by Doc Stragnel
This paper is intended to provide an over-view of some of the major individuals and circumstances which resulted in happenings in a small area North of Yuma on the mighty Colorado River. Native Americans ebbed and flowed throughout the area thousands of years before the Spanish arrived and various tribes were established along the Colorado River when Hernando de Alarcon discovered its mouth on August 26th 1540.
When one thinks about Arizona history it is almost all of very recent origin. Indeed, as far as Anglo-American contributions this is basically true. The mountain men explored and trapped the river in the early 19th century and during the gold rush many crossed its waters in the area now known as Yuma.
The first of the characters I would like to introduce is Herman Ehrenberg. He is the man for whom the town of Ehrenberg, Arizona is named. He was born at Steuden, near Leipzig, Saxony [Germany], between 1816 and 1820. He came to New York in 1834 or '35 and was in New Orleans when the war for Texan Independence erupted. He enlisted in the New Orleans Grays and apparently took part in the defeat of Brigadier General Martin Perfecto de Cos and the occupation of San Antonio by Ben Milam. Subsequently he joined Fannin and was present at the battle of Goliad where is reported to have been captured. While facing a firing squad he feigned death and fell thus permitting him to temporarily escape. He was recaptured and received a saber slash which left him with a facial scar. Either because of his youth, or the intervention of a fellow German attached to the Mexican forces he was re- leased. Having enough of this life he returned to Germany to complete his education at Freyburg University where he obtained a degree as a mining and topographic engineer.
During this period he authored a book, "Der Freiheitskampf in Texas im Jahr 1836", which was published in Leipzig in 1844. Apparently, as a result of this publication a large number of German families emigrated to Texas. The book has never been translated into English but represents the impact that one individual was capable of having at this juncture of history.
When his studies were completed Ehrenberg returned to the United States. He joined a party going to the Oregon Territory and is reported to have done surveying in the Astoria region. It is reported that he then went to the Sandwich Islands and many other South Pacific islands, including Tahiti here he is reported to have gained great favor with Queen Pomare the fifth. He returned to California, by what ever route the historian you read prefers to have him return. However, he apparently was in place at an opportune time for him to join Colonel Fremont in his efforts to free California from Mexican rule.
Over the next several years he undertook a number of mining and topographic surveying activities, making significant maps of San Francisco and Sacramento. He reputedly discovered "Gold Bluff" on the Oregon coast. He joined ranks with Charles Debrille Posten in San Francisco in 1854 and they sailed to the Gulf of California on the British Brig Zoraida. Following a ship wreck on an island in the Sea of Cortez they worked their way north through Sonora towards the Arizona Territory. During this period Ehrenberg did extensive topographic mapping and mining exploration. The area near Tubec, that was later to be developed in to the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company was very carefully evaluated. As Ehrenberg and Posten were returning to California, Ehrenberg surveyed the townsite of Colorado City, later Arizona City and finally Yuma, Arizona. This was done to create an exchange medium for transportation across the river on Louis Jaeger's ferry, established in 1849.
It is of interest that Fort Yuma's location is on the same site that was occupied by Lt. Amiel W. Whipple's camp when he was doing his preliminary boundary survey in 1849. Some sources suggest that this was also the site of the old Mission of Puerta de la Concepcion, which was founded by Garces in 1780. Barnes believes that the Mission was on the Arizona side of the river, although Major Samuel P. Heintzelman, the first American officer at Fort Yuma, noted that there were rough foundations at this site when he was there in 1851.
As a result of Ehrenberg's exploration with Poston, the first accurate map of the Gadsden Purchase boundary was established. This was published by Alex Zakreski of San Francisco in 1854. Over the next several years Ehrenberg continued his mining exploration and surveying while Charles Posten traveled to the east coast to raise money for the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company. Posten was successful and they met in Tucson in 1856. An active mining venture was established near Tubac and upwards of one thousand people worked for this mine. Posten became the Alcalde of Tubec and in the census of 1860 Herman Ehrenberg was listed as a resident of that city with a net worth of twenty five thousand dollars, a small fortune at that time.
The first Arizona Gold Rush materialized in September, 1858. Henry Birch, a member of a prospecting group headed by Jacob Snively, discovered a nugget in the foothills to the west of Dome, Arizona, adjacent to the Gila River. Snively was a veteran of the Texas war of independence and had been the personal secretary of General Sam Houston and as leader has been given credit for this discovery of gold. The town of Gila City quickly developed with a bunch of brush shacks, a few tent saloons and reportedly the first post-office in the Arizona Territory.
The gold ran out between 1859 and 1860 and in 1864 J. Ross Browne wrote, "There was everything in Gila City except a church and a jail, which were accounted barbarisms by the mass of the population. When the city was built, bar-rooms and billiard-saloons opened, monte tables were established and all accommodations for civilized society placed upon a firm basis; the gold placers gave out and the remains were washed away by a flood in 1864. All that remained of the metropolis of Arizona consisted of 3 chimneys and a coyote."
Some mining had been in progress as early as 1854 at La Laguna, about 20 miles north of the Yuma Crossing, and a small community of Sonoran miners were located in the region. In 1862 Pauline Weaver, the half-white half-Indian, explorer, mountain man and military guide for the Mormon Battalion of 1847, was trapping on the Colorado River in the area known as "The Pot Holes". While exploring Arroyo de la Tenaja, on January 12, 1862, he found traces of gold. He put the flakes in a goose quill and showed them to Don Jose M. Redondo at La Laguna. Redondo explored further and within a mile of Weaver's discovery found evidence of there being considerable gold. By the middle of February forty people were prospecting and it seemed that every gulch and ravine for 20 miles east and south was rich with gold.
Word spread rapidly and the Los Angeles Star publicized this new Eldorado. All those who had not enjoyed profits from the Sierra gold rush of forty nine and those who had lost out in Holcomb Valley and elsewhere, as well as those displaced by the floods in San Gabriel Canyon, scrambled to get aboard and grab the ring of fortune, hoping for a bonanza of gold.
The initial discovery had been made on January 12th, Feast Day of Our Lady of Peace, and as the central area of congregation and construction of shelter was besides a sheltered lagoon or slough projecting from the Colorado River, it was named Laguna de La Paz, which was quickly abbreviated to La Paz.
Transportation to the area was arduous, particularly by the overland route San Bernardino to Fort Yuma. William D. Bradshaw, a forty-niner for whom the Bradshaw mountains are named, developed a freight route through San Gorgonio Pass, in late May of 1862. The route went down through Agua Calinte, now Palm Springs, and then South to the region where the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation is now located. From there travel was eastward near present day Mecca and across the gap between the Orocopia and Chocolate mountains north of the Salton Sea and then across the desert to the Colorado River. The distance from San Bernardino to La Paz was 205.73 miles, with the longest stretch between watering spots being 34 miles.
During the summer of 1862 the town of La Paz, point of supply for the entire area, consisted of less than 100 primitive brush ramadas built mainly of mesquite and arrowweed. Two of these were outfitted as stores and 12 were saloons. Before the advent of winter many of the brush shanties had been replaced with more substantial adobe structures and the town had grown to number around 1500 inhabitants.
Bradshaw, with his brother Isaac, ran a ferry from Providence Point, on the California side to Olive City, on the Arizona side. Olive City was about 6 miles south of La Paz and was named for Olive Oatman whose freighting story was widely known. Earlier ferries had been simple rafts of tulles managed by Indians. Bradshaw's ferry, owned with William A Warringer, was a rude boat attached to a rope spanning the stream. It was capable of carrying wagons and a limited number of animals and the current was the propelling power. The rates were not exorbitant:
Bradshaw was described by Horace Bell as a "natural lunatic". He had arrived in San Francisco in 1849 and kicked around the country for thirteen years before word of the discovery of gold at La Paz was circulated. Bell continued, "A more curious or marked character this chronicler never knew; one of natures most polished gentlemen and brightest jewel in Americas collection of true born chivalry. Bradshaw was brave, generous, and eccentric; in manly form and physical beauty, perfect; in muscular strength, a giant; in fleetness of foot and endurance, unequaled."
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