County Overview and History
Graham County, Arizona was created in 1881 from little bits of both Pima and Apache counties and is located in the southeastern part of the state. This decision to merge parts of the original counties was carried out by the 11th Territorial Legislature. There are almost 38,000 people living in Graham County as of 2010’s census. Most counties in the area were named after Native American tribes, but this county went against the grain, being named after Mount Graham, which stands a steep 10,516 feet above sea level. By proxy, the county is named after Lt. Col. James Duncan Graham who was a high-ranking senior officer of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
There are several cities that make up the area of Graham County. Most of these are:
Bonita, Bylas, Fort Thomas, Geronimo, Klondyke, Pima, Safford (County Seat), Solomon, Thatcher, Turkey Flat, and the independently governed area known as the San Carlos Indian Reservation. This area of the country generally only receives around 9 inches of precipitation throughout the entire year. Several of these smaller towns have very few of the original buildings or structures still standing, and several of these few standing places such as Bonita, Sanchez, Geronimo, and Safford even have a history of being haunted, especially the old postal stops along the path of the original railway.
As far as actual geographical statistics, the area of Graham County is mostly made of arid, dry, plains. While there is a very high amount of drought in the area, there is a great deal of underground water that keeps the area from being desolate and unusable. Bonita Creek, Gila River, and lots of underwater springs pop up all across the county, and when it does rain, it has little effect on the terrain at all since it is completely dry most of the time. There is a mixture of climates here, since it bears both water and desert, so it is deemed as a climatically transitional area, which is rare. This means that there are many different types of flora and fauna together in one place that would normally only see one set or the other. One of the best parts about Graham County’s history is that there is an extremely varied history of plant and animal life that changes with the climate. This unique mixture of climates makes it a great Riparian area, which means that lots of water-loving plants and animals are in the area, not something that is common in mostly desert areas. The total area of the county is 4,641 square miles in total.
One of the biggest draws for tourists who come to Arizona, but Graham County in particular is the naturally occurring hot springs in the area. Visitors can soak in hot springs at the same place as they can ride down the natural sand dunes at the Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area any time of the year for a very minimal park pass fee. For those who love outdoor activities and the heat, this is definitely a destination for them. Graham County offers several spots for enjoying hot springs in their natural setting, but also has several formally established facilities for these same types of activities.
Part of Graham County is an Indian reservation made up of just over 15,390 members that encompasses parts of two other surrounding counties as well. The San Carlos Indian Reservation was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant and was quickly settled upon by many who were taken from their original lands by US soldiers. While these tribe members from the Apache nation were forced to live alongside other tribes with whom they were both amicable and even those with whom they were warring or fighting with, the even bigger tragedy is that those who were trusting enough to be housed by the newly settled people who had taken their lands from them were being neglected, treated as slaves, or even used and killed as an enslaved group of people. Today, these people are living in their own area, governed by their own rules and regulations for the most part without intervention from the outside. They have their own group of tribal police to take care of things within their reservation and are living with just about the same level of income and poverty that the rest of the state has. While most of the agricultural growth has stalled in this part of Graham County and given way to casinos and grocery stores, the people living on the San Carlos Apache reservation are a mixture of talented, culturally rich people whose history refuses to be forgotten in the midst of technology and progress.
Graham County is chock full of historical tidbits and there are still blatant remnants of its past remaining to this day. The Native tribes from this area used the ground for sacred rites and for crops and burial purposes. As a result, there is always a great deal of archaeological exploration taking place nearby. Quite a few ancient grave sites and even more villages and structures have been unearthed, making this one of the most artifact-rich areas of the state of Arizona.
More recent findings have been uncovered to show that Chief Geronimo (Actually Goyaale) and his tribesmen and women were battled with in this area by US Cavalrymen. Artifacts and written texts have confirmed that the fighting happened in this very area when lands were being taken from the Native people and that it was a bloody fight for many who were laid to rest here. There is now a town called Geronimo in this heroic Chief’s honor and memory. He was captured in Graham County by US soldiers eventually. The most ancient beginnings of the US Postal Service made a stop here when it was still a stop along the original working railway system here back in 1860. This mail stop was laid to rest in May of 1956.
A new wave of settlers followed the first ones, this time in the middle 1800s, bringing Mormonism into the area. These settlers eventually created smaller towns and settlements that turned into larger settlements as time went on. The Mormons brought lots more innovation and many more ideas to aid in the progression of farming technology in those early days such as new ideas on how to improve on the irrigation methods that were introduced by the first groups of settlers in Graham County. Once a good, strong system for transporting water was established, it was more desirable for people to settle in the area, so they did so with enthusiasm. Graham County was written into creation because the early settlers knew that they had created a great area for bringing up crops and for raising their livestock and families.
Another major historical significance about Graham County, Arizona is that it was chosen by some of the debut members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid 1850’s. These pioneers did not hinder progress across the southwestern United States; they made it blossom and come to fruition quite successfully. They brought new faith and values to the people who were already settled into the area. These new residents knew how to cultivate and tend to the land to make it fertile and to create quite a hearty yield of crops in order to keep their hunger satiated during cold, barren winter months. Their ability to use the land wisely and to remain respectful of it was unlike that of most of the gold-seeking folk who had already ripped across the country on their way west in search of riches. These people brought the idea of irrigation with them and set up an elaborate system for water distribution that changed farming across the entire country.
The last major historical note to come out of Graham County is that there was a fairly large influx of New Mexico residents that brought Spanish language and culture into this area of Arizona. These original settlers managed to find their way to the area that is now called Sanchez/San Jose, which is East of a small area called Safford. Specifically, the area known as Sanchez is called such after a settler named Lorenzo Sanchez that came to the area in 1879.
Lastly on the list of interesting things to know about Graham County is that there are several extremely beautiful state parks that host many tourists and locals alike year-round. Roper Lake State Park is one of the most beautiful places in Graham County, boasting a 30-acre lake and several camping areas. This lends to visitors being able to go boating, fishing, hiking, and camping with ease. The lake is full of trout and bass and is a safe place for children to learn how to fish and drop in a line. Boats are allowed as long as they have small engines. This breathtaking park is located close to Safford. Next, The 23,000-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area has tons of wildlife and lots to do and see. From bird watching to taking a swim or rafting thrtough the rapids of the Gila River, this is a very popular place for people who want to take a break on any given day. This amazing area even hosts hot springs. San Francisco and Gila rivers and Eagle and Bonita creeks make this a very water-rich area in an otherwise hot vacation destination. For those history buffs out there, there are original dwelling sites from some original settlers, several cliff side dwellings and structures, and lots of artifacts to explore. The many species of sheep, mountain lions, and birds in the area make it quite the attractive area for people to view wildlife in its naturally occurring state. This park is located around 20 miles northeast of Safford. Lastly, the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area is exactly what it says, presenting its visitors with almost 20,000 acres of untamed wilderness. This area is so undeveloped and unexplored that in order to visit, people have to get a permit. This park holds the beautiful Aravaipa Canyon, which reaches 1,000 feet deep in places and varies in elevation depending on where you are. Visitors to this area of Graham County are in for a treat if seclusion and being alone is what they crave. As a government sanctioned area, nothing will destroy these protected areas. Graham County definitely has a lot to offer visitors as far as scenery and tourism goes.
County Seat and Its History
The Graham County seat is called Safford currently, but was temporarily switched to Solomonville in 1883 until being switched back in 1915. Being the county seat simply means that the town of Safford is the most important, most capital-like city in the county, and that most of the important or legal happenings occur in this place. According to the 2010 census of the American population, Safford had close to 10,000 residents alone. The County Seat anchors the entire county financially and politically. Safford is the main city of the entire Safford Micropolis Statistical Area, but is backed in every way by the rest of Graham County. Safford is 8.6 square miles of land and it boasts an extremely warm climate for most of the year. Average high temperatures hover around 98-104 degrees and averages lows around 20 degrees. The low elevation of 2952 feet lends to the ability for dryness and heat to overtake the area for most of the year.
Safford was founded by three gentlemen by the names of Joshua Eaton Bailey, Edward Tuttle, and Hiram Kennedy. They came to Safford from Gila Bend around 1873 during the winter when high water levels destroyed the dams and canals that they were working on and work became scarce. When they arrived, they established the site where the town would be built and built some very basic structures to mark the town as functional. This town ended up being named for the governor of the Arizona Territory, Anson P.K. Safford and was made official as an incorporation in October of 1901. The water-rich terrain and lush plant life made this area of Arizona comparable to heaven in the eyes of the early settlers who had made the long trek across such dry, desolate territory to get there.
Economically speaking, Safford makes most of its money from larger companies such as Wal-Mart, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (Whose two newest facilities make up the largest mining operations in the country), Bowman Consulting Group, Arizona State Prison Complex, several agricultural agencies that raise cattle and crops alike, DRG Tech Inc, Safford Unified School District, and Open Loop Energy to name a few. The Arizona Eastern Railway and an air facility are the major transportation options in this area, and there are also several highways that service Safford. Rt 191 is the main thoroughfare from I-10 and many upgrades to the main highways nearby are being made as well such as a loop being built into Rt. 70 that connects more parts of the city together to allow for more transportation of goods and services between towns.
Safford boasts a successful Unified School District that educates most if not all of the students from the entire city. Eastern Arizona College is a great place to go for more high-level classes and to learn more about agriculture and will soon be upgraded from a two-year college to a four-year college. Discovery Park Campus is one of the most widely-celebrated destinations for field trips and family visits as they provide tours of their world-revered observatory. Mt. Graham International Observatory has the most high-grade 20″ Cassagrain type telescope, which is the world’s largest permanently mounted “camera obscura”. You can take a journey through the Milky Way Galaxy on a simulated ride, and you can also see the “History of Astronomy” display. As a final bonus, you can hike through miles and miles of nature trails and observe some of the best local flora and fauna at the pond on the property, such as large birds of prey, many species of reptiles and amphibians, and fish too.
Safford-City/Graham County public library allows residents of the area to access newspapers, magazines, computers, job training, classes, and other community gatherings that bring people closer together. Children can enjoy story time and can use computer equipment to make sure that schoolwork is done correctly and thoroughly. The Police force in Safford is led by Chief of Police Joe Brugman and is aided by the larger police force from Graham County. The volunteer fire department takes care of any emergency situations in Safford and has been operating with a team of 13 people since 1907. The fire department has expanded to include 32 people in total and helps more than 200 families per year with dire circumstances from fires to rescue situations. The fire department serves the entire 115 mile radius around the city of Safford as well.
Safford’s most notable contribution to the world has definitely got to be its observatory facilities. Since Safford is located in almost complete seclusion from other cities, its isolation provides a very small amount of nighttime light, so the conditions are ideal for stargazing. The surrounding areas are chock full of people who want to keep this idea alive, so homes and even city lights are more dim in order to allow the observation of things in the heavens more easily. Pictures taken from the observatory southwest of the main city are often ranked as being some of the most in-depth and accurate of any taken across the globe. The Mount Graham International Observatory houses the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope, and the soon-to-be-completed Large Binocular Telescope, which will be the only one of its strength in the entire world.
The University of Arizona is very proud to lay claim to these amazing scientific tools and to provide the world with a great example of what is really out there. Located in the Coronado National Forest, this facility has lent its equipment to some rather amazing discoveries that have changed the way that people look at the stars every single day. Scientists can monitor things such as storms on Neptune and Saturn daily and even tell when a foreign object is headed to Earth from space. In any case, these works of mechanical art give Graham County another reason to be quite proud of the fact that they are the host to such scientific breakthroughs. Any time of year is perfect to go stargazing at the Arizona State University sponsored observatory.
Graham County Courthouse
Graham County’s historically documented courthouse can be found at 800 West Main Street in Safford, Arizona. Within its two brick-covered stories is a rather adventurous past. This building is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and is comprised of two stories of brick on top of a strong foundation and a sizable basement. Part of the building is 83 feet tall while another wing is merely 17 feet in height. The fifth named courthouse in Graham County, it is preceded by the courthouse of Safford, two courthouses in Solomonville (The former county seat in Graham County), and also another building in Safford located on Main and Central downtown. $50,000 was allocated by the county to build a properly fitted and well-stocked courthouse building in 1916, and $44,000 was spent making sure that courtrooms, a jail, and various county offices were established and so that official matters could be taken more seriously. Notable members of the local government, Arizona Supreme Court representatives J. A. McAllister and Jesse A. Udall were first employed as judges in Graham County courthouses.
The main courthouse of Graham County was the recipient of a makeover in 1982, with most of the building remarkably remaining the same. The original wainscoting, wooden balustrades, and several staircases were still sturdy enough to stand the test of time and be left out of the upgrades that the rest of the structure received. Part of the original jail section building was removed in 1978. The scars from where this section of the building once stood are still visible against the outside walls of the courthouse to this day. In 1982, this courthouse was given the official title of historical place and it continues to stand steadfast as a symbol of old-town Stafford and Graham County, Arizona today. Many of the buildings in this area, including the ones used for government reasons, have been made over to a much deeper scale, so it is very interesting to see how time and the harsh desert climate and its sandy wind have not changed this artfully crafted architecture.
Graham County Sheriff’s Office
All of Graham County (with the exception of the San Carlos Indian Reservation) is presided over by Sheriff Preston “P.J.” Allred currently. The police headquarters for Graham County is located in the county seat of Safford. The police force in this area is collectively known as the Graham County Sheriff’s office and is made up of locally trained and mostly locally-raised community members who have passed all of the necessary tests and trials to serve and protect its citizens effectively. While crime rates are quite low in Graham County, there is still need for minimal amounts of police assistance at times, and this group of citizens serves the entire county in any way they need to keep them safe.
The Graham County Sheriff’s Office also provides the animal control services in its jurisdiction. Due to its location, it isn’t uncommon for residents to see snakes, possums, coyotes, deer, scorpions, large cats, and other animals come creeping across their paths from time to time and they provide these services as part of their jobs. Covered areas include Thatcher, Pima, and other small areas that lie inside of Graham County. These services are carried out in conjunction with the cooperation of those at Graham County Animal Shelter and also assists the smaller organization called Safford Animal Control.
The GCSO also lends its employ to the 911 system and the jail in this area. These services include search and rescue efforts across the entirety of Graham County with the aforementioned exception. The terrain in Arizona can be quite tricky even for seasoned hikers and travelers, sometimes lending a hand into cold cases where people have disappeared for years at a time or even forever. Teams of people actively keep their training for such search and rescue missions up to date as much as possible and are always prepared to launch a full-scale operation if needed. During certain seasons, flash flooding is prevalent and these SAR volunteers are also trained to do swift-water rescues if these circumstances arise. First aid and rope training courses are also given to those wishing to assist the GCSO with these rescue missions and all people who sign up for this job are required to be trained by GCSO veterans.
There is quite an extensive list of sheriffs from Graham County from the past.
Sheriffs in the past have been:
-Mr. C.B. Rose (1 Jul 1881- 7 Nov 1881)
-Mr. George H. Stevens (7 Nov 1881- 7 Nov 1884)
-Mr. Ben M. Crawford (7 Nov 1884- 3 Dec 1885)- This Sheriff was reported “Killed By Indians”
-Mr. William Baird Whelan (3 Dec 1885- 7 Nov 1890)
-Mr. George A. Olney (7 Nov 1890- 7 Nov 1894)
-Mr. Arthur A. Wright (7 Nov 1894- 7 Nov 1896)
-Mr. William P. Birchfield (7 Nov 1896- 7 Nov 1898)
-Mr. Ben R. Clark (7 Nov 1899- 7 Nov 1900)
-Mr. James V. Parks (7 Nov 1900- 7 Nov 1906)
-Mr. Alphie A. “Pap” Anderson (7 Nov 1907- 7 Nov 1912)
-Mr. Thomas George Alger (7 Nov 1912- 7 Nov 1916)
-Mr. Robert Fitzgerald Mcbride (7 Nov 1916- 9 Feb 1918)- this sheriff was Killed in Shootout
-Mr. Brig Stewart (9 Feb 1918- 7 Nov 1918)
-Mr. John David Skaggs (7 Nov 1918- 7 Nov 1922)
-Mr. Steven Vincent Pollock (7 Nov 1922- 7 Nov 1924)’
-Mr. Homer Tate (7 Nov 1924- 7 Nov 1926)
-Mr. George Samuel Dodge (7 Nov 1926- 7 Nov 1933)
-Mr. Hugh Talley (7 Nov 1933- 19 Nov 1936)- This sheriff died while in office
-Mrs. Sarah Isabelle “Bell” Talley (acting, 19 Nov 1936- 7 Nov 1936) – First female Graham County sheriff in history
-Ms. Vie Christensen (7 Nov 1938- 7 Nov 1944)
-Mr. James Houston “Skeet” Bowman (7 Nov 1944- 7 Nov 1952)
-Mr. Joseph Tea ( 7 Nov 1952- 7 Nov 1950)
-Mr. James Houston “Skeet” Bowman (7 Nov 1950- 7 Nov 1968)
-Mr. Harold Stevens (7 Nov 1968- 7 Nov 1978)
-Mr. Roy Curtis (7 Nov 1978- 7 Nov 1988)
-Mr. Richard Ivan Mack (7 Nov 1988- 7 Nov 1996)
-Mr. Frank Hughes (7 Nov 1996- 7 Nov 2010)
-Mr. Preston “P.J.” Allred (7 Nov 2010- currently in office )
Six unfortunate, yet heroic officers have also tragically lost their lives while in the line of duty under the Graham County Sheriff’s office. They were:
-Sheriff Ben Crawford Thursday, December 3, 1885 died from gunfire
-Deputy Sheriff Tom Campbell Tuesday, September 24, 1912 died from gunfire
-Deputy Sheriff Albert Munguia Tuesday, September 24, 1912 died from gunfire
-Sheriff Robert F. McBride Saturday, February 9, 1918 died from gunfire
-Undersheriff Martin Kempton Saturday, February 9, 1918 died from gunfire
-Deputy Sheriff Kane Wooten Saturday, February 9, 1918 died from gunfire
The Graham County Sheriff’s Office also operates a wonderful system for its elderly and otherwise needy citizens called the “Are You O.K.?” program. This nationwide program offers the ability for someone in need to receive a phone call every single day at the same time that asks the recipient if they are okay, and upon not getting a response, an officer is dispatched to the residence to make sure that the person is fine or is properly taken care of. This program ensures that all residents are paid attention to, no matter what their situation.
Several other smaller enforcement organizations such as the Safford Police Department and the Thatcher Police Department are quite great at working with their communities on a smaller level to keep people safe and to ensure that everyone is watched over and kept out of trouble. These smaller jurisdictions allow for programs such as leftover prescription drug disposal days, holiday events, and community educational courses to be given on a more personal scale.
Graham County Detention Center
Even small counties like Graham county have to have a place to keep the people who don’t walk the right path through life. This is where facilities like the Graham County Detention Center come into play. Their every action is completed with the intent to keep this small community of people safe and calm without disrupting the normal flow of everyday life. Top of the line security is a priority in order to keep staff and inmates safe from harm on a daily basis. This jail operates based on the guidelines that are set in place by the National Sheriff’s Association, the Arizona Detention Association, the American Correctional Association, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. This is all done to make sure that everyone is treated as fairly and as reasonably as possible and to keep punishments in accordance to the nature of crimes committed as decided by a jury of one’s peers. Inmates and temporarily held individuals are treated as fairly as possible during their time at GCDC and can be anyone from people who are waiting for trials to begin or who are likely to be incarcerated for more drastic charges. Punishments are made to fit the crime and can be anything from solitary confinement to sitting with the general population. The main goal of the Graham County Detention Center is to make sure that any time served in its facility is as productive as humanly possible for each individual inmate.
While most terms served in this center are short-term, inmates are given as many opportunities to learn and grow as people as possible. Health programs, scholastic programs, and job training are parts of the program at Graham County Detention Center. The goal for any rehabilitated prisoner upon release from a long term sentence, or even after a few short days, is to send the person back into the world with more confidence and positive attitude than they had before being incarcerated. Employees are constantly training to improve the conditions for inmates and workers inside the facility. This is to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance at returning to the world as a better person and a productive member of society.
Another amazing thing about Graham County, Arizona is that there is a set of schools that are specifically for juvenile members of the community that are not able to follow the rules correctly, but there is no juvenile detention center in Graham County as of 2016. A very successful police organization has kept the crime rate at below 3%, and making it safer than 8% of the rest of the country, which is about average for a small town. Violent crimes are nearly non-existent and there are almost zero murders to report in Graham County per year. The worst cases in this area have historically been simple assault.
Distance To Phoenix, Arizona from Graham County
The distance from the county seat of Safford, Arizona to the bustling city of Phoenix, Arizona is 143.31 miles on the map. Driving in a car, however, it is closer to 165 miles. In order to get there, you have to take US-70 and AZ state route 77 to get there. There is a halfway point in Miami, Arizona. Other main cities that you will see along the route between these two cities are Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert to name a few. This is an important route to know because most official state business that can’t be handled in smaller cities such as Safford is carried out in Phoenix. The trek may take a few hours but there are spots to stop for a rest between major cities. This route will take you through the San Carlos Indian Reservation in its desolate glory. You can stop in Globe or Claypool halfway through your drive and it will give you time to stretch before finishing the journey.
There is a more scenic, alternate route that uses Rt. 70 and Arizona 188-N, but it takes almost 5 hours to get from one to the other taking this route. Taking Rt. 70 will allow you to see the beauty that is the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, which is a gigantic, multi-county forest system that covers a rather large portion of Arizona and an even larger section of Graham County by comparison. Mountain ranges and beautiful, ice-cold lakes are part of the appeal of this area, should you take the drive through there.
From a rich historical past to the most amazing place in North America to view the stars, Graham County has quite a bit to offer, including an absolute commitment to its residents by law enforcement and volunteers that keep the county safe. A mere 3 hour trip from the capital city of the state, this is quite a breathtaking place to visit and even more of a wonderful place to live. Rich in plant and animal life, and abundant in ways to take a breather after a hard day’s work, Graham County is a great place to settle down with a family. There are so many ways to learn and grow, as well as ways to prosper and thrive. It is very easy to feel safe and at home knowing that your life is valued by members of the community at all times. With great schools, fantastic workplaces, and even low crime rates, Graham County is a truly beautiful diamond in the rough. Take the time to find your path through this lovely county, and see what its vast and interesting history can present.