Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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By Kathy Block

APCRP Historian


Bradshaw City and its cemetery, and Isaac Bradshaw's grave, have been discussed in several fine APCRP articles. They touched on the history and lives of two intrepid men who expanded a trail that became the Bradshaw Trail thru Southern California. The brothers ran a ferry across the Colorado River. One of them pushed on into the mountains of Arizona. Here is more of the story of Isaac and William Bradshaw, true pioneers of the late 1800s in Southern California and Arizona. I was able to access original documents, later quoted by others, via a vigorous internet search, adding interest and depth to their history.


William David Bradshaw was born in Tennessee around 1826, but then lived in South Carolina. He may not have been married. His tragic death on Dec. 2, 1864, in La Paz, Arizona, will be discussed later.


 His older brother, Isaac Bradshaw, was born in 1819 in North Carolina. Isaac married Frances Burdette Combs on Aug.22, 1843, in Johnson County, Missouri. The 1860 Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California Census lists Isaac, age 41, as a married white farmer; wife Francis B., age 34; and two children, Maria age 13 and Francis age 9, both born in Missouri. Isaac died of pneumonia on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1885. Francis had applied for a homestead in Sonoma County on May 14, 1866, and she (nicknamed Fannie) lived in Santa Rosa, California by 1870 with her daughter and son-in-law, John W. and Maria Bradshaw Combs. She outlived Isaac, dying in Santa Rosa of ulceration of the stomach at age 70, Oct. 14, 1894, and is buried in Santa Rosa. Isaac is buried in a remote area of the Bradshaw Mountains near a riparian area at Bradshaw Springs. The couple apparently had lived apart for many years.


2006 Photo’s of Isaac Bradshaw's Grave, Courtesy of Neal Du Shane


An original document: Reminiscences of a Ranger; or Early Times in Southern California by Major Horace Bell, (1830-1918) was written in 1881. Bell headed Chapter  XXVII about William Bradshaw with “Bradshaw-A True Gentleman and Natural Lunatic”. Bell's description of William Bradshaw, often quoted by later writers, is classically florid: “(Bradshaw) was one of nature's most polished gentlemen and brightest jewel in America's collection of true born chivalry. (He) was brave, generous, eccentric, and in simple truth a natural lunatic. In manly form and physical beauty, perfect; in muscular strength, a giant; in fleetness of foot and endurance, unequaled.”


He began his account with “Bill” turning up in Sonoma in 1846. He was 20 years old and working for Captain Salvador Vallejo, Mexican Post Commander, building a picket fence. In an argument over how the fence was being built, this “despotic authority” hit Bradshaw with the flat of his “Toledo.” Bill struck back with a redwood picket, knocked the captain down, seized the sword, and pounded it into “pot-hooks” with his axe!  Bradshaw realized what he'd done, seized his rife, and hastily headed for the Sacramento Valley, only to return when this military post fell to the California “Bear Flag Party”, in 1846, after the start of the U.S. Declaration of war against Mexico on May 13, 1846. The commander, Vallejo, recognized Bradshaw and supposedly said that “now I suppose I will be murdered, finding this assassin in your force.” Bradshaw replied that an American never strikes an enemy when he is down, shook Vallejo's hand, and promised him his friendship.


In 1847, after many adventures, Bradshaw was in Los Angeles as a Lieutenant in Fremont's Battalion. He was noted there for his “wild freaks that astonished the Dons and won the hearts of the Donas, among whom he was a universal favorite.”


Next, in 1851, he was involved in a French revolution at Mokelumme Hill, an early mining site. A large French colony there refused to pay a “foreign minter's tax” passed by the State Legislature. The French miners defied the power of the sheriff and then the State to collect this tax.  Bradshaw commanded a battalion of militia and avoided an armed battle by approaching the French commander and proposing that if blood was to be spilled, let the question be settled by single combat between the two commanders. In the end, this led to an amicable adjustment, the French rebels pulled down their tri-color flag, and peace was made, especially when it was explained the tax was to apply only to Chinamen. A note on the treatment of the Chinese miners was that “the Chinamen, were vigorously pursued and made to feel the full force of the law in filling the pockets of the Collector and his legion of deputies, for very little of the gold wrung from the non-resisting Mongols found its way into either the county or State treasuries!”


William Bradshaw was called “Bunk” (from the fact he came originally from Buncum County, South Carolina) and was, according to Bell, one of the “most witty fellows to be found, and wherever he stopped a crowd of eager listeners would surround him, and roars of merriment would respond to his well-turned points.” One example, while he was in San Francisco, occurred at a dinner party. Someone passed a dish of shrimps to him. He held the dish of shrimps in one hand and said he'd never heard of a shrimp before, though he'd eaten “snakes, feasted on lizards, and gormandized on grasshoppers.” He took a large handful and ate until he finished the whole dish, shells, claws and all.


When William joined the Sonoma garrison to enlist in August to join the revolt, Isaac Bradshaw moved his family at that time to California.  But, after 1862, Isaac left his wife and children in California to join his brother William in operating a ferry across the Colorado.  Before that time, though, news of Pauline Weaver's discovery of gold at the Plomosa placer mines in La Paz reached California, in 1861. William decided to explore the gold fields for himself!


In the spring of 1862 William Bradshaw led a party of 8 men to the Plomosa mines. He was determined to locate a shorter, better route. The existing routes to Arizona required going a great distance southeast to Yuma, crossing the river, and then north up the river to La Paz.  He and his party traveled an existing trail thru San Gorgonio Pass to the Salton Sink. There, several Cahuilla villages were located and he befriended a Cahuilla Chief named Old Cabezon and a Maricopa Indian mail runner from Arizona who was visiting. The two Native Americans gave Bradshaw a map of ancient Halchidoma Indian trade routes thru the desert, with the location of springs and water holes, ending at the Colorado River near present day Blythe, California.


The route developed into the Bradshaw Trail. It was originally 180 miles long and began east of San Bernardino in the San Gorgonio Pass.  It went southeast thru “Agua Caliente”, now Palm Springs, then south to the region where the Cahuilla Indians lived. Bradshaw traveled east near present day Mecca at the northern tip of the Salton Sink, to the foothills of the Orocopia Mountains, then  to an existing stage stop called “Dos Palmas Springs.” The trail continued east thru a pass between the Orocopia and Chocolate Mountain ranges, around the southern end of the Chuckwalla Range, crossed thru a gap in the Mule Mountains, and reached the Palo Verde valley two miles southwest of the present community of Ripley.  Water holes were found at roughly 30 mile intervals at Canyon Springs, Tabaseca Tanks, Chuckwalla Springs, and Mule Spring. 


Ed Block at Chuckwalla Spring May, 2011.

The stone wall around the dried up spring was erected to trap water for sheep and other wildlife

Only damp mud remained at this time


One traveler, named Marion Dickerson Fairchild, and a friend, traveled this route in August 1862. They traveled 11 days and still had 60 miles to go on the route that Fairchild described as “the road” and “the beaten path.” They obtained “good water” at Chuckwalla Springs. They were followed, a few weeks later, by the first large group of miners. There were 150 well equipped miners and they traveled the entire route without loss of a man or animal. Pack trains and freight wagons began using the trail as soon as it opened. In the middle of September, 1862, the first stage line began. The stage operated from Los Angeles to La Paz and was named “The Colorado Stage and Express Line.” It was owned by David Alexander. The “coach and six” trip took 4 to 5 days. For only a few weeks the stage operated regularly, carrying passengers for a $40 fare. The Concord coaches could carry 9 passengers inside and 6 more on the roof! At times more people were crowded on the stages. One carried 35 people, counting the driver and “shotgun” rider.  Ridership declined with the peak of the gold rush, and in 1863 the stage was replaced with a mail route from Los Angeles to La Paz, then north to Prescott, and east to Santa Fe.


The trail veered northwest to a crossing of the Colorado River north of what is now Blythe, California, and then on the Arizona Territory side it went approximately 4 miles upstream to the gold fields of La Paz. The trail became the main route between Southern California and these gold fields of La Paz and other places in western Arizona between 1862 and 1877. In Arizona, it later roughly went east along the present route of Interstate 10, towards Wickenburg. Then, various trails went north into the Bradshaw Mountains which are named after William Bradshaw.


Map of the Bradshaw Trail, Courtesy Neal Du Shane


The Bradshaw Trail, as it came to be known, was an ambitious enterprise for moving passengers and freight, because at least half the route would be thru uncharted desert washes and mountains. Water made the difference, as it was more available compared to other routes thru the desert. Wells, such as Wiley's Well, were developed when the distance between springs was more than 35 miles. The route shortened the trip to the gold fields by at least several days and soon became recognized as the primary route to the gold fields, at La Paz.


Looking SE in Chocolate Mtns, Bradshaw Trail in distance

Old bombs along Bradshaw Trail at edge of Navy Bombing Range, Chocolate Mtns.

Chocolate Mtns, Looking north towards Imperial Gables

Miners traveled the Bradshaw Trail past the Little Chuckwalla Mtns, CA.

Seeking a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow


Some of the travelers along the Bradshaw Trail were miners and explored and prospected in areas mainly north of the trail in California.  One such effort may have been the Aztec Mines. These mines are located several miles north of the Bradshaw Trail in the Little Chuckwalla Mountains, not far from Chuckwalla Spring.  We found three male graves on a plateau directly below ruins of mine buildings. These could have been people who died near the trail or miners from the Aztec Mines. The graves are a reminder of harsh conditions faced by the early Bradshaw Trail travelers as they pushed eastward towards Arizona.


Ruins at Aztec Mines


One of several male graves found on a plateau below mine ruins

Aztec Mines, graves and Chuckwalla Spring,

in relation to Bradshaw Trail


When men and animals using the Bradshaw Trail reached the Colorado River, they needed a safe way to cross. On November 7, 1864, the first legislature in Arizona granted to Isaac Bradshaw an exclusive ferry franchise on the Colorado River “at any and every point between what was known as Mineral City and a point five miles above La Paz.”


William Bradshaw and his brother Isaac Bradshaw and William A. Warringer, owners, ran their 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. Earlier ferries had been simple rafts of tulles (bulrushes) rowed by Native Americans. Bradshaw's ferry was a rude boat attached to a rope spanning the Colorado. The boat could carry wagons and a limited number of animals, and the current was the propelling power. 


Here were the rates in 1862 for this ferry:

     Wagon and 2 draft animals, $4.00. ($60 today)

     Additional team of 2 draft animals, $1.00. ($15 today)

     Carriage with 1 draft animal, $3.00. ($45 today)

     One “beast of burden, $1.00.

     One horse or mule with rider, $1.00.

     One “footman” (meaning somebody walking),  $0.50 ($7.50 today)

     Cattle and horses, per head, $0.50

     Sheep, goat or hog per head. $0.25. ($3.75 today)


Ferry similar to ones used by the Bradshaw's.

Courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts, Kingman, AZ

1926  Ehrenberg Ferry on the Colorado River at Blyth,

Courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts, Kingman, AZ



1880 “Official Map of the Territory of Arizona” showing Bradshaw Ferry and a road near La Paz and a road/trail going east

Courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts.


Isaac and William Bradshaw operated their ferry together for about a year.  However, in 1863 William left to lead a group of men into the range (which was later named Bradshaw Mountains) in search of silver and gold ore, which had been reported in the Weaver Mining District, at Rich Hill.  He was too late to stake a claim on Rich Hill, and headed on to Turkey Creek. In the fall of 1863 William did strike gold and a new mining district was named in his honor, and he helped establish Bradshaw City. William Bradshaw, who was a heavy drinker, returned to Olive City in late fall a year later, in an attempt to “dry out”. He supposedly got a bad case of “delirium tremens,” and while suffering “a particularly horrible hallucination” slit his throat with a drawknife. He'd walked into a carpenter's shop, picked up a drawknife, and with one stroke “nearly severed his head from his shoulders.” He is buried in “an unmarked grave near La Paz.” (I speculate whether he is buried in the Ehrenberg Cemetery in one of the many unknown graves. The historian, Major Horace Bell, commented about his death: “Alas, poor Bradshaw! A better fellow never lived, and we will now in charity draw the somber curtain of forgetfulness over his unfortunate death, which occurred at Bradshaw's ferry on the Colorado River.” Another historian, Robert Stragnell, in “The History of La Paz” (E Clampus Vitus Internet site, 1989) wrote: “The most potent character who ever came to Arizona was John Barleycorn. Came early and long survived and few were the men of that early day upon whom he did not set his mark. It is not strange that men drank and gambled almost universally in that time, for human existence was as arid as surrounding nature, and it was far more pleasant and practicable to irrigate the human system with alcohol than to bring water to the land.”


There is some mystery about William Bradshaw's death. He was financially secure and respected. He had been defeated as a democratic candidate for Delegate to Congress by an overwhelming plurality of 505 to 66, but his opponent was Charles D. Posten. (Later Governor of Arizona.) A drawknife would most logically be used by an attacker standing behind a victim, but an unlikely tool for suicide. Generally, both handles would need to be gripped and the blade drawn towards an object. Bradshaw was very proficient with the use of firearms, and they were a more commonly used suicide tool! Also, the only known report was given by James Grant, who had a grudge against Bradshaw, claiming that he (Grant) was the first discoverer of the Bradshaw Trail route. No mention of the death is reported in the December 1864 newspaper. The probate of his estate filed in Yuma County listed his death place as Bradshaw Ferry, Dec. 2, 1864. The original probate papers are missing and no records of the contents and disposition of his estate are in the probate record book.




After the tragic death of William Bradshaw, his brother Isaac got “gold fever” and sold his interest in the ferry in 1867. He left his wife and children (who may have been living in California) and tried prospecting in various areas. He became a partner in a copper mining operation, but sold his interest in the Copper Basin property and went to the southern Bradshaw’s. He wasn't very successful, but made enough “to keep him in beans and bacon.” He died of pneumonia Christmas Eve in 1885 at his claim in a gulch near Castle Creek, where he is buried, as mentioned earlier in this article.


The ferries over the Colorado River between Blythe and La Paz were finally replaced by a bridge, built in 1928. Photos in the State Archives show a crude span, two lane, with a dirt road leading to it. Now, a modern freeway bridge (I-10) crosses at this point, from just south of Ehrenberg, Arizona to Blythe, California.


In summary, this article focused on the accomplishments of Isaac and William Bradshaw and their pioneering efforts to establish the Bradshaw trail to bring miners and adventurers to the new Territory of Arizona.  Their ferry enabled easier travel across the Colorado River.  Their further adventures to the north and east in Arizona have been described in other APCRP articles. Their name lives on in Arizona with the Bradshaw Mountains and Bradshaw City.  In California, remains of the historic Bradshaw Trail provide backcountry driving recreation. 


Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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