HUMBOLDT (Val Verde)

NAME: Humboldt (Val Verde)
COUNTY: Yavapai
ROADS: 2WD paved
CLIMATE: Mild winter, warm summer
REMAINS: Many old buildings still occupied. The Iron King mine buildings are still there.

Humboldt's name came from the German explorer Baron Alexander Von Humboldt. The Arizona Smelting Co. built their plant in 1906 and named it such, but there was much activity in the area before then. Val Verde was an example. Val Verde had a post office from 1899 - 1905 and was entirely absorbed by humboldt. By 1907 Humboldt had over 1000 people and two daily trains. The smelter produced over $17,325,000 in copper and lead, most from the De Soto mine and Blue Bell in the Bradshaw Mountains. Shortly, the operation was shut down as the ore ran out, but Humboldt had a second wind in 1934 when just outside of main street a vein was discovered, the Iron King. $100,000,000 was taken from the Iron King and the mine finally shut down in 1968. Most of the old historic buildings still remain at Humboldt today.



        In August of this year, while cleaning out the attic I came across a journal of Arizona’s’ history. I asked my mother why my grandmother had this book, and she informed me that it was because her Great Uncle, being my Great, Great Uncle was the founder of a town in Arizona called Mayer.  Immediately I began to read the thirty-page story, and with each page I read I became increasingly captivated.  Joe Mayers’ youngest daughter, Winifred Thorpe, wrote the story.  With my mind filled with nothing but this man I just learned about, I immediately went to the power of the Internet that I had access to in my bedroom.   I wanted to know if he was not only successful in business, but if he was also successful emotionally.

  Joe Mayer - research paper by Laura Autieri.

       At the tender age of Fourteen, in the year 1860, Joseph Hoffmayer packed his bags, and left home with a heavy heart. He was hurt, angry, and scared at not knowing what his future held for him.    I believe that at any age picking up and leaving to someplace unknown is rather scary.   Life at his home was unbearable, and even though he knew the anguish that his mother would have, he found that there was no other choice but to leave.  “He left Olean, NY because his older brother was jealous of him, and was delighted in causing trouble between the youngest and his father, who was an ill tempered man” (Winifred Thorpe, 132). 


As I recently found out, it is a known fact in my family that Joe's parents spent endless hours, and a great deal of money searching for Joe.  “He knew his father would search for him, but Anthony’s ads in the newspapers brought no results” (Thorpe, 133).  Refusing to go home, Joe changed his last name from Hoffmayer to Mayer, and he added few years onto his age. This was done to help him from getting noticed and caught.


      I could only dream of being lucky enough to travel around the United States as Joe Mayer did. The first place he went to after leaving Olean, with only a few dollars in his pocket, was New York City.  It was there that he found employment in a cigar store.  “The owner fell in love with Joe, and took him in as if he were his own son (Thorpe, 133).  At night after they would return home from work, they would sit down and work at Joe's studies. Unfortunately, Two years later the storeowner passed on, and Joe found other employment in a cracker factory.  Eighteen months later while the circus was town Joe felt the need to see the west.  He found employment with the troupe doing various jobs, and traveled along.


       During his travels, he found himself in Dodge City, Kansas.  It was there that he met and befriended Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hicock some time between the year 1872 and 1875. According to Winnifred Thorpe, she claims that Wild Bill was Joes favorite of the two.  I not only feel envious, but proud to be able to write about his knowing such two famous people.


       His travels led him to Silver City, New Mexico, and it was here that he met the love of his life.  She would become his future wife.  Her name was Sarah Belle Wilbur.   The wedding was delayed once due to outbreak of smallpox, where Joe became very ill.   Sarah's mother was a teacher, and one of her pupils was Henry Antrium, later known as Billy the Kid.  When Henry got into trouble, it was Sarah who helped him sneak out of town. 


       “Joe had gone on ahead to a new mining camp near Globe, Arizona. Joe was greatly interested in the new camp, and bought a half interest in a boarding house there” (Thorpe, 134).  When he was settled in Globe he sent for Sadie (Sarah), and it was in Globe that the two were wed. The date was December eleventh in the year 1877.  “After about a year in Globe, Joe sold his half interest in the boarding house, and was now off to the booming town of Tip Top.  It was there that he bought and ran a restaurant until the silver ran out (Thorpe, 135). 


       His final move was a ride across the mountains to a stage station located on the bank of Big Bug creek.  It was there that he decided to buy the stage station.  When he looked out across the land he must have seen a vision of what it could become. I can only hope that it was a feeling of coming home when he looked around.  It was 1881 when Joe and Sadie signed the deed to the stage station, bought from a man named Muncie; it was then that the town of Mayer had begun.  “When there were hardly any people here, Joe said someday there would be. He always thought Mayer was going to grow” (Chanin, 49).  The direct location of Mayer is, “it sits in Yavapai County. The town is located in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains near Big Bug Creek (Mayer).  His first project was building a stage station/home/restaurant.  The Wells Fargo Express from Phoenix became a regular stop at the station.  Joe’s hospitality and meals became famous throughout the countryside, and he never turned anyone away.


       “Horses were bought that were branded BM” (Thorpe, 136).  Joe bought a collection of cattle, and an orchard of trees was ordered.  There was a deep well built to furnish the stage/house/restaurant with water.    As more people were coming to this country, the business became more successful, as many new ranchers settled near Mayer.  The mining though is what had brought most of the people into the area.  Joe himself became involved in the mining industry, and some of the names of the mines he owned or had part ownership in were the Henrietta, Butternut, Stoddard, French Lilly, Iron Queen, and there were several others.  Herb Surrett wrote, “By 1884, the station, now officially named Mayer, had grown to the point that a post office was needed.  In 1884 Sarah Belle Mayer became the first postmistress of Mayer Arizona.   The post office was ran out of a small room in the house” (Surrett, 3).    Having so many things being run out of the same building had to have been  exceptionally difficult and confusing.

       Tragedy struck the Mayer station on the night of February 21, 1890 (Surrett, 3).  A dam that was built by the Placer Mining Company, against the wishes of the surrounding community, on the Big Bug creek gave way after the heavy rains pounded the Mayer area.  Having been watching the rise in the creeks water, the Mayers had already moved most of their merchandise and belongings to higher ground.  When the dam finally went, it washed out the entire town, Surrett describes it like this:

                   The flood washed away the station and the corrals.

                    It also washed away the orchard that Mayer had

                    planted in the rich soil on the banks of the creek.

                    Many of the huge cottonwoods which had graced

                    the site also fell victim to the flood  (3).

Immediately, Joe Mayer began to rebuild his town, as if anything less would be expected.  He used the wood he managed to save, and from the lumber he was able to salvage once the water had gone back down.  “The original banks of Big Bug creek was washed away when on a rampage shortly after the post office was established, and Sadie had received her commission from Postmaster General John Wanamaker” (Surrett, 1).   Joe Mayer was sure to build the new post office far away from the banks of the creek. 


       The Mayer station became well known for being the merriest and coziest places to stay.  Surrett wrote “Joe Mayer is one of the most hospital Germans and royal landlords that ever fed a horse or set a meal to man” (4).  This statement reminds me of my Grandmother, as she too was extremely hospitable, and always eager to lend a hand.


       In 1897, “Mayer hired architect and builder, Hill C. Moore, to begin construction on a two story store, bar, and hotel across the street from the old station” (Surrett, 14).


       In the spring of 1898, Joe and Sadie threw a huge bash for Washington’s birthday. People came from all over.  The people and the papers unabashedly agreed that Joe and Sadie knew how to dispense true hospitality, and it wasn’t the kind that gives you twenty-five cents and expects a dollar back in return.


        With the urging of Joe Mayer and others a tax  exemption was given from the Territorial Legislature for a railroad line from Phoenix to Mayer.  “Work started in March if 1898, and was completed by fall” (Surrett, 8).  It was called the Eastern Railway.  Surrett informs us that “The first scheduled train arrived in Mayer, October 15, 1898” (8).


       Joe Mayer’s  saloon was advertised for having the best cigars that can’t be beat in Arizona. His slogan was, “A sociable game of cards always on tap (Surrett, 14).  In 1900, Joe Surrett had a bar freighted in by wagon from Jerome Arizona. It was a gorgeous antique, hand carved, and made completely out of mahogany. From the photos I have seen of it on the Internet, it was absolutely breathtaking, and well worth having.  


       In 1902 Joe Mayer planned to market toothpicks made from cactus thorns as “Indian Souvenir Toothpicks.”  “The newspaper had received a sample lot and was duly impressed” (Arizona ghost town,              ).

I couldn’t find any information to see how long this enterprise lasted, but after reading this I believe that Joe Mayer would try just about anything.


     “Mayer was so optimistic about the future that he constantly involved in new enterprises (Surrett, 15).   In 1902 Joe Mayer paid for a new schoolhouse, and on opening day it  held fifteen students. With the growing population he had to have known that it was necessary.   He started a brickyard, and used the bricks to build a saloon, restaurant, a large merchandise store, and a number of barbershops and bathhouses.   He also had completed a new water system that if not had been done then a fire that occurred on June 25,1902 would have burned down the whole town.


       On June fourth of every year the town of Mayer celebrates it founding.  It is called Mayer Day.  In a letter that was written to my departed Grandmother Winifred Thorpe wrote “As first lady of Mayer each year I ride” (3).  Meaning that every year Winnie rode in the parade in remembrance to Joe Mayer.

A newspaper write up lists the events for the years celebration as “A parade to being at 10, barbecue, library book sale, cake walk, craft booths, and games immediately after parade, and will continue throughout the afternoon. Then a country western band at 8 p.m. until midnight” (Dodder, 5A).   


     Many people of Mayer had wonderful things to say about Joe Mayer. I have found this to be true even today.  “Very few stories about Territorial Mayer are told without mention of Joe Mayer” (Prescott Courier, 22).  “Anytime anyone had a problem, he came to see Joe” (Prescott Courier, 23).  These are just two examples of how people felt about him. I know that when I personally called or wrote to people in Mayer I was treated very friendly, and have heard several stories that I am unable to include.


Another piece of information caught my eye when I read, “Frank Polk pulled out a picture from livelier days. The picture showed Wyatt Earp standing in front of the low brick building. Polk explained, Earp was a great friend of Joe Mayer, and he used to come through here often.” (Chanin, 53). 


    There are a few of the original building standing and in use today.   “The original school house still stands, and is used by fifth and sixth graders at Mayer elementary” (Mica).  Another building is the post office, Mercantile store, and the hotel that today is used as apartments.   I found a census for Mayer and it read the following “1988 population 12,716” (Mayer Area Chamber of Commerce, pg. 3).

      With much sympathy, Joe Mayer died on November 28,1909. His death certificate states his cause of death to be “accidentally shooting himself by falling” (Arizona Territorial Board of Health, 1).  He left behind his children, wife younger brother Anton Hoffmayer, and his ill mother.  He was lucky enough that a few months before his death he had returned back to Olean NY for a visit. It was the first time he had been back. He learned that his father and elder brother were dead. It must have been an emotional trip for Joe, but a well needed one for him emotionally.  His death effected everyone who met him, and even people who only heard of him.  “Tears were shed by both men and women as the remains were lowered into their final resting place.  For Joe Mayer was not only a man whom all loved because of his kindly disposition and unostentatious charities, but he was one of the men who will go down in history of one of the builders of the great commonwealth of Arizona ” (Tears Fall Upon Funeral Bier, 5).   Another remark made about his death was, “No death in recent years has so touched the heart strings of the people as that of Joe Mayer, and there is a genuine mourning throughout Yavapai county” (Tears Fall Upon Funeral Bier, 5).   The Arizona Republican wrote:

                       More then a hundred people from all parts of the

                       Bradshaw mountains, Congress Junction, and several

                      from Phoenix, were present to show their last respects

                      to the departed pioneer. The purchase of tickets at the

                       stations along the Precostt and Eastern Railroad was

                      so great that the railroad management added an

                      additional coach to the train for the accommodation of

                      the many passengers. Judge Doe adjourned court

                      at three O’clock this afternoon in order to allow the

                      members of the jury, attorneys and court officials to

                      attend the funeral (sec 2  pg. 1).

   Another statement made by the Arizona Republic was, “Tributes of grief are not confined to any nationality, Americans, Mexicans and Indians who knew and respected him in life mingled as his body lay at home. The Indians loved and respected him with such devotion as deep as his own countrymen who enjoyed his acquaintance for the last thirty years”    (Funeral of Hundreds Turned Out, sec. 2 pg. 1). 


       In my  search for information On Joe Mayer, I found that he was an exceptional entrepreneur, a wonderful man, companion, and friend.  Maybe it was the heartbreak that gave him the strength to be such a strong and kind person.  It could be it was just in his jeans. Whatever the reason though I firmly believe that he was successful in business and emotionally. He never gave up no matter what the obstacle came his way. His determination and strength are a large asset to emotional well being as well. I can only hope and try to be more like Joe Mayer.


Humboldt and the Iron King Mine
Courtesy Sharlot hall Museum, Prescott

The stack at Nearby Mayer

Token. H.J. Vest Confectionary, was researched and found a listing of the person H.J. Vest in a 1914 business directory for Humboldt
Courtesy Charles Blake

Token. H.J. Vest Confectionary, was researched and found a listing of the person H.J. Vest in a 1914 business directory for Humboldt
Courtesy Charles Blake

This token was found in a much older area of Humboldt and no information has been found yet regarding it's history.
Courtesy Charles Blake

This token was found in a much older area of Humboldt and no information has been found yet regarding it's history.
Courtesy Charles Blake