Stanwix Station - Dr. Robert Massey Article

Incident at Stanwix Station
Furthest West Armed Action Between the Union and Confederate Armies
by Dr. Robert Massey

In 1854, the United States paid Mexico $10,000,000 for 29,640 sq. miles of additional territory from Mexico. This became known as the Gadsden Purchase. It extended the southern border of the United States to include all of the land south of the
Gila River to the current day border with Mexico.

Talk of a New Territory made with the new land started “as soon as the ink dried on the purchase documents.” The new territory, Arizona, would be all of the land in the New Mexico Territory south of the 34th parallel. This would split the New Mexico Territory in half with the new border horizontal from California in the West to Texas in the East. The US Congress would not allow New Mexico Territory to be split. A bill creating a new territory was voted down 10 times by the Congress in DC. The citizens of Arizona took control by themselves. On April 2,1860 a convention was called for in Tucson. 
Representatives from all towns, mines, ranches, etc met. On April 5, 1860 the convention declared Arizona as an independent territory and no longer part of New Mexico. Government officials were elected and Arizona Territory was now “official.”

In March of 1862, the Arizona voted to secede from the United States and requested to be admitted to the Confederate States of America. This became official on February 14, 1862 when Pres. Jefferson Davis signed the bill officially adding Arizona as a territory of the Confederate States. In February of 1862 the first Confederate Soldiers entered Tucson, Arizona. They were companies from the Arizona Guards and the Arizona Rangers. The 1st National Flag of the Confederate States was raised over Tucson, by the Arizona Rangers. March 2, 1862 Co. A, 1st California Cavalry, USA crossed the Colorado River at Fort Yuma, CA into Arizona, CSA This was the lead of 2,500 Union cavalry, infantry, and artillery. Their goal was to drive the Confederate soldiers out of Tucson and continue east to clash with the Texas Confederate troops in the Rio Grand

March 30, 1862: Arizona Territory, CSA (80 miles east of Fort Yuma, CA)
On March 30, 1862, a detachment from Company A, Baylor’s Regiment of Arizona Rangers, fired the first shots of the War for Southern Independence in what is now Arizona. The incident took place at Stanwix Station, an abandoned Butterfield Overland stagecoach station located on the road, below a bluff overlooking the Gila River. The Rebels were in the process of burning 30 tons of hay that had been pre-positioned at the station by the Union Army.

The 1st California Cavalry (272 men) arrived at Stanwix on March 29 and set up camp near the station. Pickets were sent out in pairs to protect the camp and warn of any advance of Confederate troops. In the early morning hours of March 30, a group of Confederate Arizona Rangers surprised two Union pickets and ordered them to surrender or be shot. The soldiers refused to surrender. The Rebels fired several shots, hitting one private in the right shoulder. The wounded man, Pvt. William Semmilrogge (Co. A, 1st CA Cavalry), and his companion fled the scene and ran back to their camp. They reported to their commander, Capt. William Calloway, that they had been shot at by approximately 40 mounted men.

The Confederates, finding themselves, facing a much larger force, turned and galloped to the east. Capt. Calloway ordered his Californians to saddle up and give chase. Before they could get mounted, Capt. Nathaniel Pishton’s (or Pishon’s) 
company of US cavalry arrived in camp. He was ordered to give chase at once even though his horses were tired from a long nights advance. The chase lasted over twenty miles with the Union cavalry breaking off at Oatman Flats as their horses and men were near exhaustion. The Confederates continued their ride back to Tucson and warned their commander, Capt. Sherod Hunter, of the advance of the Californians.

The skirmish at Stanwix Station was significant for several reasons. It marked the farthest west advance by the Confederate Army; it was the farthest west armed conflict between the military forces of the Union and the Confederacy during the war; it saw the first shots of the war fired in what is now Arizona; and it was the site of the first combat casualty of the war in what is now Arizona.

The site of the skirmish at Stanwix Station was lost for decades, but the Arizona Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans recently located the exact site. The Division effort was spearheaded by Yuma SCV Camp #2186 and the Division Sesquicentennial Committee in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management, Yuma Office. Recently, two BLM kiosk / historical markers now mark the Butterfield Stage Route and the site of Stanwix Station.

© Robert Clyde Massey, 2014
All Rights Reserved

General Information on Stanwix Station
Compiled by Dr. Robert Massey

Stanwix Station location:
South side of Gila River on the Butterfield stage route, 9 miles west of Burks Station*, west of the Maricopa/Yuma Co. line in Yuma Co., Arizona, Township 6S Range 11W Section 8, [Gila and Salt River Meridan]. Yuma Title Abstract and Trust Company, Official Map of the Territory of Arizona, 1880 (E.A. Eckhoff & P. Riecker, civil engineers).

Quote from the book, A Historical Guide to the Mormon Battalion and Butterfield Trail by Dan Talbot (1992) pg. 94:

From Burk’s Station the old mail road continued southwest and crossed Sentinel Wash. The original road led along the foot of the old river bluff and around Sears Point to Flap Jack Ranch, or Stanwix as it was later know. A section of the road near Sears Point was washed away by a flood and rebuilt over the point itself. [circa, early 1850’s] This section of the road, built by Colonel James B. Leach, can still be traced.

Stanwix Station was referred to as “The Dutchman’s” by W.L. Ormsby in 1858, and was, in 1860, the residence of Mr. Wash Jacobs, the road agent for the overland stage company. Sometime before 1869 it was purchased by King S. Woolsey who, with his wife, operated the station for many years (Talbot, 1992).

Stanwix Station was one of the largest and most accommodating on the Butterfield line between California and El Paso, TX. The station had rooms (hotel style) for more than a dozen travelers. It also boasted a saloon and restaurant. On the grounds one could find a blacksmith shop, wheelwright, corrals and a remuda of fresh horses and mules. The station also had a large “kitchen garden” as well as 40 acres of grass hay. Both the hay field and garden were irrigated by water from the Gila River by way of the “South Gila Ditch” an irrigation ditch first constructed by the Patayan Indian Culture going back over 1,000 yrs. Parts of this ditch are still visible. Patayan petroglyphs (rock art) and ruins can also be found within the area. In 1873 the US Army built a military telegraph system that ran from San Diego, connecting California with Yuma, Tucson, with Fort Whipple
(near Prescott, AZ Territory Capital). Stanwix became one of the most important communication stations on the line.
Source: United States Military Posts on the Mexico Border (1856 to Present) pg. 144.

*Location of Burk’s Station is:
Maricopa County, Township 5 S. Range 10W, Section 28 [Gila and Salt River Meridan]
Source: A Historical Guide to the Mormon Battalion and Butterfield Trail by Dan Talbot (1992) pg. 94.

Names and owners:
Stanwix Station (Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Co.)
The Dutchman’s (Talbot, 1992)
Flap Jack Ranch (Talbot, 1992)
Flap Jack (Talbot, 1992)
Grinnelle’s Ranch [sic] (Sacramento Union, May 23, 1862)
Wash Jacobs, road agent, residence 1860 (Talbot, 1992)
King S. Woolsey, owner before 1869 (Talbot, 1992)

It should be noted that the Talbot book has mistakes and it should be used as a general guide only. (That said, the information about the owners and location of Stanwix and Burk’s Station is accurate)

© Robert Clyde Massey, 2011
All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted to reprint for educational / informational purpose only

NOTE:  This article is re-printed in its entirety, to include original style and punctuation.  Minor formatting edits were made where necessary for appearance and readability as a web page.