The Grave Of Davy Gowan


Some of graves of Rim Country pioneers are isolated enough that some good, healthy hiking is required to stand at the spot and recall the dramatic life it represents. To stand at the grave of "The Arizona Scotsman" David Gowan you must drive down the Beeline Highway to the Deer Creek Trailhead, park your vehicle and set forth on Trails 46/47. Trail 47 ("Gold Ridge Trail") will branch left; continue on 46 ("South Fork Trail"), and pass through a metal gate. At another branching, Trail 46 will go off to the left but you will continue straight on Trail 45, the "Deer Creek Trail." Stay on this when it crosses the stream, goes through another metal fence, passes a windmill, another gate and stile until you spot the grave site on your left. You will have hiked about 1-1/2 hours. You may not think it worth the effort, until you read about Gowan's exciting life.

David Douglas Gowan was born in Scotland in 1843 and raised by his fisherman family to be a man of the sea. It was the sea that called him to serve in the British Navy, but the confinement of that life was too much, and he jumped ship in an African port. From there he found his way to America, where the Civil War was under way. He joined the U.S. Navy, and when that service was ended he found himself on the West Coast where he invested his savings in a fishing vessel, named the Dreadnought. With a small crew, Davy returned to his familiar trade, but a storm destroyed his boat somewhere between San Francisco and Seattle. Gowan was the only survivor among the crew.


David Gowan

He was not a tall man, but agile, muscular and in excellent physical shape. His long, wavy reddish-brown hair hung to his shoulders and his prominent cheekbones stood out above the ample mustache. Adding to his imposing stature was a heavy Scottish brogue. Throughout his later years he loved to tell stories of his colorful life.

After the shipwreck, Gowan retreated to southern California, where he befriended Jim Samuels. His new friend had heard about a luxuriant land, suitable for ranching, from soldiers who fought the Tonto Apaches in the Rim Country. Some say Gowan came to the Tonto Basin of Arizona first, and then returned to partner with Samuels. In either case, the two men purchased a herd of sheep and headed across the desert, by way of Needles, for the Tonto Basin.

It was the mid-1870s, and although the Apache and Yavapai Indians were all but defeated and placed on reservations, many renegades remained at large. Small bands of native people still hid out in the trackless forests and canyons, eager to raid the livestock of any invading settler.

The two men set up camp along Tonto Creek, at a place later called Gisela, where they had to fend off Indian raids and lived in a rock house the Indians could not burn. They dug an irrigation ditch for their garden, but one of them had to guard against Indian attack while the other worked. However, their sheep business began to disintegrate because the local grass was unsuitable, and between coyotes, wolves and Indians, their flock was decimated.

That same year, 1876, an advance party of Mormons came upon Gowan and Samuels while seeking a place for settlement. They decided the Indian threat was too great, and returned to Joseph City with a negative report.

During these months the restless Gowan and Samuels had decided prospecting for gold was a better idea than sheep ranching. Samuels staked a squatters' claim at the Yavapai County Seat in Prescott for the land in the vicinity of today's Doll Baby Ranch, west of Payson on the East Verde River. In 1877 a second Mormon party returned, and bought Samuels' claim for $75, locating their settlement there and calling it Mazatzal City, after the mountain range that towered over it. Samuels went toward Phoenix, took out a claim on 160 acres, where today's Scottsdale City Hall stands. However, unable to make a living from that desert land, he sold it and moved back to Hemet, Calif.

Meanwhile, David Gowan continued to make his camp on Tonto Creek, but prospected up Pine Creek where he discovered a fantastic travertine arch forming a natural bridge over the creek. In the years to follow Gowan claimed he was the first white man to discover this natural bridge. Military records show that a contingent of the army from Camp Lincoln had been there in 1866. Later, early settler I. M. House claimed that he and two other men discovered the bridge in 1880. House said he then showed it to his friend David Gowan, and since House did not want to claim it he encouraged Gowan to live there. So go the frequent conflicts in pioneer memories.

Indians frequently pursued Gowan, and in one well-known instance he hid for three days in a cave high under the arch of the Tonto Natural Bridge.

In 1879 Gowan sold his Tonto Creek claim to the Sanders families, Mormon settlers from St. George, and set up camp at the Natural Bridge. The exchange netted Gowan mules and tack, a wagon, a horse, as well as fruit trees and berry bushes, which he planted at the Natural Bridge. One of the apricot trees would years later become celebrated as Arizona's largest, bearing 100 bushels of fruit.

In the mid 1890s a British visitor to Arizona wrote an article about the wondrous Natural Bridge, and its interesting occupant. The piece was published in England, and a Scottish tailor read the news item, taking special notice.

David Gowan Goodfellow was reading about his uncle. The tailor sent a letter to Gowan, and it found its way to him even though addressed only to Flagstaff, Arizona Territory.

Davy answered immediately, offering Goodfellow ownership of the site if he would come and claim it. Gowan preferred the untrammeled life of a prospector. So it was that David and Lillias Goodfellow with their family came to be settlers and developed the Tonto Natural Bridge as a destination for visitors.

As the new century got under way, the prospector felt the ravages of time. His reddish-brown hair had turned white and receded. His teeth were all gone, though he had learned to masticate even the toughest meat, and he had begun to develop palsy. Even so, he opened a mine along the East Verde River, which became one of the better paying mines in the Payson District, registered as the Gowan Mine.

Meanwhile, another nephew of Gowan's had jumped ship from the British Navy on the East Coast, and come with a buddy to the Rim Country to look up his cousin David Goodfellow. He was Andrew Ogilvie, and after the reunion he worked in mines at Jerome and drove the mail stage between Payson and Globe.

In 1897, Ogilvie bought a homestead in the center of Star Valley from Louis Barnini, and in 1908 he married Agnes Lazear. To this family were born three children, among them Payson's "weather lady," the late Anna Mae Deming.

David Gowan often retreated to the Ogilvie ranch to clean up, renew his supplies and break the monotony of his bachelor life. At one point his old pipe somehow started a fire in the cabin Ogilvie had built for him on the ranch. The cabin was saved but the Ogilvie's storage shed, with their supply of meat and vegetables, burned to the ground.

The rugged life was taking its toll, but the old prospector would not sit and enjoy retirement. Davy sold his Gowan Mine for $10,000, only to go over the hill and sink it back into another mine called The Black Hawk. In the latter years of his life he set up camp along Deer Creek, and high above his crude cabin he mined in the Mazatzal Mountains.

Weekly he would come down to the Bar-T-Bar Ranch, operated by Jesse Chilson, to get his mail and share a good meal.

When in December of 1925 he did not show up for several weeks, Chilson rode along the trail in search of David Gowan, and found his frozen body near Deer Creek. He had taken off his shoe, as if his feet were bothering him, and simply laid back and died.

Chilson called together a posse, including Deputy Sheriff Jim Cline and Andrew Ogilvie, and they prepared a coffin from old boards. A strong winter snow storm was blowing when they cut into the hard earth where Gowan's body lay, and placing him in the makeshift coffin they buried him in his beloved wilderness on New Year's Day 1926. Andrew Ogilvie bought the headstone for his uncle, but not knowing exactly when Gowan died, the stone reads "David D. Gowan, 1843-1926."

Next: The Secret Burial on Main Street

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