Quartzsite Was In the
Center of Everywhere
The small town of Quartzsite is sprawled out about 5 miles along Interstate-10 in western La Paz County, 19 miles east of Ehrenberg. It extends another five miles north and south of the freeway along State Route 95, which follows Tyson Wash across the La Posa Plain north to the Colorado River. The open desert sizzling in summer heat, surrounded by jagged mountains, gives the impression of a way station in the middle of nowhere, but the estimated 1.5 million yearly visitors suggests Quartzsite is the center of everywhere. Residents have been able to make the location on a well-traveled route pay off in a big way while providing visitors with a memorable experience.
History tells us Charles Tyson built a non-military fort at the location in 1856 to protect the water supply from Mohave-Apache (Yavapai) raids. That was the year of the first rush to the gold placers in Yuma County, and very early in the area’s history, leaving little documentation now. Arizona Territory was not separated from New Mexico until 1863. A historical marker at the site gives 1864 as the probable date Tyson hand dug his well. The Quartzsite Historical Society believes Tyson built the still extant adobe stage station in 1866. That year, the California & Arizona Stage Company began running passengers, mail and Wells Fargo express from the end of the Southern Pacific track in California to Ehrenberg and Wickenburg. Ehrenberg, Arizona was a steamboat landing on the Colorado River, supplying the interior via freight wagons. The river towns of Ehrenberg, Olive City and La Paz served miners during the 1860s Colorado River gold rush. Gold had also been recently discovered around Wickenburg and in the mountains south of Prescott. The stage road forked at Wickenburg, with stages going north to the territorial capital at Prescott and south to Phoenix and Florence.
There are four or five types of desert in Arizona. Quartzsite is near the northern limit of the Sonoran Desert, with the Mohave Desert to the northwest. To the southwest, the landscape differs from the desert around Phoenix and Tucson. Traditionally, this sparse cover in Yuma County and southern California has been called the Colorado Desert, though some authorities say it’s still part of the Sonoran. The Chihuahuan Desert also extends into Arizona around Douglas and San Simon. And parts of northern Arizona along the Utah border resemble the Great Basin Desert. Burton Frasher of Pomona published this Real Photo Post Card, likely in the 1940s.
Frasher also preserved this view of Tyson’s Well stage station looking SE with the highway in the foreground. It may not have been called a fort until the 20th Century. Plaster on the walls and a metal roof has helped preserve the long-abandoned adobe structure.
This photo of Tyson’s, looking northwest at the back of the building, probably dates to the 1940s. Additions without the metal roof are crumbling. The tip of the saguaro cactus in Frasher’s photo is visible above the roof at right. Photographer Glenn Edgerton carefully documented much of the Mohave Desert of California and Arizona.
Tyson’s Well stage station continued to provide rest and refreshment to travelers and freight drivers until the railroads came in the 1880s. Martha Summerhayes, wife of an Army officer stationed in Arizona, described travel in those days. Transferred with her husband from Camp Verde to Ehrenberg, she found way stations along the road primitive but welcoming, with one exception. After three days, the Army wagons entered the Colorado Desert and stopped for the night at Desert Station in Bouse Wash. She again found accommodations “clean and attractive, which was more than could be said of the place where we stopped the next night, a place called Tyson’s Wells. We slept in our tent that night, for of all the places on the earth a poorly kept ranch in Arizona is the most melancholy and uninviting. It reeks of everything unclean, morally and physically.”
Tyson’s Well revived in the 1890s when more efficient gold mining methods were introduced to the area. Several families opened stores, taverns and hotels to serve nearby mines. A post office was established as “Tyson’s” in the summer of 1893 but discontinued in the fall of 1895. A year later the post office reopened under the name “Quartzsite.” Quartzite (without the “s”) is a rock of firmly cemented quartz grains. Lacking experience in prospecting, the postal service apparently registered the name as a place where quartz is found.
But the mining boom soon faded and there were less than 20 residents by 1900. Location again came to the rescue about ten years later when the Atlantic and Pacific automobile road was routed through Quartzsite. Cross-country travelers could avoid the Imperial Sand Dunes west of Yuma by heading from Phoenix to Wickenburg, Quartzsite and Ehrenberg. There, they crossed the Colorado River to Blythe on a small ferry boat and went on to Los Angeles. Every year after 1911 more and more cars made the trip.
Looking east about 1915 along the Atlantic & Pacific Highway through Quartzsite, the Hagely Hotel is on the left. German immigrant Anton Hagely (1844-1928) worked as a butcher in town during the 1890s mining boom and stayed on to become owner of a store and hotel. Upon his death, his wife Victoria continued the business. Their son John George (1894-1977) became a Quartzsite Justice of the Peace. Down the street on the same side, with windmill and water tank out front, is Charles V. Kuehn’s general store. Kuehn (1886-1930) was a former stage driver who came to own a store and saloon. He was also postmaster 1914-1923.
Looking west along Highways 60/70, part of nearby Granite Mountain is visible at left behind the store. The Hagely Hotel is the building in center, not with the Shell sign. It has a sign that says “Motel.” Quartzsite had declined a bit when this photo was taken about 1933 by Burton Frasher. By then automobiles made fewer stops on long trips. Maybe just gas and soda pop at Quartzsite before speeding on to Ehrenberg where a through-truss bridge had replaced the ferry in 1928. By then the Atlantic & Pacific Highway had been numbered state route 74. In the 1930s the highway became part of US60 and US70.
In 1856 the US Cavalry imported 33 camels as an experiment to see if they should replace horses and mules in the southwest deserts. But the animals ended up at the relatively high altitude of Fort Verde and were used during construction of the Beale Wagon Road across the plateaus of northern Arizona. The camel corps was disbanded in 1864. One of the camel drivers, a Greek-Syrian going by the name Hadji Ali, a.k.a. Phillip Tedro (1829-1902) but informally known by the more pronounceable “Hi Jolly,” settled in Quartzsite as a prospector. In 1935, in order to publicize US 60, the Arizona Highway Department built this pyramid tombstone to honor the Muslim who was “over thirty years a faithful aid to the U.S. government.” Hi Jolly’s grave is still a popular visit in Quartzsite. Hollywood cowboy actor Buck Conner (1880-1947) is also buried there. Conner was the brother of Mrs. W. G. Keiser (1877-1939) who with her husband operated Beacon Hotel and store for about 15 years in Quartzsite. Highway Color postcard by Bolty, published by Frye & Smith Ltd. of San Diego.
This view of the old adobe stage station about 1965 shows some restoration work, though half of the building has collapsed into ruin since the older photos were taken. The Quartzsite Historical Society completed additional restoration work and opened Tyson’s Well Museum in the building in 1980. Photo by Bob Van Luchene published by Petley Studios of Phoenix.
Quartzsite’s population of a few hundred in the 1930s had declined to just 50 by 1960. In 1965 residents formed the Quartzsite Improvement Association which sponsored the first Pow Wow Gem & Mineral Show in 1967 drawing 74 exhibitors and vendors and about 1,000 visitors. This postcard shows the event a few years later when it drew crowds estimated at more than 12,000. The view is to the southwest with the freeway crossing Tyson’s Wash at upper right, just after passing under Highway 95. South of the freeway are some of the RV camps. The Quartzsite experience blossomed and now offers winter visitors a number of gem and mineral shows in addition to a gigantic flea market. The town incorporated in 1989 and includes a public library, bank, medical centers, golf course and more than 70 RV and mobile home parks. In 2006 more than 2,000 people there were working for the government, with another 2,775 employed in the services industry. The “dry camping capital of the world” and “rock hound paradise” hosts an estimated 250,000 temporary residents each winter.
Arizona Good Roads Assoc., Tour Book (1913)
“Genealogy of the People of Quartzsite” website http://utahrockhounds.com/quartzsitegen/
Richard J. Hinton, Handbook to Arizona (1877)
Hirum C. Hodge, Arizona As It Is. . .1874-1876. (1877)
Palo Verde Historical Museum & Society, Blythe & the Palo Verde Valley (2005)
Martha Summerhayes, Vanished Arizona (1908) quote is from pp. 145-6 of 1911 edition.
Roanna H. Winsor, “Monument to Hi Jolly,” Arizona Highways May 1961.