Seven were left dead after a stagecoach was ambushed in the desert west of Wickenburg.
The Wickenburg Massacre was an ambush and mass murder that occured in the desert west of Wickenburg. The attack occurred on a westbound passenger stagecoach with 8 souls on board. All but 2 passengers would die in the attack. The site today remains enshrined in a bit of rumor and controversy. Witness & written reports dispute where the bodies ended up following the attack, and the exact location remains up for debate. Nevertheless, it is a sad story for all of those involved.
The attack occurred on the morning of November 5th, 1871. The stage left Wickenburg at around 7 in the morning and headed west through the washes outside of town. It was set to travel on a mix of washes and the La Paz Road towards Ehrenberg on the Colorado River. The final destination was San Bernardino, California. The driver and 7 passengers on board were a diverse group of individuals. Several members of the traveling party were part of the Wheeler Expedition and included a cartographer (Peter Hamel), surveyor (William Salmon), and a Boston Journalist (Frederick Loring) documenting the travels. 3 others were from Prescott, which included a prostitute, Mollie Sheppard. The final passenger was a civilian Army clerk named William Kruger.
Around 7 miles outside of town and an hour later, the Concord stagecoach emerged from a wash and began traversing the large, flat area just before a small hill. As they arrived at the hill and were about to re-enter the wash, the stage was ambushed in a volley of gunfire. The lead horses were taken out rendering the coach and the 8 individuals as sitting ducks. The driver, Loring, and another male passenger were sitting on top of the stage and likely killed immediately. 15 attackers closed in. The gunfire continued and the coach was hit seventeen times. Two passengers, Kruger and Sheppard, were somehow able to escape into the wash and away from the attack. But not without injuries.
With six men lying dead near the wash, the attackers subsided. The two survivors were able to make it back to Wickenburg where Sheppard would later die from her injuries. Following the attack, an investigation was launched by General George Crook. Public sentiment after the attack blamed Yavapai warriors, who were mistakenly called Apache-Mohaves from the nearby Date Creek Reservation. Crook retaliated by having the alleged attackers pursued to Burro Creek where several were killed. Army campaigns continued to fight the Yavapai through 1873 before the rest surrendered and were soon relocated to a reservation 180 miles south.
The motives behind the Wickenburg Massacre remain unclear to this day. Many believe it was the local Yavapai tribe who attacked the stagecoach as payback. Seven months before the stagecoach attack, 144 Apache were killed in the Camp Grant Massacre outside of Tucson. This was no doubt a very turbulent time in the Apache Wars and attacks often went back and forth. The lack of clear and convincing evidence make this conclusion unclear. Following the attack no ammunition was taken, no valuables were stolen, and the surviving animals were left at the massacre site. This suggests it was not the Yavapai warriors. Many believe it was a group of bandits dressed as Yavapai to confuse any surviving witnesses.
The massacre site today has been up kept by a local club out of Wickenburg and has numerous marked gravesites with informational signs scattered around. The bodies were rumored to be buried “where they fell”, however many believe they were relocated to Wickenburg for a proper burial. More modern religious artifacts adorn the site as well. Nevertheless, the truth behind the attacks and motives may never be known. What is certain is that the stage was attacked and 7 lay dead in what was once a truly desolate and hostile area outside of Wickenburg.
Hall, Allan. “The Wickenburg Massacre Site – An Enduring Mystery.” Wickenburgazcom, 21 June 2008, www.wickenburg-az.com/2008/06/the-wickenburg-massacre-site-an-enduring-mystery/.
Du Shane, Neal. “Wickenburg Massacre.” American Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project, 28 Nov. 2008, www.apcrp.org/WICKENBURG_Massacre/Wickenburg_Massacre_Text_071108.htm.
“Wickenburg Massacre.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wickenburg_Massacre.