Wickenburg is a town primarily located in Maricopa County, Arizona, United States, with a portion in neighboring Yavapai County. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of the town is 6,363.
The Wickenburg area and much of the West became part of the United States following the Mexican-American War in 1848. The first extensive survey of the area was conducted by Gila Rangers who were pursuing Indians who had been raiding the Butterfield Overland Mail route and miners at Gila City.
An 1862 gold strike on the Colorado River near present-day Yuma inspired hardy American prospectors and miners, to search for minerals throughout central Arizona. The names of these settlers now label many of the surrounding geographic landmarks, including the Weaver Mountains named after mountain man Pauline Weaver, and Peeples Valley named after a noteworthy settler.
Among the gold searchers was an Austrian named Henry Wickenburg. His quest for gold was rewarded by the discovery of the Vulture Mine, where over $30 million in gold has been dug from the ground. Throughout the foothills surrounding Wickenburg are relics of other mines that stand as a tribute to the pioneer miner and prospector.
Ranchers and farmers who built homes along the fertile plain of the Hassayampa River accompanied the miners. Together with Henry Wickenburg and the miners, they helped found the young community of Wickenburg in 1863. Wickenburg was also the home of Jack Swilling, a prospector from the eastern US who mined in the town and later visited the Salt River Valley in 1867. Swilling carried out irrigation projects in that area and was involved in the establishment of Phoenix.
As the number of settlers grew, conflicts developed between Yavapai Indian tribal bands who rejected the treaty signed by their paramount chiefs, and American nationals who had settled on the frontier. With the outbreak of secession most of the United States Army units defending the American communities were directed elsewhere, thereby leaving the American communities vulnerable to attacks.
Yavapai hostile bands were quick to exploit this vulnerability and warriors led a large-scale surprise attack upon American families. By 1869 approximately 1000 Yavapai Indians and 400 settlers had died and thousands of American and Yavapai families were made into refugees. Eventually, local American militia stopped the elimination of Americans from the area but were unable to fully stop the attacks. With the arrival of full-time soldiers of the US Army, the combined militia and Army forces were able to cordon off the Yavapai onto their reservation and saved the remaining American settlers.
However, Yavapai recalcitrants remained for years and raids on stage-coaches, isolated farm houses, and periodic raids on American villages kept the area in a constant state of tension. Finally, following several murders of Yavapai chiefs allied with America by insurgent Yavapai warriors, hostile warrior tribal leaders mobilized the entire Yavapai warrior band into a massive assault on the primary American settlement of Wickenburg and massacred or drove out much of the American populace.
In 1872, in response to the assassination of friendly Yavapai chiefs, the take-over of the entire Yavapai nation and its reservation by hostile elements, and with most of the American area under continual penetrating raids by Yavapai warrior bands, General George Crook began an all-out campaign against the Yavapai, with the aim of forcing the insurgent Yavapai warrior bands into a decisive battle and the removal of Yavapai settlers from American territory. After several months of forced marches, feints, and pitched skirmishes by combined Arizona territorial militia and US Army Cavalry, Crook forced the Yavapai bands into a single decisive battle. In December 1872, the Battle of Salt River Canyon in the Superstition Mountains decisively routed the Yavapai, and within a year most Yavapai resistance was crushed.
Having broken their treaty with America several times, with most of the friendly and allied chiefs killed by insurgent Yavapais, who also killed Americans, Crook was authorized to enter into new negotiations with the aim of reducing the size of the Yavapai reservation and removing it to an area more readily cordoned off from American communities and their communication lines. The surviving Yavapai warrior leaders grudgingly accepted the treaty which left the nation in far worse conditions than previously. They were compelled to surrender their firearms, move to the Fort Verde Reservation, accept a permanent Army garrison on their territory, accept direct administration by American Bureau of Indian Affairs agents and commissioners, have trade firmly emplaced in the hands of American government agents, and be regulated by an Indian Police force picked and trained by the US Army and later Arizona Territorial officers. After only two years on the Rio Verde Reservation, however, local officials grew concerned about the Yavapais' continued hostility, success, and self-sufficiency, so they persuaded the federal government to close their reservation and move all the Yavapai to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
The infant town of Wickenburg went through many trials and tribulations in its first decades, surviving the Indian Wars including repeating Indian raids, outlaws, mine closures, drought, and a disastrous flood in 1890 when the Walnut Creek Dam burst, killing nearly 70 residents. In spite of such challenging circumstances, the town continued to grow. Its prosperity was ensured with the coming of the railroad in 1895. In those years, the town had even once been viewed as a possible candidate for territorial capital. The historic train depot today houses the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center. As of 2007, however, only freight trains pass through Wickenburg; passenger trains ended their runs in the 1960s.
Along the town's main historic district, early businesses built many structures that still form Wickenburg's downtown area. The abundant clean air and wide-open spaces attracted new residents. Guest ranches offered a unique experience to tourists who fell in love with the West. The Bar FX Ranch became the first true guest ranch in 1923, followed by Remuda, Kay El Bar, Rancho de los Caballeros, and Flying E ranches, just to mention a few. The construction of the Phoenix to California highway (U.S. Highway 60) brought even more tourists, making Wickenburg the Dude Ranch Capital of the World. As of 2007, some of these ranches still offer their hospitality. Rancho de los Caballeros is now a golf resort, while Remuda has been converted into the nation's largest eating disorder treatment facility and is now Wickenburg's largest employer. The Hassayampa community became a vital contributor to the US effort during World War II when the Army trained thousands of men to fly gliders at a newly constructed airfield west of Wickenburg. After the war, modern pioneers and home builders developed Wickenburg into a typical American community.