June 19 marks the celebration of Father’s Day in our country, but beyond the gift-wrapped ugly ties, family brunches and extra desserts for dads, few people know that there is a solemn history behind Father’s Day that makes it more than just a Hallmark holiday. So, too, do few people know that the history behind Father’s Day is also intertwined with our own local past.
To understand the connection, first we’ve got to dig a little deeper into what was happening in the late 1800s in these desert mountains we now call home.
In 1848, 64 years nearly to the day before Arizona would become a state, James Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator, was hired to build a mill on the property of one John Sutter on the American River in Coloma, California. As he began his work one cold January morning, his gaze wandered to the river as it lapped at the rocky shore. The winter sun bounced off the water in sparkling bursts of glowing amber, but there was something else that caught his eye. He reached down to examine dozens of flecks that were gently passing through stones in the currents below and could hardly believe his eyes.
Picking up a small handful of flakes, he tried breaking them between two stones but found them to be malleable. A look of amazed delight overtook his face, and he proclaimed to his fellow carpenter, “I have found it!”
And with those words, James Marshall ushered in the California Gold Rush, which would forever change the American landscape.
Tens of thousands of people headed west, some who were already Americans, and others who traveled from Europe and other parts of the world in search of wealth and freedom. As they journeyed, some veered from the well-trod paths and into other landscapes, hoping to discover uncharted veins of gold and ore.
A few of them even ventured into the Arizona desert hoping to strike it rich in these rugged foothills.
Apaches and Navajos had other ideas, though. They didn’t want Anglo miners infringing upon their lands.
The US Army found manifest destiny to be an excellent reason to intervene on behalf of the miners and prospectors, and to protect them from native “raiders,” so they established Fort McDowell on the west bank of the Verde River in 1865.
As the Army navigated Apache foot trails to forge connecting roads between Fort McDowell and Fort Whipple, they made frequent stops at a spring on the east bank of Cave Creek, which was situated not far from where the back patio of Tonto Bar and Grill sits today. This outpost became the foundation for the Town of Cave Creek, and as the number of miners and cattlemen who followed them grew, so did the town.
Mines cropped up everywhere, most of which have now been abandoned to bake and settle in the desert sun, but the hardworking brotherhood of prospectors who dug and tunneled them became founding fathers of Cave Creek and many of our surrounding communities.
The West wasn’t the only place where miners were changing the landscape.
On the other side of the country, in Monongah, West Virginia, another group of miners was trying to strike it rich, only it wasn’t gold they were pulling from the ground; it was coal.
December 6, 1907, an explosion rocked the Fairmont Coal Company Mines No. 6 and No. 8 in the sleepy Appalachian town. In total, 361 miners and an engineer were left dead, and an estimated 250 widows and 1,000 children were left behind. It was the worst mining disaster in American history.
In the wake of their loss, and in honor of the sacrifices of miners and prospectors everywhere—like those in our own area who were eking out a living one chiseled rock at a time—Father’s Day was established.
It was, and is, because of their sacrifices and their dedication to raising their children despite difficult and dangerous lives that the foundation was laid for so many of our towns and cities.
As we celebrate Father’s Day at Cartwright’s Sonoran Ranch House and Tonto Bar and Grill, we honor all of the men in our lives who have made sacrifices for their children, their grandchildren, and for those who look to them for guidance and support.
We stand in a proud tradition of honor and pride, and we are forever indebted to the fathers and father figures of the present, and to the founding fathers of the past.