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Jewel of the Creek Preserve and History of the Area

By Kraig Nelson, DFLT Steward and Docent



The beautiful, 26.6-acre, Desert Foothills Land Trust preserve, the “Jewel of the Creek Preserve,” just south of the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, is rich with diverse high Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. The cherished bird habitat is nourished by a continual supply of precious water from a two million year-old stream, Cave Creek.


This area is also rich with pre-history. The canal-building-farmers, the Hohokam, arrived in the Cave Creek area around A.D. 700 from the Salt River area (Phoenix). Additionally, this area is rich with Anglo-American territorial history (Arizona became a territory in 1863). We’ll examine the Anglo-territorial history around the “Jewel” as it relates to the development of the early Cave Creek area.


Just east of the Jewel of the Creek Preserve was a now-vanished gold mine. This may be the most important mine in Cave Creek’s early history. The gold mine was much more than a mining operation; it became Cave Creek’s first real town-center, initially named “Marion” and later “Liscum.” The first post office with the name “Cave Creek” 

was established here (although not the first post office in the area), and this mine provided the motivation for the first three-times-weekly stage service from Cave Creek Station (near today’s Rancho Manana area), moving mail, freight, and passengers to the new town of Phoenix. Ironically, this mine near the Cave Creek stream was designated the “Phoenix Mine.” The Phoenix Mine’s history and the small town-center(s) that arose around it, is multi-layered and complex. It started with three Phoenix men spending some spare time looking for a cherished prize- gold.


In 1878, Francis A. Shaw, Hiram C. McDonald, and William Kent found “splendid specimens of gold” which conveniently lay near the surface. The ore was processed in a circular mill called an arrastra. This process uses a draught animal (probably a mule) to drag a large stone over ore, thereby crushing the rock; gold could be removed from “sand.” Later, Shaw and McDonald established the Maricopa Mine south of the Jewel. Interestingly, Francis Shaw would become Phoenix’s second mayor from 1881 to 1883. Hiram McDonald was a jailer and deputy Town Marshall (not Town Marshall as reported by some historians). McDonald spent fifty years with the Phoenix Police Department; some historians say he wore badge number one. We know little about William Kent.


After two years, the industrious miners sold the mining claim to James Seymour, the owner of the rich Vulture Mine in Wickenburg. This was the beginning of six ownership changes by 1905. In 1881, Seymour’s legal agent, E.M. Spooner, selected a level townsite to accommodate a steam-driven stamp mill (rock crusher) and a camp for his ambitious miners. Spooner named the town “Marion,” after his wife. Seymour who made a fortune on Wall Street, starting issuing stock; this was the beginning of an abundant Eastern investment in the Phoenix Mine. The continual boom and bust cycle coupled with a bevy of new owners created an economic buzz at the very active mine.


By 1890, the mining town had a school (twenty pupils), the Cave Creek Post Office, a Justice of the Peace, a constable, a general store, and several saloons. By 1894, a 100-stamp-mill, the largest in the history of Arizona, was under construction for $200,000 dollars. Every facet of mill construction was chronicled in Eastern newspapers; the Phoenix Mine enjoyed more fame than the town of Phoenix!


In 1897, William Christy acquired the mine. Mr. Christy was one of the owners of the Valley Bank of Phoenix (later, Valley National Bank, Bank One, and now Chase Bank). The new town’s incarnation was named “Liscum” after Emerson H. Liscum. Colonel Liscum served in Arizona and died in China during the Boxing Rebellion in 1900. He was holding the U.S. Flag when fatally shot in the stomach by a sniper; as he fell dying, his last brave words were, “keep up the fire.” Colonel Liscum is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The mining enterprise of Liscum lasted about ten years.


At its peak, The Phoenix Mine employed over 100 people: miners, swampers (laborers), woodcutters, blacksmiths, and mechanics. Many brought their families to the mine. All would have enjoyed and appreciated the cottonwoods and willow trees at the riparian “Jewel.”


This is not quite the end of the story. By 1921, when the last guard on site died, the Phoenix Mine was scavenged for construction material for Cave Creek’s new town center on Cave Creek Road. In 1928, Cave Creek’s first Dude Ranch, the Spur Cross Dude Ranch, used lumber and other materials from the deserted mine site. The owners of the Dude Ranch named the Ranch and the 1906, Theodore Jones built road (the first “Spur Cross Road” was a path next to Cave Creek). Floods eventually erased most of the surviving evidence of a thriving town-center near the Jewel of the Creek Preserve.


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