The History of the
Agua Fria Festival
- From the beginning to today
The beginning of
recorded history in the Dewey-Humboldt starts with
the petro glyph left by the Indians who lived in the
area prior to the Yavapai tribe. We were fortunate
that they left behind a recorded history for us to
see. The Yavapai did not leave their history in the
form of petro glyph as did their predecessors.
However, they did leave behind artifacts in the many
ruins that are scattered throughout the area.
There was an army officer, stationed at Fort
Whipple, who interviewed a lot of the old Indians
who were still in the area during the 1800’s. They
told him stories of their fathers and grandfathers.
One of things he noted is that the tribe that lived
in the Dewey-Humboldt area was known as the “Tribe
with the White Dogs.” The next time you see a white
dog running loose in the area, you might stop and
wonder if his ancestors lived among the Indians. The
tribes were mainly nomads, using this area as a home
base where they planted crops. They traveled as far
as Cave Creek collecting cactus fruit and then would
go as far as Crown King to collect nuts and on to
Lonesome Valley to collect Sunflower seeds.
The first Caucasians to travel through the area were
prospectors, looking to strike it rich in gold. The
first Caucasian settler in the area was King
Woolsey. He built his ranch close by the Aqua Fria
and used rocks that were
left behind in Indian ruins on his property.
Dewey-Humboldt as it used to be
around the turn of the century.
The home that King Woolsey constructed had a water
well built inside of their home and could provide
shelter to a number of people when needed. You may
have heard the Woolsey home referred to as a fort,
and although it was never really a fort, it
certainly filled all the requirements of one. The
home was just a ranch in actuality, but many miners,
military men, prospectors, and travelers found
refuge there. King was a local hero in those times,
mainly for the retaliation he provided towards the
Indians. You can still see the ruins of the ranch
today if you drive down the Old Black Canyon Highway
and look just before you get to Young’s farm.
This is the story of how King met his wife Mary:
King went to visit a wagon train that was traveling
through the area. He heard a commotion and a woman
saying that she was going to leave the men she was
with just as soon as they got to civilization. She
claimed that she had been brought along on the trip
as a slave and she was tired of it.
King approached the woman and told her that he had a
nice spread and had everything he needed but that it
lacked a woman. He asked her if she would be willing
to come with him and live in his home. She thought
his offer of a home was better than the situation
she was currently in, so she took him up. King and
Mary were together for the rest of their lives,
though of course not without problems.
King and Mary never had any children together so one
day King brought home a young Yaqi Indian girl. Mary
adopted her and raised the child as if she were
their own. When the girl got to be about 13, King
began to take more than fatherly interest in her.
Mary wouldn’t stand for that, so she had King build
the girl a home of her own elsewhere on the ranch.
The girl moved out of the main house and eventually
she and King had two children of their own, both
In the late 1800’s Levi Bashford, the same Bashford
that name is on the buildings in Prescott built a
mill, or smelter with a 20 ton capacity. It was a
very small affair and operated from 1876 through
1884. It was called the Agua Fria Smelter legally,
but was called the Bashford Mill by locals. The mill
burned down, the ruins, land, and remains of the
mill were bought by the company who eventually built
the Val Verde Smelter. It was up and running by
1899, with 2 smelting furnaces- one was 60 ton and
the other 150 ton. The smelter burned down in 1904.
During the time of the mine’s operation, a company
owned town, named Val Verde, grew up around the
smelter and a post office was established.
The Bradshaw Mountain Copper Mining and Smelting
Company bought the mine and shortly thereafter, it
burned down. They were under insured and could not
rebuild, so they sold the mine to the Arizona
Smelting Company. The Arizona Smelting Company
decided to rebuild a bigger and better smelter and
soon the small mines around were able to have their
smelting done close to their stakes. This is when
the “good times” began.
Since the mine was no longer owned by the Val Verde
Company, the name of the company owned town was
changed to Humboldt in 1905. The mine created jobs
and brought the railroad to the area. At one time
they had over 170 men working on building the
smelter alone. There were about 125 men laying out
and building the railroad, while other people were
building some housing for the smelter workers, even
though at that time tents were the popular abode.
The town of
Humboldt was laid out and business owners started
constructing their boom town businesses. The town
was scattered from the Hill, which is Main Street,
then up to what was known by many locals as Nob
Hill; half way to Dewey, from the banks of the Agua
Fria clear across Cooktown which is located starting
at the white house on the Hill and across the road.
At the time of the town’s creation, no liquor was to
be sold within the town site, although everyone knew
where they could go get it.
The smelter soon had over 400 men working there, and
they worked hard! And they played hard! And most of
their money was pushed across the tops of the 15
bars and bordellos in town. By 1907, there were 15
saloons, 5 restaurants, 5 general stores, 3 hotels,
bakeries, meat markets, drug stores, a photography
studio, billiard halls, livery stables, barber shops
and a jewelry store. They also had 3 churches, a
Wells Fargo and Western Union, and a six bed
hospital and bank were eventually built.
Folks were proud of their town, and in 1907 a
special train with additional passenger cars
attached was run to Humboldt and brought in over
1,000 people to help the locals celebrate the
success of their town. The festival became a Labor
Day tradition, called the Agua Fria Days - which is
known now as Dewey-Humboldt Days. The festival had a
parade with a marching band, foot races, burrow
races, horse races, pie eating contest, baseball
game, rock drilling contests, bronco busting, food
tasting, and to top everything off they had a grand
ball which ended in the early hours of morning when
the guests hopped back on the train for the trip
home and the locals went on home to catch some sleep
before work the next day.