Hardy came to Arizona looking for adventure and got a town

by Terry Munderloh

"I came to Arizona seeking adventure," wrote William Harrison Hardy, "and brought with me some money and a store of merchandise. I crossed the Colorado River near Fort Mohave January 20th, 1864 where a Company of California Volunteers were stationed under the command of Charles Atchison."

Hardy was born in Allegany County, New York, on April 25, 1823. He settled in Wisconsin with an older brother for a short time before joining a wagon train for California in 1849. He was elected to head the migrating group and was thereafter known as Captain although he never held a military commission.

Upon his arrival in California, he went to work in the mines as a laborer. After months of scrimping and saving, he accumulated enough money to open a general store and became a successful merchant. When the creation of the Territory of Arizona was declared, Hardy was drawn to the new frontier.

Seven miles north of Fort Mohave, Hardy settled the town of Hardyville (at the approximate site of present day Bullhead City) and erected a cluster of adobe buildings. The large main building housed Hardy’s mercantile store and a hotel and saloon run by Hardy’s nephew Henry, where creature comforts were liberally dispensed to travelers and the local miners.

Captain Hardy took an active and influential part in Territorial politics and was a four-time Mohave County representative to the Council of the Legislative Assembly. He was also an associate of the Mohave and Prescott Toll Road Company headed by Rufus E. Farrington who was granted the franchise to build that road by the first Arizona legislature.

Hardy established a post office and ferry crossing at Hardyville and a stage line and mail route to Prescott on the new road. Goods, passengers and military personnel shipped by boat from both the east and west coasts to the Gulf of California were transported up the Colorado River by steamboats to various points of disembarkment. Hardyvile was the northern most navigable point of land on the river.

The Captain then expanded his entrepreneurism to Prescott. He hired Jacob and Sam Miller to erect a building for him on Granite Street where he sold general stock and merchandise, established a large saloon and a shop to manufacture tin ware. He claimed to have freighted into Prescott the town’s first two billiard tables.

In 1866, Hardy bought from Rufus Farrington and T. Alexander their interest in the franchise for the Prescott and Mohave Road, which from that time on became known as the Hardyville Road. Spanning a distance of 165 miles, the road ran northeast from the Colorado River to Mineral City crossing the Cerbat Mountain Range, then south to Beale’s Spring, Hualapai Spring, Willow Grove and Fort Rock. From there it crossed the Baca Float, ascending south west through Aztec Pass (now Juniper Pass) to Fort Hualapai at Walnut Creek and on through Williamson Valley to Prescott.

Road toll rates established by the legislature were not cheap, ranging from four cents a mile for each wagon drawn by two horses, mules or oxen. Extra charges were assessed for each additional span of animals, each head of loose livestock and any individual on horseback. Ferry tolls were even more exorbitant than road tolls.

Hardy then launched himself into big time wheeling and dealing. He secured a contract from the United States Army through Captain Joseph Tuttle at Prescott for the wagon transportation of 837 tons of subsistence stores to be delivered from Hardyville to Fort Whipple and Camp Lincoln. Preparatory to this potentially lucrative contact, Hardy purchased heavy freight wagons, ten mule teams of ten mules each and ten ox teams of a dozen oxen each to haul the freight.

Operating the franchised road entailed more than just collecting tolls, clearing rocks and shoring up the convoluted terrain to facilitate the transport of wagons ladened with heavy cargo. Securing the safe delivery of goods and passengers to their destination was paramount to retain the franchise.

Native Indian tribes engaged in their own civil wars for territorial boundaries inhabited the country from Hardyville to Fort Whipple. Newly settled Prescott was in the heart of the traditional lands of the Yavapai who were engaged in border disputes with the Hualapai. Yuma and Mohave tribes inhabited the upper Colorado River region and marauding northern Apaches indiscriminately raided both Indian and Anglos alike.

Hardy hired four wagon masters and drivers with experience driving wagons from the Missouri River to Santa Fe who were thoroughly posted on "Indian tricks" and Indian warfare. He claimed the men would rather fight Indians than eat when hungry. Tales of skirmishes with Indians along the Hardyville Road and Hardy’s clandestine retaliatory actions against the natives are local legend. In the years of traveling his road on his famous buckskin horse, Old Yallar, Hardy learned to read Indian signal fires and could read in those pillars of smoke signs of war and the number of teams he had and the number of men with the train.

In 1871, Hardy filed a suit against the United States Government claming he only received 78 tons of stores the government had agreed to deliver to him "thus subjecting him to a almost complete loss of his entire expenditures, and robbing him of the legitimate profits he expected from a contract involving so great risk and outlay."

One fateful day when the Captain was riding alone from Prescott to Hardyville he stopped at Hualapai Springs to water his horse and was ambushed by four Hualapais with bows bent and arrows in place. He was paralyzed. Thinking quickly and trying to remain cool, he asked his assailants,

"Who are those Indians back in the cedars? They look like Apaches and I think they run all night."

"You see them, how many?" asked the Indians.

"Yes, close by. I guess about fifty," Hardy replied looking towards the cedar trees and in a second the Indians disappeared. He quickly mounted his horse and headed for home.

Hardy was so shaken by the near death experience it took him five to six days to get back to himself again. When the next military party came along he accompanied them to Prescott where he sold his mule teams, businesses and buildings and, loading the balance of his property on his ox teams, returned to Hardyville. He turned the oxen loose on the river bottom and as soon as they were fat, sold them to the fort quartermaster for beef. "I concluded to stop at home and take no more risks with the Indians," he wrote. "I abandoned the toll road that cost me $35,000 to build. The fact was I could not fight single-handed the United States Government and the Indians at the same time."

Hardy remained active in Mohave County politics and was a member of the first board of prison commissioners who supervised the construction of the Arizona Territorial Prison at Yuma. He died a man of modest means at the home of his sister in Whittier, California in June 1906.

(Terry Munderloh is a volunteer at the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and actively researches old trails in Yavapai County)

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number:(po2138p). Reuse only by permission.

William Harrison Hardy became an Arizonan in January of 1864. By the time he died in 1906 he had established his own town (Hardyville) and ran his own toll road (Hardyville Road between the Colorado River and Prescott) and faced robberies and Territorial politics.

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