We continue to explore stories that lie underneath (pun?) the isolated and lonely graves of the Rim Country. Traveling east on Forest Road 300 we pass the turnoff to Woods Canyon Lake, and emerge on State Highway 260. Immediately across the highway is a visitors' center for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, located on Fulton Point. Walking around the deck of this building we gaze over the vast wilderness spreading out from the Mogollon Rim. It is a breathtaking view, its beauty in stark contrast to the ugly murder that took place just back across the highway. Nearby is the grave of Al Fulton, and recounting his death gathers up one of the little known sagas of Rim Country history.
The General Crook Military Road came this way as it snaked along the edge of the Rim toward Fort Apache. Military wagon trains and cavalry units made their way here in the 1870s, past a giant sink hole that today is on the northeast side of the junction of the road to Woods Canyon Lake and Highway 260. Parking in the large lot by the visitors' center, we walk along the original Crook Trail eastward toward Lake One, one of those swampy depressions along the Rim that hold water much of the year. They made excellent camping places along Crook's Trail. A 12-minute walk brings us to a sign that reads, "Al Fulton Graveside 600 Feet," with an arrow pointing toward Lake One. You can see the wetland and Highway 260 beyond it from the trail. Near the lakeside a grave lies prominently against a Ponderosa pine, and the stone marker reads, "Al Fulton Shot, 1901."
Here is the story. After the end of the Apache War, the sheep industry had become a major factor in Arizona's economy. However, cattle interests, like the Aztec Land and Cattle Company (known as "The Hashknife Outfit") came into regular conflict with sheep ranchers over grazing rights. This conflict, together with Pleasant Valley families rustling livestock from one another, erupted in what we call "The Pleasant Valley War." To help protect their rights, the sheep men met in Flagstaff in 1886 and organized the Arizona Sheep Breeders and Wool Growers Association. They elected Harry Fulton, one of their prominent members, as their first president. It is doubtful that he was related to Al Fulton, although one legend says they were brothers and Al, in his early twenties, was herding Harry's new herd from Texas. Getting as far as Holbrook they were caught up in the feud between the Grahams and Tewksburys of Pleasant Valley. Another version says the year was 1888 when Al and his brother Harry unloaded their sheep herd from the Santa Fe Railroad at Magdalena, New Mexico Territory, and headed west for grazing south of Flagstaff. I mention both versions to show how difficult it is to filter out the facts when digging through the historical records.
What happened next also comes from second hand reports, since apparently no eyewitnesses came forth to testify. Notes on file with the Coconino National Forest say Al Fulton was working as a sheepherder for John X. Woods. Woods had a little homestead in the canyon named for him, as was the later Woods Canyon Lake. Whether Fulton was herding sheep for Woods or for Harry Fulton, he was aiming to take the herd over to Rim to lower winter pastures when he crossed the cattle range of Wilford Scarlet. Scarlet's cowboys chased Al and the herd, stampeding the sheep toward the sinkhole beside today's Highway 260. Again, there are two versions of how Al died. In one story he tried to head the sheep around the sinkhole, fell and was trampled to death under the stampede. A second story, more likely, is that the cattlemen shot him. This story is backed by a piece that appeared in Flagstaff's newspaper, "The Champion," on Aug. 10, 1889 (page 3, column 3). "FOUND DEAD: F. B. Parker, who recently arrived in town, gives us the following information. The body of Al Fulton, who was in the employ of engineer J. X. Woods as a sheepherder, was found by himself and Juan Padia recently on the head of Shoveling (sic = Chevelon) Creek in Apache County. He also states that a wound in the back of the head indicated he had been violently dealt with. Mr. Parker says it is his opinion that `Babe Shaw' was the man who done the deed, as previous to that he threatened the life and used abusive language toward the deceased. They found considerable money on his body in small silver coins. The murdered man, it is said, has relatives in the Black Hills, Wyoming Territory."
Al Fulton was buried nearby, perhaps by Parker and Padia, and the place came to be called Fulton's Point. However, the grave was desecrated over the years by passersby, so the Forest Service moved his remains to the present grave location beside Lake One, near the Crook Trail. A 1945 photo shows a different gravestone than the one today, and it simply reads, "Al Fulton, Murdered, September 1888." I wondered how this could be when the present marker reads, "Al Fulton Shot 1901."
I interviewed summer forester and historian Breezen Jermone, who believes the second headstone was simply a guess after the original had been stolen. She said that to prevent further desecration of the grave, the Forest Service in moving the remains laid a concrete slab underground over them. In 1992 grave robbers tried to dig up Al Fulton, but gave it up when they came to the concrete. Jermone had volunteers rebuild the grave as it was and prepare a new headstone.
The mystery of multiple versions surrounding Al Fulton's grave do not prevent one from standing there and meditating on the violence and suffering that was the hallmark of pioneer settlement in the Rim Country. Soon, however, the beauty of the surroundings catch us up in forgetfulness of man's inhumanity to man.
Our next "grave story" will take us back again to the Pleasant Valley War and the hanging of a presumably innocent man a little farther along on the Crook Trail.