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Sun, May 26

Historic character: First Dewey rancher subject of D-H Historical Society talk

The King Woolsey homestead and outbuildings along the Agua Fria River in Dewey-Humboldt looked like this when the property sold to the Bower Brothers in 1868.<br>
Courtesy photo

The King Woolsey homestead and outbuildings along the Agua Fria River in Dewey-Humboldt looked like this when the property sold to the Bower Brothers in 1868.<br> Courtesy photo

One of Arizona's early settlers was the topic of the January meeting of the Dewey-Humboldt Historical Society.

Dick Bowerman, vice president of the Skull Valley Historical Society, was the guest speaker at the D-HHS meeting, and presented quite a lot of history on King Woolsey, a controversial character who homesteaded in Dewey.

After his talk, many members of the audience drove out to the Woolsey homestead site along Old Black Canyon Road to view the ruins.

Woolsey not only established his Agua Fria ranch in Dewey, he also prospected for gold along the Hassayampa River, and participated in several skirmishes with Apache Indians. One such confrontation brought him an appointment as a Lieutenant-Colonel to the Arizona territorial militia under rather gruesome circumstances - maybe.

Bowerman said in all his extensive research over the past 10 years, he could find no evidence that what was called the "Pinole Massacre" actually occurred.

In an 1864 clash between a large party of Indians and Woolsey and several other men working mining claims in the Bradshaw Mountains, the miners were outnumbered and felt themselves threatened.

According to rumors, the miners apparently poisoned a sack of pinole, a type of parched grain, with strychnine and left it nearby.

"As he had hoped, the Indians found the poisoned meal and ate it while he talked to their chiefs. As the poison took effect, and the others fled, his men opened fire on them," the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia states.

The skirmish resulted in the deaths of 30 Apaches and one miner.

"I couldn't find any evidence. This was either the best kept secret of the times, or it never happened," Bowerman said.

There's no doubt Woolsey was obsessed with the Apaches who often raided settlers' and miners' camps, running off with horses and mules, Bowerman said. It appears that the rancher was on good terms with other tribes, however.

Woolsey was born around 1831 or 1832 in Alabama into a family of nine children. He shared his first name, King, with two other brothers.

He arrived in Arizona in 1860 and soon bought property about 80 miles east of Yuma where he established the Agua Caliente Ranch ("hot water"), which became a popular stop between Yuma and Tucson. He kept horses and cattle on the property, built a flour mill, and provided hay and supplies for the Union Army.

In 1863, Woolsey joined the Walker Party as an independent prospector and soon became the first Anglo settler in Dewey when he bought property about 20 miles east of Prescott, which he called the Agua Fria ranch ("cold water").

At one point, Woolsey helped Governor John Goodwin scout for a territorial capital seat.

"While doing that, Tonto and Apache Indians stole all his stock," Bowerman said.

Woolsey organized a company to rout out the thieves, and in January 1864, he and 28 men left, most on foot, meeting up with Pima and Maricopa Indians who joined the group.

By the time they reached a place about nine miles west of Globe, the Pima Indians had left the party. The miners met up with a large group of Apaches at some water tanks, and Woolsey realized he would need to negotiate himself out of the situation.

He called a peace council where the leaders would sit down together unarmed. During the talks, a fight broke out, Woolsey and his men opened fire, and then retreated to safety. The place now is called Bloody Tanks.

The final expedition took place four months later and lasted 87 days, during which Woolsey took time to prospect. This trip resulted in three deaths on the Anglo side, and was considered by many to be a failure, Bowerman said.

"But the group gathered geographical and geological information, and noted fertile land and water for the future," he said.

Woolsey only lived at the Agua Fria ranch from 1864 to 1868. He lost the ranch to creditors to cover a $56,000 debt. The next owners, the Bower brothers, used the ranch as a stage stop. It had a well inside its tall rock walls and visitors used it as the only protected site for miles, sometimes referring to it as "Fort Woolsey."

Woolsey went on to ranch property southeast of Phoenix, and owned property in the city's present day downtown on 2nd Street and Washington. He also built a roller skating rink, packaged salt from the upper Salt River, an experimented in growing sugar cane.

In July 1864, he was elected to the Upper Chamber of the Legislature and served two terms. When he ran for Congress, voters in Prescott did not support him because of his notions to move the capital away from Prescott, and because of an editorial written about the alleged pinole incident.

Woolsey died of a heart attack in 1879 at the age of 47, and is buried in the Pioneer Memorial Park cemetery in Phoenix.

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