Story of Sedona - Oak Creek
In 1862, Congress, concerned about the sparse
settlement of the nations western lands, passed the Homestead
Act, which gave 160-acre tracts of public land to citizens who
would settle on the soil and use it productively.
This inducement sent hordes of settlers westward,
but few were willing to try their luck in the western half of
New Mexico. (New Mexico Territory included the area that was to
become Arizona). Then gold was discovered in 1863 and the town
of Prescott sprang into being around the mineral field. People
poured into the region, and when Arizona was split off from New
Mexico in 1863 to become a separate territory, Prescott was its
capital. This gave central Arizona more stature and encouraged
homesteaders, using Prescott as a base, to look for good land
along the river valleys.
Settlers began pushing into the Verde Valley in
1865, and they loved what they saw, but there was a rub: it was
Apache country. They appealed for military protection and got
The government created Camp Lincoln (later Fort
Verde), and troops began a long campaign to quell the Apaches.
The effort, led by General Crook, came to a head in 1876, when
the Apaches living in Oak Creek Canyon were rounded up and sent
to the San Carlos reservation. This opened the area to settlement.
Shortly after the departure of the Apaches, James
J. Thompson ventured into Oak Creek Canyon and became its first
white settler, staking out a homestead on a plot of land where
Munds Canyon meets Oak Creek. Because he found crops planted by
the recently-expelled Apaches still growing there, he called the
place Indian Gardens.
A couple of years later he persuaded his friend
Abraham James to move his family into the area. James located
several miles downstream and became the first settler of the lower
canyon. Thompson married Jamess daughter Margaret and had nine
Within the next few years, most of the arable
land along Oak Creek had been homesteaded. Some of the best-known
locations and the families associated with them were (starting
north): Troutdale (the Chipmunk), Col. O. P. Harding; Cave Springs,
Purtymun; West Fork, Bear Howard and Dad Thomas; Bootlegger, Purtymun;
Junipine, Purtymun; Garlands, Jesse Howard; Slide Rock, Pendley;
Manzanita, Purtymun; and Mission Rancho, Purtymun. Where the canyon
opened, the Owenby, Schnebly and Smith families were early settlers
in addition to James.
What these settlers found for themselves was a
land of beauty, where the soil and climate were good and the waters
of Oak Creek reliable. They planted orchards and vegetable gardens
and grew subsistence crops and livestock to feed their families.
In the open ranges south of Sedona they engaged in cattle ranching.
It was a tight little world, and very isolated. Many of the families
bartered back and forth and were able to provide themselves with
the necessities of life, but cash was very scarce.
Fort Verde was manned until 1890, and the homesteaders
were able to raise cash by selling produce to the army men, giving
the area around lower Oak Creek Canyon its first name, Camp Garden.
After 1882, when the railroad reached Flagstaff
and it began to grow, the mountain town became the best customer
for this produce. Flagstaff was only 30 miles away, but blocked
by a mighty obstacle, the Mogollon Rim. In order to get to Flagstaff,
the homesteaders in the upper canyon hacked out horse trails to
the top of the east rim. When they had a crop ready for sale,
they would load their apples or peaches into saddlebags and struggle
by foot to the rim, where they kept a wagon. They scaled the canyon
wall as often as necessary to make a load, then hitched a horse
to the wagon, and drove to Flagstaff, which took two or three
They didnt make this trip any more often than
they had to. The settlers in the lower canyon took the Fort Verde
wagon road to Beaverhead. Then they climbed the bone-jarring Beaverhead
route to Rattlesnake Tanks where they joined the Flagstaff-Fort
Verde wagon road. The trip to Flagstaff took six or seven days,
and was so rough that by the end of the trip they were more likely
to be selling applesauce than apples.
The need for better roads was crucial, but there
was little money to build them. In 1902, Coconino County joined
with some of the land owners to build the Schnebly Hill Road,
a big improvement, allowing farmers to travel from Camp Garden
to Flagstaff in two days over much smoother surfaces. Settlers
in the upper canyon still needed a wagon road directly to Flagstaff,
and they worked on it for years, building short stretches up the
canyon at a time, as money and conditions permitted. Not until
1914 was there a continuous wagon road from all the way through
the canyon to Flagstaff.
With decent roads in place, life became a bit
easier. The settlers could get their goods to a broader market
and outside people began coming into the canyon to fish and camp.
Carl Schnebly, located at the foot of the Schnebly Hill Road,
built a spacious home in 1902 and rented out extra rooms to travelers,
creating the first hotel.
There were enough residents in the area to qualify
for a post office, so Schnebly petitioned for the establishment
of one, using his hotel as its location and himself as postmaster.
He submitted the names Schnebly Station or Oak Creek Crossing
for the post office but the postal service had a policy of accepting
only a single name. Carl Schneblys brother, Ellsworth, suggested
that Sedona, the name of Carls wife, be used in order to satisfy
this regulation. It was accepted on June 26, 1902, and that is
how Sedona got its name, and why 2002 is regarded as Sedonas centennial
By the time Sedona got its name, the character
of the community had been established. The economy was based on
farming - mostly fruit growing - with cattle ranching to the south
where the canyon opened up, and recreation in the upper canyon,
where vacationers loved to fish and camp.
Nobody got rich, and for some it was hard even
to put food on the table. There was an old Sedona saying, You
cant eat the red rocks, meaning that as beautiful as it was, it
was a tough place to make a living.
There was a minor exception to this hardscrabble
existence, beginning in 1923, when Hollywood discovered the area
as a Western movie location. Zane Grey sold the movie rights to
his best-selling novel The Call of the Canyon, situated in West
Fork, and insisted that it be shot on site. A number of other
movies followed until interrupted by World War II, and when the
film crews were in town, money flowed freely.
Sedonas character did not change until after WWII.
As late as 1945, the town consisted of a service station, a store,
and a tavern. The first motel was built in 1946. At the end of
the war, many western movies were filmed in Sedona, using an old
CCC camp as a base, bringing in welcome cash and advertising Sedonas
beauties to the world. Most of the post-war movies were shot in
color, and audiences could scarcely believe their eyes, looking
more at the background than the action. This awareness brought
in a new generation of settlers, people who had made their money
elsewhere and were looking for a beautiful place to live. Still,
growth was slow. Electric service was not available until 1947.
The population of Sedona in 1950 was 350.
It was only a matter of time before artists discovered
Sedona, drawn here by its natural beauty. The art scene began
to blossom in the 1950s, and the Art Center was established in
1958. The Cowboy Artists of America was organized in the Oak Creek
Tavern in 1965. The area soon attracted other artists as well:
actors, writers and musicians.
In the 1960s, Sedona became a retirement magnet,
drawing people lured by its scenery and out-of-the-rat-race atmosphere.
Fruit orchards and ranches were sold to subdividers, and farming
disappeared. The first golf course was built.
In the 70s, Sedona began to attract New Agers,
who learned of its reputation as a vortex site. Construction of
the famous Tlaquepaque shopping area began in 1971, adding a new
element to Sedonas list of attractions. A flood of newcomers began
moving in. Growth in the area reached critical mass in the 80s,
exploding into a profusion of construction everywhere, leading
to sprawl and the inevitable incorporation of Sedona as a town
Today Sedona is a resort town and a playground,
the number two must-see attraction in Arizona, after the Grand
Canyon, drawing three-and-a-half million visitors a year. It serves
its visitors well, with a surprisingly large number of amenities
for its size, including upscale restaurants and coffee houses,
a beautiful public library, art galleries, theaters and boutiques.
Although much of Sedonas landscape is covered
by development, residents who love the outdoors for hiking, biking
and other pursuits, take comfort in the knowledge that huge tracts
of the most scenic land are in protected wilderness areas.