Tag Archives: Arizona

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.


Arizona Charlie Meadows, Famed Showman of the West

Arizona Charlie Meadows

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.

What a presence! The sight of this six-foot-six, long-haired, mustachioed man from the wild west must have been startling to the citizens of Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1895, but one thing was for sure: Arizona Charlie Meadows would make an indelible mark in the history of the Cripple Creek District.

Born on March 10, 1860 in California, Abraham Henson “Charlie” Meadows was the sixth of twelve children. His parents, John and Margaret Meadows, lived near what is now Visalia, California. The family moved, first to a cattle ranch near Payson, Arizona in 1877 and later to Diamond Valley some 80 miles from Prescott, where Charlie began developing his skills as a marksman and roper (his younger brother, Mobley “Kid” Meadows, later became an expert trick rider).

In July 1882, the family ranch was attacked by Apache Indians who had already caused much havoc in the area. Altogether over 40 people were killed, including Charlie’s father and brother. Another brother was seriously wounded. Charlie, who was some 16 miles away at the time, arrived home to find his family devastated with over 40 horses and 60 cows missing, and the family crops destroyed. Charlie’s own account of the incident was published in local newspapers.

Margaret Meadows took her surviving children to Phoenix, and Charlie found himself on his own. For the next several years he roamed the west and became known for his shooting and roping talents. He was named “King of the Cowboys” at the Territorial Fair in Phoenix in 1888 after roping a steer in just 50 seconds. He also participated in Prescott’s very first annual rodeo that same year.

At one show, Charlie’s skills were spotted by none other than Buffalo Bill, who immediately hired the showman for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. For the next several years, Meadows toured with the show through Europe and even performed for the Queen of England. Later, Charlie joined the Wirth Brothers Wild West Show and traveled through Australia, New Zealand and the far East before forming his own show in 1893. The troupe toured all over, including California, before going broke. Undaunted, Meadows next joined up with another wild west show until the show’s circus also went broke.

In 1895, Charlie Meadows next landed in Gillette, Colorado, located four miles from Cripple Creek. Along with Joe Wolfe of Cripple Creek’s Palace Hotel, Meadows decided to stage the first “legal” bullfight ever officially recorded in the United States. The pair borrowed $5,000, built a 5,000 seat amphitheater at Tutt & Penrose’s racetrack for the event, and called their endeavor the Joe Wolfe Grand National Spanish Bull Fight Company. They even imported matadors from Mexico.

About 3,000 people attended the first day of the fights, despite the Colorado Springs Gazette’s article which labeled the event as inhumane: “If it be illegal to import bulls for fighting at the Atlanta Exposition, surely it must be illegal to import them across the border for fighting at the Gillette Exposition.” In the end, the bulls that were supposed to be imported from Mexico were prevented from entering the U.S. at the Texas border. Wolfe and Meadows ended up using local bulls, whose complacent natures were hardly conducive to those of their feistier Mexican counterparts. What was intended to be an exciting event turned into a slow and cruel death for the animals.

Americans didn’t care for the grisly killings; less than 300 people showed for the fight on the second day. Wolfe and Meadows were arrested after canceling the fight for the third day. The one saving grace was that meat from the slaughtered bulls was distributed among the city’s poor. In the wake of the fray, Meadows disappeared from sight, never to be seen in Cripple Creek again.

So what happened to him?

Turns out that Charlie beat his hasty retreat back to Arizona. Before long, he chose Alaska for his next scene of conquer. By the time he arrived there in 1897, he had secured a portable bar, restaurant and gambling equipment. With him was his “wife”, a showgirl named Mae McKamish Melbourne. Described as having “a peach-like complexion and a marvelous figure”, Mae was the perfect match for Charlie.

In 1898, Mae and her magnificent paramour narrowly escaped a flood on their way to the Klondike. “Charlie said if he had a Kadac [Kodak photograph] of me as I was running from the Sheep’s Camp flood,” Mae later said, “there would not any use of going to the Klondike, as that would be a gold mine in itself.”

The couple lost most of the equipment for their new business endeavor, but began again in Dawson. There, Mae wisely invested in mining claims, which soon amounted to $100,000. Charlie, meanwhile, earned ample money by selling provisions to miners. On April 1, 1898, he also printed the first edition of a souvenir paper called the Klondike News. Like almost everything else he put his hand to, Charlie did well with his newspaper; gold king Antone Stander even paid the entrepreneur to print a story about him in that first issue, about Stander’s engagement to Miss Violet Raymond.

By 1899, Arizona Charlie was ready to embark on yet another new career as a theater promoter. He hired a San Francisco architect to design a new theater, the Palace Grand, at Dawson, Alaska. Construction took six months, and much of the material was said to be wood from retired stern wheelers boats. Upon its opening in July, Charlie and Mae took up lodging on the top floor.

The Palace could seat up to 2,200 and featured anything from plays and musicals to trick shooting displays. Charlie himself often bolted across the stage on his horse, guns blazing. In 1900, the industrious man even attempted to jump a horse 14 feet into an eight-foot-deep tank of water built into the stage. The feat nearly spelled disaster when Meadows landed under the horse as it struggled out of the tank.

It is said that Charlie and Mae lived happily for many years, despite Charlie’s occasional wandering eye. He allegedly carried on regularly with “Diamond Tooth” Gertie Lovejoy, a local performer who had a sizable diamond installed between her two front teeth and was all the rage at the Palace. He also gave actress Kate Rockwell the Star’s Suite, lavishly decorated in red and gold, as a condition of hiring her. Together, “Klondike Kate” and Meadows worked to choreograph the “Flame Dance”, wherein Kate floated about the stage trailing 200 yards of chiffon. Kate made $200 per week for her performance, but claimed she easily made another $500 entertaining her admirers following the show.

Arizona Charlie also made several friends of the male species. In the late 1890’s, Alexander Pantages offered to stand in for a prize fighter who failed to show at Charlie’s place. Pantages worked as a waiter at the time, but his offer to fight, as well as his experience as a San Francisco welterweight, secured his employment as Charlie’s stage manager.

By 1901, the Klondike boom was fading. Meadows thought of moving the Palace Grand in its entirety to Nome on a barge, but wisely decided not to. Instead, he sold the theater at a loss for $17,000 and headed back to Arizona with Mae. In Yuma, a plan to take over the an island off the coast of Mexico was thwarted by the Mexican government when Charlie revealed plans to do away with a native tribe of Seri Indians (said to be cannibals) in the process.

Charlie died in December 1932 and was buried in Yuma. He left behind at least one daughter, Marion, who passed away in 1944. In the time since there have been a few books and several articles written about him. As early as the 1950’s, the Palace was restored to its original grandeur. Plays and shows still take there during the summer months, many of them centered around the amazing adventures of the theater’s builder. In Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona Charlie’s Hotel & Casino was named for him.

In the Cripple Creek District, nothing remains of Gillette, nor its infamous bullring. And although Arizona Charlie has been memorialized by historians and writers in the region, his embarrassing incident at Gillette is rarely mentioned in his biographies.

Read more about Arizona Charlie in the summer edition of the Frontier Gazette, available now in Yavapai County and Prescott, Arizona.

The Two Lives of John C. Fremont

C 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

In Arizona, John C. Fremont is remembered for serving as Territorial Governor from 1878 to 1881. Prior to taking office, however, he made history for decades as one of the premier explorers of the American West. Born in 1813, Fremont aspired to do great things. At the age of 25 he was appointed to the Corps of Topographical Engineers and began his career as a surveyor.

Following his 1841 marriage Jessie Benton, daughter of a Missouri senator, Fremont began planning his first expedition. In 1842 he led 22 men to explore the Platte River between Missouri and the Rocky Mountains. His guide was fellow explorer Kit Carson, whom he had met in St. Louis. Carson knew the way to South Pass, Wyoming as well as Colorado to the south. The endeavor was a success.

Fremont spent much time in Colorado the next year, planning a second expedition to California in 1843. Finding supplies lacking due to Indian uprisings in New Mexico, Fremont finally found assistance at an American farming community just south of Colorado Springs. “They had a fine stock of cattle,” he later reported, “and furnished us with an abundance of excellent milk.” The group successfully made it to California.

The adventurer undertook a third expedition in 1845. This time he led a group of 62 men from St. Louis to locate the source of the Arkansas River in Colorado. Rather than complete the project, however, Fremont decided to return to California and made a brazen attempt to overtake the territory on behalf of the United States. He was promptly arrested for defying orders and court marshaled.

By late 1848 Fremont had returned to Colorado to organize yet another expedition—this time to see if a railroad could pass through the Rocky Mountains. The trip was financed by Senator Benton, but Fremont could only gather about 30 men after seasoned settlers warned of an especially harsh winter. Carson was also unavailable, so Fremont stubbornly hired a mountain man to guide the group. The party soon became lost. The men were forced to eat their mules, belts and mocassins. Ten died. The survivors used pots to shovel through 30-foot drifts before making their way to Taos.

Fremont eventually returned to California and was elected Senator in 1850. The appointment only lasted for six months. By 1853 he was back in Colorado where he organized one last expedition to Utah, overcoming another harsh winter to complete the trip. In 1856 he next ran for president against James Buchanan. But his image was marred by his previous behavior, the failed third expedition and his position as an abolitionist. After losing the election, Fremont boldly attempted to abolish slavery on his own without seeking President Lincoln’s blessing. Once again he was court marshaled.

Fremont eventually received a presidential pardon, but his downward spiral continued. A railroad investment failed. By 1870 the family was broke, relying on wife Jessie’s writing career. Then in 1878, Fremont was appointed 5th Territorial Governor of Arizona. The family moved into a roomy home at Gurley and Marina Streets in Prescott. The rent was $90, but it gave Jessie a pleasant place to receive guests.
Unfortunately, the new governor was frequently absent while trying to regain his wealth. In 1881 Fremont was asked to either resume his duties as governor or resign. He chose the latter, moving to California a final time in 1887 and dying during a trip to New York in 1890, just months after receiving a pension from the government.
Today there are counties, towns, schools and festivals all over the West named for Fremont, the “Great Pathfinder”. His home in Prescott was relocated to Sharlot Hall Museum in 1971, where it remains a testament to a determined man whose epitaph should probably read, “He meant well.”

Victorian Vacations in Arizona: Trains, No Planes, No Automobiles

C 2013 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette Winter 2013 issue 

Picture packing a trunk with your personal belongings and toiletries, heaving it into the back of a wagon pulled by horses, and making the rather bumpy and precarious trip to the nearest train depot. There, after purchasing a ticket to your destination, you and your trunk waited—sometimes minutes, sometimes hours, or perhaps an entire day—to catch sight of that large steam locomotive arriving to take you to a far away land. Your trunk was loaded into the baggage car as you stepped into the long corridor of a passenger car with plush but small seats facing one another. Your seatmates would become virtual room mates for the trip, struggling alongside you to make ample foot room and maintain some sort of polite conversation. A whistle, a blow from the smokestack, a lurching jerk, and you were on your way.

This primitive mode of transportation was the best folks of the 19th century could expect, but it was all they had. Prior to that, only wagons and horses provided any type of escape from what was often a dreary existence at home. But trains gave a viable opportunity to travel long distances in relative comfort. Those who could afford a ticket relished the idea of visiting far away lands and meeting other people. Worries were forgotten in the anticipation of seeing something new.

It was not until 1877 that the first tracks, those of the Southern Pacific Railroad, were laid in southern Arizona. Folks must have marveled that just a few years prior, pioneers relied on lengthy and dangerous trips via wagon trips to get anywhere. At least some of those early travelers had in fact been surveyors sent West, specifically to explore and map the Territory for the coming of the rails. The Southern Pacific, combined with the coming of the Atlantic & Pacific to northern Arizona in 1881, was a dream come true. Although construction was indeed slow, by 1883 one could catch a train to California, New Mexico or Texas and beyond.

Still, train travel was slow by today’s standards. It could take days or weeks to get anywhere, and unless you could afford to eat in the dining car (if they had one), your meals came out of a box you brought along (Comedian Groucho Marx recalled munching on the sandwiches and hard boiled eggs his mother sent along in a shoebox for his first trip out West) . And unless you could also afford to bunk in one of George Pullman’s famous sleeping cars, the trek would be made in one of those uncomfortable seats.

The standard weekend and even week-long vacations we have come to know would have seemed a silly waste of time. The cost of riding a train could vary from fifty cents to several dollars; therefore it made sense to get the most out of the trip by staying a month or more at your destination. In some of the larger towns, your best hope was to rent a private home whilst the “landlord” and their family lived in a smaller house out back and worked as your servants. Although they are often referred to now as “mother-in-law” cottages, such places can still be spotted in older historic neighborhoods.

Obviously, only the wealthier class could afford such a trip.  Even those who could spring for a vacation by rail faced other potential dangers along the way. Opening the window for fresh air was out of the question, lest cinders or smoke drift in from the front of the train. The tracks, laid over rough and barren terrain, could become unstable and cause a derailment with the potential for injury or fatalities. Bridges could be washed out by flash floods, also a great concern. Or, the train could be robbed by bad guys who might demand cash and jewelry from passengers at gunpoint.

Was it worth the risk? You bet, because at the end of the track lay a vast ocean to enjoy, or perhaps a luxury hotel, or some sort of theater or other cultural delight. Besides, by 1900 train travel and ticket prices had improved enough to merit quick trips between towns. Day trips also became increasingly available. By the early 1900’s tourists could easily take the Grand Canyon Railroad, the train from Adamana to the Petrified Forest, the Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix and many other lines to visit their favorite attractions.

By the time Arizona achieved statehood in 1912, an amazing 1,678 miles of track had been laid. The number had increased to 2,524 miles by 1930, but by then train travel was quickly being replaced by the likes of automobiles and even airplanes. Today Amtrak reigns as the number one passenger railroad in America. The accommodations are only slightly improved, but the days of true train travel are now of a bygone era.Frances Cora

Frances and Cora Wallace, daughter and wife of cattleman Frank Wallace, show off their latest traveling outfits in this circa 1910 image. Copyright Jan MacKell Collins; use prohibited without written permission.