Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West
Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West

King Woolsey


(1832 - June 30, 1879)


Born in Alabama and raised in Louisiana, Woolsey's contribution to the early settlement of the Arizona Territory was monumental.


In 1849 Woolsey arrived in California via a British ship. It is rumored his prior activites involved military action in Cuba, was jailed and freed by the British Consul.


In California, Woolsey was a miner for nearly a decade. His success in this venture is not recorded. He moved to the Yuma, AZ, area working for a brief time as a teamster, then bought the Agua Caliente ranch. Here he dug an irrigation ditch to power a small flour mill and water his fields of hay. Woolsey secured a contract to supply the California Column of Union troops during the Civil War. He did not let his Southern sympathies get in the way of money.


In 1863, he establish the Agua Fira ranch near present day Dewey, AZ. On the eastern edge of civilization, he farmed, ranched and mined. His ranch was built with stones from a nearby prehistoric ruin, the thatched roof was covered with dirt and he enclosed the property with a stone wall about shoulder high.


Woolsey was also subject to Indian attacks. His first encounter with the Apaches was with two companions after they had returned to the Agua Fira ranch with a load of hay. They found themselves surrounded and outnumbered. Woolsey calmly faced this roving band with their only weapon - a double-barrelled shotgun. He waited until the chief came within a few paces and fired. The chief was instantly killed. The leaderless band fled. As a grisly reminder to marauding indians, Woolsey hung the body from a mesquite tree where three years later it still dangled half eaten by animals.


In another incident on a mining expedition, King and his group were being harrased by Apaches. Suggesting a talk, Woolsey succeeded in getting the Apaches into camp. During the arrival King mixed some pinole (a mashed corn meal) with strychnine and placed it in a light pack on a burro. While Woolsey and the Chief were talking, the warriors were looting and found the pinole. Downing the deadly eats, one Indian, then another, fell into a fit and rolled on the ground. Frightened by the site, the menancing visitors left in a hurry.


In 1864 as thefts and menacing activity increased, Lieutenant Woolsey led three expeditions against the Apaches, kiling a number of the "enemy" with only a loss of a few of his men.


In the early 1870s, he centered his business in the Salt River Valley area of Arizona developing a lucrative trade in packaged salt and with partners established the Phoenix Flour Mills. He served on the Territorial Council five times. Twice as the president.


In his fourty-seventh year and at the height of his success, King Woolsey suffered a stroke of apoplexy and died on June 30, 1879.


He is buried in the Pioneer Memorial Park in Phoenix, AZ. The inscription on his headstone reads "He braved the dangers and hardships of frontier life for 19 years with success and the hero of many battles with the Apaches in Arizona."


Jeff Sullivan has graciously provided a map with GPS coordinates which will help you locate King Woolsey's grave. Click on the Pioneer Memorial Park link below.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Sullivan


Gravesite Map


Information compiled by Steve Grimm


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© Wild West History Association - a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation