Rim Country Places

Chapter 18: Happy Jack, Clint's Well and Long Valley


The Happy Jack Ranger Station.

The Happy Jack Ranger Station.

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Map-makers and map-readers have puzzled for years over the fact that the Happy Jack post office is in Long Valley and the Long Valley Ranger Station is at Happy Jack. As we might expect, “herein lies a tale.”

Historically, we need to begin with Long Valley, a narrow valley that is actually only a few miles long. It straddles the Payson-Winslow highway, Arizona 87, beginning about 12 miles north of the Mogollon Rim. At the north end of this valley is a spot known as Clint’s Well, where the highway splits and Forest Road 3 heads on north to Flagstaff while 87 heads northwest to Winslow. Fifteen more miles toward Flagstaff and the site of the old lumber camp known as Happy Jack is on the left.

It was the rancher and merchant Clint Wingfield who gave his name to Clint’s Well. He ran cattle in the area, and with his friend Mack Rogers bought the old Sutler’s Store in Camp Verde in 1898. A year later, on July 2, 1899, Clint and Mack were shot and killed by “Black Jack” Ketchum during a robbery at the store. A posse headed by Clint’s brother Frank went after the killer, tracing him up on the Rim to Long Valley. The trail then led eventually to Payson where Ketchum, under the name of Charlie Bishop, had gone for ammunition and supplies. The pursuit led all the way to the New Mexico border, where Ketchum had left a trail of train robberies. During one of them his arm was shot off by the guard, and he ended up in a New Mexico hospital. There he was apprehended, tried for his crimes in that state, and hung. Arizona never got to try him for the murders in Camp Verde. [1]

photo

Photo courtesy of Arizona Centennial Legacy Project

The Lumbermen at Happy Jack line up with their logs for a photo.

Jump ahead to the 1940s. The Saginaw and Manistee logging company, that had centered operations near the Grand Canyon and Williams, and maintained a sawmill in Flagstaff, was needing still more logs. The operation moved south in the Coconino Forest to Mormon Lake and beyond. The distance from the mill was too great and in winter the roads impassable, so the company set up a new camp 45 miles southeast of Flagstaff. The logging trucks filled the forest with their roaring all day as they took their cargo to north of Mormon Lake, called the Allan depot, where a remnant of the old Mineral Belt Railroad transported the logs the rest of the way to Flagstaff. The company moved some of its buildings from the old camp at Williams and built additional ones to house the loggers’ families.

A busy community emerged at the camp, peaking at 500 souls. The community was at first called Saginaw Camp, and nicknamed Yellow Jacket Camp because of the abundance of ground bees from a nearby spring. That natural water source was a major incentive to locate the camp here. A grade school was provided for the children, a company store, a mess hall, and a community social hall that served as a movie theater on Saturday nights and a church on Sundays. A tiny wood cabin served as the post office. On weekends the loggers often went down to Long Valley to participate in the rodeos and dances at the Fuller ranch.

In the late 1940s the Saginaw & Manistee Lumber company sold out to Southwest Forest Industries. About this same time, the Forest Service moved their Long Valley Ranger Station to a place across the road from the lumber camp. The new supervisor for the Ranger District, named Roland Rotty, said the place needed a more distinctive name than Yellow Jacket Camp. Remembering the legend of a stage coach robber named Happy Jack who operated in Wyoming and Montana, and himself coming from a place called Happy Jack, Montana, he began calling the community “Happy Jack” and the name took hold. The name Yellow Jacket was soon forgotten. Immediately derogative sobriquets began to circulate, such as “Slap Happy,” and because Native Americans were employed by the lumber company, some called it “Hopi Jack.”

The Happy Jack lumber camp lasted for 30 years, and in the 1970s Southwest Forest Industries razed the buildings. The Happy Jack post office was moved to Long Valley. The Long Valley Ranger Station remained at the old Happy Jack location. So it came about that the two names are often confused in the public mind: Happy Jack post office is really at Long Valley, and the Long Valley Ranger Station is really at Happy Jack.

Memories of the old Happy Jack are hard to come by these days. The old-timers have passed from the scene, but author and journalist James E. Cook lived at Happy Jack as a youth when his father was a summer Forest Ranger there.[2] He recalled how “during long summer afternoons we kids walked down the hill to Yellow Jacket Spring, which fed a muddy stock tank. We built crude rafts to float on the tank, and usually came home caked with mud. In the evenings, after supper, young people from the logging camp and from the ranger station played baseball in a little meadow between the two.”

In 1994 a Cottonwood family named Mongini bought property at Long Valley (Clint’s Well), where the post office was called Happy Jack. They named their development Happy Two Too, with an RV park, rental cabins, a restaurant, store and other camping amenities.

The old site of the Happy Jack lumber operation has taken on a new and historic significance in this 21st century. The Lowell Observatory and the Discovery Communications (Discovery TV channel) have become partners, along with other universities, in building there a $53 million telescope, designed “to answer fundamental questions about our universe.” The claim is that it is “among the most technically sophisticated ground-based telescopes of its size” and is the fifth largest in the United States. It sits on a cinder cone at an almost 7,000-foot elevation, seven stories high.

Arizona maps still show the original location for Happy Jack, and the Happy Jack post office still remains in Long Valley, at Clint’s Well. A drive along Highway 87 and Forest Road 3 always provides serendipities. One time as we were in the vicinity of Happy Jack, nine doe crossed the road leisurely in front of us, herded by a proud buck. A little further on four elk crossed, three of them apparently young stags hoping to grow some antlers. Upon our return we stopped at Clint’s Well for a great hamburger and coffee, and recalled the history of these special places on the road to Flagstaff.

Notes

[1] See Frank Winfield’s own story in “Pioneer Stories of Arizona’s Verde Valley,” quoted in The Arizona Republic Feb. 25, 1962.

[2] See Amazon Books for “Arizona Liar’s Journal” by Jim Cook. Also a number of other books by him.

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