Posted on December 26, 2015

By Mick Woodcock

The opening of the Central Mountains of Arizona to Anglo settlement was set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.  This conflict hastened the exploration of the Territory as the need for gold to finance the war effort sent prospectors into the most inhospitable regions of the West, including Arizona above the Gila River.

The settlements of southern Arizona had been left unprotected against Apache raiding when Federal troops were ordered east in 1861.  Citizens of Tucson called upon the Confederate government for help.  A small contingent of Texas troops under Captain Sherod Hunter arrived in 1862, but was soon run out by the California Column.

The California Column was made up of troops recruited in that state to block any threat from the Confederacy to extend its holdings west from Texas. Colonel James H. Carleton had the task of moving 2,300 men, on foot and horseback, across the southern California and Arizona deserts to New Mexico. 

Carleton’s men marched on to the Rio Grande Valley, but arrived too late to be involved in the fighting that defeated Confederate General Henry Sibley’s Texas forces at Glorietta Pass.  Carleton’s men did garrison many of the New Mexico military posts, and he himself was appointed commander of the Military District of New Mexico, of which Arizona was a part.

The closest the conflict came to central Arizona involved two incidents on the Gila River.  First, Hunter captured Captain William McCleave, commander of Company A, First California Volunteer Cavalry and nine of his men at Ammi White’s flourmill located at the Pima Villages.

Next, the advance guard of Hunter’s column came upon two vedettes of Company A, First California Volunteer Cavalry near Stanwix Stage Station, wounding one of the Union soldiers. The Californians headed west and the Texans headed east.

Residents of Yuma, Tucson and the mining camps of southern Arizona believed that they did not have adequate representation in the New Mexico territorial legislature.  Separated from the Rio Grande valley by desert and unfriendly Apache inhabitants, Anglo settlers felt isolated from the capital in Santa Fe, far to the northeast.

By 1860, ten bills for territorial status had been defeated in Congress.  The recognition of the Territory of Arizona by the Confederate Congress in December 1861 and arrival of Texas troops spurred Washington to action.  With the California Column’s success in returning Arizona to the Union, President Lincoln signed the Organic Act making Arizona a territory on February 24, 1863.

In an effort to secure a route from Texas to the Pacific coast, the Confederate government made its Arizona Territory horizontal using the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona with the capital at Mesilla.  The Federal government merely extended the existing boundary between Utah and Colorado to the south to separate New Mexico and Arizona.

President Abraham Lincoln appointed territorial officials from among Republicans who had been voted out of office and from party members who had worked for his election.  Most of these men gathered at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where a wagon train was formed, escorted by Company H, Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, to take them to Arizona.

In late September the Governor’s Party headed on the military road which took them to Fort Riley, Kansas and then Fort Larned, Kansas.  From there a road went south and linked up with the Santa Fe Trail.  They took the Mountain Route over Raton Pass and down to Fort Union, New Mexico, suffering extreme cold and snowstorms while en route.

After consultation with General Carleton, the decision was made to go to the gold fields instead of Tucson.  Taking the Whipple Route from Albuquerque, they headed west. Christmas was celebrated in a snow storm at Fish Springs, New Mexico. On December 29th they stopped at Navajo Springs, Arizona and Governor Goodwin read a proclamation establishing the government of Arizona Territory.

Continuing along the old Whipple survey route, the wagon train headed south at Antelope Springs on the Overland Trail.  This was a poorly marked track that took them to the military camp at Del Rio Springs, the first Fort Whipple.  From there Governor Goodwin rode over much of the Territory before naming the new town of Prescott as the first official capital.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlothallmuseum.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.