VERDE HERITAGE 1885: OAK CREEK; Richard Wilson Killed by a Bear, is Seen as a Ghost in 1914.
Long before Jerome ghosts became well-known, stories were told about ghost sightings in other parts of the Verde Valley. Oak Creek campers and fishermen returned with reports about strange animals, discoveries of caves or gold, ghost sightings, and "fish stories." Newspapers at Prescott, Williams, Peach Springs, and Flagstaff sometimes printed the names of campers and fishermen, but seldom included much additional information other than road conditions. Unusual events, discoveries, and ghost sightings were considered to be related to the amount of alcohol consumed or vivid imaginations.
Even local long-time residents were not always believed and their stories were seldom printed. A man named Warner claimed land on Oak Creek. He was of a roving disposition and made many excursions into the adjacent country. He reported his discovery of a wonderful cave large enough to "contain a hundred horses." Because Warner had a habit of exaggerating everything, the nearby settlers and others gave the story little thought. After he abandoned his claim, a few people tried to locate the cavern, with no success. The man who found the cave again at the turn of the century invited a newspaper reporter to go with him to see the cave. The reporter was so enthusiastic about the size and beauty of the cave that he predicted it would be "one of the main attractions" in Oak Creek Canyon.
"THE GHOST OF AN OLD PIONEER SEEN"
"Sunday evening about dusk Wright Clark and "Tex" Owenby were coming down the trail from the top of Wilson Mountain where they had been to take some horses. They were nearing the canyon known as Wilson Canyon when suddenly their horses became frightened and began snorting and prancing. The horses were looking at what appeared to be a scrub cedar tree a few feet from the trail when the boys looked to see what caused the trouble."
"From the center of the tree there arose a shadowy form of a man. He seemed to be attired in buckskin trousers and jacket and wore a high-crown, broad-brimmed slough white hat. He was about 6 feet in height and wore long hair that hung about his shoulders and a long gray beard. He carried in his right hand an old style rifle, the length of which seemed to equal the height of the apparition. The figure encircled the boys once, dragging the gun over rocks and through the brush without making the least noise. Then he came to a stop and set the old carbine down with the motion of a thump but no sound was heard."
"This looked rather queer so there was no tarrying in that locality for the boys. They rode on looking back as they rode. They saw the man's shape disappear in the same scrub cedar from which it emerged. The boys rode a few yards in silence, their horses trembling and covered with lather due to the fright the animals received."
"Tex Owenby was the first to break the silence. He remarked, 'Did you see that?'"
"Wright Clark, feigning that he had seen nothing, replied, 'See what?'"
Then Tex went on to explain the ghost and its maneuvers. Clark then entered into the conversation with zeal and they discussed the vision they had just witnessed and they thought of old man Wilson, the hunter and trapper who was killed in the canyon they just crossed, by a bear some 18 years ago [June, 1885] and concluded that this was a visitation by his ghost."
"At the time the man was killed, John J. Thompson, the present postmaster of Sedona, lived where the Cypress Hotel now stands, and a brother-in-law of the James boys occupied the ranch where he lives now [at Indian Gardens]. An aged hunter and trapper, [Richard] Wilson by name, lived in the country about and made his home at first one place and then another. At the time he was killed he was stopping with Mr. Thompson. It appears that the day he was last seen alive, the James boys were down to visit Mr. Thompson and when they returned to their house Mr. Wilson returned with them. He went up a canyon that bears his name. While up there he saw a bear. He shot and wounded it and gave chase to the bear. The bear followed the canyon until it reached the head of it which was so perpendicular that it could not get out; so the bear retreated her steps and met the ill-fated hunter whom she proceeded to tackle. Wilson climbed up into a cedar tree but the bear got him by the foot and dragged him out and killed him."
"Two or three days elapsed before any alarm was felt at his absence," then a search was made and he was found.
"Mr. Frank Owenby often goes into that canyon after wood. He has a gentle team, but every time he makes the trip to the spot where Wilson met his death his horses become unmanageable. Twice they smashed his wagon."
"This ghost seems to exist about 3 miles above the old Schnebly place on the trail to Wilson Mountain, also named after the hunter. Clark and "Tex" say that their business will be somewhat scarce in that section after this especially about dark. This is the first time anything has ever been seen in this locality."
(Williams News; January 29, 1914; page 4.)
The new highway through Oak Creek, completed in 1939, included construction of what was called "The Wilson Canyon Bridge. It was "named in honor of Major W. W. Midgley, president of the Highway 79 Association." (Prescott Evening Courier; August 21, 1939; page 3.)
See: The Verde Independent; "1885: OAK CREEK; Richard Wilson Killed by a Bear;" June 8, 2013.
See: The Verde Independent; "1939: Highway 79 Dedication [October 8];" January 14, 2019.
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