Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project
A HISTORIC RAILROAD STATION
Pima County, Arizona
By Kathy Block
APCRP Staff Historian
Old and New Pantano Town sites in Cienega Creek Natural Preserve.
PANTANO, (means "Marsh" in Spanish) is now a ghost town without much remaining of its existence except a few crumbling concrete foundations, a water tower, and a historic cemetery. In June 2000 Pima County acquired 43.2 acres encompassing the historic locations of Old and New Pantano Town sites within the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve. The project to map and preserve the area and develop interpretive signs was completed in 2014, at a cost of $49,999.
The town site of Pantano was located roughly 28 miles S.E. of Tucson. The cemetery developed in the N.W. corner of what came to be known as "New Pantano", across the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. The original settlement was called "Cienega Station" (after nearby Cienega Creek) and was a station of the Butterfield Overland Mail company in 1858. Eventually with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Pantano railroad station and town of Pantano were established in 1880, along the south side of Cienega Creek. However, severe flooding forced the town to relocate to the northern side of the creek in 1887 and abandon "Old Pantano."
There are many accounts of Apache attacks at the station and deaths of settlers. For example, in 1867, a pioneer named W.A. "Shotgun" Smith and three companions were attacked by Apaches at the station. Smith managed to shoot some of the Apaches and forced the rest to withdraw, but his companions were killed. A local rancher and businessman named Edward Vail, who owned nearby Vail Ranch, claimed the Pantano Cemetery was "filled with graves of men killed by Indians." (I found no verification of this.)
1885 Historic map of Pantano general area.
A variation of this type of report was in the Daily Tombstone Epitaph, June 3, 1886. A track walker from Southern Pacific was on a trip from Papago to Pantano when, 3 miles east of Pantano, he was shot at three times by Indians, getting a flesh wound on his left side. He got down behind a telegraph pole and fired three shots at the Indians, which stopped their fire, then he lit out for Pantano.
Occasionally there was false news of massacres. On June 5, 1890, the Arizona Republican printed a story that a Mexican had brought news to Tucson the day before of the killing of a man and his wife and two children about 3 miles from Pantano at their ranch. He said he went to the ranch and found the family murdered and the house burned. This news was found to be false after a party of armed citizens hurried to a camp seven miles north of that place, but found no trace of Indians there. The alarm was apparently caused by a band of 18 Apaches who were off the San Carlos reservation with passes hunting and gathering cactus fruit. The editor said, "There is much feeling expressed against the policy of allowing the Indians to leave the reservation on passes, especially as they are armed, for the ranchers, miners and travelers have no means of knowing whether they are hostile or friendly . . . The people are determined to keep them on their reservation, and if found running at large with arms to treat them as hostiles."
Prior to the establishment of a railroad for passengers, between various towns, a new stage line, the Tucson and Patagonia Stage Company operated. It had 2 daily runs from Pantano to Harshaw, $3 each way. The Weekly Arizona Citizen of July 24, 1880 announced that: "Business is getting lively to and from our mining camps." An 1894 ad in this paper announced: "Passengers can eat meals at Jas.Brady's, a short distance from the stage. J. S. Hopely runs the stage to the mines Tues., Thurs., and Sat. from Pantano. J. Moore’s, station agent, will give all the other details with pleasure."
In 1902 there were "Seaside Excursion Rates" to Southern California points and return on the train. From Pantano to Santa Monica, Long Beach, Ventura, etc. $29.95 round trip. To San Francisco and return, $49.50. Tickets were sold only for trains leaving selling stations on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday starting Sept. 30, 1902 and good for returning up to Nov.30, 1902.
Cattle ranching and farming were close to town. A news account from Dec. 1901 in The Oasis said that 1500 head of "stockers" were unloaded at Pantano and driven to the Pennsylvania ranch. "The stock is of a good grade. Many new bulls are being put on the Pantano range, which is at present not heavily stocked. The range and feed, however, being the best in the southern county." In 1902 The Pantano Land and Cattle Company was organized, capitalized at $50,000, taking over all the land and cattle on the ranch at Pantano. News reports often told of cattle driven to the railroad for shipments to other places. An article in the Arizona Silver Belt, March 27, 1886, gave the cost to ship a steer from Pantano to Kansas City, $8.01 each, with 22 cattle to a car, included feed, yardage, and commission.
A prominent pioneer, cattleman, businessman, owner of the Empire Ranch was Walter Lennox Vail. He came to Arizona in 1875 and was often mentioned in the news about his travels to various cities, his shipping of cattle and many political activities. He was struck by a street car in Los Angeles as he alighted from it, lingered several days at home in L.A., then died Dec.2, 1906. He was 54 years old. Vail was a native of Nova Scotia, born May 15, 1852. He and his two associates were popularly known as the "English boys" on account of their place of birth. They also purchased other ranches in the area. He was cremated and his ashes buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood. His estate was estimated to be worth about $11 million, most of it in cattle and ranches. He was survived by a wife, Margaret Russell Newhall Vail (1854-1936), and 8 children.
Besides the various gold and silver mines near Pantano, news from 1894 announced the discovery of immense marble quarries four miles south of Pantano on the Southern Pacific railroad. Specimens were pronounced to be superior by experienced dealers. A plan was made to ship two carloads to Yuma prison for treatment by the convicts. Already 50 prisoners had been engaged in rock work and it was claimed they could be trained in a few weeks in hand work of marble cutting, carving, and polishing! The article exclaimed that: "There is no reason to doubt the possibility of the prison becoming self sustaining through the operation of these marble quarries." The Arizona Sentinel, Dec. 1, 1894. It is unknown if this scheme was ever carried out!
Old Pantano town site had been chosen for a favorable location to build a depot and other facilities for the railroad. Private businesses and settlers built several warehouses and homes, a small store with a blacksmith, and a carpenter's shop. The population in 1880 was around 75 people. An 1881 Business Directory described Pantano as: "A station on the Southern Pacific RR and the distributing point for freight destined for Harshaw, Washington Camp, and other mining towns in the southern portions of Pima County. Stages leave daily for Empire, Harshaw, and Washington Camp." Among businesses listed were: Tully, Ochoa & Co. gen'l mdse; Wakefield Bros, gen'l mdse; Wakefield LA. Postmaster; Wells Fargo & Co, George S. Scafford, agent; and Wolfolk, George T., hotel.
An ad in the Weekly Arizona Citizen, July 17, 1880, read:
DAVIDSON & WAKEFIELD,
FORWARDING & COMMISSION MERCHANTS,
Goods forwarded with promptness. A general
Supply of Dry Goods, Groceries, Provisions and
Miner's supplies on hand.
A news report from October 30, 1886 in the Arizona Weekly Citizen suggests the nationalities of voters in Pima County. Of 1,848 names on the "great register" (there were about 300 less than that two years ago), the top nationalities were: United States-1,206; Mexico-311; Germany-101; Ireland-76; England-37; Great Britain-22; Canada-23, and France-35. The remainder were much smaller numbers.
By 1905, Pantano's population was 100, including a deputy sheriff, justice of the peace, and six small businesses, including a general store and livery.
In 1912, after the town moved to the north side of Cienega Creek, Polk's Arizona Pictorial Gazetter and Business Directory had this information: "PANTANO. Pop.300. A village on the S.P.R.R. 19 miles W of Benson, the banking point. Exp. W.P. & Co; Tel W U; Jno W. Purifoy P.M.; Empire Land & Cattle Co; McCandless T.N. r.r.ep and tel agt.; Purifoy, John W. General Store; Tovrea E.A. & Co. meats."
In 1922 there were 500 residents served by a bank, a schoolhouse, a telegraph office, and post office. The Pantano School was most likely very small in 1922, hinted at by an announcement in the Tombstone Epitaph of March 12, 1922. School was temporarily closed "because of flu cases" including illness of the teacher, Mrs. Myrtle Wombia.
The town began to decline with the Great Depression. In 1941 only 40 people remained. The post office closed in 1952, and the railroad ceased operations in 1956, and Southern Pacific leveled most of the buildings in town soon afterwards.
The railroad had a turbulent history in Pantano. There were train robberies quite frequently, train wrecks, and flooding that stopped travel. Before the railroad reached Pantano Station in 1880, there was a stagecoach station that linked many mining towns and was a place to water the horses. A water tank, that still stands, supplied water for steam for the engines afterwards.
An example of sometimes violent events in Pantano and a rather unique resolution is shown in an article in the Arizona Weekly Citizen, Aug. 11, 1888, which reported: "A disturbance took place in Pantano yesterday that for a time threatened to be quite serious. The trouble was between Americans and Mexicans, but how it originated is yet a matter of doubt, as each of the opposing parties charge the commencement of the fracas on the other."
By the time the sheriff and two deputies went to the scene of the conflict, matters had quieted down. Apparently a Mexican woman was sitting with some of her countrymen in the shade of a box car, used as a telegraph office. A brakeman on the Benson work train made a remark that she was "a good looking woman". One of her male companions knew very little English and misunderstood the remark, answering with a vile epithet. The brakeman and others went from words to blows and rocks flew thick and fast. The only damage done, however, was to the head of a Mexican who received a severe wound. This settled the business as far as the train men were concerned, but the Mexicans and about a dozen others from Old Pantano renewed the assault in earnest. The train men took refuge in the office. The Mexicans tried to enter also, in the meantime keeping up a "regular fusillade of rocks and pistol bullets. This was answered by shots from inside and two men dropped. One man was shot in the left arm near the shoulder, breaking the bone in two and probably fatally injured him. The other was shot in the arm and side, the wound being painful but not dangerous."
Fortunately, at this moment, word was received from Benson to move the train, and as it pulled out, the Mexicans stoned the locomotive also. Both of the wounded men were brought in to the hospital in Benson. The writer concluded, "Above are the facts of the disturbance as nearly as could be determined by careful inquiry."
Train tracks were dangerous and sometimes people were killed. Here's from a lurid report in the Weekly Arizona Citizen, Sept. 11, 1880: "O.F. Davis was employed by the railroad as a telegraph operator. At the wash out 3 miles this side of Pantano, was run over by a train and crushed in a terrible manner, his remains being found this AM. The coroner's jury were in session at the hour of going to press....but enough known to render the affair a profound mystery. Davis had been to Pantano to purchase something and started for camp after dark. He had been drinking, but analysis of his stomach proved that he was perfectly sober. ...A peculiar circumstance of this sad affair is the fact that he was one of three young men who came to Arizona about two months ago in the employ of the railroad of which number but one survivor..."
1921, Marsh Station RR Bridge, at Pantano. Source, Public Domain Wikipedia. Many train wrecks occurred at this bridge.
Here's an example of a news report about a train wreck in August 18, 1890, from the Tombstone Daily Prospector: “The engineer who was killed at Pantano was E.H. Allis. He was highly respected by all who knew him. The cause of the accident was a washed-out approach to the bridge, which could not be seen until too late to stop the train. The engine and three cars went over and all escaped with the exception of Allis, who went down with his engine."
A train wreck with greater loss of life was on Dec. 10. 1902. The Bisbee Daily Review reported that a west bound freight train was derailed 6 miles east of Pantano. Fourteen cars were piled up in a heap. Two "tramps" were killed and one fatally injured. Spreading of the rails was thought to have caused the accident.
Train robberies were fairly common, too. On April 29, 1887, a headline in the Daily Tombstone Epitaph stated: "The Iron Horse Stood Up. Robbers at Work. Train Robbed at Pantano. Four Daring Masked Men. Papago Scouts in Pursuit. And sure to be captured." Briefly, the train had been stopped about 9 miles west of Pantano by a signal with a red lantern. The dispatcher was notified that the robbers were firing with guns into the train, and the sheriff went with a party to the scene. The robbers uncoupled the train between the express and baggage car and forced the engineer to pull about 3 car lengths ahead and stop and show them how to run the engine. The engineer was sent to the baggage car and he told the messenger, who had locked himself in the baggage car, that he would be blown up by a giant cartridge if he didn't exit and leave the safe unlocked. The robbers took off with the engine and mail and express cars, leaving the rest of the cars behind. They stopped 6 miles further towards Tucson, ransacked the cars, then reversed the engine lever and disabled the engine. They took some cash, though the brave messenger secreted the bulk in the stove, and got some Mexican money and two packages of two cent stamps and also took some registered packages. The railroad offered rewards and the Papago Indians were tracking them.
The gang of four split up after the robbery and were arrested in Benson and El Paso, in Feb.1888. They were tried in Tucson. The leader, J. M."Doc" Smart, received a life sentence. He attempted suicide with a .38 cal. bulldog pistol by firing it into his head. The bullet flattened his skull, but he lived. Another man, George Green, received 5 years in Yuma prison, a shortened sentence for his help in identifying the guilty parties. Two others were acquitted. Their total haul, divided among them, was about $2,000 in gold and greenbacks and 2 sacks of Mexican silver, plus some jewelry.
A follow-up to this story is that the safe possibly from this robbery was found in Pantano Wash in 1932. A plaque at the Pantano Town site Conservation Area tells the story:
Recovering the Empty Safe from a Pantano Train Robbery.
One big disaster in Pantano was an epidemic of whooping cough in June, 1916. (I first saw an article in the Arizona Daily Star, June 20, 2016, about deaths of children in a camp of Southern Pacific railroad section employees, this led to research about Pantano and its cemetery.) Five children died within a few days and public officials took notice and worked to find the cause and prevent the spread of the disease. Doctor Arthur Garfield Schnabel (1882 - 1927) and Sheriff Albert Willis Forbes (1866 - 1949) were sent by the county board of health with instructions to clean up the place. The epidemic spread from the camp, which had a majority of Mexicans, who were thought to have brought the disease from Mexico.
Dr. Schnabel "now believes that the deaths have been caused by acute bronchitis caused by exposure while the children were recuperating from whooping cough. At Pantano the nights are very cool, and it is believed that lack of sufficient covering made the victims an early prey to bronchitis."
Whooping Cough Epidemic Victims Death Certificate. Dr. Schnabel attending.
Death Certificate records identified four children buried in Pantano Cemetery who were victims of whooping cough: Olefin Alvory (age 5); Ylano Alvory (age 1); Lupe Oros (age1); and Fronana Rocha (age 2). Details about these children are given in the Pantano roster. A Mortality Report for the last quarter of 1909 (seven years before the epidemic in Pantano) listed 7 deaths from Whooping Cough, compared to 31 for typhoid, 6 for other epidemic diseases, in Arizona Territory. The report stated that:"The increase in the number of deaths of whooping cough is from nothing last year to seven cases this year. This disease prevailed extensively throughout the Territory in October and November."
A Yuma newspaper from Feb. 1916, had an ad for a remedy that said:
"Baby had Whooping Cough. Mothers who have used Foleys Honey and Tar would not be without it. Mrs. Sam C. Small. Mrs. Clayton of N.M. writes: My grandson had whooping cough when he was three months old. We used Foleys Honey and Tar and I believe it saved his life. He is now big and fat. It is a fine thing to have in the house in case of whooping cough, croup coughs, and colds. The first doses help loosen phlegm, heal inflammation, clear air passages, and stop racking coughs. Stafford Drug Co."
A popular song from the early 1920s went (with many variations):
"Away down yonder, not very far off
There died a Blue Jay with the Whooping cough!
He Whooped so hard with the Whooping cough
That he Whooped his head and tail right off."
Whooping Cough (Pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial disease, which is airborne and spreads easily thru the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. The bacterium that causes the infection was discovered in 1906. This Bordetella pertussis attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins which damage the cilia and cause airways to swell. Studies of babies treated today in hospitals for Pertussis showed 1 out of 4 get pneumonia (lung infection); 1 out of 100 have convulsions; 3 out of 5 have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing); 1 out of 300 will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain); and 1 out of 100 will die. At the time of the epidemic in 1916, fatality would have been much higher without effective treatment. Today it can be treated with antibiotics and prevention is by a pertussis vaccine, developed in the 1940s. Early treatment is very important. An estimated 16 million people worldwide are infected per year, mainly in the developing world. People of all ages can be affected. In 2013 it resulted in 61,000 deaths, down from 138,000 in 1990. About 0.5 percent of infected children less than one year of age die!
Pantano Cemetery has many unknown, neglected graves. Of the 16 burials documented, only two have readable markers. Tom Gilleland of MineGates Environmental (www.minegates.com.) visited Pantano at my request and estimated about 30 gravesites in an area about 50 by 100 feet. He took the photos of most of the identifiable graves. There are some mysteries at Pantano Cemetery.
Google Earth Satellite Image of Pantano Cemetery. Courtesy Neal Du Shane
The grave of Lucia Martinez, who lived Feb.23, 1931 to May 1, 1931 has many plastic flowers on it. Yet I was unable to find any further information about her. Someone must know who she was!
Lucia Martinez Grave in background. Other graves nearby.
. The grave of Juana Bejarano, Sept. 1862 to July 15, 1928, shows her as Juana Cordova. The SRA on the headstone is an abbreviation for Senora, meaning "married woman". Juana Cordova was her maiden name. The VDA de is an abbreviation for Viuda/Widow of a Bejarano in Spanish. Her husband, Felix Bejarano, must have died before her, so the family chose to bury her with her own maiden name of Cordova appearing on her headstone. She probably assumed her maiden name after her husband died. Her Death Certificate uses the name Bejarano.
Juana Bejarano Cordova Grave.
One marker had the name and dates apparently destroyed. Was the person reburied somewhere else? Angry relative?
Abandoned Marker with all information removed.
Abandoned Grave covered with native brush.
Time and nature erased the name and date on a wooden marker.
Name Less & Date Less historic marker.
Abandoned Derelict Grave with remains of marker.
If you visit Pantano Cemetery, take time to ponder events that took place here during the years 1880 thru 1940. People lived and died here, some were murdered, and some killed in tragic accidents. This sign at the entrance to the Pantano Town site Conservation Area gives much information.
Information sign at entrance to the Conservation Area.
Sources of information:
A special thank you to Tom Gilleland who visited Pantano Cemetery and photographed the graves and signs, counted the unknown graves, and measured the perimeter. His efforts made it possible for me to write this article.
Appreciation to Neal Du Shane for his excellent Google Earth Satellite image and editorial.
Wikipedia for information on Pantano Station, early railroad history, and Whooping Cough.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site.
Library of Congress Chronicling America for newspaper articles.
Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project
Webmaster: Neal Du Shane