Family graffiti 71 years later
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Some 71 years ago, Dale O. Mowers, a young Santa Fe Railroad depot agent, signed his name on a railroad depot door in Wickenburg, Ariz.
Fast forward to 2019 and the name was discovered by daughter Judy Lestrud of Blooming Prairie. Judy, wife of this columnist, always knew of her birthplace location but she had never been there since she left for Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1949.
On a family vacation to Glendale, Ariz., over the Christmas holiday last month, it was imperative that Judy and I visit her birthplace in Wickenburg. Wickenburg is a town primarily located in the central part of Arizona and in Maricopa County.
Let's cut to the chase before I provide you with some history about this community discovered by a German named Henry Wickenburg. He was one of the first prospectors in the area.
Son Troy and I visited Wickenburg last May and took photos and brought home memorabilia on Wickenburg for Judy and her father Dale (since deceased) to enjoy.
Last month's expedition to Wickenburg by our family included Judy, me, Troy and our three grandchildren, Kaley, Jenna and Ryan.
As we entered the refurbished railroad depot, now the home of the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce and of the Wickenburg Tourist Bureau, we were greeted by chamber and tourist bureau staff.
Judy explained her reason for wanting to become reacquainted with Wickenburg. The staff obligingly took our family on a thorough tour of the restored railroad depot. The depot flavor has definitely been preserved with a ticket window out front and other depot artifacts properly displayed.
As we journeyed through the depot, a tourist bureau volunteer took us into a room that was most recently restored. It was still being used for storage and was not open to the public when Troy and I visited last May.
As we sauntered into what used to be a warehouse area, Troy and our grandson Ryan noticed an interesting part of our family history. "Look, mom," Troy exclaimed. "There's Grandpa's name," Troy blurted.
Sure enough, and very clearly, the name of D.O. (Dale Orland) Mowers was inscribed on a sliding door that had been salvaged from the original railroad depot years ago. Below the name was the date, May 14, 1948. Judy came into the world six months later.
Judy was ecstatic when seeing her father's name etched on the depot door among others who apparently worked for the Santa Fe Railroad at one time. Dates of 1913, 1917, 1918, 1923 and 1925 were recorded on the door by other former railroad employees.
Above Dale's name was a figure that either was a cat or a mouse. We believe it was a black cat because Dale was superstitious and would not cross an area inhabited by a black cat. I remember riding in a car with Dale in Ellendale years ago when he stopped the car and turned around because a black cat ran across the street.
The well-preserved railroad depot door also had an image of a horse drawn by someone.
Wow! We just had to regroup as a family, immediately text Judy's sister Cindi and brothers Curt and Craig with the news. Proof of our revelation was also sent in a photo via texting.
Volunteers at the Chamber/Tourist Bureau were as surprised as we were and they said they love to hear visitors recount their family ties to Wickenburg.
The depot also features a railroad engine, Locomotive No. 761 and the Drover
caboose. The locomotive was built in April of 1900 in Pennsylvania. It was restored in 2016-17.
After taking a raft of photos at the railroad station (inside and outside), our family headed to an authentic Mexican restaurant called Anita's Cassita. Our stomachs not quite full, we treated ourselves to some delicious fried ice cream.
Our next stop was to be the hospital where Judy was born. It is now a thrift store and is located about a half mile south of the Santa Fe Railroad Depot. Unfortunately, the former hospital was closed the day we were in town.
Troy and I were able to visit the inside last May and discovered some very small rooms that were apparently designated for patient exams and surgery.
The Wickenburg area, with much of the Southwest, became part of the United States by the 1848 treaty that ended the Mexican–American War. The first extensive survey was conducted by Gila Rangers who were pursuing hostile Indians who had raided the Butterfield Overland Mail route and attacked miners at Gila City.
In 1862, a gold strike on the Colorado River near present-day Yuma brought American prospectors, who searched for minerals throughout central Arizona.
Many of the geographic landmarks now bear the names of these pioneers, including the Weaver Mountains, named after mountain man Pauline Weaver, and Peeples Valley, named after a settler.
Henry Wickenburg, an early prospector, was rewarded with the discovery of the Vulture Mine, from which more than $30 million worth of gold has been dug. Ranchers and farmers soon built homes along the fertile plain of the Hassayampa River. Wickenburg later became known as the Dude Ranch Capital of the world.
The current population of Wickenburg is estimated at just under 8,000 residents.
Yep, that's where it all began with my wife Judy. Judy even has a t-shirt to prove it.