What’s in a name?

Arizona has some interesting town names. Some, like New River, have reasonable explanations. New River was a seasonal wash from the Agua Fria River system. In 1868 the site was selected for a stagecoach stop.

“We dressed up in authentic western clothes and Jim, and his best man went outside and had a mock gunfight.

They did have to take the cylinders out of the guns before the sheriff would let them blast away at each other.”

I listened to her relate her wedding night more than twenty years ago. She was born close to here and lived here all her life.

‘Here’ is New River, Arizona. It’s a very small town just off I-17 about an hour north of Phoenix. She is a volunteer at the New River tourist office.

It was Saturday, March 24th about ten-thirty o’clock when I found the place. It was tucked away on the main street… well, there is only one street.

The tourist information building is adjacent to the old schoolhouse, also a tourist attraction. The original one-room schoolhouse of 1889 no longer exists. Several very old school books, the original black slate ‘blackboard’ and other materials are displayed in today’s schoolhouse.

While I was there, four University of Arizona journalism crew were filming for a school assignment.

A dapper slender man complete with white Stetson proudly gave me a tour of the one-room-school. This schoolhouse was not the original. This one was built in the 30’s and moved from the original site to its current location.

Prominent in one corner is a large portrait of Jack Swilling. He lived in Two Rivers for several years.

Jack Swilling has quite a history. Here’s where “what’s in a name” becomes stuff you listen but take with a grain of salt.

According to the old man, proudly dressed in a white vest and white Stetson, Phoenix was named by Jack Swilling.

He points to a large portrait of Jack, describing him as a resident of New River for several years. He went on to wax eloquently on Jack’s many accomplishments, such as he started the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company. It cleaned out some prehistoric canals dug by the now-vanished Hohokam people.

That part is true. In 1867 Jack viewed the expanding Salt River Valley from his view on the north slopes of the White Tank Mountains. He envisioned farmland, predominately free of rocks. It just needed water. The Swilling Irrigation Canal Company was born.

However, Jack was a resident of Wickenburg, not New River. He did move to New River much later.

There is another bit of untruth regarding Jack is responsible for naming the small settlement that would become Phoenix.

Four people met to decide what to name a new settlement that was rapidly growing. Jack wanted to call it ‘Stonewall’ after his hero the late “Stonewall Jackson.” Another person wanted to name it Salina after the Salt River. ‘Pumpkinville’ was another suggestion for the wild pumpkins growing in the area.

The fourth person, Darrell Duppa, suggested the name Phoenix. He said the new town would spring from the ruins of a former civilization.

Jack is credited with being one of the founders of Phoenix. However, the man in the white Stenson somehow didn’t mention the rest of the story.

Jack Swilling350

Oh well, even as he was relating Jack’s side of history… I was somewhat distracted by the vibrant, passionate telling of the volunteer as she relived her version of her wedding drama.

New River, like many small Arizona communities, holds an abundant history.

Just getting here was a struggle. It was a stagecoach stop in the late 1800s on the original Phoenix-Prescot-Flagstaff route.


 As my powerful V-8 engine traveled I-17, I wondered how long it took the stage to make the journey. I’d read that several teams were required to make the entire trip. On a good day, the stage might go twenty miles.

I’ve been living in the flat desert for several years and had forgotten how rugged the mountains that surround the Valley of the Sun are.

After my experience with Bumblebee, a ghost town without structures or ghosts, I was quite surprised to see the wealth of commerce of New River.

bcnew river400

 On second glance, it is the total extent of the businesses. I had pulled to the side of the road and leashed Bernie and Chris for this photo.

The total time out of the car and walk across the street was less than five minutes. Just as I was turning around to return, I heard a man calling me. It was a state trooper.

He parked his vehicle behind me. When he saw what I was doing, he gave a friendly wave, got back in his car and drove off.

My welcome to New River.

If you enjoy horseback riding and hiking, you will love this area. On the other hand, you do have to put up with some wildlife that could harm small dogs and cats.

The usual rattlesnakes, scorpions, and coyotes. However, they should sense you before you are near them.

One great place to have your friends for a few days is Wranglers Roost Stagecoach Stop.

$450 night400

Many weddings and receptions are held here. With five bedrooms and limited to fourteen people the large property has many amenities. Cost is $450/night.

But, the actual historical stagecoach stop had fewer amenities. Established in 1890 it was called the Desert Station Stage and connected Phoenix to Prescott.

 NewRiver400 Bernie and Chris tried to check it out, but it was closed for renovations.

Reading about New River before going there was helpful. However, listening to folks who live there is a lot more fun.

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