Early settlers and homesteading


The need to control mineral resources during the Civil War led to the creation of the Territory of Arizona in 1863. After the establishment of Fort Whipple in Prescott and Camp Lincoln (later named Fort Verde), the first real influx of settlers began to arrive in Arizona.

The first Anglo settler in Sedona was John James Thompson in 1876. He had the advantage of finding an abandoned Yavapai garden, still bearing crops, hence the name "Indian Gardens" in Oak Creek Canyon. Three years later, the family of Abraham James arrived. James had been an acquaintance of Thompson in Utah and he married Thompson's daughter, Margaret.

James Homestead on Oak CreekPhoto at right. James Homestead on Oak Creek, 1879. Copper Cliffs is located here today. 

A few more settlers came to the Oak Creek Canyon area in 1880, including Jesse "Bear" Howard, also known as Charles Smith Howard. Others who arrived in the 1880's included Jack Robinson, John L.V. Thomas, William Dyer, Henry Schuerman, Adolph Willard, and John H. Lee. They settled along Oak Creek, one of the few streams in Arizona that runs all year.

These early settlers lived a precarious existence, hunting, fishing, and farming a few acres to keep food on the table. Improvements came slowly. By the end of the 1880s, Margaret Parlee "Maggie" James, Abraham's widow, irrigated 20 acres; her son Dave, another 20; Jim Thompson irrigated 15 acres; Adolph Willard 25 acres; and Henry Schuerman about 72 acres.

The early pioneers took "pre-emption" homesteads, known as "squatters rights." By 1889, enough people had settled in the area that the General Land Office dispatched surveyors to locate the township and range lines.

The first homestead in the Sedona area actually "proved up" was by Frank Owenby in 1901. Others included Elija Lay, Ambrosio Armijo, Manuel Chavez, and Jess Purtymun. The difficulty of establishing a homestead in the rugged and isolated region meant that some left before they could prove up. Others took their place. The new settlers continued the same economic pursuits, wrestling a living by diverting water from Oak Creek to irrigate small patches of land and water a few head of cattle. The homesteads were small, self-sustaining operations. By the end of the first decade, Lay irrigated 30 acres; Owenby, 25; Armijo, 30; Chavez, 10; and Purtymun, about eight.

By the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families called the area home. In 1899, Theodore Carlton (Carl or "T.C.") Schnebly, and his wife, Sedona Miller Schnebly, joined T.C.'s brother, Ellsworth (D.E.), in the Oak Creek Area. T. C. Schnebly was an enterprising young man, who had 80 acres and a general store and hotel in his home where Tlaquepaque and the Los Abrigados resort are now located. He saw the need for regular mail service in the little community and organized its first post office. He suggested the names "Oak Creek Crossing" and "Schnebly Station" to the Postmaster General in Washington, but both came back rejected. Ellsworth then suggested submitting Sedona's name for the honor. On June 26, 1902, the Postmaster approved the name "Sedona."

The first decade of the 20th Century saw more and more settlers arrive in the Sedona area to take up homesteads. Many were lured to the Verde Valley area by the growing mining economy of nearby Jerome. These early homesteaders earned a living by a wide variety of means. Some trapped during the winter and sold pelts to traders back East. The men would fish in Oak Creek and sell the fish in Jerome, traveling by night to keep their stock fresh.

The homesteading era in Sedona continued until the 1930s, although fewer settlers were arriving by the end of the period. The last land acquired by homesteading was a claim by Chauncey Leroy Piper in 1942 on land south of the present Chapel of the Holy Cross. Some of the original homesteads changed hands, as owners moved away and others arrived to take their place. Sons and daughters took up residence near the family homesteads, and carved out a patch of ground for their own. They were then further divided and subdivided. Today, the names and locations of several early homesteads are kept alive as the names of Sedona subdivisions.