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Arizona Diary: Del Rio Springs

Del Rio Dairy in the 1930s

Del Rio Springs, near Paulden in Yavapai County, is a historic locale that has been continuously in use for thousands of years.  The inviting site sits at an altitude of 4,400 feet with a temperate climate, gently rolling hills and a dependable water source.  Its attributes were noted and claimed early on in Arizona’s territorial history.

Anglo occupation began in December 1863 by the U.S. Army who camped there until May 1864 before establishing a permanent location at Fort Whipple in nearby Prescott.  The Del Rio site served briefly as the first Arizona territorial capitol. The Army moved to Fort Whipple, as they thought that Del Rio was too far from the bustling mining activity near today’s Prescott and the capitol moved with them.

Robert Postle, upon his muster from the Army, squatted on lands at Del Rio about 1864. He and his partner J.N. Brown ran a successful farming operation and grist mill on 500 acres.  They were frequently visited by wagon trains passing through who needed water for themselves and their stock. In one of the wagons was a family from Missouri named Shivers, whose 14-year-old daughter Hannah caught Postle’s eye. Postle encouraged the Shivers family, which included several more other attractive sisters, to stay and purchase property adjacent to his farm.  In September 1867, 30-year-old Postle married young Hannah. When Postle died five years later, Hannah ran the homestead for herself and her two young children and eventually received the homestead patent. She remarried and gave birth to three more children and died in 1885 after becoming weak from caring for her son with typhoid fever. A cemetery on the now-private lands contains the remains of Postle and Shivers family members.  Hannah’s second husband lost the ranch to foreclosure in 1886.

Near the Postle place, George Banghart established a stage station at Del Rio in 1866 and his attractive daughters, along with the Shivers’, made this a particularly welcome stop between Ash Fork and Prescott. In the book “Arizona Place Names,” Will Barnes says it was alternately known as Banghart’s or Chino and a post office was established with Banghart as postmaster in November 1885. Banghart died there in July 1895. The A.T. & S.F. Railroad bought out Banghart and renamed the site Del Rio. One account says the Banghart property was adjacent to Postle’s; another says Postle’s was about five miles south of Banghart’s.

Also near the springs were the headquarters for the cattle ranch owned by John G. Campbell and R.H. Buffum that was established in 1868. An adobe building was constructed and the ranch was known as the “Adobe’. Buffum sold out to James Baker who then acquired Campbell’s interest in the ranch in 1898. The Campbell/Baker outfit later acquired the Postle lands. Reports differ as to who built and lived in the now-gone adobe structure.

One account says the specific water rights to Del Rio springs were acquired in 1892 by Baker, up until then, water use was grandfathered-in to the original user. In 1900, three separate land parcels around the Del Rio area were acquired by the city of Prescott from the families of Baker and Banghart that would provide a water source to the growing Prescott area. Prescott shared Del Rio water with the AT&SF Railroad that had negotiated a 99-year lease for a portion of the water with Baker in 1898.

By 1910, the ranch was sold to the A.T. & S.F. Railroad who established a dairy ranch to supply the Fred Harvey restaurants with fresh dairy products. Barns, bunkhouses, and other structures were built to accommodate the animals and farming activities.  It was a source of pride to the locals that their dairy products were served to railroad travelers and in the Harvey Houses. The Del Rio site also housed mules from the Grand Canyon herd during their winter break. The Santa Fe hauled Del Rio water north the 120 miles to the always-thirsty Grand Canyon to serve the South Rim residents and tourists.

A historical marker along Highway 89 near Paulden denotes the general location of Arizona’s first territorial capitol and a few historical buildings from the dairy days still stand, now on private land. Efforts to preserve the cemetery are ongoing.

— S.D. Olberding. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona.

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