Five county seats in less than twenty years. Political intrigue. Conspiracy theories about voter fraud and stolen elections. A courthouse turned hotel on Route 66. A century old courthouse with unique WWI memorial. This is the story of Mohave County, Arizona
The story begins with establishment of the Arizona Territory in 1862. Two years later Mohave, Pima, Yavapai, and Yuma counties were carved from the vast wilderness, and the small mining camp of Prescott near Fort Whipple was designated the territorial capital.
Of the four original counties Mohave has the most intriguing history. Named for the tribe that lived along the Colorado River near present day Bullhead City, it remains a sort of political oddity. Almost one third of the county is north of the Colorado River. Known regionally as the strip country, aside from using an airplane or boat, that section of the county can only be accessed from Nevada or Utah.
In 1865 the territorial legislature carved several new counties from the original four. One of these was Pah-Ute County that was split from Mohave County. This new county included the strip country and the southern tip of present-day Nevada where Las Vegas, Nelson, Nipton and Laughlin are located. Another adjustment was made in 1871 and the strip country was folded back into Mohave County, and the remainder of Pah Ute County became part of Clark County in the newly designated state of Nevada.
Mohave City on the Colorado River was selected as the first Mohave County seat. Then in 1867 it was moved upriver to the port of Hardyville near present day Davis Dam. In 1873 it was relocated to the mining boom town of Cerbat in the Cerbat Mountains, and then in 1877 to neighboring Mineral Park.
In January 1887, as Mineral Park entered a period of decline when mines played out, the territorial legislature held hearings to consider new sites. Greenwood, a mining town on the south side of the Hualapai Mountains, and Hackberry along the railroad at the eastern edge of the Hualapai Valley were considered.
As an historical footnote Greenwood is a nearly forgotten ghost town near the Big Sandy River. Hackberry along the National Old Trails Road and the earliest alignment of Route 66 still has a faint pulse as a dozen or so residents still reside in the dusty old town.
Territorial newspapers in February noted outrage among some business owners and residents in Mineral Park when it was declared that Kingman would serve as the Mohave County seat. Rampant rumors claimed that the vote to move the county seat was fraudulent. Interestingly those rumors spawned a legend that is still repeated as fact today. A quick Google search will find several stories that Mineral Park officials refused to give up the county records and that outraged Kingman citizens subsequently launched a raid and carried off county documents. Some of these stories claim that the courthouse in Mineral Park was burned during the attack.
The Mohave County Miner, one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in the state of Arizona, followed removal of the county seat to Kingman. It remains in publication as the Kingman Miner. Other businesses relocated as well and within a decade Mineral Park was nearly abandoned.
Before completion of the first courthouse in Kingman in 1890, a two-story wood frame structure on Spring Street built by Orvin Peasley and W.H. Taggart, the temporary county offices and courts were housed in the Taggart Building on Front Street. The second courthouse was constructed at a cost of $62,372 iin a Neoclassical style designed by the architectural firm Lescher & Kibbey based in Phoenix between 1914 to 1915. The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The construction contract was awarded to J. M. Wheeler of Kingman, and Collamore & Sons from Arkansas. Stone used in the project was hauled into Kingman from the Metcalfe Quarry in the Cerbat Mountains. The quarry supplied stone for other buildings in Kingman including the Brunswick Hotel and Bonelli House that was also built in 1915,
With completion of the courthouse, the first building was relocated to Front Street (Andy Devine Avenue/Route66) across from the railroad depot. It was then remodeled and served as the Commercial Hotel until the early 1950s.
Plans for landscaping of the courthouse grounds were delayed due to WWI. Still, by the mid-1920s retaining walls had been completed and trees planted. Then in 1928 a monument with plaque that read, “IN MEMORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF MOHAVE COUNTY WHO SERVED IN THE WORLD WAR 1917 – 1918” was erected in front of the courthouse.
This is a very rare WWI memorial. The “Spirit of the American Doughboy” created by sculptor Earnest Moore Viquesney is one of the most popular WWI statues produced. It is estimated that a full ten percent of WWI memorials used this distinctive sculpture.
But what makes this statue unique is that it is one of three that were dedicated to a Native American. The dedication ceremony for the monument honored Sam Swaskegame of the Hualapai tribe who was killed in action in the Marne campaign battle of Blanc Mont, France on October 7, 1918.
The second statue on the monument is also a rarity. Created by the same sculptor, “The SPIRIT OF THE AMERICAN NAVY” was not as popular as the doughboy. Only seven of these statues are known to exist.
Local volunteers started construction of the stone base for the WWI monument and the pond that would surround at the end of April 1928. Ora Gruninger, a Kingman contractor, supervised the work and spearheaded the collection of donations. The base cost $150. The $2,650 for the monument included $1,000 apiece for the statues with the remainder being used for the machine gun, and bronze plaque.
The statues were shipped from Chicago on May 1, 1928. The dedication ceremony on May 30, 1928, started at 9:30 a.m. with a parade from the firehouse near Fifth and Beale Streets. The parade made its way to the Mohave County Courthouse by 9:45. The parade was led by Ed Wishon, the commander of the local American Legion No. 14, Swaskegame Post. At 10 a.m., Mr. Wishon performed as master of ceremonies for the dedication. Judge Ross H. Blakely invoked the dedication.
At some point around the turn of the century the machine gun was stolen. On June 29, 2019, a rededication ceremony was held in commemoration of the 101st anniversary of the battle of Belleau Wood. The ceremony included replacement of the Colt 1895 machine gun with a bronze replica created by artist/sculptor Clyde Ross Morgan of Sedona, Arizona.
The courthouse, the story of Mohave County, and the WWI memorial are all a part of the new self guided, narrated historic district walking tours being developed by Kingman Main Street in limited partnership with Jim Hinckley’s America.