Column No. 73

Ines Fraser’s Trip to Arizona: Arivaca to Los Alamos

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

This column continues the life story of Ines Fraser, widow of Jack Fraser, who along with his brother Al, was brutally murdered by Mexican bandits in the February 1920 robbery of the general store at the Ruby mining camp. We are telling the story in Ines’ own words, in a long letter written in 1968 to her grandson Bruce and her granddaughter-in-law Claudia:

When I came through in 1904, Arivaca was a town of one street and several alleys. The buildings were all one story high, and built of adobe. A few were whitewashed with roofs of corrugated iron, red with rust. Arivaca had a post office in a “general store,” a small, white painted schoolhouse, “the Arivaca Land & Cattle Company” office, and adobe houses for a few Mexican families. One of these families served meals, on demand. We ate there - good Mexican food - good, even to me, unused to Chili seasoning.

This was the last stop till the small village of Oro Blanco where only a few American families lived and we were to spend the night. On this leg of the trip, we could see miles of hills toward the south (Mexico), strangely regular, their contour softened by the haze of distance till they looked not unlike the waves of the sea. Eastward stood two palisaded mountains, one, blue across 20 miles of low hills with their hidden canyons; the other, rugged and brown, just two or three miles away. Far across a treeless plain to the west, gleamed a solitary peak, projecting many feet above its surrounding range. This was Baboquivari, a bluish purple pyramid, slender and steep, like some majestic, broken monument. Baboquivari shows plainly from all divides and most of the valleys of the section of the country.

The road became rougher, but was still pretty good. We reached “Casa Grande” (Spanish for big house), where old timer Yank Bartlett lived and had expected us. Yank and part of his family lived there - two sons and two daughters. His wife had died only two years before, and the girls kept house and took care of travelers. Phoebe was 17 and Tula 15, the boys were 20 and 14, respectively. One daughter, “Peach” was married and lived in Tucson; the eldest son, John, recently married, was on a ranch.

Yank and Leatherwood were old-time friends from the hey days in the 1870s and 1880s of Oro Blanco’s rich rewards from the nearby mines of free - milling “white gold.” The gold of this area was a pale yellow, some said “whitish,” hence the area’s name, Oro Blanco (Spanish for white gold).

Yank Bartlett was reputed to be one of the most popular and genuinely liked of the early Arizona Territory pioneers. He was now 76 years old. Born in Vermont, he had come to Arizona in 1872 as an Indian fighter and teamster with General Crook in his campaigns against the Apache. After Crook left Arizona, Bartlett retired from government service and moved to the Oro Blanco area, where he became a storekeeper, mine owner, and cattleman. He was one of Leatherwood’s mining partners in the Oro Blanco district.

Those early mining operations had made some people rich, but the ore turned “refractory” at depth. That meant it was harder to recover the gold, as the stamp mills had done with the surface and near surface ores. And smelters charged to the point of penalizing the ores containing zinc, copper and other minerals. Shipping rates were also “terrible” - El Paso had the nearest smelter!

We arrived early at Casa Grande, had good food – Yankee-style beans, ham, New England type of bread and pies; for Yank had taught his women-folks to cook his way. His wife was Mexican, but he taught her English, and, of course, made his children use English, at least in the home, though they were fluent and voluble when with their friends, who, of course, mostly spoke only Spanish.

After supper chores, the men all sat out in the back patio, and the girls and I in the “parlor” and talked and talked, for Phoebe and Tula knew Jack, tho they called him “Don Chapito,” (Spanish for “Mr. Shorty”). Jack had told them that I was coming, so they had a thousand questions about, guess what? About my courtship, marriage, life on Pole Creek, etc.!

Next morning, we did not have to leave early, as it was only six or seven miles to the end of the stage line at the Warsaw mine.

Not more than half a mile from our starting place, the road entered the creek, at first with sand and gravel, not quite covered by the water - and we got stuck! Quicksand sucked at hooves and wheels! Jack and Al jumped out, carried me to the side hill, unloaded, and pushed while the driver managed the horses! Soon all was clear, but it was only a mile to “old Kirk’s” place, and I insisted on walking. Jack had lived with old Kirk and his wife, Dona Perfectita, while he had negotiated a sale of a mine for them.

Kirk’s full name was James Kirkpatrick. The Mexicans called him Don Patricio. Another old-timer; Kirk was 77 years old. Kirk was born in Ohio and in his long life had many careers, including cabinet making, mining, and politics, as a representative to the Arizona Territorial Legislature. Kirk had located two of the most famous and prosperous of the old Oro Blanco area mines, the Montana and the Warsaw. We were on the last leg to the Warsaw mine now.

We walked along the side of Oro Blanco Creek from the “quick-sandy” place to old Kirk’s where we visited until the “hack,” caught up with us. The rest of the way was almost entirely in the creek bed until a slight turn off at a divide led down to the end of the stage routes at the Warsaw Camp store and Old Glory Post Office. Water was running over the boulder and gravel bed, but it was not deep enough to bother.

There were horses at the Warsaw for us to ride, and burros with packsaddles for our luggage. We had stored our trunks in Tucson with winter clothing and some other belongings.

The trail to Los Alamos was narrow, rocky, and totally unimproved, but the horses picked their way with no trouble. We crept along the side of hills, with cliffs above us - to our right; small canyons to our left - along one hillside there would be a splash of color for a few acres - purple larkspur; then a hillside would have only grass and desert shrubs, then one covered with pink to magenta blossoms all along two-foot stalks.

The trail left the hillsides and descended into a narrow gorge in Bonito canyon, rocky and winding but not steep and not very long. Then climbed a short distance to a “saddle,” and then into Little Alamos Canyon. Not far from its beginning beneath cliffs, trees began to appear, not too far apart, and nearly in leaf and blossom from the recent drought-breaking rains. There were mesquites, with pale yellow flowers and some pods of their beans filling out; white live oak and black live oak in fresh leaves and tassels as if it were spring; ocotillos and several varieties of cactus and many flowers, I did not yet know. Little Alamos Creek was still running, though not much more than a trickle, but having pools here and there. Mexicans were panning for gold, which they would sell to Jack’s mining company developing the Los Alamos mine - taking their pay in orders from the mining camp store. (There was never much cash on hand.)

It was not much of a climb to the “saddle” part of the ridge that separated Little Alamos from Los Alamos camp, and there the camp spread out on a tongue of land. Los Alamos was named for three lonely cottonwood trees and was surely one of the prettiest camps along the Mexican border. The camp’s nine tents were high enough above the canyons to be free from the dull chill that haunted river bottoms at night and morning, and low enough to enjoy the protection of the higher ridges when the wind blew.

The tent houses, with floors and doors and sidings were scant but adequate camp furnishings. The largest tent, with shelves and a counter, was the store, now only partially supplied with groceries but soon to be filled as freight wagons were on their way to Los Alamos from Tucson. The wagons would not come by way of Oro Blanco, but would leave Arivaca turning west and south and resting at Tres Bellotas Ranch, some four or five miles to the west of the Alamos. Jack had men building a road from this ranch to “our” camp. It was a fair road until after crossing Sierra Canyon (just next to the Alamos) and climbing out of it and down to the camp. The workers used only pick and shovel to move big heavy rocks, and do a little grading, finding the easiest but longest slant to get to the top. They had to make a turn at the top to come down to the tongue of land of the campsite, but for that last leg of less than half a mile, the grading and smoothing was comparatively easy as it was in cliché with no big boulders.

So, dear Bruce and Claudia, I had reached my new home. From then on, for quite a time, life was a real “saga.”

(Sources: Fraser family records, courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)

Arivaca Stage Depot

Arivaca was a town of one street and several alleys. The large building at center left is the stage depot. (Courtesy Ring family, 1905)

Next time: Life at Los Alamos Mining Camp

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