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Cave Creek - Some History I didn't know

Terry Soloman

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I thought I would share this with you all. It's interesting reading for those of you that may have ridden or hiked some of the old military road to Prescott.

Cave Creek, Arizona History, By Matthew Roberts

Several years ago I was asked to put together an article on the short history of Cave Creek, Arizona for the local paper. I am a former resident of Cave Creek and the article contained some good information on General Stoneman's Military trail.

Cave Creek Arizona, Yesterday and Today

The Town of Cave Creek is named for Cave Creek, the small stream that originates in the hills near Skull Mesa to the northeast and flows southwesterly for 25 miles before reaching the vicinity of Paradise Valley. The stream derives its name from a high, overhanging bluff along its west bank that forms a wide open-mouthed cavern about two miles north of the present day Town.

Cave Creek can trace its history back 100 years, but Native Americans were living in these hills long before any Europeans came. Various tribes of prehistoric Indians came into the area periodically to hunt game and gather wild foods. The Hohokam settled permanently in small villages along Cave Creek to grow crops. These villages used the waters of Cave Creek and nearby springs to irrigate their fields.

These original inhabitants occupied the land from about 800 A.D. until 1400 A.D. and then disappeared. They left behind the crumbling remains of their irrigation ditches and the foundations of their small houses. Following the departure of the Hohokam, the Tonto Apaches claimed the land. The Tontos did not build villages but roamed central Arizona in small groups from their homeland in the Tonto Basin east of the Verde River. Their dominance over the land was ended by events elsewhere.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought thousands of miners to the West. In 1863 central Arizona had its turn at gold rush days. As prospectors explored farther eastward, the Tontos resisted their efforts of expansion and also raided their mining camps. To combat these raiders, the US Army established Fort McDowell, on the west bank of the Verde River in 1865.

The actual Town of Cave Creek can trace its beginnings to an Army decision in 1870. Major General George Stoneman military commander of the Arizona Territory at Fort McDowell proposed to build a wagon road from McDowell to Fort Whipple at Prescott. The road followed an old Indian trail which went right through the present Cave Creek area. Stoneman’s men built that first wagon road across the land, which connected Fort McDowell with Fort Whipple. An Army remount station was built on the east bank of Cave Creek near a spring and a large natural cave located about 2 miles north of today’s Cave Creek center.

In September of 1870 General Stoneman directed that a road be constructed between Fort Whipple and Camp McDowell, following generally the route scouted by David Clendenin in 1869. Stoneman wanted the road completed by October 1st, 1870 “…in such an advanced condition, as to render it possible for light loaded wagons to pass over.” 

On October 1, 1870, General Stoneman found himself at Camp McDowell, nearing the end of an inspection tour of army posts in the territory. Stoneman decided to verify the condition of the new Military road. He ordered most of his command to return to Fort Whipple by the long route through Wickenburg, while he, with a small escort of cavalry and two light wagons (ambulances), proceeded to return to Fort Whipple via the newly constructed road. 

His small party left Camp McDowell at 4:00pm on October 1st, camping that evening near today’s intersection of 136th Street and Dynamite Blvd in north Scottsdale. On October 2, the party proceeded to Cave Creek and camped near a large cave and springs there. Stoneman would order a remount station for the Military be built at the spring. Later a Phoenix man would build a stage station and ranch nearby to supply the troops.

Stoneman’s journey along the road was chronicled by John Marion, a newspaper editor who was a member of the group. Stoneman’s career in Arizona ended abruptly with the Fort Grant massacre in 1871, an incident of citizen vigilantism that resulted in the murders of several score Apache women and children whom the Army failed to protect.

In 1870, Jeriah Wood, a young man from Missouri established the first ranch near the Army’s remount station along the east bank of Cave Creek. Wood brought in some horses and cattle and constructed a stage station for troops and passengers making the trip from McDowell to Fort Whipple. Later the station served the wagon road built from Phoenix. Wood was married to Amanda Roberts the daughter of George Roberts of Phoenix.

Amanda’s grandparents were Jeremiah and Kisandra Cavaness the parents of Matt Cavaness, a well known pioneer and freighter in Wickenberg, Phoenix and McDowell. The elder Cavaness’s moved next to the Wood’s and built their own house along the creek. Cavaness and Wood established a general store and blacksmith business which was the first beginnings of the town of Cave Creek. Later, Wood and Cavaness served meals and sold goods to soldiers, miners and travelers.

In 1873, a wagon road was built from the small village of Phoenix about 20 miles north to join Stoneman’s military road near Cave Creek and the flowing springs on the east bank of Cave Creek. When the Apaches became less menacing, prospectors traveled the new roads into unexplored land.

A small post office, first called Overton was maintained at the Wood’s ranch. In the 1890’s when mining went into one of its periodic slumps, the Overton Post Office closed and Jeriah Wood moved to Phoenix. Jeremiah Cavaness and his wife stayed in Cave Creek and both died there and were buried in the old Cave Creek cemetery.

In 1874 William Rowe located a rich gold mine on Gold Hill, northwest of Cave Creek. His discovery touched off a gold rush to the area. Tales of great riches to be had soon circulated through mining camps and saloons. As the miners came and went, the land began to attract more permanent settlers.

Another Missouri cattleman, Andrew Jackson Hoskin, took over the Wood’s Cave Creek Station. Hoskin moved his family to Cave Creek to live and soon other families moved in. A lively community grew up around the old Wood’s Ranch. By 1886 there was a need for a one-room schoolhouse, and this was built on the banks of Cave Creek. 

Mining activity declined around 1894, although it never stopped completely. Around 1900, James D. Houck, a sheep man from eastern Arizona, bought the Wood’s-Hoskin’s Cave Creek Station and turned it into a sheep shearing camp. Open rangeland surrounded the station in every direction.

This, along with the post office, school, and house suited Houck perfectly. He added a rock building to house a store and a saloon. He also began regular stage services to New River, Phoenix and Wickenberg. Houck's shearing camp was a huge success for about ten years, then a series of misfortunes beset him. Stricter grazing laws, drought, and personal problems took their toll and Houck died by his own hand in 1921.

In 1924 Cave Creek Road from Phoenix was rerouted eastward, bypassing Houck Ranch, and the old Cave Creek Station slid into oblivion. Only a few traces of the old Stoneman road and Jeriah Wood’s station remain today. The same conditions that led to the demise of Houck’s sheep business also affected the cattlemen along the creek. Not all of them gave up, some stayed for generations. Remnants of mining and cattle raising are still present today and a few prospectors even pick away at old claims in these hills. The Cave Creek School reopened in 1930.

Around this time period, some former cattle ranches became dude ranches. From 1935 to 1939, the building of Bartlett Dam on the Verde River brought increased activity to the village of Cave Creek. From 1940 to 1943, Horseshoe Dam, also on the Verde River, was cause for another boom for the village. In 1946, electricity and telephones came to Cave Creek, and in 1952, Cave Creek Road was finally paved all of the way from Phoenix. In 1986, The Town of Cave Creek was incorporated.

In those days Cave Creek and neighboring Carefree were the homes and retreats for a lot of Television and Movie stars from Los Angeles. Dick Van Dyke and Fred Graham built the Southwestern Studios at Tom Darlington Road and Asher Hills just south of Carefree Hi-way. The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore show, Glenn Campbell Good Time Hour, B Western movie's and many other popular shows were filmed there as well as feature movies. The studio sat on 27 acres of desert land and had an old west town as well as three large sound stages.

Eddie Basha opened the first grocery store in Carefree-Cave Creek and it was not unusual to be shopping there and see Van Dyke and members of his cast picking up bread or milk or eggs. Hugh Downs lived on Black Mountain in Carefree as did many TV and Movie personalities. Glenn Campbell, Tanya Tucker, Ed Ames, Henry Mancini, Jeanie C. Riley, Edward Robinson, Morrie Amsterdam, Carl and Rob Reiner and many others had part time and winter homes in Cave Creek.
Dick Van Dyke owned the Flying Horse Ranch just west of Spur Cross road at about where 54th street is today. His ranch was just a little northwest of my place and he would drive his jeep down Flemming Spring road every day when going and coming from the studio.

Harold Gavigan had a saloon, called “Gavigan’s” in Cave Creek in those days and it was the popular place to go on Friday and Saturday nights. Many nights Dick Van Dyke, his brother Jerry, Glenn Campbell and others would be there. Van Dyke sometimes sat in with the band and played the drums and sang. There were some wild times at Harold Gavigan’s place and one night after a bout of heavy drinking Dick Van Dyke checked himself into the St. Luke’s Hospital rehabilitation center in Phoenix to end his addiction with alcohol. His wife Margie checked herself in a few weeks later for addiction to tranquilizers. Both were able to overcome their addictions. While at the center Van Dyke refused to be treated solo and went through the program with everyone else at St Luke’s rehab.

Gavigan’s is today the very popular Harold’s Cave Creek Corral in Cave Creek. Harold Gavigan is long gone as is the Southwestern Studios and the Movie and TV stars. Torn down in 1999 the studio site is today an upscale center with a Safeway, Target, Starbucks and high end, high dollar shops. Today Cave Creek has been overgrown and overran. It is nothing like the sleepy small town it was when I lived there. Incorporation came to Carefree in 1985 and a year later in 1986 Cave Creek incorporated and old Cave Creek became a pleasant memory. I was gone by that time and glad I wasn’t there to see it change.

Dick van Dyke no longer owns his Ranch but he still visits Cave Creek a couple times a year. His daughter still lives there and he can be found when in town at his favorite eating establishment, the Horny Toad restaurant on Cave Creek Road.

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There's a lot of interesting history in that piece, Terry.  Thanks for sharing it.

The Human Joke Machine (Morey Amsterdam) was just one of the early Jewish actors and comedians who found themselves welcome in Arizona, back when many (if not most) clubs, golf courses, dude ranches and similar places, including entire communities, in California were closed to Jews.  Arizona has always been a pretty open place.  Amsterdam was a friend of my grandfather, as was Mel Blanc (The Man of a Thousand Voices), along with a number of other old-time Jewish entertainers.  Shortly after the Second World War, my grandfather and his brother, both decorated Navy veterans, and their father bought land in both Saline Valley and Antelope Valley, California, hoping to develop dude ranches where Southern California Jews, many of them veterans, would be able to get some R&R away from the usual invisible walls that kept them out of most private clubs and some public ones.

The Saline Valley land ended up being too remote to make a go of it, although the hot springs were very nice and could have been a great winter draw had the place been a bit closer to a highway.  The roads into the valley were just too rough and were often closed by rock slides.  That property ended up being an occasional family-only escape until my grandfather sold it (under an impending imminent domain order) to become part of the expanded Death Valley National Park.  The place in Antelope Valley, with a collection of large ponds for fishing and duck hunting, as well as some great horse trails, did well for about 30 years.  The ten founding members (seven of whom weren't related to me) brought guests of all colors, and as a kid on vacation I met some of the greats of Hollywood there (plus Buzz Aldrin, an occasional guest of my great uncle).  A lot of the guests also spent time in Arizona, so I saw a few of them there also -- a couple of them are mentioned in Matthew Roberts' piece.  Eventually, several of the founding members of the ranch in the Antelope Valley migrated to Arizona, including my grandfather.

My reminiscences are not entirely on topic, but it's an important piece of history, knowing the welcome most Arizonans offered to folks who really weren't welcome a lot of other places.

Thanks again for sharing the Cave Creek article.  It's a good read.


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