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Water & The Tunnel

When I was a kid my family lived on the Cross V Ranch, headquartered in Star Valley. Our cattle allotments ran from Star Valley north to East Clear Creek, eight miles over the top of the Mogollon Rim. The East Verde River watered the northwest quarter of the ranch year round. Some of those big pools through Beaver Valley “would swim a horse.” I know because on more than one occasion, I had to swim a horse across that river to head some rainy (wild) old cow before she could quit the herd and hide her calf in Hell’s Half Acre on the north side of the river above Beaver Valley.

The East Verde River also ran through the U Bar Pasture, which sloped down from Sunflower Mesa to the East Verde River, about a mile from the top of the mesa. The U Bar was our main holding pasture in those early days on the Cross V’s. There we put the cattle during our spring roundup and the river was the cattle’s source of water for a little over two weeks. At the end of that time we would brand the calves and sort the herd. We took the yearlings to the top of the Mogollon Rim. The cows and calves, we took to the Myrtle Allotment on Ellison Creek or to the Upper East Verde Allotment.

Then in 1956, the East Verde River went dry through the U Bar Pasture for the first time in the memory of my grandfather, Floyd Pyle, who was born in Starr Valley in 1891 and lived within sight of the Mogollon Rim all his life. For several years we used the Shoo-Fly Pasture as our main holding pasture and were able to use the U Bar only during wet years until they started pumping water into the East Verde from the Blue Ridge Reservoir. They still do this today.

During the fall roundups we would ride the upper East Verde and brand calves at the old Hendershot Ranch (Whispering Pines), then drive the calves, along with their mothers, back down to the Cross V winter range.

Sometimes we would find cattle high up under the Rim at the head of the East Verde and drive them down the country on the old Tunnel Trail, which brings me to the main thrust of this column. I don’t remember the first time that I heard the story about the tunnel, but I was told about it many times by my Grandad Floyd and my dad, Gene, and they took me to see the tunnel on a couple of occasions.

The first time I was to the tunnel, I walked there with my dad. We parked our pickup at General Springs where the monument is. The monument was erected to commemorate the battle fought there when the U. S. Cavalry caught up with an Apache raiding party, but that is another story.

From the monument, Dad and I followed the dim remains of an old wagon road built by some of the first Mormon settlers. The road led over the Rim and down into the head of Chase Creek Canyon. The old stone powder house and the entrance to the tunnel were about 60 feet above the canyon floor. They were almost hidden by a stand of young pine trees.

This trip sparked some interest and caused me to do a little research for a paper that I wrote in high school. Here is some of what I learned.

D. M. Riordan of the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company based in Flagstaff wanted a railroad into the timber country to haul logs to his sawmill in Flagstaff. The railroad was to eventually connect Flagstaff with Globe, a hundred miles to the south.

Riordan talked to the Army Corps of Engineers and made arrangements for Colonel Thomas E. King to tackle the job. The first problem King encountered was how to get the railroad over the Mogollon Rim and into what was then still called the Diamond Valley. Of course, every railroad needs a tunnel anyhow, but when the engineers figured how long the tunnel would have to be to accommodate the grade a locomotive could pull, they came up with 3,100 feet. At that time, this would have been the longest tunnel in the world.

Still undaunted, Riordan and his Arizona Lumber and Timber Company decided to provide partial funding for the project with help from the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. Under King’s direction, Captain William Tucker with a crew of 42 men started work on the tunnel August 1, 1883. The project started with the backing of Riordan’s company and with the expectation that Atlantic and Pacific funds would soon follow.

In two months the workers had constructed a stone powder house, smoothed off the face of the bluff, and bored 75 feet into the face of the Mountain. Then at the end of two months, work on the tunnel was stopped because Riordan’s company could no longer afford to fund it and red tape had slowed the expected Atlantic/Pacific Railroad funds. This was not seen as more than a temporary work stoppage.

In 1885, Samuel A. (Papa Sam) Haught arrived in Arizona from Dallas, Texas with a herd of cattle and started off the Mogollon Rim on the old Mormon wagon road. The road dropped off the Rim into the bottom of Chase Creek Canyon and passed by the tunnel entrance. Papa Sam had heard about the tunnel and thought the area would be a good location for a trading post. He had owned a general mercantile in Dallas. Sam built a cabin on the ridge between Chase Creek and the East Verde River near the tunnel entrance and prepared to make a new start.

By 1887, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad had agreed to help with the funding and work on the tunnel started up again. That same year saw a fire all but destroy the saw mill owned by the Arizona Timber and Lumber Company, but they rebuilt the mill and work at the tunnel continued.

Then there was another problem. Water. The deeper into the side of the mountain the workers bored, the more water they hit.

By 1890, Papa Sam had seen enough. He took his cattle and headed for Wild Rye Creek where he established the H Bar Ranch.

Old records tell us that there was a second fire at the Arizona Timber and Lumber Company in 1898 that completely wiped out the company’s assets and that work on the tunnel was totally stopped at that time.

Floyd Pyle told me, my dad, and Uncle Malcolm that it was the water that stopped the work on the tunnel. He thought that if they opened up that tunnel again, they could get more water into the East Verde by way of Chase Creek than they could ever pump from the Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Floyd did not advocate the drilling of horizontal wells into the face of the Mogollon Rim, nor do I. He was simply making an observation. We will continue to have water problems in the Rim Country, both on the surface and underground as long as the watershed remains under current management. The same thinking that created the problem will not solve it.

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