Daily Archives: May 6, 2021

A roller-coaster ride in life


Jack wrote this in August, 2005:

This man is Jack Swilling.  The founder of Phoenix, Arizona.

Anyone who believes there are limits to what a determined human being can achieve should learn a lot more about old Jack Swilling.

He came west on the run from the law, as did so many of our ancestors.  It’s thought he killed a man in Texas, quite possibly another in Georgia before he went to California.  There, it’s certain the lawmen had a few questions for him about another man who died in a violent confrontation before he crossed the Yuma River into the Arizona Territory.

Jack worked a while for Butterfield Stage Lines, then hung around Tucson for a while when it was at one of the low ebbs, filled mostly with people somewhat like himself.  But in 1860, he headed east with unsung Texas hero, Jacob Snively and ten other men to do some prospecting.

Snively was one of the three men who actually found the placer at Pinos Altos and began the gold rush there.  But Swilling and Snively had a long way to go together from there.  The Civil War brought a Texan invasion up the Rio Grande.  Both Swilling and Snively joined, commanded troops during the Confederate invasion of Arizona and the occupation of Tucson by the forces of Sherod Hunter.

Jack Swilling commanded the unit that confronted the California Volunteers, near the Yuma Crossing, fought the westernmost battle of the Civil War.

Eventually, Swilling headed back into Arizona with the Joseph Beddeford Walker party, prospected, examined the ruins of an ancient irrigation system, and designed a new one around it.  That was the beginning of Phoenix, Arizona.

In 1871, Jacob Snively was shot off his horse during an Apache ambush at Vulture Gulch, Arizona.  He was abandoned wounded by his companions and tortured to death.  A few days later, his old friend Swilling was part of the party to visit the site and bury the remains.

Swilling prospered for several years, but his body had suffered a lot of injuries and as he aged began to show the wear.  He had a lot of pain.  He became addicted to laudenum.

Seven years after Snively’s death, Swilling felt haunted by the thought of his hasty burial.  He journeyed to Vulture Gulch to reclaim the remains for reburial at his ranch near Gillette, Arizona.  While he was in the process of all this, a stage was robbed.  Swilling was blamed.

Jack Swilling died in prison awaiting trial.  After his death the facts came out, the identities of the actual hold-up men were established and verified.

Between the two of them, Swilling and Snively are, to my way of thinking, among the most amazing, unbelievable men in US history.  They were two men who kept coming a long time after most men would have hunkered down and quit.