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Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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Version 033009

 

JACK SWILLING of ARIZONA

 

Compiled by Linda Swilling Regan

March 2009 Edition

 

John William Swilling was born April 1, 1830 in Anderson County, South Carolina at the plantation home known as "Red House." His mother was Margaret Prince Farrar and his father was George Swilling. He was their eight child, of ten. His father grew cotton and owned many slaves, but was headed for financial difficulties. In the year 1844, when John was 14 years old, the old homestead was sold at auction to pay debts and the family moved to Cherokee County, Georgia.

 

On June 30, 1847, John, age 17, and his brother, Berry Benson Swilling, joined the Mountain Cavalry Volunteers of Forsyth County, Georgia. John is listed as a musician. He was Honorably Discharged at Mobile, Alabama July 13, 1848.

 

His discharge papers describe him "Said John W. Swilling was born in Anderson District, in the State of South Carolina, is eighteen years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, fair hair, and by occupation, when enlisted, a farmer." He signed his discharge with his mark.

 

While in Alabama, John met and married Mary Jane Grey of Wetumpka. She was a school teacher, and according to family tradition, she taught John how to read and write. It has been written that Jack Swilling cherished his dictionary, which he always carried on his person. To them was born a little girl, Elizabeth Price Davis Swilling, on April 2, 1853.

 

In a letter Jack Swilling wrote, near the end of his life, he states "In 1854 I was struck on the head with a heavy revolver and my skull broken, also shot in the left side, and to the present carry the bullet in my body." From these injuries he became addicted to morphine and alcohol.

 

John Swilling is listed as the Head of Household on the 1855 Alabama State census for Autauga County. There are a total of six persons living in the household. By their ages and sex, it appears Mary Jane's mother, brother and sister are living with them.

 

Whatever his reasons, Jack Swilling left his wife and daughter in 1856 and headed out West. It seems he intended to prospect for gold and return to his family. A partial letter he wrote to Mary Jane was found in an old trunk by his great granddaughter, Isabell Leaver. It reads as follows:

 

"Nov 15th 1858

Los Angeles County, Cal

 

Mary Jane,

 

                  I arrived in this state on the 25th day of August. I am digging gold at present, doing very well. I received a letter from you last July while I was in Arizona, it was forwarded from Fort Belknap, Texas, it was note March the 17th. If I had received it before I left Texas I would not come to this country. You mention in your letter you would not write anymore, that you can do as you please or think as you please, that's nothing to me. Things have changed since April 1st 1856. I have seen a great deal of Country and people, yet I am not satisfied. I have been with the wild Indians of Arizona and at gay parties and have faced the shiny Bowie knifes of the Gamblers, all to say of trouble. All these things I have seen but nothing can make me forget the past happy --- Could we have lived if it had not been for others, but all this is past and gone and we must do better in our latter days.

                  As I am here I will stay here eight or ten months then I will return to the States to settle myself for ever. I will pay old Wetumpka at --- I do not know your feelings towards me. I should not think them very favorably from the treatment you have got from me. If I should see you I do not suppose you would speak to me but that is as you please.

                  I am truly sorrow that thing should have happened. I have seen more real pleasure in one day with you than I have ever seen in all my travels. You may think I enjoy myself but I do not. To think how often I left home and returned again, now is that home gone forever. I know I will return to the place where I have seen happy day happy days they were but I did not know that they were.

                   Thank God I am independant of any man. I ask no favors or affection from a living being. The world owes me a living, I will have it roll on --- movements, death will soon releave us of the things of this world"

 

The rest of the letter is missing, but I think it tells a pretty good story of Jack as it is. Apparently life was not easy for this couple, and Mary's patience was wearing thin.

 

During his travels out West, Jack Swilling met a man who would become his good friend, Col. Jacob Snively, at a mining camp called Gila City, about 1858. There the Overland Mail Company helped organize the Gila Rangers to pursue and punish the Yavapai Apaches who had been making raids against the stage line. Jack Swilling was elected Captain of the 25 member unit and during their patrols the Rangers noticed mineral signs in the Arizona country.

 

By Spring of 1860, Col. Snively and Jack were in Pinos Altos, New Mexico Territory, where they discovered gold. J.W. Swilling can be found on the 1860 Dona Ana County, New Mexico census. He is living with another miner, Frank Higgins, and a Mexican woman, Jesus Wallace.

 

A second letter to his wife, Mary Jane, was also found by Mrs. Leaver; it is complete. Both letters were donated by her to the Salt River Project History Center, for their preservation in 1992. Isabell Leaver passed away in 1993.

 

It reads as follows:

"Pinos Altos Gold Mines Jan 6th 1861

Dear Mary Jane,

                           I expected the last mail to get a letter from you but I did not. So I concluded --- at all advents as I promised in my last letter, to write to you every two weeks intil we meet again - which I hope will not be very long. I told you in my last letter I would be home with you this year, I will, listen, I never will put you off beyond another Christmas. I think I will be home with you by the 1st of July, as water will come here soon. The snow has begun to melt and I will work out my claim as soon as possible and come home. I now have determined to come, money or no money. You have no idea how I wish to see you and your little one but I hope you will forgive me for the treatment you have received from me. You may think, with the help of others to persuade you, I cease nothing for you but it is not so for I never go to rest at night without thinking of you and wishing we was together. Time rolls on I will yet live to see you again, if I thought differnet I would end my existense. Never despair Mary, for we will meet yet. Take good care of your little girl. Oh how I wish I was there today, as it is Sunday. But I am at home in a miner's camp or cabin doing our own cooking and talking about good old times we have seen, in the old old States and what fools we was for leaving such good times for this, horrible country. Can make money here but cannot enjoy ourselves so I am bound to go back to God's country where I can see American women every day instead of the Mexican women. Know white man could live long in such a country.

                          They say men change with time, I cannot say but I think I never will in regard to one thing. Although I have been disappointed several times I shall think of ten years ago, as it is now about ten years since I first saw you and near five since I have seen you, but ere five more passes, we will see many, many days together. I hope it is all for the best, I hope, and as to health, I have never had better in my life. It seems as I am only twenty yet, but the idea I have a child old enough to go to school gets me. Well I was a young boy ten years ago, it seems to me Mary, you are still a girl of sixteen. I wish I could see you today, you bet I would be glad. Well never mind better days acomming, thank God. Remember the tree where I put our names, near ten years ago, down on the branch on a Beech tree. Oh that I was there today to take a walk with you to see if there remains any part of our names on that good old tree.

                           Well I will see it yet before long or before one year. My regards to your Mother, James and family.

                                                                             Yours as was,

                                                                                                    Jack W. Swilling

 

Mary Jane Swilling

Wetumpka, Ala"

 

Jack never did return to Alabama. Mary must have wondered whatever became of him, and finally believed he must have died. A marriage announcement in the Elmore Republican, issue of February 21, 1873, states that the widowed Mrs. Mary Swillen, married Josiah Skinner, February 10th 1873.

 

Years later a man named Leandro Lara, born about 1862 in New Mexico, claimed to be a son of Jack Swilling. According to family stories, Jack had come to take him home after learning the boys mother had died, but Leandro, being only seven years old, refused to go. On his death certificate his father is listed as Jack Swilling and his mother as Benigna Lara.

 

Of his family back East, Jack acknowledged he had a beautiful daughter, but said his wife had died in Missouri. He said his daughter was being raised by family members.

 

Before the Civil War broke out, the Pinos Altos miners had organized a military company, The Arizona Guard. Jack Swilling was elected 1st Lieutenant, and was given the same rank when the unit was pressed into the Confederate Army in 1861. He accompanied Capt. Sherod Hunter's company to Tucson, Arizona, where they raised the Confederate flag, February 27, 1862.

 

Hunter's troops captured a party of Union scouts commanded by Capt. William McCleave and Jack Swilling accompanied the prisoners to New Mexico in April 1862. Later, when the Confederates were ordered to Texas, Jack did not go with them. He rode as messenger for the Union troops on at least one occasion.

 

By early 1863, Jack Swilling was acting as a guide for some prospectors under the leadership of Capt. Joseph Walker. He took them into Arizona and they found rich placers near what would become Prescott.

 

In March 1864, Jack Swilling was at Fort Whipple, 17 miles north of today's Prescott. He was among 52 citizens that signed a letter, dated March 15, asking Richard McCormick, secretary of the territory, to run as a delegate to congress.

 

By April 1864, J.W. Swilling is found in Tucson, on the Arizona Territorial census. It was here that he met and married his second wife, Trinadad Escalantes.

 

A sketch about the life of John William Swilling, written by Harriet Swift in 1949, can be found at the Arizona Archives. Mrs. Swift was a former daughter-in-law of Trinadad, having married John W. Swilling Jr., Trinadad and Jack Swillings last child. Trinadad had told Harriet many stories about meeting Jack and their life together, From Mrs. Swifts paper I quote:

 

"... Trindada was the daughter of a sea captain, [Ignatius Escalantes] who had sailed from Cadiz, Spain, with his wife [Petra Mejia] to Mexico. They suffered a ship wreck, and joined settlers to the state of Sonora. Their only child was born at Hermosilla, and, as she was born on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, following Spanish traditions, she was named Trinadad.

 

Her father passed away when she was still quite young. Sometime later, her mother joined a covered wagon caravan that was headed for Tucson, Arizona. The day they arrived began her romance with Jack Swilling. She was very thrilled upon entering Tucson, which was to be her new home, and was standing with her head out the rear of the covered wagon to look at everything as they went by, when a group of 'gringos' came riding up. One of the men halted his horse and gazed at her and she felt so embarressed that she fled into the wagon and to the side of her mother. Jack Swilling said to one of his companions, 'I'm, gonna marry that girl!' "

 

They were married April 11, 1864 at Tucson. From the stories and memories that her mother-in-law told to her, Mrs. Swift describes Jack. "... he was a kind husband and father with very strong feelings for family. When he was drinking he was as unpleasant as those persons usually are, but not a drunkard. He was generous to a fault with his money and belongings. He was ambitious and energetic, and it was clear he was a man of vision...

 

Along with any virtues that he might have had, he also had qualities that were disastrous to him and his family... He was of an erratic nature and jumped from location to location and venture to venture... He had no conception of value and when in need of money would dispose of anything he could turn into cash.

 

They lived for a time in the Salt River Valley. It was Jack's greatest desire to bring water into the valley. He had observed the ancient canals, almost obliterated by time, and knew these canals could be dug again. It was considered a most fantastic dream by most persons whom he applied for assistance, as agricultural irrigation was not a well known practice of the times. Without enough financial help, he returned to mining in Wickenburg."

 

On November 3, 1867, The Arizona Miner in Prescott, reported that Jack Swilling and companion Samuel Hensley, were on a trip to the Salt River Valley to take measurements for constructing an acequia. The Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company was formed November 16th at Wickenburg. Their purpose, according to the company preamble, was to "take water from the channel of Salt River at a point claimed and located by J.W. Swilling & Co. Nov. 11, 1867, and to conduct the same into and through the old Montezuma Canal or Acequia, which we have also claimed and located for irrigating and other purposes,"

 

Twenty men set out to dig the first canal, which was abandoned because of bedrock. But a second canal was successfully completed the following Spring. Pioneer farmers came into the area and crops were grown. A new city began where an ancient one had been.

 

It is disputed as to actually came up with the name Phoenix. Some say it was Jack Swilling, seeing his dream of a great city reborn in the desert. Others credit Darrell Duppa, an Englishman, who was a member of Swilling's Party.

 

The area was known as Phoenix as early as 1867. Notes taken from the field during a survey of the area state "a settlement called Phoenix was formed in the northeast part of the township during the winter of 1867 and 1868." On October 26, 1870, the Original Townsite was selected and Darrell Duppa proposed that it be called Phoenix. A town plan was drawn up, placing the settlement a few miles east of the original settlement. Jack Swilling was disappointed that he could not influence the town officials to keep his town at the original site. By 1871 the town was growing at a rapid rate and was declared the county seat for the new county of Maricopa.

 

Jack's good friend, Col. Jacob Snively, was killed by Indians in the Spring of 1871 at White Picacho Mountain and his body was left in the country. Other companies had moved in to dig canals and Swilling's Company became defunct. Jack was reported to have been in several altercations. On September 6, 1872 he was arraigned in court on an indictment of assault to commit murder. Jack Swilling was acquitted during his trial on September 10th.

 

Jack Swilling went northward, to Black Canyon, in 1873. He began farming on the Agua Fria River, developed some mining properties and took part in the founding of the town of Gillett. He spent most of 1874 working his mining claims, and brought his family up from Phoenix. In January 1875, it was reported in the newspaper that he had rented out his mine; in June he was reported to have a crop of corn, quite a large field of sorghum, and an extensive vineyard. The Arizona Miner reported the death of his daughter, Matilda age 8, and also of his father, George Swilling age 85, in their November 12, 1875 issue.

 

The paper reported Jack's health was failing in 1877. He sold or rented out many shares in his mines and made out his will, which was signed June 25, 1877. He also continued to drink heavily and to take narcotics.

 

On or about April 17, 1878, Jack and two friends, Andrew Kirby and George Munroe, went searching for the bones of his old friend, Col. Jacob Snively, in the White Picacho Mountains. On April 19th a stagecoach was robbed four miles west of Wickenburg by three masked men. Major J.W. Evans, deputy marshal, was tracking the robbers towards the Colorado River.

 

After Jack and his friends returned to Gillett, they went to the saloon. Jack drank heavily and made a remark that the way to get money was to rob a stagecoach. According to friends, this wasn't the first time he had said this and it was suppose to be a joke. But, it drew the attention of the law. They matched the description of the masked men, including their weapons; they were out of town during the time of the crime; and Jack Swilling was considered by many to be a dangerous man.

 

Rewards had been offered for the arrest of the robbers, and the three men were arrested and jailed in Prescott. They faced Federal charges for stealing the US Mail and Territorial charges for robbery of the Wells Fargo treasure box and two passengers. L.G. Taylor, who had written a letter dated April 25th describing the recovery of Col. Snively's bones by the Swilling party, became the star prosecution witness in the Federal case, stating that Kirby had told him he was afraid Jack Swilling would squeal on them. Mr. Taylor testified at the trial in Prescott on May 28, 1878; he was killed three days later while trying to prevent a lynching in Gillett.

 

The court met June 1, 1878 at 7:00 p.m. and found there was no probable cause to believe the defendants guilty of the crime charged, and they were discharged,

 

Deputy Marshall Evans arrested the three men on Territorial charges and on June 16th Jack Swilling and Andrew Kirby were transferred to Yuma; George Munroe had made bail.

 

Jack was apparently a very sick man. Trinadad recalled that they had to pick him up and carry him to the stagecoach that took him to the Yuma jail. They corresponded by letter and he was notified when his son was born. He sent back word that he would like the new baby to be named after him.

 

On July 26 and 27 a preliminary hearing was held in Yuma, and Jack Swilling and Andrew Kirby were held for trial. Conditions at the jail were poor to say the least.

 

Jack knew he was dying and wrote a letter he addressed "To the Public." It was published in the newspaper after his death. It also appears in the publication, Oak Leaves, Vol. 5; No. 11; Nov. 1954; continued in No. 12; Dec. 1954; and concluded Vol 61; No. 1; Jan. 1955; under the story line "The Last Days of Jack Swilling" by James M. Barney.

 

"JACK SWILLING'S STATEMENT”

 

To The Public;-

     Jack Swilling, whose doors have always been open to the poor alike with those of the rich and plenty, looks forth from the prison cell to the blue heavens where reigns the Supreme Being who will judge of my innocence of the crime which has been brought against me by adventures and unprincipled reward hunters. I have no remorse of conscience for anything I have ever done while in my sane mind. In 1854 I was struck on the head with a heavy revolver and my skull broken, and was also shot in the left side, and to the present carry the bullet in my body. No one knows what I have suffered from these wounds. At times they render me almost crazy. Doctors prescribed, years ago, morphine, which seem to give relief, but the use of which, together with Strong drink, has at times - as I have been informed by my noble wife and good friends - made me mad and, during these spells, I have been cruel to her; at all other times I have been a kind husband. During these periods of debauch, caused by a mixture of morphine and liquor, I have insulted my best friends, but never when I was Jack Swilling, free from these poisonous influences. I have tried hard to cure myself of the growing appetitie for morphine, but the craving of it was greater than my will could resist. I have gone to the rescue of my fellowmen when they were surrounded by Indians - I have given to those in need - I have furnished shelter to the sick. From Governors down to the lowest Mexican in the land, I have extended my hospitality, and oh, my God, how am I paid for it all? Thrown into prison, accused of a crime that I would rather suffer crucifixion than commit. Taken from my wife and little children, who are left out in this cold, cold world all alone. Is my reward for the kindness I have done to my fellowman, and the pay I receive for having done a Christian act with Munroe and Kirby, that of going after the bones of my poor friend Snively, and taking them to Gillett and burying them by the side of my dear child? George Munroe, Andy Kirby and myself are as innocent of the charge brought against us of robbing the stage as an infant babe. We went out to do a Christian act - Oh God, is it possible that poor old Jack Swilling should be accused of such a crime? But the trouble has been brought on by crazy, drunken talk. I was willing to give up my life for to save Munroe and Kirby, as God knows they are innocent. Oh, think of my poor babies and you know that I would not leave them for millions of money. I am persecuted until I can bear it no longer. Look at me and look at them. This cruel charge has brought me for the first time in my life under a jailor's key. Poor L.G. Taylor, whom I liked and tried to help, has been one of those who has wrought my ruin, and for what I cannot conceive, unless it was the reward money or to rob my family of the old ranch. The reason I write this is because I may be found dead any morning in my cell. I may drop off the same as poor Tom McWilliams did at Fort Goodwin. My persecutors will remember me. And may God help my poor family through this cold world, is my prayer.

                                                                                           John W. Swilling"

 

Jack Swilling died August 12, 1878.

 

The Arizona Miner, Prescott, Yavapai County, gave this account:

Friday August 16, 1868

                                          "Death of J.W. Swilling

     The following telegram, from Under-Sheriff Mabbett, announcing the death of J.W. Swilling, was received this afternoon:

                                                                                 'Yuma, August 13th, 1878

C.W. Beech, Prescott:

     Swilling died at 6:30 this afternoon. Will rite tomarrow.          Ira. Mabbet, Under-Sheriff'

 

     Mr. Swilling was born in the State of Georgia, and at the time of his death was a little over 47 years of age. At an early day he married in Missouri, and settled down. After, however, having resided in that state some four years, his wife died, leaving one child - a girl -  which is now married and living in that State. In 1858 Swilling emigrated to Texas, where he remained two years, when came to Arizona, and was in the employee of the Southern Overland Mail Company for quite a length of time. He was one of the party that accompanied Col. Snively to Pinos Altos when those mines were discovered; and was at the head of the party that discovered Rich Hill near Weaver Creek, in this county, in1862. He was a pioneer settler of the Great Salt River Valley, where now the broad acres are producing all varieties of fruit of the orchard and cereals of the fields. Mr. Swilling continued to live in the Valley until about three years ago, when he moved to Black Canyon and located a good farm, built houses, etc., and moved his family thereto. During his residence at this place, the Tiptop, Swilling, and other mines were discovered and the town of Gillett started up, three miles from Swilling's residence, when he again moved to Gillett, having located and settled upon valuable property at that place. Mr. S. through his life was known to be kind-hearted and ever ready to assist those who needed help. That he had his faults none will deny, but they were more than overbalanced by his good deeds.

     During the Rebellion, Mr. Swilling was a Lieutenant in Captain Hunter's Company of Volunteers, in Col. Baylor's regiment, and occupied himself, with 30 of his men, in protecting settlers and others from the Indians along the Rio Grande, in southern New Mexico and on the route to Tucson, in Arizona.

     During the last year Mr. S. has been in the habit of drinking hard and having regular "tares" and while on one of these wild "jamborees," in April last, Mrs. Swilling, a very estimable lady, formed a plan to get her husband out of town and thus sober him up. She secured the services of George Monroe and Andy Kirby to join Swilling and go to the mountains, some 35 miles distant from Gillett, and exhume the bones of his old friend, Col. Snively, from their rude burial, seven years previous, he having been murdered by Apaches while on a prospecting trip, and bring the same to Gillett for burial. The party went out, accomplished the object for which they went, and during this time the stage was stopped, near Wickenburg, and plundered. When the news reached Gillett that three men had stopped the mail coach, Mr. S., without thinking of the consequences that were to follow, boasted that himself, Monroe, and Kirby had done the deed. They were arrested, brought to Prescott, had an examination before Judge Carter and discharged. The authorities, however, finding the robbery was committed in Maricopa county, Swilling and Kirby were taken to that district for examination, which came off during the latter part of July. Evidence was secured for the prosecution, of what we will not speak. Depositions for the defense, taken by stipulation of the U.S. District Attorney, were ruled out, and the prisoners held in $3,000 which was about to be furnished, when the sad news reached his family and friends of his death, although innocent, within the walls of a Yuma prison. He leaves a wife and five interesting children to mourn his death."

 

The Salt River Herald, Phoenix, Salt River Valley, Maricopa County, gave this account:

 

Saturday, August 17, 1878

"Jack Swilling Died in Jail at Yuma

Yuma, Aug. 13.

Jack Swilling died here last night in jail."

 

The Arizona Sentinel, Yuma, gave this account:

 

Saturday, August 24, 1878

 

"Jack Swilling, accused of stage robbery, died in Yuma county jail, about 6:30 p.m., August 12th. He had been held to await action of the next grand jury, pending his filling a bond in the sum of $3000. His constitution had been shattered by the life of much exposure and hardship for the past fifteen years in Arizona, by dissipation, and by habitual use of opiates. His physician thought it best not to try to break up this latter habit, until his general health got better, nor until the weather gets cooler. He had taken, while here in jail, as much as an ounce of laudanum daily. The day before his death he was taking opium in its solid form. He was wakeful until nearly three o'clock in the morning, when he fell into a sleep from which he never fully awoke. Dr. DeCorse was unremitting in his care, but could not save his life. As the weather was quite sultry and moist, decomposition set in rapidly and the body burst open at the neck before it could be unconfined and buried the next morning. Public opinion is divided as to Swilling's guilt of the crime for which he was held. Old Arizonians, who have often accepted his hospitality, refuse to believe him guilty of it. Others, remembering only the  blood shed by him while intoxicated, have withheld their sympathies, suspended opinion until it could be formed upon evidence. He is now beyond the bar of public opinion. Whatever his past may have been, it was surely expiated by his wretched life for the past few months and by the miserable death. When not stupefied by drugs his mental suffering was terrible. Death was indeed a release for him. Peace to his ashes."

 

Andrew Kirby remained in jail, unable to furnish bond. In the beginning of October he received a telegram from Deputy Marshal Joe Evans, stating his innocence of the crime of stage robbery had been established and that steps were being taken to order his release.

 

The Yuma paper, Arizona Sentinel, made this edited report:

 

October 5, 1878

 

     "On Tuesday evening Andrew Kirby... received a telegram from Deputy U.S. Marshal Evans, stating his innocence had been established... On Wednesday Kirby went forth a free man... Jack Swilling was confined with Kirby on the same charge, but died in jail before his innocence was established. All his property was dissipated in vain efforts to clear himself. To his wife and children there now remain a heritage of poverty, widowhood and orphanage, offset only by the pitiful, mournful proof of their dead one's innocence of the charge on which he was imprisoned. All evidence against these men was circumstantial, though it was strong. This case should forever be a warning against hasty conclusions of guilt, except upon the clearest direct evidence."

 

Nineteen years later, on May 22, 1897, Joseph W. Evans gave his story of the case:

 

     "No circumstantial evidence can be so conclusive in my opinion as to warrant the infliction of the death penalty. My faith in the reliability of circumstantial evidence was destroyed by an event several years ago...

     In the Spring of 1878, the Ehrenberg stage was held up some distance from Gillett. There were three robbers, who were described... I began the hunt and my suspicions were soon directed toward Jack Swilling, George Munroe and Andy Kirby, who left Gillett two days before the holdup. They corresponded to the descriptions of the robbers... Swilling, who talked a great deal when drinking, said they were going to hold up a stage. He described the ease and absence of risk with which money could be made that way... There seemed no doubt of their guilt and they were arrested and taken to Prescott. They had a great many friends through whose assistance they were released from jail five times. In order to secure them, I arrested them between two days with the assistance of Frank Murphy, and accompanied by Mr. Murphy, took them to Yuma.

     ...I learned of another party which had left Gillett... a day or two before Swilling and his party left camp. This party consisted of Roudepouch, Mullen, and Rhodes - all three known to be stage robbers. The same description - singularly - fitted them, even to their arms. But, after landing Swilling and his crowd in jail in Yuma, I set out on a trip of 900 miles into Mexico after the other robbers. When I returned in September, I found advices from a New Mexico sheriff awaiting me, saying Rhodes of the Roudepouch party had been there.

     Rhodes, soon after, came back to Arizona and I arrested him on the Upper Gila, near the New Mexico line. He confessed to me that he, Roudepouch, and Mullen had robbed the Ehrenberg stage... I telegraphed to the authorities at Yuma to release the suspects. I soon received a reply that Munroe and Kirby had been released but that Swilling had died some time before. His death was probably caused by his confinement. Now of these men had been found guilty... and Rhodes had never been captured, they would almost certainly have been hanged and no doubt of their guilt would been entertained by any men. The evidence against them seemed absolutely conclusive, yet, in the end, was proven unfounded."

 

Over the years since his death, a few monuments and place names have been made to honor this remarkable Arizona pioneer.

 

Jack Swilling was quickly buried the day after his death. The exact location has never been proven. It is believed he was likely buried in the old Yuma cemetery, without a headstone, [unless it was of wood that quickly disintegrated]. That cemetery was turned into a railroad yard about 30 years later. Some of the bodies were exhumed at a cost of $10 each, paid by friends or relatives, and relocated to the new Yuma cemetery. It is not known how many were left behind, nor their names or their location in the rail yard, as no records have been found.

 

A story has been told, for many years, of a family that was friendly towards Jack Swilling and it is believed, by many, that Jack was buried at the Hodges family plot in the new Yuma cemetery, without a headstone. A marker was placed in 2008 identifying the spot thought to be where Jack Swilling's remains are located, although no offical records have been found.

 

In 1931 the Maricopa Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque on the fountain in front of the old Phoenix courthouse. It reads:

                 

In Memory of

LIET JACK W SWILLING

1831 - 1878

Who Built the

First Modern Irrigation Ditch

And

TRINADAD, HIS WIFE

1850 - 1925

Who Established in 1868 the First

Pioneer Home in the Salt River Valley

 

 

A new plaque has been placed in downtown Prescott in 2008, in recognition of Joseph Walker and his party, led by Jack Swilling, to the area in the Spring of 1863. It says of Jack:

 

     John W. [Jack] Swilling (1830-1878)

     led the first party of non-Indians to

     explore the Hassayampa River in

     January 1860 where he and his

     companions declared that "this new

     region has the finest indications of

     gold of any they have ever seen." In

     1867 Swilling began the first canal

     building company in the Salt River

     Valley, leading to the beginnings of

     Phoenix and surrounding communities.

 

Frank Bond, a prominent citizen of Maricopa County and one time Chairman of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, named Swilling Butte in 1932, in honor of John W. Swilling and his accomplishment of building the first canals in the Salt River Valley. It is located in the Grand Canyon between Kwagunt and Nankoweap Creeks on the North Rim.

 

In the Bradshaw Mountain Range, Yavapai County, Swilling Gulch is located near the old ghost towns of Gillett and Tip Top.

 

The name Swilling appears on residential street signs in Phoenix and Wickenburg.

 

Jack Swilling may have had his faults, but he left his mark in many communities in Arizona. He is a fascinating character of western pioneer history, and still has many friends that champion him today.

 

To quote from an article, published in Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXXV; No.  7; July 1927, by Lillian L. Cave:

 

"... The name of Swilling is always gratefully remembered when our pioneers and their descendants congregate and talk over deeds of the old days..."

 

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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WebMaster: Neal Du Shane

 

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