Biography of King S. Woolsey

Among the most notable of the early pioneers of Arizona, was King S. Woolsey. He was a native of Alabama, but was raised to manhood in Louisiana, from which state he emigrated to California when only eighteen years of age. He came into this territory in 1860 in company with Mr. Benedict of Tucson, and Colonel Jackson, who settled in Yavapai County. When they landed in Yuma, all the money in the party was five dollars, which King Woolsey had. In addition he had a horse, rifle and pistol, and the others were similarly mounted and armed. They had ridden all the way from below San Francisco into the territory. Woolsey’s first occupation in Arizona was that of a mule driver; he then became the owner of a mule team and made contracts for the delivery of hay, etc., to the Government. Later he engaged in partnership with George Martin, who afterwards lived at Yuma, and they purchased the Agua Caliente Ranch.

When Albert Sidney Johnson’s party came across the territory on their way to join the Confederates, Woolsey joined them, but when they reached Maricopa station, he was taken down with smallpox, and was left behind. He was watched as a Secessionist for some time thereafter, but never took any part in the civil strife. The Texan invasion found him actively engaged in private business.

He had many fights with the Indians, and one of his first is described by J. Ross Browne in his book: “The Apache Country,” where, in describing his trip through Arizona in 1863, Mr. Browne tells the story. In travelling between Grinnell’s and Oatman Flat, near the old mail station called Burk’s, Mr. Allen, Mr. Browne’s companion, called his attention to an open space fringed with brushwood and mesquite, where a sharp fight had taken place about two years before between a party consisting of three Americans, one of whom was King Woolsey, and about fifteen or twenty Apaches. Mr. Browne says:

“Mr. Woolsey, who has since become quite famous in Arizona as an Indian fighter, had contracted to supply the Government with hay, and was returning from the grass range with his loaded wagon and two hired hands, entirely unsuspicious of danger. They had one gun with them, which by good luck rather than precaution was charged with buckshot. In emerging from the bushes where the road approaches the point of the sand hill, a terrific yell burst upon them, and in a moment, the Apaches sprung up from their ambush and charged upon them like so many devils incarnate. Woolsey said: ‘Hold the mules boys, and give me the gun!’ which they did with great coolness. The Indians wheeled about and dodged, but kept shooting their arrows with such fearful dexterity that Woolsey thought it advisable to give them a load of buckshot. The distance was too great, and no damage was done. At this the savages renewed their diabolical yells; closer and closer they crowded, the brave little band of whites standing coolly by the wagon and mules, ready to sell their lives as dearly as possible. The leader of the Apaches, a warrior of gigantic stature and hideous features rushed forward brandishing his war club, calling upon his men to follow. Woolsey waited until the chief had approached within twenty paces, when he discharged the other barrel of his gun. Down tumbled the yelling savage, with a hole through his head.

“Woolsey and his party determined to make a conspicuous mark of the dead chief, from which marauding Indians might take warning. They dragged the body to the nearest mesquite tree and hung it up by the neck, leaving the feet to dangle about a yard from the ground.”

The Indians fled upon the death of the chief, and being superstitious, never approached the place as long as the body was dangling from the tree.

About this time the California Column, commanded by General Carleton, arrived in the Territory, and Woolsey made considerable money furnishing them with supplies. In 1863 he joined the Walker party and with them set out to prospect Northern Arizona, and was one of the discoverers of Lynx Creek; he then associated himself with John Dixon, and took up the Agua Fria ranch east of Prescott, after which he returned to his home at the Agua Caliente. A short time after this he opened the first road into the Northern part of Arizona. While constructing this road in the vicinity of Antelope Mountain, considerable stock was stolen from the people of Wickenburg. The Tonto Apaches had been raiding the ranches in Peeples’ Valley and along the Verde, and Walnut Grove and other localities south of Prescott. A large band of them drove off all the stock in Peeples’ Valley. While en route to Prescott from Agua Caliente, with his wagon train loaded with flour, which he had ground out in a small mill at Agua Caliente, upon arriving at Peeples’ Valley, the settlers insisted that he should send his teams on to Prescott and take command of a volunteer company in a raid against the Apaches. There were about sixty white men. Woolsey dispatched couriers to the chiefs of the Maricopas and Pimas, and each of them joined him at the mouth of the Verde, with thirty warriors from each tribe. They took the trail of the Apaches and followed it into Tonto Basin, where the chief of the Pimas, fearing an ambush, decided to go no further, and withdrew his followers, but the chief of the Maricopas, Juan Chiavria, who was a great friend of Woolsey’s, stayed with the whites, with his warriors. They followed this canyon for about three miles when they found themselves surrounded by about four hundred of the Apaches. Knowing that unless diplomacy was resorted to, they would all be massacred, King Woolsey got his interpreter, a Yuma Indian who lived on his ranch and had formerly been captured by the Apaches and had acquired their language, to talk to the hostiles. Jack was the orator for the occasion. He talked long and loud, begging them to come down, and assuring them that they would be kindly treated; that they were not there for war, but to make peace. Jack told them that Juan Chiavria of the Maricopas was present, and he, himself, was the chief of the Yumas, and that the three white men were great American captains who came from Washington to make a treaty with them. After many hours of persuasion, the Apaches concluded that they would come down and have a talk. It was arranged that each party should meet in council without arms; the chief of: the Maricopas, Jack, King Woolsey, Joe Dye of Los Angeles, and young Lennon, who was the recorder to write down the treaty. The rest of the white men and the Maricopas were left about sixty or seventy yards away, armed with rifles and shotguns, with the understanding that when the fight commenced, they were to take an active part; those armed with shotguns to come to the relief of Woolsey, and the riflemen to fire upon the Apaches on the hills. In this they were supported by the Maricopas. The white men and the Maricopa chief in the council were each armed with two six shooters under their coats. The Apaches, the big chiefs and the little chiefs, numbering about thirty, were seated in a half circle. One of the big chiefs said that he would not sit on the bare ground, so King Woolsey sent off and got a fine scarlet blanket, and seated him next to where he himself was standing. The Maricopas had brought a quantity of pinole and tobacco. The pinole was placed on a blanket nearby, and the Indians pretended to be smoking the tobacco. After the Apaches were seated and the conference commenced, an Apache Indian entered the council, dragging two lances at his heels; another came with a handful of knives, which were distributed among the hostile savages. Immediately afterward an Indian boy rushed in almost out of breath and told the Apaches that the order from the big chief was for them all to get out of the camp, and they would kill the last one of the whites and the Maricopas. The signal agreed upon by Woolsey and his men for the firing to commence, was for him to put his hand upon his hat. Before the Apaches had time to do anything, Woolsey gave his signal, and, at the same time, shot the Apache chief who was seated upon his blanket. Joe Dye, Young Lennon, the Maricopa chief and Jack did the same, and every bullet found its mark. The shotgun men rushed in and killed every Apache who had come to the council, while those having rifles were picking off the Apaches who were on the hills. After the fight was over, they examined the hills, which were covered with blood, but they found no dead, as it was the invariable custom of the Apaches to carry off their dead and wounded whenever it was practicable for them to do so. Woolsey and his men retraced their steps through the canyon, and not an Indian was in sight. In this fight Woolsey lost only one man. He had warned young Lennon to look out for a lame Apache who had a lance, but in the excitement young Lennon had forgotten his warning. The Indian ran him through the body with his lance, and Lennon shot the Indian with his revolver almost at the same time, both dying together. The Apaches received such severe punishment that they were good for some time thereafter.

The above account is given me by Mrs. Baxter, the wife of Judge Baxter of Yuma, who was the wife of King Woolsey, and may be considered the true story of what is known as the “Pinole Treaty,” or the massacre at Bloody Tanks.

King Woolsey was the hero of many expeditions against the Apaches, particularly during the Civil War when the United States troops were withdrawn from Arizona to New Mexico, leaving the settlers in Arizona to take care of themselves. At one time he was in command of one hundred and ten volunteers. In one of his expeditions he followed up the Salt River to Tonto Basin, and from there through the Sierra Anches, where they had a fight with the Apaches, in which 120 of the Indians were killed. The Apaches were taken by surprise and Woolsey did not lose a man. In the same expedition they came in around where the town of Globe now is, and discovered a wheat field which had been planted by the Indians. They thrashed out all the wheat they wanted, parching it, and making it into pinole. After doing this they turned their horses into the field and destroyed the growing crop, while the squaws on the surrounding hills were bewailing their loss. The place to this day is known as the “Wheat Fields.”

At one time King Woolsey, William Fourr, now living at Dragoon Summit, and Salazar, acted as guides for the Government. Salazar was the Government guide, but not knowing the country, Woolsey and Fourr acted as guides for Colonel McClave in expeditions against the Apaches, who had their rancherias in the vicinity of the Harquahala Mountains. The three guides were in advance of Colonel McClave’s company, and when near the water, they discovered three Indians. Each killed his Indian, which prevented any knowledge of the expedition reaching the hostiles. That afternoon the command neared the water and the Indians began shooting. The battle raged all that afternoon and the next morning until about ten o’clock, when the chief of the Indians was killed by either Fourr or Woolsey, who had been shooting at him with their Sharp’s rifles for at least a half an hour. After the chief was killed, the Apaches dispersed and allowed the troops to come to the water. These Indians had been plundering the ranches along the Gila, and all the stations ten and twelve miles apart. They drove off from Woolsey’s ranch at one time, stock valued at $10,000, stripping him of everything except eight mules. They robbed Fourr in the same way. Juan Chiavria, Chief of the Maricopas, sought out these Indians, who were just ordinary thieves, but not murderers, and told them that if they attempted to interfere with his friends, the whites, again, he would arm his men, follow into their strongholds, and kill the last one of them, men, women and children. The Indians were Apache Mohaves, who had such a wholesome fear of both the Maricopas and the Pimas, that thereafter they did not interfere with the ranchmen on the Gila.

About the year 1866 or 1867, there was a lot of hard cases, bad men, who came into Northern Arizona from Montana. Among the rest was Jeff Standifer, who had the reputation of being a cool, courageous, nervy killer; a dead shot with any firearm. He was a gambler, and, hearing somewhat of King Woolsey being a man of courage, he declared that he would kill him on sight. Men of his character always seek out those who have the reputation of being fighters to try their mettle. As far as my experience in the West goes, this class of men, and I have seen many of them, are like gamecocks on a farm; everyone has its master, but in trying to establish their superiority, when they come together it is a duel to the death. Some of Woolsey’s friends visited him at his Agua Fria ranch, and told him of the threats which Standifer had made, and advised him not to come to Prescott for a few days. Woolsey said: “I’ll think about it.” He said he didn’t like the idea, however, of a man telling him that he should not go to a place, or tell him that he should not go or come as he pleased; that he was in the habit of doing very much as he wanted to. A few nights afterwards, when everything was in full swing, and this man was at his game, there entered the room King Woolsey. Going up to the bar, he turned his face to the crowd. All was still and quiet. A hush came over everyone and the whisper passed around: “There’s Woolsey!” Standifer heard it, and started with his pistol in his hand towards Woolsey. Woolsey looked at him until he was within about fifteen or twenty feet, when, quicker than lightning, he pulled his six shooter, and had it cocked and levelled at the man’s head. Raising his left hand he said: “Halt! Another step and you’re a dead man.” Involuntarily Standifer stopped. Woolsey looked him in the face for a moment, still holding his gun down on him, and said: “There’s the door, take it, if ever you cross my path again, I’ll kill you.” The man went out of the door and never returned.

Woolsey continued to make money; he got into mining, however, and lost about sixty thousand dollars. At the time of his death, he was one of the largest landowners in the Salt River Valley. In spite of all his activities, in hunting Indians, running ranches and mines, he still had time to serve the territory. He was a member of the Legislative Council the first, second, seventh, eighth and ninth Legislatures, and was President of the two last named Councils. He was a candidate for the position of Delegate to Congress in 1878, but was not elected. He was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers, and was an aide upon both the staffs of Governor Goodwin and Governor Safford. In the early part of 1878, in company with John Y. T. Smith and C. W. Stearns, he erected the Phoenix Flour Mills.

He died June 29th, 1879, on his ranch adjoining the city of Phoenix at the age of forty-seven years, and was survived by his widow, who is now the wife of Judge Frank Baxter of Yuma. The following notice is taken from the Phoenix Herald of July 2nd, 1879:
“King S. Woolsey Crosses the Shining River.
In the Midst of Life we are in Death.
Arizona’s most prominent citizen gone to his
final resting place.

“King S. Woolsey died last Sunday morning about three o’clock at his residence, the Lyle ranch, southeast of Phoenix. The deceased was a large, hale, and hearty man, and his death was very unexpected. He was in town up to a late hour the previous evening, and then certainly gave no indication of the nearness of death. Returning himself after all the farm hands had retired, and not wishing to disturb them, he put up his buggy animals unassisted, and then went to his room.

“The cook, who sleeps outside, saw him enter the house and commence preparing for bed. The cook states that he heard a slight groaning, but as deceased was occasionally troubled with nightmare, he paid no attention to the matter and went to sleep. He was awakened by a prolonged groan, and, jumping up, he rushed to the room and discovered the deceased lying on the floor, partially under the table.

“A messenger was dispatched for help, who shortly returned with Dr. Conyers, but no aid could be rendered – the groan which awakened the cook was, no doubt, the last of King S. Woolsey on this earth. A dispatch was immediately sent to his wife, who was living on the Agua Caliente ranch. She reached here early Monday morning, and the remains were conveyed to their last resting place at nine o’clock that morning. The funeral service was conducted by the Masonic Order, (of which Woolsey was a member), and was the first ever performed in this valley. The funeral was largely attended.”

Juan Chiavria, chief of the Maricopas, wept like a child at the loss of his friend, and accompanied by almost all the males of his tribe, attended his funeral.


Farish, Thomas Edwin. History Of Arizona, Volume 2. Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D. 1915.

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1 thought on “Biography of King S. Woolsey”

  1. King Woolsey is my great-great grandfather.
    My grandfather, Juan Vega married King Woolsey’s daughter, Johanna (Concepcion) Woolsey.
    My grandfather Juan and grandmother Concepcion had five children: Juan Vega Jr, Gabriel, Mike, Ralph and francis.

    Juan Vega, Jr (Born 7/22/1942, San Diego, CA)

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