HOME | BOOSTER | CEMETERIES | EDUCATION
| GHOST TOWNS
| JACK SWILLING
| TEN DAY TRAMPS
Arizona Pioneer &
Cemetery Research Project
4th Annual Arizona Historical
March 15-16, 1963
John William (Jack) Swilling
THE TARNISHED HERO
By Mark Shields
Transcribed by: Neal Du Shane 07/20/06
When Deputy U. S. Marshal George M. Frazer of Mesilla took
the census of Dona Ana County New Mexico, in the spring of 1860, he came across
John William (Jack) Swilling at Piños Altos, a gold
mining camp 10 miles northeast of present day Silver City. Swilling gave his
age as 33, his occupation as a miner, and said he was born in Georgia.
Four years later when the special census of 1864 was taken
after the creation of .Arizona Territory, Deputy Marshal Gilbert W. Hopkins came
onto Swilling and Charles Trumbull Hayden at the old Grant flour mill in Tucson. Swilling and
Hayden were two of the four owners of the mill. Swilling reported he was born
in South Carolina,
gave his occupation as a miner, and said he was born in 1831, which would still
make him 33 years old.
For the census of 1870, when Swilling was living in the Salt
River Valley, he gave his age as 40, his occupation as a farmer, and indicated
again that he was born in South Carolina. An entry in the family Bible bears
out this statement. He was born in South
Carolina in 1830.
Jack may have had a "purpose" in giving
conflicting information to the census enumerators. He seemed bent on leaving a
cold trail which no one has been able to travel in detail to this day. He drank
heavily and talked too much when doing serious drinking, a habit that would
lead to his arrest for a stage robbery which he never committed and,
indirectly, to his death in the Yuma
County jail when 48 years
Swilling probably received more space from newspaper editors
of his time than any other pioneer in Arizona Territory,
and much has been written about him since his death, but he still remains an
enigma. For five years prior to his appearance in Arizona nothing factual is known of him.
Despite his warm friendship with newspaper men, he told them almost nothing of
It was common gossip in the Salt River Valley
that he had killed a dozen men or more. Neri Osborn,
who knew Swilling well, said that he recalled only two men whom Jack had
killed. One of these was in Piños Altos. The other
was a native of Chile,
who made the mistake of sending Jack word in Wickenburg that he proposed to
kill him on sight. Jack sighted the Chilean first, gunned him down and took his
A relative of Jack's has said that he had been in trouble in
If he did, his trouble has not been turned up in court records examined in many
Farish tells us in his Arizona
History that Swilling married in Missouri and
afterwards went to Texas.
This information came from an obituary published in "The Miner" at Prescott. We know that
Jack was in Texas, but a search of Missouri marriage
licenses, county by county, fails to reveal proof of a marriage there. Neither
the Missouri Historical Society at Jefferson City,
nor the Kansas Historical Society at Topeka
ever heard of him.
In the census of 1864 Swilling reported he had lived in Arizona seven years,
indicating arrival in 1857. If true, it was probably in December, when the San
Antonio & San Diego Stage Line began operating.
Swilling outlived his time. In promoting settlement of the Salt River Valley he built a Frankenstein that
destroyed him. He peopled the Valley with men and women from old settled
communities in the Middle West and South who
were farmers and not frontiersmen. They did not understand him; many were
afraid of him.
Prior to his arrival in Arizona, Swilling was injured seriously. He
suffered a fractured skull which left a piece of bone pressing on his brain.
With modern brain surgery he would have found relief, but there were no brain
surgeons on the frontier.
"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", said Swilling in a statement written a few
days before his death and given to James Reilly, editor of the Territorial
Expositor at Yuma.
"No one knows what I have suffered from these wounds. At times they render
me almost crazy. Doctors prescribed, years ago, morphine which seemed 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 the 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 appetite for morphine, but the craving of it was greater than my will
Mrs. Janette Barnum, sister of Neri
Osborn, knew Swilling quite well. In 1934 she told a newspaper reporter of a
conversation she had with him sixty years earlier. Friends had accused him of
possessing a villainous disposition.
"I'm not mean really," he told her. "It's
just drink. Ever since that time in El
Paso, when a heavy beam fell on me, striking the back
of my head, I go almost crazy when I get to drinking. It never used to bother
me, but since that time, I can’t remember what I'm doing when I get to
Many settlers who homesteaded in the Salt
River Valley were
Confederate veterans from the Deep South. It
was common knowledge among them that Jack Swilling had deserted the Confederate
Army. Those veterans could ignore Jack's hard drinking and his use of
narcotics, but they could not forget his deserter's role in the war. Today
there is no street, no park, no highway bearing Swilling’s
name in Arizona; only a peak in the Grand Canyon.
Swilling’s nose for gold was
proverbial. He filled his poke time and again only to have the dust run through
The first gold strike in Arizona
was made at the Gila River, above Yuma,
where Henry Burch, an alleged murderer, and Colonel Jacob Snively,
the great adventurer, discovered rich placers in September, 1858. Jack joined
the rush and did well enough until a flash flood ruined the placers and swept
away a baking can full of gold dust which be kept beneath his cot.
Burch and Snively sought riches
elsewhere. So, too, did Swilling who led an expedition of prospectors calling
themselves the Gila Rangers from Maricopa Wells up the Hassayampa River in January, 1860. The company was
accompanied by an auxiliary farce of Maricopa warriors, who turned back at about
the lower box canyons above present day Wickenburg. The Americans turned back
before reaching the head of the Hassayampa.
Among the Rangers were miners who had worked for years in California. They thought
the region explored had the finest indication of gold of any they had ever
seen. Three years later Swilling would guide the Walker
party up the same river in the Bradshaw
Mountains and open a rich
empire to white settlement and thus speed organization of a territorial
Burch and Snively turned east,
leading a group of prospectors through the White Mountains.
On Bear Creek, in New Mexico
a branch of the Gila, they found gold in abundance. The camp that sprang up
became known as Burchville - a name that within a few
months was changed to Piños Altos, which means
"Tall Pines". Swilling soon appeared in Piños
Altos and staked out a claim on the placers. As the placers faded, Jack staked
out lode claims which he lost during the Civil War when he rode away from Piños Altos to fight for the Confederacy.
As first lieutenant in a military company raised in Piños Altos, Jack is credited with leadership of a
detachment of Captain Sherod Hunter's company in the
skirmish at Picacho
Peak, frequently said to
be the westernmost fight of the Civil War. That persists as a nice credit
line, although Swilling did not participate in that skirmish, nor was he even
when it was fought April 15, 1862.
Swilling never served in Arizona
or New Mexico under the command of Captain Sherod Hunter, who led 75 men into Tucson February 28, 1862. General Henry H.
Sibley had sent Hunter to watch for and report progress of the California
Column, which was advancing eastward from California.
Swilling rode into Tucson
at the head of a platoon from his own military company. The Arizona Guards,
from Piños Altos, was one of a half dozen companies
raised in New Mexico
for Confederate service under command of Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor, of
the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles. Swilling and Hunter were in Tucson at the same time, but on two separate
missions. Each had his own command. While they cooperated, there would have
been no reason for Jack to command a detachment from Hunter's company at Picacho. Hunter had three lieutenants in his own company,
at least two of whom were then posted for duty.
General Sibley had sent Colonel James Reily,
of the 4th Texas Mounted Volunteers into Sonora
to work out a deal with the governor which might be of advantage to the
Confederate government and to Sibley and his ragged, sick, hungry army. Baylor
ordered Lieutenant Swilling to take 20 men to escort Colonel Reily through the Apache country to Tucson.
Colonel Reily and the escort
March 1, the day following Hunter's arrival. Lieutenant James H. Tevis of Hunter's outfit then escorted Colonel Reily south to Hermosillo.
Swilling and his men prowled westward on the California
road while Colonel Reily was on his Sonora mission. Hunter also scouted the California road
capturing Ami White, the trader and miller at Casa Blanca, and a week later
taking Captain William McCleave of the California
Column. On April 2, 1862, 13 days before the skirmish at Picacho,
Confederates attacked a Federal outpost at Grinnell's Ranch, west of Gila Bend.
In an affidavit made at Las Cruces
in 1864, Captain McCleave said that Swilling captured
five Federal soldiers near Maricopa Wells even earlier than that.
Enroute to and from Hermosillo,
Lieutenant Tevis sold Colonel Reily
a mine at Piños Altos, the property of John W. Holt
and adjoining a mine owned by Swilling. The sale was consummated in Tucson, where the bill of
sale was signed April 4, witnessed by Swilling and four other men.
The following day, on April 5, Swilling gave Captain Hunter
a receipt for Captain McCleave's gun and saddle and
then left Tucson
with his platoon, Colonel Reily, and two important
prisoners - Captain McCleave and Ami White. The party
rode to Piños Altos, where Holt also signed a bill of
sale April 13, witnessed by Swilling and three other men. This was two days
before and 200 miles from Picacho Peak.
From Piños Altos the party pushed on to Mesilla,
where the documents were filed for record at the Dona Ana county court house on
April 18th. That day Swilling delivered Captain McCleave
and Ami White to Colonel Baylor. In the affidavit made by Captain McCleave in 1864, he said Swilling treated him kindly on
the journey, offered to lend him money, and escorted him to Mesilla.
With documentary evidence available that Jack Swilling did not participate in the skirmish
at Picacho, who did
command the Confederate detail when Captain Hunter's men ambushed the onrushing
Writing to Colonel Baylor, Hunter reported theBatt1e had
sent a detail under command of a sergeant
to observe the advance of the Californians. He did not name the sergeant, but
it was undoubtedly Henry Holmes, who was captured during the fight. Holmes had
been a miner in Piños Altos and was a corporal in Swilling’s company before transferring to Hunter's company,
where he was promoted to sergeant. His glory was short lived, for not only was
he taken prisoner by the Federals but he never received due credit for
directing the Picacho fight.
Two months after the Confederates retreated from New Mexico, Jack Swilling
became an express rider for the Union Army. Of this, General James H. Carleton
"Your arrangement about sending Swilling as an expressman is a good one, and I have given Colonel Steen a
memorandum of it, and will endeavor to have the time so fixed for other expressmen that there will be no delay in the transmittal
of letters up and down the river."
Approving of Swilling by General Carleton was a natural
thing. Both had fought in the battle of Buena Vista
in the Mexican War. Carleton wrote a book on the battle which indicated he had
a warm spot in his heart for his former comrades in arms. Swilling served in a Georgia
regiment, probably as a bugler.
Later in 1862, General Carleton launched a war of
extermination against the Gila Apaches, whose home lay south and west of Piños Altos. He was especially anxious to get his hands on
Chief of the Gilas. In December, 1862, General West wrote Captain Sharland at Fort McLane that Jack Swilling would be in the
neighborhood of that military post and available for help in making a prisoner
of the old chief.
Swilling had mined in Piños Altos
before joining the Confederate Army. He must have known Mangus
October 1861, Cochise and Mangus Colorado had attacked Piños
Altos with 300 warriors. Thomas J. Mastin, the
twenty-three year old captain of the Piños Altos
military company, left Lieutenant Swilling with, a platoon at the Overland
Stage crossing on the Mimbres River
while he held off the Apaches at the town. Captain Mastin,
who had been postmaster at Gila
City in 1860, died of a
wound suffered in the fight, but he whipped the Indians before he succumbed.
Refugees from Piños Altos fled
toward the Mimbres
River. The Apaches were
in hot pursuit when Lieutenant Swilling and his platoon swung into action,
drove off the pursuers, rescued a freight train belonging to Charles Trumbull
Hayden, and conducted the fleeing miners and their wives and children to
So Mangus Colorado
had plenty of reason to recognize Swilling, who hailed him in early January,
1863, and told him that he was wanted for a talk at Fort McLane.
Captain Sharland's soldiers seized the chief and made
him a prisoner. That night Mangus Colorado was killed. Enemies of General
Carleton in New Mexico
charged the chief of the Gilas was killed in cold blood; and the army said he
was killed while attempting to escape. General Carleton officially reported:
" . . . .Mangus Colorado
doubtless the worst Indian within our boundaries, and one who has been the
cause of more murders and of more torturing and of burning at the stake in this
country than all others together, has been killed."
In January, following the capture and death of Mangus, Swilling left the Mimbres River
with the Walker Party, which he guided to the headwaters of the Hassayampa
River, where gold was
discovered in April of 1863.
Swilling and several other prospectors hit a jackpot on Rich
Hill. They dug gold from the soil and rocks with their hunting, knives.
Swilling picked up $13,000 in gold, sending a couple of nuggets to General
Carleton at Santa Fe, New
Mexico, who forwarded them to Washington with a letter to Salmon P. Chase,
Secretary of the Treasury. He wrote:
"I send you herewith a specimen of copper from near Fort West on
the Gila, and two specimens of pure gold from the top of Antelope Mountain,
spoken of by General Clark. These specimens were sent to me by Mr. Swilling,
the discoverer of the new gold fields near the San
Francisco Mountains. If it not be improper, please give the
largest piece of the gold to Mr. Lincoln. It well gratify him to know that Providence is blessing our
country, even though it chasteneth."
Early in 1864, King Woolsey sent Swilling to Tucson to obtain flour
for his second expedition against the Apaches. No flour was obtainable there,
so Jack was forced to wait until a supply was brought from Sonora. In Tucson he met and eloped with
seventeen-year-old Trinidad Escalante, to her mother's distress. Trinidad lived with him fourteen years, bore him seven
children; and forty years after his death remembered him as a kind and loving
novelist has painted Swilling as a second Casanova. Nowhere is there
documentary evidence to support such a picture. On the contrary, Swilling was
too much of an alcoholic to be very much interested in women. In 1860, Swilling
was living in Piños Altos with a twenty-year-old
Mexican girl whom he had purchased from the Gila Apache, but that hardly made
him a libertine. Many miners bought Mexican girls from Indians who stole them,
in Chihuahua and Sonora along with horses and cattle. The
Apache carried on a trade in girls with bordello owners in Santa Fe. Girls disposed of in that market
had little hope of ever seeing their homes again, while the girls sold on the Piños Altos market were more fortunate, becoming wives of
In the twenty years that Swilling spent in Arizona, he put in three quarters of the
time seeking gold. He was not a farmer and only promoted development of the Salt River Valley in 1867 because the placers were
exhausted and there was not enough capital in the territory to purchase the
necessary machinery for quartz mines.
Swilling probably saw the Salt
River Valley for the
first time when he accompanied King Woolsey and a large company of miners from Prescott on a great hunt
for Tonto Apaches in 1864. That was when Woolsey sent Swilling to Tucson to buy flour. The
detachment came out of the mountains near the mouth of the Verde River and
traveled dawn the valley until they reached the Gila River.
Travelers, Army men, and prospectors were familiar with the ancient canal
system, but no one did anything about reclaiming the valley until Swilling and
a flock of hungry miners at Wickenburg in 1867 agreed that farming probably
would beat starving.
Swilling built a large home for that period on his farm,
which extended south from the Tempe
Road, or Van
Buren Street, to Harrison Street, and east a half-mile
from 32nd Street.
The home stood on the ground now occupied by a dog racetrack and was built on a
prehistoric ruin. It was 59 x 80 feet and required 90,000 adobes. Of Spanish,
or Southwestern style, the home was one-story in -height and was divided by a
"dog run", or breezeway, so common to the frontier.
Prior to the creation of Maricopa County
in February 1871, there was no actual town in the valley. There was a store, a
restaurant, bar and post office at Phoenix Settlement or Milltown, where the Helling brothers had a flour mill a cross the road from the
Swilling farm. With the creation of the new county there was a scramble for the
seat of government. The Helling’s and Swilling wanted
to locate the county seat at Milltown, but the farmers living further down the
valley laid out a new town of Phoenix.
Milltown and Mowry's Ranch, near 16th Street and Van Buren, named for
George Mowry, a pioneer sheriff and postmaster, were
candidates for county seat in the special election held May 7, 1871. In the
November election of 1870, the original Phoenix
precinct had cast 166 votes. Swilling controlled and voted the Mexicans in the
spring election, getting 150 votes for Milltown. The Phoenix crowd ran a bunch of Maricopa Indians
and obtained 212 votes; while Mowry’s Ranch got only
64. Together, proponents of the different locations polled three and a half
times as many legitimate votes as there were in the valley. Both sides cried
foul, but the vote stood. Three months after the election, Swilling advertised
his farm for sale.
He deeded his 160 acres to W. B. Helling
& Co. in 1873 for '$3,000 and moved up to a spot just below the junction of
the Agua Fria and Black Canyon, where he squatted on a ranch and prospected for
Ten miles west of the Agua Fria,
Swilling and several miners whom he led on a prospecting trip found gold and
silver. When the news got out, there was a rush of gold seekers. Some did well,
but others did not. Those who failed called the district Humbug - a name that
stuck. The Tip Top Mine, a rich silver property, was discovered at this time
and a mill was built on the Agua Fria. The
town of Gillett
grew up around the mill, down the river below Swilling’s
"Jack Swilling, to whom Arizona owes a great deal for his zeal and
perseverance in opening up rural districts, has moved from his ranch to the
new town of Gillett, where he is very busy selling property and is said to be
making money", said the Prescott Miner in February, 1878. "He
deserves all the good luck imaginable for his big heart, indomitable energy and
Town life didn’t agree with Jack. Gillett had saloons and be
couldn't keep out of them. In the spring of 1878 he made an earnest effort to
drink the bars dry. Mrs. Swilling hoped to sober him up by suggesting that he
go over toward Wickenburg and bring back the remains of Colonel Jacob Snively, who had been killed in 1871 by Chief Big Rump and
a gang of Apaches.
The very thought of the old Colonel lying alone on the
desert must have sobered Swilling, for he took two friends, George Munroe and Andrew
Kirby, and set off for the White Picacho, a landmark
off the California Highway, where Snively lost his
While Jack and his two friends were away from Gillett, the California stage was
robbed a few miles west of Wickenburg by three men. The stage carried United States
mail and Wells Fargo Express. J.W. Evans a Wells Fargo detective and deputy
Marshal, began an investigation. The express company posted a reward.
Back in Gillett, after bringing in Colonel Snively's remains, Swilling, Munroe and Kirby fell under
suspicion. Several strangers who had drifted into town were eager to collect
the reward for arrest and conviction of the robbers.
“When these men left Gillett it was known that they were
broke," said. Evans, in discussing the case years later, "and
Swilling who talked a great deal when he was 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.”
"When they returned to Gillett they all had money, $20
gold pieces. 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 with the assistance of Frank Murphy I
arrested them between two days, and accompanied by Mr. Murphy, took them to Yuma."
Even then Detective Evans was looking for another trio,
three men named Roudepouch, Mullen and Rhodes, who
were known stage robbers. They had left Gillett four days before the robbery.
After holding up the stage they met Swilling, Munroe and
Kirby and made easy decoys of them by giving them $600 in $20 gold pieces. It
was this money they were spending in the saloons when jailed.
Rhodes, one of the three robbers, confessed and was sent to
prison for ten years. Mullen was never caught. Roudepouch
was arrested twice – once in Topeka, Kansas, and again in Olympia, Washington,
but broke jail both times.
Swilling did not live to learn that he had been exonerated
of the crime, but his companions went free.
"Jack Swilling, accused of stage robbery, died in the Yuma County
jail about 6:30 P.M., August 12," said the Yuma Sentinel.
“Jack Swilling died in jail on the morning of the 13th
inst.", reported the Territorial Expositor. "He was in ill health
when brought to this place and the confinement and heat added to his general
prostration so that medical skill could not save him."
Official records fixing the date of Swilling's
death have not been found, but it is quite probable that he died in the early
morning of August 13th.
The August weather was moist and sultry. Swilling's
body was buried in the Pueblo
Cemetery on ground now
occupied by the Southern Pacific Railroad yards. Decomposition had already set
in. It was impossible to hold the body until his widow could arrange for a
As Yuma friends buried
Swilling, a locomotive on the Southern Pacific which had bridged the Colorado River sounded a deep, long whistle. It was the
requiem of a man who had come to the Apache infested Frontier with the first
stage coaches and was leaving with the coming of the railroad. It closed an
In 1903, Yuma County abandoned the old Pueblo Cemetery
beyond the Catholic Church in favor of a new cemetery to the east, well out in
the country. Many of the headboards and markers on the graves in the old cemetery
had rotted away, blown away, or been carried away by souvenir hunters. Swilling’s headboard was missing. No plat of the graves
could be found. Bodies in unmarked graves were buried in unmarked graves in the
new cemetery. The body of Jack Swilling rests in one of these unknown graves on
a high mesa where the wind blows free.
WebMaster: Neal Du
HOME | BOOSTER | CEMETERIES | EDUCATION
| GHOST TOWNS
| JACK SWILLING
| TEN DAY TRAMPS