Pauline Weaver: The Story of Prescott’s First Citizen
Excerpt from “Arizoniana” by Marshall Trimble, the state’s official historian.
When old Joe Walker, a big, strapping, ex-mountain man, and his party of prospectors arrived at Granite Creek in the Spring of 1863, another old mountain man, Pauline Weaver, was already camped there. The area where the future territorial capital city of Prescott would be founded was the stomping grounds of the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches. Both groups had a reputation as formidable foes of the whites who asked no quarter and gave none. Surprisingly, the earliest days of Prescott’s history were relatively free of bloodshed and the credit goes to Pauline Weaver.
Weaver’s Trek Through Arizona
Weaver is one of those ubiquitous characters who best fits the description of one who never had time to write or narrate early Arizona history—he was too busy making it. Born in Tennessee around 1800, he was the son of a white father and Cherokee mother. For a time he worked for the Hudson Bay Fur Company but preferred warmer climates, so he headed for the Southwest. He first arrived in Arizona in the late 1820s and over the next few years established a reputation as a first-rate mountain man, coming to know Arizona’s mountains, deserts and rivers like the back of his hand. Somebody scratched his name on the Casa Grande ruins in 1832. Since Weaver made his mark with an “X” until his dying day, the signature is but one more mystery at that site.
During the Mexican War, General Stephen Watts Kearny, commander of the Army of the West, hired Weaver as a guide for the Mormon Battalion on its historic road building trek along the Gila Trail. Weaver spent the 1850s trapping for beaver along the river streams in Arizona where he got on friendly terms with most of the tribes.
Following the Gold
In 1862, some natives along the Colorado River in western Arizona showed him some rich gold placers at La Paz not far from today’s Ehrenberg. Before the gold played out, some 12 million dollars worth of the yellow metal had been panned out.
The boom town of La Paz that spring up nearby almost became the capital city of the Arizona territory. Sometime later the capricious Colorado changed its muddy course and left La Paz and a couple of steamboats sitting high and dry in the desert. The town picked up and moved over to the river and re-named itself Ehrenberg.
The same year Weaver discovered gold at La Paz he hired out as a scout for the California Volunteers. A small force of Confederates from Texas had occupied Tucson and were probing their way along the Gila towards the strategic river crossing at Yuma. A few weeks later they retreated back to the Old Pueblo in the face of the 2,000-man California Column that was planning to re-occupy Arizona.
The hard-riding mountain men led Captain William Galloway, and 272 men, up the Gila to the Pima Villages at today’s Sacaton-Bapchule (I-10 at the Gila).
Two detachments from Galloway’s Cavalry troop headed to Picacho where they fought a battle with the Confederates rear guard in what is called the “Westernmost Battle of the Civil War.”
Not long after the Walker party found gold in the Bradshaw Mountains, Weaver guided the Abraham H. Peeples party up the Hassayampa River in search of another madre del oro. A few miles north of Wickenburg they stumbled upon a treasure trove of gold nuggets lying atop a rocky knoll that was rightfully named Rich Hill. It was the richest single placer strike in Arizona history and how it got deposited up there is still an enigma, but gold, as they say, is where you find it.
During those first months, Weaver worked tirelessly to negotiate a treaty between the native tribes and newcomers and succeeded for a spell. The Indians used the password “Paulino-Tobacco,” which was to indicate to the whites they were friendly. Tobacco was a word nearly every Indian knew and understood as it was always given by whites during a parley as a token of friendship. As more whites poured in who weren’t aware, or didn’t care about the arrangement, the treaty became meaningless. Too many cultural differences and mutual mistrust caused the inevitable outbreak of hostilities.
Father Time Catches Up with Weaver
In the mid-1860s, Weaver himself was jumped by a war party outside Prescott and seriously wounded. The old scout thought he was a goner and went into his “death song”—a custom he’d adopted from the Plains Indians. The suspicious warriors, not familiar with the ritual, believed he’d gone crazy and left him alone. When Weaver saw he wasn’t going to die, he got up and casually walked home. The wound did, however, continue to trouble him for the remainder of his days.
It is said the natives were remorseful about shooting Weaver and during friendly parleys always asked how “Powlino” was getting along.
When the first settlers moved into the Verde Valley, the army was called in to provide protection from a growing number of attacks. The officers wisely brought Weaver in to bring about a peace treaty. His service, according to military records, was invaluable but ol’ Dad Time was catching up. His health deteriorated and, on June 21, 1867, Pauline Weaver died. He was buried at Camp Verde (Lincoln) with full military honors. Later, when the post was abandoned his remains were taken to California.
In 1929, poet-historian Sharlot Hall organized a campaign to have Weaver’s remains returned to Prescott. Thanks to the Boy Scouts and Prescott school children, funds were raised and Weaver was re-buried on the grounds of the old Territorial capitol. Ms. Hall declared him Prescott’s First Citizen—a title he richly deserved.