Placerita Post Office Picture of the Week

It was lust for gold that lured men to the Weaver Mountains in southern Yavapai County. They heard stories of miners plucking nuggets from the ground and, in just a day, returning to camp a wealthy man. The fever for gold outweighed the risks of hostile Indians, treacherous mountains, poisonous snakes, and oppressing heat from the relentless sun.

Prospectors discovered several veins of the precious mineral with Rich Hill at their center. Pauline Weaver’s party started the rush when they accidentally found placer gold on the hill’s top. Boomtowns sprung up surrounding Rich Hill. The camps in Stanton, Octave, and Yarnell all had ore-bearing mines. There were so many claims on the hill; it’s a wonder that prospectors didn’t dig into each other’s tunnels. But it only took 20 years for the gold to dry up; as a result, when Anson Wilbur Callen arrived in the 1880s, he decided to prospect somewhere else.

If you flew a small airplane due east of Yarnell, you’d see a geographic anomaly. Instead of the regular distribution of peaks and hills in the Weaver Range, there’s a 2-3 mile gash between Antelope Peak and Rich Hill. From Yarnell, it runs northeast, and it looks like a score on the top of a loaf of bread. It’s very evident on a topo map or Google Maps.

There’s a natural divide in the gap’s center, and Antelope Creek drains south along the east flank of Rich Hill. Arrastre Creek flows in the divide’s north side (Arrastre is the Spanish word for a drag, as used for mining). Anson set up his camp where Arrastre Creek flows out of the canyon.

By accounts, Anson Callen was a big man and weathered beyond his age. Locals called him Old Grizzly at the age of 40. When he set up camp, his initial task was to create a reliable water source, so he dammed up the creek. As he dug a five-mile water ditch to his base, he uncovered two pieces of gold that earned him $550. There are more stories of finding large gold nuggets in the area—one of which was four pounds that the assay office valued at $900 ($107,792 in today’s market). Before Anson knew what had happened, the town of Placerita sprung up around his claim.

On Tuesday morning, I dragged my friend—Fred—out of bed, and at 5 a.m., we drove his Toyota FJ into the sunrise to find the ghost town of Placerita. As I’ve written, real ghost towns rarely have any remaining artifacts. Maybe there’s a pile of timber or a concrete slab, but never an intact building. My research showed that Placerita had a standing stone cabin, and I needed to photograph it.

Ruins in the Woods - From the roadside, we could see the remains of one of the town buildings, but we couldn't see an easy way to get to it.
Ruins in the Woods – From the roadside, we could see the remains of one of the town buildings, but we couldn’t see an easy way to get to it.

When we got to the area, we drove by a shed with a collapsed roof, but the brush was so thick that we couldn’t find a path to it. Instead, Fred drove down to the creek crossing and parked in an apparent campsite. We intended to hike up the creek, find the buildings, and photograph the ruins. Indeed, they were built along the banks. We soon discovered that walking in a dry creek bed wasn’t the best thing a couple of septuagenarians should do—especially a pair that has a hard time walking on carpets. We struggled for what seemed like a couple of miles, occasionally falling on the rocks and swatting at attacking insects.

Placerita Post Office - The 30 townspeople were served by this Post Office from 1896 to 1910, when the gold ran out.
Placerita Post Office – The 30 townspeople were served by this Post Office from 1896 to 1910 when the gold ran out.

Finally, we gave up and started back to the truck, but instead of the creek, we found a cattle track that had boot prints. We followed it to a clearing where—you guessed it—we found the collapsed building. We spent some time shooting photographs from different angles, including this week’s featured image called Placerita Post Office. About half the walls were standing, but the timbers were full of termites, and that finally caused the roof to collapse.

We never found the stone cabin—or at least we thought we hadn’t—but after I got home and did some further research, I found a photo caption that said, “It has been reported that the roof has collapsed since this picture was taken.” We did reach our goal; it’s just ten years too late. I also found out that the stone building that we shot was the town’s Post Office—built in 1896 and closed in 1910. As a federal building, it was built more durable than the rickety shacks that the miners cobbled together. It makes sense that it outlasted the rest of the town.

You can see a larger version of the Placerita Post Office on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it. Come back next week to see the work I’ve shot along the road to Placerita.

Until next time — jw