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The desert in Tonopah, Arizona has been a place to stop and rest for weary travelers for more than 5,000 years. The earliest known archaeological locations in the region date back to 3000 B.C. Sometime later, such groups as the Yavapai, Hakataya, Patayan, and Hohokam Indian tribes have Yavapai traveled through the region to the from the Colorado River. At the settlement of Tonopah, they stopped to hunt and collect some wild plants.
The first white pioneers crossed the desert, about 200 years ago. A white pioneer carved his name on a rock, just northwest of Tonopah. There are several different many prehistoric petroglyphs in the Saddle Mountain area and some histographs from some early white pioneer that date from 1856 through 1862. Just before the start of WW I, the start of an establishment of a permanent settlement began. The majority of the settlement was due to homesteading. Tonopah was the location of the first homestead, and, in 1916, a man named Elbert Winters filed a claim.
Mr. Winters received formal ownership of a parcel of land, in 1920. Numerous homesteaders that followed were WW I veterans. While they were in Europe, a number of the former soldiers were exposed to mustard gas and, after being gas, suffered with respiratory problems. Some of the other veterans had contracted tuberculosis. In Tonopah, the dry desert air helped them to ease their health problems and allowed them to lead normal lives.
However, some of these homesteaders were veterans from WW I. Some of these white pioneers were just people looking for a new beginning in an undeveloped area and the desire to own a parcel of land. Also, some of these white pioneers were women. In at least one case, a woman was made claimed a parcel of land after her husband had deserted her.
Around 1928, the Tonopah-Belmont mine started mining silver and lead in the region, just north of the settlement. This mine became a famous mine in the Belmont Mountains as well as in Nevada, where the mine was located. In 1932, these mountains were named in honor of the mine. About 50 miners lived in the region and were working at the mine from 1924 through 1930. South of this mine, a permanent settlement was established. It became known as Tonopah.
Wintersburg and Tonopah experienced a small increase in their populations about 1930. It became rather popular to homestead. Winter Well was the home of the first post office in the region in 1931. The postmaster was a man named Marc Kentch. However, in 1941, the post office was closed and the mail service was discontinued.
In order to receive their mail, the residents went of Wintersburg went to Arlington. The post office in Tonopah was opened in 1954. The postmaster was a man named John Beauchamp. The Beauchamp homestead house is still standing close to the intersection of 411 Avenue and Indian School Road.
During the early years, although homesteading was quite successful, farming wasn't altogether successful. The U. S. Government eased some of the homesteading laws. While homesteaders still had to improve their land, they were no longer required to spend the entire four years on the land. The homesteaders were issued a leave of absence during the summertime from the desert so that they could seek more comfortable residence elsewhere as well as employment. Also allowed was the concept of dry farming. This meant planting seedlings or seeds and waiting for them to grow. This was considered an improvement to the property. Whenever the crops grew because the weather was favorable, the white pioneers their produce to communities of Hassayampa, Buckeye, or Phoenix to sell. These small operations were known as tuck farms. Some enterprising white pioneers determined that Tonopah could be marketed as a resort destination.
The mineral waters underneath the region and had temperatures from 116 through 122+ degrees. These waters were wells rather than springs and the hot water had to be pumped to the surface. A small resort was constructed just north of Indian School Road by the Lamoreaux family. The resort advertised that their mineral well worked wonderful for its soothing and healing powers. The Saguaro Health Resort was situated on 411 Street just south of the Tonopah post office and also used the hot mineral waters.
From the 1920's through the 1930's, Tonopah was a small farming community as well as a small tourist destination. However, with an ever increasing number families arriving in the region, some schools were required for their children. In 1929, the Wintersburg School was the first school in the Tonopah Desert. Some 12 years later, a woman named Ruth Fisher taught the children of Wintersburg and remained at the school for some 23 years. In 1964, when the new elementary school, which was located the intersection of Wintersburg Road and Indian School Road, because Ms. Fisher had made such a strong impression on the residents, the school was named after her.
From the 1940's through the 1950's, the region continued to grow. With the improvements in farming methods and irrigation it became realistic to operate a successful farming operation in the region. A man named Otis Mitchell harvested the first cotton crop in the Tonopah Desert in 1951. For many residents, the ownership of land was allowed by homesteading. Otherwise these farmers might never have had the opportunity. After establishing a successful farm, some of these farming families continued to live a transient lifestyle, although many of the white pioneers settled in Tonopah. Improvements in the region followed with the addition of many different services such as restaurants and gas stations.
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