c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette.
Much like the fuzzy little insect, Bumblebee—located in southern Yavapai County just off of Interstate 17—has seen several flights of fancy. Since 1863 the tiny community has served as a short-lived mining camp, stage stop, post office, tourist attraction and these days, an historic landmark for ghost town enthusiasts.
There are no less than three stories explaining how Bumblebee got its name, all involving the flying critters and a nearby creek. Only forest ranger L.J. Putsch, however, ever offered evidence of a first-hand account. “Uncle Tom Saunders told me that in 1863 he and some other prospectors found a bumblebee’s nest full of honey in the cliffs along the creek,” Putsch wrote to historian and rancher Will C. Barnes. “Several of the party were badly stung so they named it Bumble Bee Creek.”
It should be noted that Bumblebee was originally not called that at all. The community was first known as Snyder’s Station after rancher W.W. Snyder. The name stuck until the first of several post offices was established as Bumblebee in 1879. Snyder was naturally the first postmaster, but Bumblebee’s series of stop—and—start post offices are indeed an enigma; postal stations were established and discontinued there twice in 1879, twice again in 1888, once in 1901 and a final time in 1928.
Although those early bee-bitten prospectors did find a bit of gold, by 1877 Bumblebee had become most useful as a stage stop between Prescott and Phoenix with several mining camps in between. An article in the Arizona Weekly Miner that year talked of a man named Besler who planned to build a stage station at “Bumble Bee Flat.” Mines such as the Bumble Bee and the Lucky Mack were staked in 1879 without much luck. In 1880 James Bobo served as station agent and postmaster, making around $46 per month.
News of Bumblebee over the next twenty years was scarce, but the town was still buzzing enough in 1902 to merit a postal contract extending to the town of Richinbar down today’s I-17 under J.R. Lowry. The Snyder family was still there too, as evidenced by an article about the marriage of W.W.’s daughter in 1907. Other prominent citizens included pioneers William Martin and Carl Anderson who settled in 1911 and 1912 respectively, and storekeepers William and Edna Martin.
As with so many rural towns, death visited Bumblebee often. Newspapers reported on the deaths of Carl Smith and a Mrs. Jackson’s new baby in 1907. In 1924, widow Susan Neatherland died at the Hidden Treasure Mine near Bumblebee. There were also a few murders, including the 1925 beating death of 75-year-old Thomas Glasgow, the 1929 shooting death of sheep herder Juan Chacon, and the killing of Carl Wester by gunshot in 1931. And in 1933 an unidentified man, apparently a suicide, was also found near town.
During the late 1930’s, business entrepreneurs saw gold in Bumblebee yet, and worked to turn it into a tourist mecca. New construction, credited to one Jeff Martin, added old—fashioned looking buildings to the site. A souvenir trading post and café was established in the old school. The “new” portion of the town was actually located some 250 feet west of the original site, but over time people lost interest in both. Bumblebee in its entirety was put up for sale in 1949.
In 1960 there were still ten souls living in Bumblebee proper. That year, eastern newspaper owner Charles Penn made news when he bought the town. Penn moved to Bumblebee and intended to open a railroad museum there, but died in 1962 before he could achieve his dream. The community was still privately owned in 1969, but the post office remained active until 1972.
Today Bumblebee is home to a large ranch and several private homes. The old faux buildings are gone, the souvenir shop is closed and there are no open businesses at this time. The town is visible from the Sunset Point rest stop along Interstate 17 (see photo) and is accessible via Exit 248. Although the trip to Bumblebee is worthwhile, visitors are advised to drive carefully, watch for off-roaders, and respect private property while visiting.