Friday, January 24, 2014

Revolutionary War-Era Spanish Fortress

Revolutionary War-Era Spanish Fortress
by Daryl F. Mallett

In 1775, big things were happening in the New World. The Colonies were busy on the east coast. Paul Revere and William Dawes are riding to warn Lexington, Mass., that the British were coming. The “shot heard ‘round the world” triggers the U.S. Revolutionary War. Ethan Allan and Benedict Arnold capture Fort Ticonderoga. Meanwhile, Irish-born Spanish Army Colonel Hugh O’Conor was busy establishing Presidio Real de San Augustin del Tucson, marking the official “birth date” of the City of Tucson.

That same year, though, O’Conor also established what is now known as Presidio Santa Cruz de Terranate on a bluff overlooking the San Pedro River roughly a mile from what is now the ghost town of Fairbank, Arizona. It was one of a chain of similar fortresses extending from Los Adaes, Louisiana to Alta California that marked the northernmost boundary of the Spanish Empire in the New World.

Captain Francisco Tovar was the first commander of the presidio, but was only on duty for about eight months before he and 25 of his soldiers were ambushed and killed on July 7, 1776 at Las Mesitas. Two years later, on September 24, 1778, Captain Francisco Trespalacios and some 27 soldiers were killed. Another 39 soldiers were killed between November 1778 and February 1779, and Captain Luis del Castillo was killed in May 1779.

If the losses were not discouraging enough, droughts drove off many of the ranchers and farmers, and then flooding of the nearby river rapidly encroached on the presidio. Never mind quicksand surrounding the riverbed.

Southwest historian and archaeologist Deni Seymour has excavated at the site and continues to research the area. Her website ( is filled with information on the presidio and the area. She writes:

“The presidio was never completed to specifications due to the attacks of the Apache, administrative greed, corruption and poor morale. The failure of the presidio was due to numerous problems like the lack of crops, raids on the horse herds, surprise attacks on the mule trains carrying supplies, and the continuous attacks by Apache directly on the fortress. These contributed to the abandonment of the garrison in 1780.”

In a phone interview, Seymour said the fortress was used on and off for over 100 years by travelers including the U.S. Army, who occupied the presidio for a brief time in 1878. She also said there is evidence that the area was inhabited possibly as far back as the 1200-1300s.

Built of adobe, not much of the fortress survives after some 250 years of exposure to the elements with no upkeep. Two of the chapel walls and a handful of corners of the commandant’s house are all that remain.

A mile west of the ghost town of Fairbank, Arizona, turn north on Inbalance Ranch Road. The parking area will be on the right side of the street about a half-mile up. A relatively easy 1.5 mile hike from the parking area will take visitors to the Presidio. A memorial cross stands by the river, commemorating the nearly 100 soldiers killed during the fort’s short lifespan. Throughout the site are informational signs. Take water and sun protection, stay away from the cliff edge and stay on the paths. Remember, it is illegal to dig on or remove anything from the site.

(Originally published in different form in THE KGVY COMMUNITY QUARTERLY, Winter 2014.)


Fairbank Cemetery

Fairbank Cemetery
by Daryl F. Mallett

The modern—now ghost town—of Fairbank, Arizona, was founded in 1883. A suburb of booming Tombstone, Arizona, the town on the banks of the San Pedro River never reached more than 500 people in its approximately 90-year lifespan.

As in any town of the Old West, a very rudimentary cemetery was established.

A flat, untaxing ½-mile hike through a Sleepy Hollow-like tunnel of dead trees brings the explorer or genealogist to a marked turnoff. Another ¼ mile up a small hill is the cemetery, overlooking a creek. Mountains and desert are visible in a 360-degree circle around the cemetery and, aside from the telephone pole and power lines, it looks much as it would have in 1883.

Few of the graves are marked at all. Some have wooden crosses, or what is left of them, most of which have fallen over. Most of the graves are only noticeable from the pile of stones, cairnlike, atop each burial site. Only three stones were even remotely readable.

The first, a broken stone cross, reads NACIO FELIX BRESEDA MURIO / ES 10 DIAS EL 18 DE MARSO DE 1919. Research shows he was the infant son of Aurelio Breseda and Ramon Gonzalez. Born March 8, 1919; died March 18, 1919, age 10 days old, of bronchopneumonia, with contributory factors being pertussis.

Another broken stone cross beside it belongs to ANGELITA ANDRADE XXX / MARS DE LA XXX / 1919. Research shows that she was the infant daughter of Alberto Andrade and Candelaria Ariola. Born January 20, 1919, died March 18, 1919, the same day as her little friend Felix, also from the same reasons.

A third stone reads MARY NELSON. WIFE OF A. B. McCULLAR. DIED FEB 25, 1899. M. E. CHURCH. She was born June 21, 1842 in Texas, married Austin Buford McCullar on June 29, 1857 at Cherokee, Rusk County, Texas. They had at least 10 children.

The rest of Fairbank Cemetery’s residents remain unknown by visual sight at this poignant location, a beautiful resting spot for loved ones. A decorative metal and wood bench has been placed at the crest of the hill overlooking this peaceful place. The town has been abandoned since the 1970s and there is no upkeep on the cemetery, but one stone cairn is littered with faded plastic dinosaurs and horses, tattered stuffed animals and coins…

The town site and cemetery are open to the public, public from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and the gift shop is manned during the weekends. A number of educational plaques are scattered throughout the area and help visitors get a feel for what the town was like, and there are scenic, overgrown trails, reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow, from the schoolhouse north along the San Pedro to the Fairbank Cemetery and the old Grand Central Mining Company mill, another 1/2-3/4 miles north.

(Originally published in different form in THE KGVY COMMUNITY QUARTERLY, Winter 2014.)

A Suburb of Tombstone, Arizona

A Suburb of Tombstone, Arizona
by Daryl F. Mallett

A major metropolitan area in the middle of nowhere. Nearly $85 million in silver bullion produced. Approximately 14,000 residents. The town is Tombstone, Arizona. The year is 1884. By this time, a group of famous lawmen named the Earp brothers had already had their gun fight at the O.K. Corral and Boot Hill Cemetery was already home to Billy Clanton, the McLaury brothers and marshal Fred White, among others.

“A suburb of Tombstone, Arizona” is not a phrase one hears often, if at all. But Tombstone was one of the largest cities in the Southwestern U.S. in its day and, like any good metropolitan area, the town boasted its own “suburbs,” or outlying towns with names such as Contention, Brookline, Huachuca, Charleston and Fairbank.

Approximately 10 miles west of Tombstone, on Arizona Highway 82, just east of the San Pedro River, on the north side of the road, is what remains of the Town of Fairbank.

The town is on or very near a Native American settlement named Santa Cruz. It is unclear when the town was first inhabited, but the name “Santa Cruz” first appears on a map around 1775-80. It was part of the San Juan de la Boquillas y Nogales Land Grant, along the San Pedro River, originally granted to Captain Ygnacio Elias Gonzales (1775-1845) and Juan Nepomucino Felix in 1833.

In the 1870s, a stagecoach stopped at Fairbank, and the town, originally called Junction City, began to attract non-Native American settlers.

In 1881, area ranchers William Hall and Harry McKinney filed a claim to land some eight miles west of Tombstone, adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad (SPR) line running from El Paso to Tucson to Los Angeles, that had just been completed in 1880. In July of that same year, the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad Company (NM&AR) began building a line from Nogales to Benson, going through Fairbank (now called Kendall).

The train depot and wye built at Kendall in 1882 connected the town with the SPR line and the rest of the world. The Earp family boarded a train in Fairbank following Morgan’s murder that year, transporting his body to California. Soon, trains were coming and going, carrying silver ore from Tombstone and copper ore from the Copper Queen Mine to the mills in nearby towns such as Contention City and Charleston, and cattle to eastern markets, as well as food, liquor and supplies bound for Tombstone. The ever-expanding rail lines led to other towns springing up along the lines, including Elgin, Patagonia and Sonoita.

On May 16, 1883, a U.S. Post Office was opened and the Town of Fairbank, Arizona, was officially founded.

The town was named in honor of Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank (1829-1903), a descendant of Jonathan Fairbank (1594-1668), who arrived in Massachusetts in 1633. The Chicago-based industrialist whose company, N. K. Fairbank Co., manufactured soap, animal and baking products, such as Cottolene, Gold Dust and Fairy Soap which is still sold around the world today by Procter & Gamble), was the founder of the Grand Central Mining Company, with ownership in several Tombstone mines, and a major financier of the NM&AR.

In 1885, the Butterfield Overland Mail line made Fairbank a stopping point, bringing in new business and soon 100 people were living in the town. Five years later, a steam-powered quartz mill was in operation a few miles north of the town, which featured Fairbank Mercantile, a butcher shop and two other stores, five saloons, three restaurants, a Wells Fargo office, a jail, a school, the Montezuma Hotel, and eventually three train depots serving at least five different rail lines, including the NM&A, SPR, El Paso & Southwestern Railroad, San Pedro & Southwestern Railroad and the Santa Fe Railroad. Lots were selling for between $50-150. The 1890 U.S. Census reported 478 residents in Fairbank, quadruple the number of people in 1885, making that year the highest point.

But it did not last. Flooding of the Tombstone mines killed business, along with subsequent droughts driving away ranchers and farmers, and the San Pedro River flood of 1890, which destroyed part of the town.

On February 15, 1900, the Burt Alvord Gang attempted a train robbery. Alvord (1866-after 1911), who was formerly the Deputy Sheriff of Fairbank, along with Billy Stiles (1871-1908), another former lawmen turned criminal, Jack “Three Fingers” Dunlop (1872-1900),  brothers George and Louis Owens, Bravo Juan Yoas and Bob Brown, were driven off by Wells Fargo Express Messenger and former lawman Jeff Milton, who was wounded in the process. Dunlop later died in Tombstone of his wounds. By the time of the 1900 U.S. Census, the town’s population had dropped to 171 people. The Mexican land grant on which the town was situated was reacquired in 1901 by the Boquillas Land and Cattle Company, which included descendants of Gonzales and Felix. They evicted all the homesteaders, but extended the leases on only the Adobe Commercial Building and several residences into the 1970s.

After the original wooden school burned down, a new Fairbank School was built in 1920 and held classes through 1944. By 1950, the official population had dwindled to 50 people. The last business to hold on was Fairbank Mercantile, operating as a country store and gas station. By 1970, the town was completely abandoned and the post office was shut down.

Fairbank was acquired in 1986 and is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, becoming the headquarters of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA). Though not the SPRNCA’s primary purpose, the schoolhouse has been restored and contains a gift shop. The Adobe Commercial Building and Montezuma Hotel are chained off from the public, and a few other buildings, including an outhouse, several homes and the cattle pens just south of the site, are all that remain of the town.

The site is open to the public, public from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and the gift shop is manned during the weekends. A number of educational plaques are scattered throughout the area and help visitors get a feel for what the town was like, and there are scenic, overgrown trails, reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow, from the schoolhouse north along the San Pedro to the Fairbank Cemetery and the old Grand Central Mining Company mill.

(Originally published in different form in THE KGVY COMMUNITY QUARTERLY, Winter 2014.)

Day Tripping: Fairbank, Arizona

Day Tripping: Fairbank, Arizona
by Daryl F. Mallett

Just an hour and a half away, on the other side of the Santa Rita Mountains from Green Valley and Sahuarita lie a number of great places to visit. One of them is the Fairbank, Arizona area.

Now if you’ve never heard of Fairbank, Arizona, don’t feel bad. I’ve been here since 1993 and this was the first I’d ever heard of it, too.

Fairbank, Arizona is a ghost town now administered by the Bureau of Land Management. But there is more than just a ghost town. There’s also a cemetery and the remains of the old mill within two miles. Just up the road is a Spanish fortress dating back to the U.S. Revolutionary War days.

Conveniently located by both is the Tombstone Territories RV Park (, with affordable rates, central to hiking routes, complete with a heated pool, hot tub and exercise facility, WiFi, dog park, shuffleboard, darts, billiards, and planned weekly events and tours throughout the area.

Also nearby are the ruins of Santa Ana de Quiburi an old Spanish Visita and a Sobiapuri Indian Village. Father Eusebio Kino made contact with the Sobiapuri here in the late 1690s. Chief Cobo, who became friends with Kino, had an adobe house built for the missionary in 1697. The Sobiapuri moved away from the area, so Father Kino did not propose the building of an actual mission until 1709. The location is restricted and the general public is not allowed to go there, but academics and researchers can make special arrangements to see it.

(Originally published in different form in THE KGVY COMMUNITY QUARTERLY, Winter 2014.)