Biography of J. W. Swilling

J. W. Swilling, known as “Jack Swilling,” was born in the state of Georgia in 1831. He emigrated to Missouri in early life, and there settled down. After having resided in that state some four years, his wife died, leaving one child, a girl, who afterwards married and lived in Missouri.

About the year 1857, Swilling emigrated to Texas where he remained for two years, when he came to Arizona, and was in the employ of the Overland Mail Company for quite a length of time.

During the Rebellion, Swilling was a lieutenant in Captain Hunter’s company of volunteers in Baylor’s regiment, and occupied himself with thirty of his men, in protecting settlers and others from the Indians along the Rio Grande in Southern New Mexico, and along the road to Tucson, Arizona. When the Confederates were driven out of New Mexico, Mr. Swilling remained in Arizona, and a few months afterwards, was carrying the express for the soldiers and acting as guide for them through the countrv. The following winter, he joined the Walker Party.

He was one of the party that accompanied Colonel Jack Sniveley, a veteran of the Texas War of Independence, and General Houston’s private secretary, in a prospecting trip when the mines of Pinos Altos were discovered, and Swilling, it is said, was at the head of the party that discovered Rich Hill, near Weaver Creek, in the lower part of Yavapai County, in the year 1863. Be this as it may, Jack Swilling accumulated quite a fortune, either from these places or others.

In 1867, Swilling organized a company and built the first canal from the Salt River, now known as the “Town Ditch” which was intended to reclaim four thousand acres of land. This canal was completed in 1868, all the lands under it were located by settlers during the following two years, and quite a settlement was made in what is now the city of Phoenix. This name was given to the new settlement by Swilling, at the suggestion of Darrell Duppa, who explained to him that the name “Phoenix” was given in old mythology to a bird which rose from its ashes more beautiful and stronger than ever, and that here were the remains of an extinct civilization, long past, upon whose ashes would rise a modern civilization, stronger and more beautiful than that which preceded it.

In 1871, Swilling organized a company which built the Tempe Canal. Shortly after this, he moved to the Black Canyon and located a farm, and improved it. In the meantime, he had married a second time, and moved his family to his new home. During his residence at this place, the Tip-Top, the Swilling and other mines were discovered and the town of Gillett started up three miles from Swilling’s residence, when he again moved, this time to Gillett, having located valuable property there.

Swilling was known as a kind hearted, generous man, public spirited, and always ready to assist any needy man, or any public enterprise. He went on periodical sprees, however, in which he drank heavily and also used drugs. The year preceding his death, he was drinking heavily, and, while on one of these jamborees, in April, 1878, his wife formed a plan to get him out of town and sober him up. She secured the services of George Munroe and Andrew Kirby to join Swilling and go into the White Picacho Mountains, and exhume the bones of his old friend, Colonel Sniveley from the place of their burial seven years previously, Sniveley having been murdered there by the Apaches while on a prospecting trip, and to bring the remains to Gillett for burial. The party went out, accomplished the object for which they went, and, during this time, the stage was held up near Wickenburg, and plundered. When the news reached Gillett that three men had stopped the mail coach, and that one large man and one small man had done the job, Swilling, in a jocular way, remarked to George Monroe: “George, that fits us, one big man and one little man,” whereupon he and Munroe were arrested and taken to Prescott. Rush & Wells, were their attorneys. They had an examination before Judge Carter, and their discharge was ordered, but before they were released, the marshal found that the robbery was committed in Maricopa County, and took them from the Prescott jail to Yuma for safekeeping, and to await their examination. Evidence was secured for the prosecution of a kind intended to convict regardless of justice. The examination was somewhat of a persecution; the depositions for the defense, taken by stipulation with the United States Attorney, were ruled out, and the prisoners were held in $3,000 bail, which was about to be furnished, when the sad news reached his family and friends, of Swilling ‘s death, although innocent, within the walls of Yuma Prison. He left a wife and five children, besides numerous friends to mourn his death. He died on the 12th day of August, 1878, at the age of 47 years. Munroe was discharged, no indictment ever having been found against him.

The Prescott Miner, under date of September 13th, 1878, contains the following:

“Jack Swilling ‘s Statement.
“Mr. Swilling, who died at Yuma, August 12th, 1878, it seems had a presentiment that his days on earth were done, and were to end within the walls of Yuma Prison and was, therefore, incited to write the following statement for publication, which we give verbatim et literatim: “Yuma Prison, 1878. “To the public:

Jack Swilling, whose doors have always been open to the poor alike with those of the rich and plenty, looks forth from the prison cell to the blue heavens where reigns the Supreme Being who will judge of my innocence of the crime which has been brought against me by adventurers and unprincipled reward hunters. I have no remorse of conscience for anything I have ever done while in my sane mind. In 1854, I was struck on the head with a heavy revolver and my skull broken, and was also shot in the left side, and to the present time carry the bullet in my body. No one knows what I have suffered from these wounds. At times they render me almost crazy. Doctors prescribed, years ago, morphine, which seemed to give relief, but the use of which together with strong drink, has at times – as I have been informed by my noble wife and good friends, made me mad, and during these spells I have been cruel to her, at all other times I have been a kind husband. During these periods of debauch, caused by the mixture of morphine and liquor, I have insulted my best friends, but never when I was Jack Swilling, free from these poisonous influences. I have tried hard to cure myself of the growing appetite for morphine, but the craving of it was stronger than my will could resist. I have gone to the rescue of my fellow men when they were surrounded by Indians – I have given to those who needed – I have furnished shelter to the sick. From the Governor down to the lowest Mexican in the land have I extended my hospitality, and oh, my God, how am I paid for it all. Thrown into prison, accused of a crime that I would rather suffer crucifixion than commit. Taken from my wife and little children who are left out in this cold world all alone. Is this my reward for the kindness I have done to my fellow men and the pay I must receive for having done a Christian act, with Munroe and Kirby, that of going after the bones of my poor old friend Sniveley, and taking them to Gillett and burying them by the side of my dear child? George Munroe, Andy Kirby and myself are as innocent of the charge brought against us of robbing the stage as an infant babe. We went out to do a Christian act – Oh, God, is it possible, that poor Jack Swilling should be accused of such a crime? But the trouble has been brought on by crazy, drunken talk. I am willing to give up my life to save Munroe and Kirby, as God knows they are innocent. Oh, think of my poor babies and you would know that I would not leave them for millions of money. I am persecuted and prosecuted until I can bear it no longer. Look at me and look at them. This cruel charge has brought me for the first time in my life under a jailor’s key. Poor L. G. Taylor, whom I liked and tried to help, has been one of those who have wrought my ruin, and for what I cannot conceive, unless it was for the reward money or to rob my family out of the old ranch. The reason I write this is because I may be found dead any morning in my cell. I may drop off the same as poor Tom McWilliams did at Fort Goodwin. My persecutors will remember me. And may God help my poor family through this cold world, is my prayer.
John W. Swilling.”

This statement is most pathetic and appeals to the sympathies of everyone. Had Swilling lived in our day, there is no doubt but that an operation would have restored him to normal health. That he was a good man and useful citizen who was hounded to death in a frontier community of self seeking, unscrupulous and avaricious enemies, goes without saying.



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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top