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Days Past: Origins of Prescott street and place names

Sharlot Hall Museum/Courtesy image
This copy of Robert Groom’s survey/map of Prescott of 1864, shows the street names as proposed by the officials of the brand-new town of Prescott, capital of the equally new Territory of Arizona.

In February 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill making Arizona a separate territory from New Mexico. Three months later, renowned frontiersman Joseph R. Walker wrote a letter to Gen. James Carleton in Santa Fe, whose Army command included both New Mexico and Arizona territories. Walker wrote how he, with a party of other men, had found gold on the Hassayampa River about six miles south of today's Prescott. Carleton immediately sent an Army detail to the diggings to protect the miners there from Indian attacks. He chose Robert Groom to guide the Army expedition to the gold fields.

Led by Capt. Nathaniel Pishon, the expedition also included John A. Clark, surveyor general of New Mexico. On Aug. 19, the party arrived at Granite Creek. Hearing a shot coming from upstream, Robert Groom went to investigate. He came upon the legendary miner and guide Pauline Weaver and asked if he had seen any sign of the Walker party. Weaver, actually a member of Walker's party and a cagey old coot, replied that he hadn't seen anyone nearby, but he had seen smoke rising from further up the creek. Groom and Pishon soon found Walker and the other men.

Pishon's group went back to New Mexico but Groom remained at the diggings. Another member of the Walker party, George Lount, built the first house in Prescott. Soon after, James Sheldon, also from this group, erected a large cabin nearby and generously hosted grateful travelers. In June, another gold-seeker with Walker, King Woolsey, built a ranch house near the Agua Fria River (near today's Humboldt), which other pioneers used as a refuge and waystation.

Back in Santa Fe, Capt. Pishon saw Gen. Carleton and confirmed the gold discovery.

Carleton then ordered Capt. Pishon to guide a more sizeable expedition commanded by Major Edward B. Willis to go to Arizona and establish an army post there. A number of non-military people joined the caravan including Ed Peck who later became a prominent Arizona historical figure and Albert Franklin Banta who years later wrote a colorful account of his life in the Arizona Territory (is Franklin Street named for him?). Willis reached Del Rio Springs (between Chino Valley and Paulden), on Dec. 23, 1863, where he established Fort Whipple. Carleton had chosen the name for the fort to honor one of the early northern Arizona explorers, Amiel Weeks Whipple, who had been killed in action in the Civil War.

President Lincoln named Ohio ex-Congressmen John A. Gurley as territorial governor but Gurley died in August 1863, months before he was to come to Arizona. Lincoln replaced Gurley with John N. Goodwin. Other officials were Territorial Secretary Richard C. McCormick and Associate Judge Joseph P. Allyn. Gen. Carleton designated Lt. J. Francisco Chaves and the New Mexico Volunteers to escort this gubernatorial party to Arizona. The party arrived at Fort Whipple in January of 1864 and, after scouting the area, decided to move the fort closer to the area he had chosen to be the territorial capital, to be named Prescott for the historian William Hickling Prescott.

Robert Groom, the only surveyor available, did the initial surveying for the town in the spring of 1864. As part of this process, the officials chose street names honoring the explorers and guides, Army officers, territorial officials, gold miners, local pioneers and other well-known persons of the West.

The explorers, miners and pioneers whose names were given to Prescott's streets included Antoine Leroux, one of the most famous of the Southwest guides; Francois X. Aubry (the Prescott street is misspelled "Aubrey"), a notable Southwest trader and trailmaker; Joseph Walker; and the Miller brothers, members of the Walker party. Street names of Army officers included Carleton, Whipple and Willis. Prescott's founders gave their own names to Prescott's streets: Gurley, Goodwin, and McCormick. Other prominent settlers whose names appeared on street signs were Sheldon and Lount. For a short time, the first Fort Whipple was named Camp Clark in honor of the New Mexico surveyor general. At one time, there was a Weaver Street, but it was dropped in favor of an extension of Goodwin Street. Years later, the names of King Woolsey, Lincoln, and Kit Carson were added to Prescott's streets. Robert Groom had his name given to a creek and a small community five miles south of Prescott.

Not all of the people memorialized in this way ever visited Prescott. Leroux, Aubry and Kit Carson did their trailblazing in other parts of Arizona. Gen. James Carleton administered the Army activities in Arizona from Santa Fe. Whipple was killed in the Civil War and Gurley died before the gubernatorial party had started its trip to Arizona. Historian William Hickling Prescott died in 1859, and never knew about his influence on Prescott's history.

For several prominent people in Prescott's early history, there are no street names at all: Nathaniel Pishon, who commanded the first two military groups to the Prescott area; Ed Peck, who developed and then lost a rich mine in the Bradshaw Mountains; J. Francisco Chaves, who led the governor's party to this area; Albert Franklin Banta, who came to Prescott with Pishon; Joseph P. Allyn, one of the first people to write about Prescott; and Daniel Ellis Connor, who later wrote more than a thousand pages of a manuscript about Prescott and Arizona.


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