By Ray Carlson

According to the newspaper, 1876 was a good year for Prescott.  There were “about two hundred” attractive new buildings including the impressive school. Stores and saloons were busy, and prostitutes and robbers who followed wealth were plentiful.  

It was also time for the biannual census used to allocate legislative seats to the counties. Prescottonians had been upset about losing the capital to Tucson in 1867 and wanted it back. In 1874, legislation to move the capital to Prescott passed in the Senate (called the Council) but was defeated in the House.  Maybe 1876 would give the northern counties the majority and the capital.

The census was completed in June 1876, and found 13,738 residents in Yavapai County including “big, little, old, young, male, female, black, white and red” people.  The Board of Supervisors reviewed the information and declared the results “true and correct “and paid the Census Marshal, John Behan.  That total was much larger than 1874, with the increase helped by an influx of residents but also by careful counting. For example, a year earlier the governor received a letter indicating that residents north of the Little Colorado River had not been counted previously. Behan surveyed that area and found “a large number of” people.

Tucson did not want to lose the capital and the income it generated. The Tucson Citizen questioned the Yavapai results.  They reported a citizen meeting that adopted resolutions noting that Yavapai’s total “is 7335 too many to suit our tastes,” that their Census Marshal was “not Spanish scholar enough to recollect enough Spanish names to stand Yavapai off,” and “it is the duty of all good Pimas to cuss Yavapai.”   The only substantive challenge the Citizen offered was fraud. In 1874, Behan was a candidate for Sheriff and received votes from that north of the Little Colorado area.  After that election, the County Supervisors had thrown out votes from that area, but the reason was not published. Various officials testified the results were accurate. The Tucson paper used the fact that Behan got votes that were thrown out to suggest he couldn’t be trusted.

In September, a “corps of Tucson notaries” went to Yavapai to collect testimony about the census claiming the Governor sent them.  The Governor denied involvement, and no report was publicized. A Tucson judge asked Arizona Chief Justice French for an injunction to delay approving the census results due to possible fraud. Judge French granted a temporary injunction and heard arguments. Murat Masterson, a visiting Prescott lawyer, participated.  The case was heard on September 29th, and on October 5th Judge French lifted the injunction and instructed the Territorial Secretary to reapportion the legislature. He did not deal with the question of fraud, only his lack of jurisdiction.

A week later, Governor Safford issued a proclamation calling for a November election.  The announcement specified that Yavapai County would have four out of nine members of the Council and eight out of 18 members of the House.  Since Maricopa had one member of the Council and two in the House, an alliance of those two counties offered a clear majority.

In January, legislation to move the capital was drafted.  In the Council, it passed five to four with the five ayes coming from Yavapai and Maricopa Counties.  In the House, the members from Yavapai, Maricopa, Mohave, and Pinal voted in favor.  Governor Safford was asked to veto the measure, but he remained neutral.

Surprisingly, the battle was not over.  In April, 1877, “unscrupulous schemers in Tucson” applied to the Court Commissioner for an injunction to stop the Secretary from moving the Territorial property to Prescott.  The request went to the Commissioner because Judge French was away.   The Prescott newspaper questioned the legal arguments in the request and the Commissioner’s jurisdiction and added the Commissioner “probably does not know as much law as our old black cow.”  The Tucson Citizen responded that the reason the people from Prescott did not understand the legal issues was that their legal expert was their black cow.  When Judge French returned, he heard arguments and again ruled that there was no basis for an injunction, and Prescott finally regained the territorial capital.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at for information.