The Story Behind the Names - Dewey-Humboldt

It was December 20, 2004 when Dewey and Humboldt were wedded through incorporation. Although the two experienced vastly different upbringings, they had always had a symbiotic relationship.

With these two stories lies the account of the two major industries in early Anglo Yavapai County history. Dewey was a ranching town providing the food, while her future husband Humboldt was a mining town earning the cold hard cash.

Like Prescott, Dewey and Humboldt have the distinction of being named for people for which there is no evidence that they ever laid eyes on the towns named after them.


In 1872, Darrel Duppa opened a stage station called Aqua Fria ("cold water") at this location. It was named for the nearby river of the same name. When a post office was opened in 1875, the town was named Aqua Fria Valley. Later this was shortened to Aqua Fria in 1892. Shortly thereafter the post office closed. When it was reopened in 1898, the postal service would not allow the use of the old name. The railroad station name, "Cherry Creek" was considered, but this name was also unacceptable to the post office.

So then, in honor of his outstanding naval service during the Spanish-American War, the town was named after Admiral George Dewey by local citizen Fred Hiltenbrandt.

During the Spanish-American war, Admiral Dewey sailed from Nagasaki with a small fleet and attacked the Spanish fleet so effectively that Spanish Admiral Cevera surrendered in two days.

There has been some hearsay evidence that maybe Admiral Dewey was not the man honored by the post office naming, but Sharlot Hall Museum research to date has not found any Dewey surname residents in the town, at least at the time of the post office naming.

Dewey boasted two famous residents, one of which appeared before there was even talk of a town. That was King Woolsey, the controversial first white settler in the area.

In 1863, King Woolsey was with the Walker party when they discovered gold along Lynx Creek after reports of paying quantities found by prospectors on the Hassayampa, Antelope, Indian, Aqua Fria, Big Bug, and Lynx Creeks shortly prior to that.

Woolsey enjoyed the mild climate and decided to stay to raise cattle and hay. The Union Army was encamped nearby and desperately needed both.

The ranch was immediately under constant attack by the local Apache Indians. While returning with a wagon load of hay soon after his arrival, Woolsey and two ranch hands were attacked by about twenty members from that tribe. With only one shotgun, his ranch hands escaped with the mules, and Woolsey defended himself, killing the chief of the tribe. The chief's body was hung from the nearby tree, a warning to others to leave the area alone.

Throughout the Summer of 1864, Woolsey led 150 men on constant hunting parties to eradicate the Apache tribe and was certainly successful. When it became difficult to find the remaining Indians, Woolsey was able to lure them to a large feast he knew they would enjoy. It was Pinole, a mixture of corn and sugar. However, the meal was laced with strychnine and the chief himself was shot on the spot. The incident became known derisively as The Pinole Treaty.

The other prominent citizen of Dewey was none other than Sharlot Hall. The pioneer writer and preserver of Arizona and Yavapai County history was the first woman elected to public office in Arizona. She was also an ambassador and booster for the territory and the state. She lived in Dewey at the Orchard Ranch for many years beginning in 1882. Hall wrote extensively, and even poetically, about the arduous life on the arid range.

One of the most influential ranching families in the history of Dewey was the Hendersons. Henry Henderson was well known for helping newcomers and neighbors alike and offering a helping hand when the families moved in. He gradually bought out 15 local homesteads and the Henderson property eventually comprised over 26,000 acres.


Originally, Humboldt was named Val Verde, but on November 7, 1905 the name of this location was changed to honor Baron Alexander von Humboldt who had predicted that the riches of the world would be found in the center of the Great Peck mining company area.

Levi Bashford, a prominent Prescott store owner and businessman, built the first mill here in 1876, opening the door to more prospecting and mining in the area.

Iron King, DeSoto, McCabe and Blue Bell are but a few of the mines old timers in Humboldt remember and the important roll they once played in the Humboldt economy.

All of this ore was in need of a smelter. The first one was called the Val Verde, giving the area its first name. Then Cecil Fennell acquired land and water rights for the Val Verde Smelter in the 1880s and Val Verde became a company owned town. The functioning community had an established post office from 1899 to 1905.

After the smelter changed ownership in early 1904, it burned down in September of that same year. It would take until 1906 for a new owner to build a new, bigger and better 1,000 ton per day smelter.

The mining town was now well established, and an official post office was to be located in Val Verde. But now a new name needed to be chosen for the town since the Val Verde Smelter no longer was involved. Humboldt was selected in 1905, the namesake of the German naturalist, explorer and traveler Baron Friedrich Heinrich von Humboldt. In spite of the fact that he was well travelled, it is quite unlikely that he ever traveled to this part of Arizona.

Back then, the company's officials built large, elegant homes on Nob Hill. There were beautifully landscaped and manicured fenced yards, luxury cars and even a riding stable (including the horses) made available for the officials and their families. Today most of these homes are gone from Nob Hill, but several of them were moved to other locations including Prescott.

No saloons or brothels were allowed on Main Street in Humboldt, lending a sense of security to the area. Instead, such establishments were firmly entrenched on a street that the good people of Humboldt decided to name Prescott. This street once boasted the best brothel in the Arizona territory, according to one account.

Another boast that Humboldt can claim is that it had the first dialing telephone system in the region.

Like every other mining town, Humboldt suffered difficult economic times. When the area mining mostly panned-out, one would expect it to dry up and become a ghost town like most other mining towns. Humboldt had a saving grace, however. Much like the economic prosperity that the railroad once brought it, the fact that busy Arizona Highway 69 passes through it makes it a pleasant, quiet and relatively convenient place to live today.

In the first meetings of the Dewey-Humboldt Town Council, it would be fair to say that these newlyweds have had their bumpy moments already. Still they cling together with one common goal – the same goal that brought this union together in the first place: not to be swallowed up by Prescott Valley!

This story is courtesy of Drew Desmond, Prescott History Author.