We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Garnett Franklin for gathering support to establish a museum in the historic courthouse. In 1983, the dream became reality with the support of Navajo County and the City of Holbrook.
A number of her paintings that depicted early Holbrook, such as the train depot at the top of this page, are part of the museum's collections.
The “roughest, toughest, most lawless, bloody town of the Old West”!
Holbrook is said to have been wilder than Tombstone in the past! Its origins and history are rich in wild tales and legends.
In 1870, Northeastern Arizona was isolated and barren. The only fertile land lay along the Little Colorado River. At the junction of the Little Colorado and the Rio Puerco was Horsehead Crossing, the best river crossing for people, including the early Mormon settlers, traveling north and south. It was here that Juan Padilla and Berado Frayre set up the first store, house and saloon.
By 1876, Horsehead Crossing, an important stagecoach crossing, had a general store, saloon, stage station and corrals among a grove of old cottonwood trees.
The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad chose this settlement to serve as a railhead for wagons of supplies traveling south to Fort Apache. The train depot was built in 1881, about two miles west of the crossing. Holbrook, which was named after the railroad's chief engineer, Henry Holbrook, who was in charge of the construction of this section of the rail line, then grew up around the new depot.
The restored depot can be seen today on Navajo Blvd., just south of the rail crossing. Across the street, which at one time served Holbrook’s businesses, visitors can see the historic Henning Block, which includes the famed Bucket of Blood Saloon. To the east of the railway station is a quarried stone warehouse that at one time served the A & B Schuster Mercantile Company located west of the Henning Block.
In just two years the town had grown to a population of about 200 people and served as the distribution point for mail to the surrounding settlements. Livestock and freight were shipped by wagons from the railroad in all directions. There were several stores in addition to Schuster’s Mercantile and three saloons. The main source of recreation in the area was horse racing, and Holbrook was well on its way to becoming a “wild little cow town."
A contributing factor was the Aztec Land and Cattle Co., established in 1884. At its peak, the outfit had more than 40,000 head of cattle grazing along the railroad right-of-way from the New Mexico border to Flagstaff.
The men tending the cattle were referred to as the “Hashknife Cowboys” because the brand used for the cattle resembled the hashknife used by the chuck wagon cooks.
The Hashknife outfit’s headquarters were just west of Holbrook, but the town inevitably attracted the cowboys and trouble was unavoidable. Of course the saloons did a landslide business, but the local residents were terrified when the Hashknife gang rode into town. They would yell out that the kids should hide and shoot out the lights at dances, and otherwise justify the wildest western traditions. It was said that many of the Hashknife were killers from other areas, who escaped to work for the Aztec Land and Cattle Co.
Too often a "little fun in town" resulted in fights and injuries. It was reported that in 1886, 26 victims were buried.
Resentment of the Hashknife Outfit among the local cattlemen was high. Rustling was quite common, but convictions few, because law and order was hard to maintain.
Click on the following links to learn more about Holbrook’s early wild beginnings.
By 1901, the cattle market had dropped significantly, and the Aztec Land and Cattle Co. pulled its remaining stock out of the area. It was an end to a pretty rough element in the still young community. The railhead remained just as busy, though, and wagon loads of sheep skins were shipped east, while supplies and other goods were unloaded at the rail station.
One positive end result of the Hashknife Outfit being dismantled is that many of their cowboys and foremen were good people who stayed on in the Holbrook area to establish their own ranches, homes and families.
The final proof of leaving the rough and tough early years was with the establishment of the Community Church in 1912 by residents. This church later became the Methodist Church and still has an active congregation today.