Watson Lakes, and the entire area became the playground of Prescott with thousands of annual visitors.

By the 1940’s, Granite Dells resort featured beautiful gardens, and the dance hall hosted a meet-and-greet for Prescott High School teachers in 1948. Bands played there too, and celebrities were among the visitors. They included Abbott and Costello, who were said to have practiced their “Who’s on First” routine at Dells Diamond, as well as actors Tex Ritter and Tom Mix. At least three movies were filmed there: Rainbow Over the Range in 1940, Arizona Bound in 1941 and Leave Her to Heaven in 1945. By the 1950’s, Granite Dells was known nationwide. The swimming pool remained immensely popular until 1971, when the elderly Paynes found it too hard to run things. The pool managed to reopen in 1978, closing for good in 1982.

There are still plenty of people with fond memories of the Granite Dells Resort, and many wish it would reopen. For now, Watson and Willow Lakes still provide stellar views, hiking, fishing and boating. Point of Rocks Campground also provides accommodations for both tents and RV’s. Summer, winter, spring or fall, Granite Dells remains a fabulous place to visit.

Here’s to the Ladies of Prescott Who Rode Fast Horses

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

When it was first recorded in 1884, the term “cowgirl” referred to a female rancher or even a rancher’s daughter. In time, this single word also came to mean a female cowpuncher, and soon also applied to the resolute and hardy women who rode the rodeo circuit. In the Victorian west, a woman riding rodeo must have seemed appalling to some. But those in the game knew that gals coming from ranching backgrounds, where they worked with horses and cattle daily, were tough gals indeed.

In time, rodeo women became celebrities in their own right. They were vindicated heroes to other women, and men found them both pretty and impressive. During the 1880’s, during a surge of determined western estrogen, more and more women entered the arena at fairs, round ups and shows. Seven gals in particular watched as Prescott, Arizona held its first-ever rodeo in 1888. The following year, when promoters decided to add a women’s “contest”, they were elated.

Those first seven female contestants in 1889 were all locals, who had been born and raised on area ranches. They were “Mesdames T. Atto, Celia Book, D.W. Thorne and Misses Mollie Baker, Minnie Bargeman, Mary Boblett and Lizzie Dillon.” The women would perform in a single competition. A beautiful saddle would go to the winner; her runner-up would receive a fine bridle.

The event took place at the “Driving Park” in the afternoon of the rodeo’s last day. It was Friday, and crowds made their way to see this novel attraction. A cowboy tournament was scheduled too, but the “ladies riding” proved far more appealing. “Greater interest was manifested in the latter than in any of the previous days’ sports of the track,” noted the Prescott Journal-Miner, “every available vehicle and animal in the town being pressed into service to carry passengers, business of all kinds being closed for the afternoon.”

No doubt some betting money was exchanged as the cowgirls took their places. Seven judges—George Augustine, Orick Jackson, Frank Kuehne, Juan Leibas, George L. Merritt, James Rourke and Jeff Young—assembled to watch the contest. How it all went was not recorded by local papers, but the crowd was surely amazed and amused all at the same time. Lizzie Dillon won the saddle and Mary Boblett, a cousin to then-budding historian Sharlot Hall, received the bridle.

They say that despite it’s success, no other “ladies riding” contests took place at Prescott until the 1920’s. Lizzie Dillon married Tom Turner in 1891 and settled down. Likewise for Mary Boblett, who married Amos Hall in 1890, and Minnie Bargeman, who married that same year. Notably, lots of women back then competed no more than once, settling into domestic life with a satisfied smirk on their faces. Others, however, pursued rodeo as a career and did quite well.

But it was not forgotten that those seven brazen and talented women had busted right into the rodeo industry, and their courage inspired others. Soon, trick riders—including amazing women who dove horses into water from high in the air—were all the rage. It could be said that trick shooter Annie Oakley was truly one of America’s first sweethearts. And, their gussied up and colorful outfits inspired men to start adding shiny buttons and polished accouterments to their outfits, too.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performances, circuses and other events featuring equestrian performances were soon featuring women like Mabel Strickland (pictured) and Tad Lucas, dubbed “Rodeo’s First Lady”. During the early 1900’s, heads turned when Fannie Sperry rode “slick”, the same as the men did. Slick riding consisted of tying the stirrups together under the horse’s belly and sticking your feet in for better balance in the saddle. It could also be dangerous, since it was harder for the rider to kick free if the horse went down.

Prescott’s rodeo cowgirls of 1889 may be in the past, but plenty of other ladies have saddled up in the time since. These include such champions as three-time winner Shirley Davis during the 1960’s, rodeo veteran Alexa Allred during the 70’s, Rose Webb in the 80’s, Twila Haller during the 90’s and most recently, Sheri Sinor-Estrada. These and many others have been recipients of cash prizes and shiny buckles, and there will be more.