Originally Published: October 24, 2007 8:38 a.m.
Lawless, violent and remote - the boom to bust days of Gillett lasted from 1876 to the mid-1880s.
Before Gillett, which is located about five miles southwest of Rock Springs, became a ghost town its men worked hard, drank hard and fought hard. Women and families made homes there.
In its heyday, Gillett bustled as a mill town for nearby Tip Top mine and as a stage stop on the Phoenix-Prescott route.
Named after Tip Top's mining superintendent, Dan B. Gillett, the name is frequently misspelled as "Gillette" on maps and documents.
Gillett began its descent toward ghost town status in 1886 when the Tip Top Mining Co. moved its mill operation to the town of Tip Top.
In 1887, the U.S. Postal Service discontinued Gillett's post office and rerouted mail to Bumble Bee.
Mention the name Gillett to Arizonans, and most register some kind of recognition - familiar either with its history or the name of the razor company that ends with an "e."
Dewey-Humboldt Historical Society members know the name from history. So do members of the Black Canyon Historical Society.
The two history groups met and toured Gillett's remains Oct. 10 - and not much remains of the town. Vandals, weather, animals and careless tourists are helping the town site disappear.
"Oh my gosh. I can't believe this. What happened here," gasped Paul Finell when he walked from the mill site area down to the town site. Finell is not a member of the history groups. Out of curiosity, he drove from Scottsdale to see the ghost town.
"I haven't been here for 30 years," he said. "I just can't believe it's disappeared that much. When I was here, there were a lot more buildings standing and the hotel was pretty well intact."
That "pretty well intact" hotel is the Burfind - Gillett's signature landmark seen in old photographs. Today, three walls remain standing. The rest of the hotel lies in rubble.
"I don't know what it used to be like, but it's still neat to see," said Naomi Rains, D-HHS president. Rains and most of the other 20 members on the tour had never been to Gillett before.
"I have been here lots of times in the past," said Hardy Quade. Quade suggested the idea for the field trip to Gillett.
Gillett straddles the Agua Fria River. The river was an asset to the town before the mill closed, then it became a liability with little incentive for stage drivers to risk crossing.
"One side of the river is Yavapai County and the other is Maricopa," Quade said. "The Maricopa side was a tent city. Most of the buildings and businesses - the hotels, saloons, the blacksmith shop - were on the Yavapai side."
Gillett needed a blacksmith. Stages needed repairing and mill equipment needed maintaining. James Larsen and Joe Chambers opened a blacksmith shop.
Larsen and Chambers either were lousy blacksmiths, money hungry or both. Whatever their motivation, according to Leland Hanchett in "Catch the Stage to Phoenix," the two smiths started a side business robbing stagecoaches. Their careers ended when deputies arrested them July 31, 1883.
"This is one ghost town that has always amazed me," professional photographer Mark Quigley wrote in a feature story for The Arizona Sportsman's Journal. "It (Gillett) always pops up in old newspaper accounts and seems to have been a busy and lively town.
"Wyatt Earp and many other well known Arizonans passed this way. What I find amazing is how a town so well known to Arizona history can die with so little remaining."
Legendary Arizonan Jack Swilling lived in Gillett before he started building irrigation ditches for Phoenix. In 1878, Swilling was visiting Gillett when deputies arrested him for a robbery that occurred near Wickenburg. L.G. "Col." Taylor testified against him and Swilling went to jail.
A few weeks' later, gunmen shot and killed Taylor in front of a lynch mob. Swilling died in jail later that year while awaiting a new trial.
John Henry Cordes worked at Gillett until 1883 when he bought a stage stop and saloon on Antelope Creek near Mayer. Antelope Station became Cordes town. John Henry's great-granddaughter still operates a store there.
"This is my second time out here," said Bob Nilles, BCHS president. "I know it's falling apart, but I still think it's fascinating.
"This is the way to see Gillett because we have people in the historical societies that know where the graves are, that can tell us the layout of the town and that know the history and legends."
John Keeler moved to Humboldt in 1966. He made his first attempt to see Gillett in 1959.
"Me and a buddy tried to come out here in a '47 Ford," he said while sitting under a Palo Verde tree near the Burfind ruins. "We knew where it was and tried and tried to get in but we just couldn't make it in that car. So we backed out and started back to Phoenix and the gears locked-up. We drove the entire way from Gillett to Phoenix in second gear."