Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 21: A Race to get Home for Christmas


Teacher Angie Mitchell completed her term at Tonto Basin’s first school, and was heading home to Prescott. Several folks from Tonto had accompanied her with their wagons as she headed for Phoenix, where the stage could be boarded for Prescott. On the way they had camped at Fort McDowell and visited with the Chaffee family, commander of the post. Intense rain caused their progress to be slow the next day and they camped again, outside of Phoenix at the ranch or a very gracious Mexican family. Her diary continues.

“Dec 23rd [Thursday] This morning we were up early and just after our breakfast the Senora appeared. After talking to all of us said she had some “panoche” at the house for me to take home if I wished.[1] I did wish, took Sarah with me and went up with Senora to the house. She talked to us and once in a while we understood. She took us out to her cellar, and it was a nice one too, full of preserves, jams, jars of butter and of panoche and all sorts of things mostly in pottery ollas and large bowls. She gave me a gallon crock of panoche, and said I’d find the crock or olla handy about the house. She also gave us some preserves made of the ‘wild date’ for dinner and then gave me some specimens for my cabinet.  I was aghast at the size of the crock of panoche and wanted to pay but she said, ‘No, no,’ and seemed so hurt that I thanked her the best I could. She went back to our camp and carried the panoche for me. We found a box & got some hay & packed it well. Then she told me [and Mrs.] Harer that if I wanted a good tamale recipe she’d give me one. I wanted it, for hers last night were the finest I had ever eatten, so she told it to Mrs. H and she translated and I wrote it. Then she brought out a cheese of goat’s milk and added that to our bill of fare for dinner. Soon after (that) we left and reached Phoenix about 11. Hancock had letters for me from home and Geo. and I sent the folks a telegram.[2] We are stopping at Dave Harer’s. We stopped at Capt Sharp’s to see him about my clerkship and he promised to help all he could.”[3]

They spent the night at Dave Harer’s, and the next day was Christmas Eve. Angie did some shopping in the town, perhaps buying gifts for her family in anticipation of getting home the next day. She was disappointed to find the stage for Prescott was full, and she would have to wait until the next day, Christmas Day. A friend of David Harer’s, George H. Rothrock, invited her to attend a dance with him that evening. “I accepted gladly, for I can’t go home till tomorrow at 2 a.m. as the stage is full. Couldn’t have gone tomorrow if some, kindly faced old miner hadn’t given me his place; said he guessed he’d just as soon spend Christmas one place as another and he knew the ‘little gal’ wanted to get home. When I thanked him, he said, ‘Never mind that part of it. I like to see a gal anxious to git home and am glad to help her if I can.”

The night she danced until after midnight, and found “Several girls and one or two men” she knew, making it a very enjoyable evening. After the dance she “went to Harer’s, changed my clothes, stuffed my traps in the trunk, got it and my satchel ready to go to the (stage) office. In a minute an express came for them and then I rolled little Onyx up in his blanket, took my warm pair of blankets and plenty of wraps and bid the family goodbye. A few minutes later the stage came and I found I was the 5th inside passenger, one old lady and three men being the others.”

The first leg of her journey got her to the stagecoach office in the heart of town. The stage was a little late and they did not arrive at the main stage office until after three o’clock in the morning. There they found another problem blocking a smooth trip home. “The Manager was in a puzzle. He had promised to send some luggage belonging to the theatrical troupe that went up yesterday on this stage… but the passengers insisted their luggage had to go sure. Every man had a trunk and Mrs. Rupert, the other lady, had a Saratoga and I had a trunk. I also had 2 boxes, small and medium to go when they could, and the stage would only hold so much.[4] He appealed to the men but they refused to give way. The Troupe’s baggage was prepaid and they needed it badly for the performance billed for Monday, and he couldn’t get it to them otherwise. Mrs. Rupert declared she could not wait. I said nothing while I revolved (sic) the situation and then said, ‘Well, I’ve not expected to have to leave my trunk and it’s extremely inconvenient, but as the next stage will be in Tuesday, you may leave my baggage all behind except the satchel.”

Angie pointed out that even with her two trunks waiting over, there still would not be room for all the people who wanted on that stage. However, in the light of her generosity nobility rose to the surface. “The youngest man whistled a minute or two and burst out, ‘Oh hang it all, if the young lady can wait four days I reckon I can. You may leave mine.’ Then the older of the other two said, ‘It’s deuced inconvenient. I can wait, and you may leave my luggage too.’ So the Troupe’s trunks were piled on with Mrs. Rupert’s and the 3rd man’s. Just as I was leaving the room the Agent said, ‘Miss Mitchell, I’ll send both boxes and your trunk on Tuesday.’ We were allowed 100# baggage and excess is 10 cents per Ib. My trunk weighs 185 & the box 98 and the little box 25 so I’ve 208# excess and that will cost $20.80. But it can’t be helped. The night was keenly cold and when we got well out onto the desert the wind grew stronger.”[5]

The route from Phoenix to Prescott went by way of Wickenburg, “We rode across the desert, stopping for breakfast at Calderwood’s Station, and on to Wickenburg where we look supper.”

Calderwood’s Station was a stage stop on the road to Wickenburg, near today’s Highway 60 and the Agua Fria River. It is in the vicinity of Surprise, Ariz., and was named for Captain M. H. Calderwood, a captain in the California Volunteers. In California he had been a grocer, and an assemblyman in Placer County. He came to this area during the Civil War, and presumably established a grocery business.

During this stage stop to change horses, Angie’s dog Onyx was stolen by “a livery stable hostler… but I got him O.K. and we finally started again.” Some time after dark they reached another station at Stanton, situated at the base of Rich Hill. Charles P. Stanton founded the place, and it was an important stop between Wickenburg and the difficult climb up the mountains to Prescott. Today it is a ghost town, owned by the Lost Dutchman Mining Association. They use is as a base for their members to prospect for gold. 

What happened during the next few hours would become one last harrowing adventure for Angie before she reached the security of home in Prescott.

NEXT: A Wild Ride and A Close Call

[1] Panoche is course Mexican sugar.

[2] Hancock was the superintendent of county schools; George was Angie’s fiancé in Prescott, serving in the Territorial Legislature.

[3] Dave Harer, a younger son of the elder, lived at times in Tonto and in Phoenix. Angie inquires about her application to be appointed clerk of the Territorial Legislature meeting in Prescott. Her plan was to take that position rather than return to Tonto if it was offered.

[4] Mrs. E. M. Rupert had two sons at Prescott who were miners. The 1880 census states they were from “Lynch Creek”, but this is probably a census taker’s error meaning Lynx Creek.

[5] Prescott Weekly Miner, December 31, 1880, “The Nellie Boyd Troupe will give a series of popular plays for one week, commencing Saturday, December 25th, 1880. For particulars see small bills and posters.” Later in that same issue, “Nellie Boyd Troupe tonight.” Apparently their trunks arrived in time, thanks to Angie.


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