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Gillette! - Arizona Ghost Towns
by mark quigley, feature for The Arizona Sportsman's Journl TV (www.azho.com)

I love to hunt for old ghost towns, mines and mining camps. I have done this in and around the Lake Pleasant area since I was a kid. My dad is quite the ghost town hunter and would drag our family around to many interesting places. As a pilot, he would fly the area he wanted to explore than we would be off in his old jeep looking for these haunts. Later, when I got a drivers license I was off on my own doing the same thing. I think I have found every ghost town and mining camp in the southern Bradshaw Mountains. I have also spent countless hours at museums and libraries searching old records for the history of these now lonely places.

For many years I worked at Lake Pleasant as an officer and searcher out many of its historical places. I love to photograph old places and I thought I would start a form on exploring the western history around the Lake Pleasant area. I have a large gallery and my photographic prints are on display at the Lake Pleasant Desert Outdoor Center. If you ever want to look at some of these old places, this might help in deciding where to visit first.

Of course this is the wrong time of year to be out looking at old mines and haunted towns but cool weather is not far off. Well here is a my first attempt to get you interested in the great Arizona outdoors and its unique western history.

Just over a mile from Lake Pleasant Park lies the ghost town of Gillette. This is one ghost town that has always amazed me. It always pops up in old newspaper accounts and seems to have been a busy and lively town. Wyatt Earp and many other well known Arizonans passed this way. What I find amazing is how a town so well known to Arizona history can die with so little remaining.

Gillette earned a reputation as a lawless Western town. By March 1878, three men had already been killed in saloon gunfights. Through the years, the ladies of Gillette tried to turn it into a civilized town by holding town socials and inviting traveling preachers, but without much success. Gillette served as a well-used stage stop. It also had a large and busy gold/silver mill that ran a profitable operation. The area’s miners, cowboys and stage drivers spent a lot of time in the town’s several saloons.

Several times the towns blacksmith managed to hold up the Wells Fargo stagecoach in Squaw Creek Canyon a few miles north of Gillette. By the time the stage arrived in town, the blacksmith would be back in his shop busily occupied with his blacksmithing trade. The blacksmith was eventually caught.

On June 12, 1878, two killings and a lynching took place in Gillette within a few hours. A man named Setwright became involved in an argument in one of Gillette’s saloons and broke a bottle over the head of another man. Deputy Sheriff C. Burnett stepped inside the saloon and arrested Setwright for his drunken behavior. Later that day, Mr. Weir, a respected town citizen, asked the deputy to release Setwright into his custody. The deputy agreed, and the two rode out of town together. A short time later, the mule Mr. Weir had been riding wandered back into Gillette. An immediate investigation produced Weir’s body, shot through the head, a short distance out of town. Deputy Burnett and several other men saddled their horses and took off in search of Setwright. He was captured about a mile and a half from Gillette and taken back to town. Gillette had no jail, so Setwright was placed inside the house of Col. Taylor and E. P. Rains until he could be taken to Prescott for trial.

By now, word had spread of the recent murder and an angry mob of citizens began gathering outside the home where Setwright was being held. As time passed, the crowd became more and more angry and bent on dealing out their own punishment. Sheriff Burnett tried to calm the mob by telling them that Setwright would be taken to Prescott where law and justice would decide his fate. His protests failed and demands and threats from the excited crowd increased. They threatened to burn down or blow up the house unless Setwright was delivered to them. Col. Taylor, the homeowner, stepped outside with his double-barreled shotgun in an attempt stop the crowd. Someone in the crowd aimed a gun, a shot rang out and Col. Taylor slumped to the ground, dead. Realizing that it was impossible to defend his prisoner from the bloodthirsty mob, Deputy Burnett and Raines released him. The now terrified and sober Setwright was dragged from the house, and minutes later his body was swinging from the branch of a cottonwood tree on the banks of the Agua Fria River.

Gillette’s lawless reputation grew through the years. The town was also known as the stage robber’s capital of Arizona. More than nine stagecoach robberies occurred a few miles north of Gillette.

The Gillette silver mill served the town of Tip Top. Silver from the Tip Top mines was hauled nine miles over steep mountain roads to the mill. Once melted, it was shipped to San Francisco, again by wagon. Gillette was named after Dan B. Gillette, the Tip Top mine’s superintendent. The town’s lots sold for $100 each, with corner lots costing $350. Six streets, Main, California, North, Pine, Mill and Market, and five blocks comprised the town. There were shady streets with modest houses, several stores, a blacksmith, other businesses, four saloons, a post office and the fine Burfind Hotel. The town lacked a badly needed jail and church. Jack Swilling, the leader of the party that first settled the Phoenix area, lived here. One business was opened by Charles T. Hayden, father of Arizona’s Senator Carl Hayden.

James Barney, a Phoenix historian, was quoted in a newspaper, “I strayed down to Gillette the other day and found the Tip Top Mill running all right, the place was full of people, and teams and pack trains running in and out. The place is well represented in all kinds of businesses necessary to supply the wants of the public except in the matter of saloons, there being only four in full blast. . . .”

Gillette quickly declined after the Tip Top Mining Company moved its mill to the town of Tip Top in 1886. The town remained as a stopping place for stagecoaches until around 1912. Because stagecoaches had to cross the Agua Fria River to reach Gillette, other stops and forms of travel were preferred. Ultimately, the town dried up completely and blew away from the Arizona landscape. For a time the old hotel was used as a dude ranch. Today, all that remains is the old stage stop, hotel and a couple of other scattered stone buildings. The graveyard, where Setwright is probably buried, is located just east of the old hotel. Late 1800s trash can be found scattered across the entire townsite. If you stand quietly for a moment, you might hear the wind whisper, “Whoa,” and imagine a stagecoach pulling up in a cloud of dust, as a busy town moves about its business around you.

To reach Gillette, follow Interstate 17 north from Phoenix toward Flagstaff and exit at Table Mesa Road. Follow Table Mesa Road about four miles to the New River Gravel Company signs. The road descends steeply to the Agua Fria River. Just before entering the gravel company property, turn right on another road. This road crosses the Agua Fria River and goes up the opposite bank. Here sits old Gillette. The old hotel (stage stop) is located about .25 miles east of the flat, near the bottom of the Agua Fria River.

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