Holbrook is on the banks of the Little Colorado River in
northeastern Arizona’s Navajo County high plateau country.
In 1881 railroad tracks were laid in northeastern Arizona passing
through an area known as Horsehead Crossing. The following year
a railroad station was built at Horsehead Crossing and the community’s
name was changed to Holbrook in honor of H. R. Holbrook,
first chief engineer of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. Holbrook, at
an elevation of 5,080 feet, became the county seat of Navajo
County in 1895 and was incorporated in 1917.
Holbrook is an important trade center for northeastern Arizona. It’s
location on historic Route 66 and on Interstate 40 at the junction of
four major highways, between the Apache Sitgreaves National
Forest to the south and the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations to
the north makes tourism important to the local economy.
Government employment is also significant because Holbrook is the
Navajo County seat and the site of various state and federal field
offices. All of Navajo County is a designated Enterprise Zone.
The Cholla Power Plant, Arizona Public Service’s largest coal-fired
generating station is located just outside of Holbrook and employs
approximately 250 workers.
A variety of attractions surrounds Holbrook. To the north is the
rugged plateau country with striking canyons containing prehistoric
Cliff dwellings, such as those found in Canyon de Chelly. Much of
the plateau country is Navajo and Hopi Reservation land. These
reservations offer unique attractions including ceremonial dances,
tribal events, and Indian arts and crafts.
The Petrified Forest National Park with petrified logs displaying an array
of colors and the Painted Desert with formations of soft rock in many
colors offer unique experiences to area visitors. The Historic Courthouse
which houses the Museum and Chamber of Commerce Visitors
Center is one of only two Romanesque courthouses
in the state and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Special events during the year include the annual Hashknife Posse
Pony Express Ride in January, Holbrook Old West Celebration in
June, the annual Fireman’s Barbeque on the Fourth of July, the
“Gathering of Eagles” Native American art show in mid-July, the Navajo
County Fair and Navajo County Horse Racing in September and the
Festival of Trees and Christmas Parade of Lights in early December.
Places To Visit
Heber and Overgaard, in northeastern Arizona in
Navajo County. Situated in the Sitgreaves National Forest north
of the Mogollon Rim, their elevations range from 6,435 feet in
Heber to 6,620 feet in Overgaard. Both are unincorporated. The
communities are reached by taking state Highway 87 to Payson
(north from Phoenix or south from Interstate 40), and continuing
east via State Highway 260.
During the Mormon migration in 1876 and 1877, the Little
Colorado River settlements were established. James E. Shelley and
Sanford Porter, Jr. founded Heber in 1883. Heber was named after
Heber J. Grant, a prominent member of the Mormon Church. The
post office in Heber was established in 1890 by James E. Shelley.
Overgaard, adjoining Heber, was originally called Oklahoma Flat
and was later named after the first sawmill owner. The post office in
Overgaard was established in 1938.
Economic activities are varied; retirement and tourism are an
important part of the economy. Proximity to the Sitgreaves National
Forest provides recreation opportunities, and timber is harvested for
Precision Pine Sawmill and Stone Container Paper Mill. A mulch
plant processes forest byproducts. Service businesses provide
employment and services for the retirement community.
Government and schools also contribute to the local economy.
Retail trade is increasing. Construction is also a major factor in the
The Heber/Overgaard area is surrounded by many year-round recreational
opportunities and points of scenic interest. Immediately south
of Heber and Overgaard is the Mogollon Rim, a steep escarpment
ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet from the base to the highest
plateau. The Rim divides the northern plateau region from the lower
central and southern areas. The Rim offers many exceptional views
and numerous man-made lakes ideal for boating and other water sports.
Hunting for elk, deer, turkey, antelope, and bear is permitted.
Fishing, in nearby trout streams, is popular. There are also extensive
picnic and camping facilities available within the area. Other scenic
attractions in the area include Chevelon Canyon Dam, the Canyon
Creek Fish Hatchery, Chevelon Butte, and the Fort Apache Indian
Reservation. The 200-acre Mogollon Lake three miles east of
Overgaard is in the planning stages.
In 1879, Juan Padilla was the first to arrive near Holbrook. He chose this spot because it was a fertile area, along with the Little Colorado River. It was also a place where many travelers made their crossing from the north to the south. He bought an ox team and built a small community. The settlement consisted of a saloon, store, and restaurant. Padilla named the community Horsehead Crossing. Soon the town became a stagecoach crossing.
It was during this time, that the government developed an idea for creating a railroad system to the west. Since the government did not have the money to build the railroad, it decided that huge land grants would be given to the railroads. The land grants in Arizona consisted of 20-mile sections on each side of the railroad track. Once the tracks were laid, the railroad sold these sections to ranchers and farmers to recoup the money they spent on building the railroad.
In 1882 the new line was built and a rail station was created, along with the new town. The town was named Holbrook, in honor of H.R. Holbrook. Holbrook was the first engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which later became the Santa Fe railroad. Holbrook became a shipping point for cattle, wool, and supplies. Horsehead Crossing eventually disappeared.
In 1884, Edward Kinsley headed west to check out the new railroad line. Kinsley was a stockholder for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. When Kinsley arrived in Holbrook he saw lush green grass, perfect for cattle. He rushed back east and gathered investors. This began the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. The company bought a million acres of land from the railroad and began shipping cattle to the area. There were 40,000 cattle and nearly 2,000 horses on their rangeland. It was believed to be the second largest cattle ranch in the United States.
The company was also known as the Hashknife. The name came from the shape of the company’s brand, which looked like a curved knife used on a chuck wagon. The Hashknife Cowboys were not all good guys. As a matter of fact, they had been known to ride into Holbrook with their guns blazing and yelling, “Hide out, kids, the Cowboys are in town.” Then they would proceed to shoot out lights and do other unruly things.
Throughout Holbrook’s history, there have been many colorful characters, such as Lawman Commodore Perry Owens. Owens was a no nonsense man. He had long hair and carried two pistols one on each hip with the butt forward. He was noted for killing three men single handily, after trying to serve a warrant. The story began on September 4, 1887, when the sheriff went alone to the Blevin’s house to demand Andy Cooper to surrender. Cooper was a cattle rustler, who had changed his name when he came to Arizona because he was wanted in the state of Texas.
In the fight that followed, Andy Cooper was mortally wounded and so was his 16-year-old brother, Sam Houston Blevins. John Blevins was wounded and Mose Roberts, a member of the Blevin’s household was also killed. The Blevin’s house still stands today.
Another place that still is seen is the “Bucket of Blood” Saloon. This saloon became famous after the two murders that took place inside. A disagreement over a card game erupted and two men were shot dead. The story goes on, in a gruesome retelling that a bucket was filled with blood after the clean up of the bodies. Thus, the name “Bucket of Blood” saloon.
Another wild tale about the town had to do with a hanging. Sheriff Frank Wattron received a letter from President McKinley informing him of his disgust with the Sheriff’s actions. Sheriff Wattron had sent out fancy invitations for the hanging of George Smiley.
Holbrook was a rough and tumble town in its early years and the stories and characters prove this to be true. By 1895, Holbrook was the county seat for Navajo County and it remained the county seat from 1895 to 1914.
Then in the early 1900’s, many newcomers came to the area to live. These newcomers used the Homestead Law to gather the land needed to build their homes. The land was eventually divided up. This coupled with several years of drought conditions made ranching in this area very difficult. In 1901, the Hashknife cowboys disbanded and left the area. Ranchers could no longer use the open range for grazing. Ranching was reduced significantly. Today there is better range management and purebred cattle. These two changes have influenced the ranching industry in a positive way.
By 1926, Route 66 was nearly completed. Although it wasn’t until 1937 before the entire stretch was paved. This road linked Chicago to California and went right through Holbrook. Route 66 was the Mother Road, until 1954 when President Eisenhower established the President’s Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program. After that, the route was slowly dismantled and many towns were bypassed during the construction of newer and better interstate roads. Even though the new Interstate 40 went close to town, Holbrook was affected.
Soon both the railroad and highway became less popular means of transportation. This caused fewer and fewer people to visit Holbrook. Today, however, Holbrook is regaining the visitors that once came to town. Holbrook’s proximity to the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations and the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest make it a great place to plan your explorations.