Dusty Trails And Lost Highways

Dusty Trails And Lost Highways

Authors collection©

Beale Springs in the foothills of the Cerbat Mountains in western Arizona is more than a desert oasis. It is at the crossroads of the past, present and even future. And it illustrates the fact that history is not as dead and boring as a four day insurance seminar, even though that is the impression most of us were given in high school.

The springs are named for the intrepid adventurer Lt. Edward F. Beale. A relatively obscure figure today, Beale’s story is epic. He was a naval officer and in 1845 he was assigned to the squadron of Captain Robert F. Stockton when he met with with the Texas Congress and finalized an agreement for annexation by the United States. Beale was also an explorer, spy, frontiersman, Indian affairs superintendent, successful rancher, international diplomat. He fought in the Mexican–American War and distinguished himself at the Battle of San Pasqual in 1846. On assignment from the president, In 1848 after an arduous and harrowing journey on the sea and across the isthmus of Panama, he confirmed the discovery of gold in California.

In the 1850s he surveyed and supervised construction of the Beale Wagon Road, a favored fair weather route for travelers headed to California and a key transpiration corridor for development in northern Arizona. The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad followed much of Beale’s road across Arizona in the 1880s. So did the National Old Trails Road after 1913, and then Route 66.

For the Cerbat clan of the Hualapai people Beale Springs, and the springs in nearby Coyote Pass and Johnson Canyon, were central to their lives. Faint traces of their wickiups are still found in the area as are the occasional arrowhead. There is historical evidence that the first European visit to the springs was in 1776 when Father Garces and his expedition encamped at the site. Most of the early American explorers, including Lt. Beale camped at the site.

One of the scenic trails in the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area above Beale Springs. ©

In March 1864, near present day Bullhead City, Arizona, William Harrison Hardy established Hardyville on the Colorado River. Steamboats transformed the river into a major transportation corridor, and Hardyville assumed an importance that belied its size as a supply center for mining camps established in the Cerbat Mountains. As the river port was located near Fort Mohave, the community also benefitted from establishment of a military and toll road built to connect that outpost with Fort Whipple at the territorial capital of Prescott. Beale Springs served as an important waystation.

This created a crisis for the Haulapai people as the springs were important for farming as well as a source of water. Further pressure came with the discovery of rich deposits of gold, silver and other metals in the Cerbat Mountains, and establishment of mining camps such as Mineral Park, Cerbat, and Chloride. Ranchers were also moving into the Hualapai and Sacramento Valley, and further restricting access to springs. In the late 1860s hostilities between the native people and miners, ranchers and travelers on the military road dramatically escalated.

A report on the escalating conflict noted, “The Hualapai War continued into the winter, with search and destroy sweeps into the mountains of western Arizona. Major combat occurred on November 7, 1867, and on January 14, 1868. In the former incident, elements of the 8th Cavalry and the 14th Infantry Regiment attacked a Hualapai village, killing nineteen and capturing seventeen women and children. In the latter, an 8th Cavalry patrol out of Fort Mojave stumbled across a Hualapai encampment in Difficult Canyon. In the ensuing fire-fight, twenty-one Hualapai were killed. In another fight on march 21, the casualty figures were more evenly balanced. A 14th Infantry Regiment contingent escorting a mail train was ambushed by an estimated seventy-five Hualapai, and the battle left two dead on each side.”

To provide protection to travelers, and pressure the Haulapai into capitulation, Camp Beale Springs was established in 1871. It was garrisoned by Captain Thomas Bryne and Company F, 12th U.S. Infantry. It remained active until 1874. At the end of the Hualapai War, the Beale Springs Indian Agency was established at the site in January 1873 as a reservation for the Hualapai Indians. The camp closed on 6 Apr 1874, when the Hualapai Indians were force marched to the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation at La Paz. The incident known as the Hualapai Trail of Tears resulted in many deaths.

The springs remained an important stop on the toll road that connected Prescott with the Colorado River. After establishment of the railroad in 1881, and the founding of Kingman shortly afterwards, a ranch and then hotel was built at the springs to accommodate travelers on the road to the mining towns in the Cerbat Mountains. In September 1874, a traveler noted, “Beale’s Springs did not differ from the other ranches encountered except that possibly it was even more desolate. A German lived there who must have had a knowledge of cookery, for we bought a peach pie which we ate with relish. We paid him a big silver dollar for it.”

In the years that followed the springs remained an important part of area development. The waters were piped into Kingman which helped curtail the need to supply the remote desert crossroads with water by rail. A swimming pool/reservoir was added after 1900, and the springs became a popular picnic area. In 1914, a “modern” highway was constructed through the site and over Coyote Pass to Chloride. Today the historic oasis is the crown jewel of the Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area, a network of hiking and mountain bike trails in the scenic Cerbat Mountains.