Kingman in western Arizona will forever be associated with the “Mother Road” thanks to Bobby Troup and his classic song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66 that transformed a US highway into an icon. However, this is not the only brush with fame the dusty desert town named for Lewis Kingman, a railroad engineer and surveyor, has had.
In 1857, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, under direction from President James Buchanan authorized Lieutenant Edward Beale to survey a road that would connect Fort Defiance in the Territory of New Mexico with Fort Mohave on the Colorado River. This expedition was to have a second purpose, testing the viability of camel transport for military application in the desert southwest.
A dependable all year source of water to the west of present day Kingman was designated Beale Springs. Additional homage to Lt. Beale came in the name bestowed upon the fort established at the springs during the 1870s, and a primary street in Kingman that runs parallel to Route 66.
As an historic footnote the springs have played several distinct roles in the development of Kingman and western Arizona. The fort established here played a key role in the subjugation of the Hualapai people opening the door for development of the rich mineral deposits in the Cerbat Mountains and vast ranching empires in the Hualapai Valley, the Sacramento Valley, and in the valleys near present day Truxton.
This fort was also the center for the first Hualapai reservation. From here the Hualapai Trail of Tears began.
With abandonment of the fort the springs served as the cornerstone for a large ranching enterprise. Then the springs served as the first water supply for the city of Kingman, as a boy scout camp, and with the construction of a concrete swimming pool, a quasi resort for the city.
The railroad in its westward expansion during the 1880s closely followed the road he surveyed, known as the Beale Wagon Road, along the 35th parallel. In turn the railroad was followed closely by the National Old Trails Highway and then by the first alignment of Route 66 in 1926.
The National Old Trails Highway figured prominently in the last of the Desert Classic “Cactus Derby” races. The course for the 1914 race was from Los Angeles to Ashfork in Arizona, and then south through Prescott to Phoenix.
The racers climbed Cajon Pass, drove north through Victorville to Barstow, and then east across the desert to Needles. Rather than take the alternate route through Yucca, the path followed by Route 66 after 1952, and the current route for I40 from Kingman to Needles, they chose the road over Sitgreaves Pass.
This incredible test of machine and man featured some of the most prominent names associated with the sport of racing during this period including Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield. The racers stopped long enough in Kingman for fuel and much needed repairs.
It is unknown if nine-year-old Andy Devine, the gravely voiced character actor, turned out to watch the racers roar into town but he would have had a front row seat if he did. His father, Tom Devine, was the proprietor of the Hotel Beale on Front Street.
Initially the hotel, where Andy Devine received the injury that permanently damaged his vocal chords, was one block north of Route 66 but after the realignment of 1937, the highway was at its front door. It was during a segment of This Is Your Life, Andy Devine learned that this street was being renamed Andy Devine Avenue. Signage today still carries this designation for Route 66 from east to west through Kingman.
Another Route 66 landmark associated with Andy Devine is the Crozier Canyon Ranch to the east of Kingman near Hackberry where he worked during the late teens. In addition to ranching, the Crozier also served as a small resort with bathhouses and a huge spring fed swimming pool. The railroad provided Sunday afternoon excursions from Kingman during the months of summer making this oasis a very popular get away.
The Crozier Ranch has another link to Hollywood hidden away in the downstairs bathroom; Fatty Arbuckle’s bathtub obtained when a Grounds family, owners of the ranch, associate who worked as an architect in Los Angeles remodeled the actors home.
During the early 1920s local miners, cowboys, and businessmen mingled with railroad passengers and daring motorists traveling the National Old Trails Highway at the Hotel Beale. One of the miners, employed at the Katherine Mines that frequented the Beale on his visits to Kingman was an adventuresome young man by the name of Louis L’Amour. The landscapes and people he encountered during his time in Kingman would season his epic stories of life on the western frontier.
In 1928 a new chapter in the history of the Hotel Beale, and Kingman, began to unfold with the arrival of Charles Lindbergh, the pioneering aviator. The establishment of refueling and supply stops for Transcontinental Air Transport, the nation’s first passenger airline service, was pivotal to the fledging businesses inaugural flights scheduled for 1929
The two Arizona communities selected as stops were Kingman and Winslow. On numerous visits to Kingman to oversee the construction of the airfield and supportive infrastructure, Lindbergh stayed at the Hotel Beale. Likewise, with his associate that assisted in the ribbon cutting in the summer of 1929, Amelia Earhart.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard made a brief stop in Kingman during March of 1939 to marry at the Methodist church four blocks north of Route 66. The Oatman Hotel, in Oatman, Arizona, was where they spent their first night as husband and wife.
As an historic footnote, the Oatman Hotel is one of the few original buildings that remain in this historic mining camp. It is the largest existent historic structure built of adobe in Mohave County.
In November of 1944, W.S. Chamberlain, turned his Ford coupe from Route 66 onto Fourth Street, the original alignment of that highway in Kingman, and struck and killed Tap Duncan. It was an inglorious end for a pioneer rancher with familial ties to Black Jack Ketchum, the train robber, and alleged associations with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
During World War II, a large swath of the Neal ranch in the Hualapai Valley became one of the largest flexible gunnery schools in the nation with assistance from the Herculean efforts of construction crews pulled from the Davis Dam project on the Colorado River. Listed among the thousands of men trained at the Kingman Army Airfield is Clayton Moore, best known for his role as the Lone Ranger.
Today, Kingman is best known for Route 66, and its association with Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, but movie trivia buffs know the town for its role in numerous films. Among these is Foxfire, 1955, Edge of Eternity, 1959, Roadhouse 66, 1984, Universal Soldier, 1992, and season six of HBO’s Soprano’s when Tony Soprano, in a coma, dreams that his identity was switched with a Kingman resident.
Lt. Beale and the Camel Caravans Through Arizona