Jack Swilling, the Founder of Phoenix

So here I am, 150 years later. Well 146 years actually. Where They Bury You took place over a period of three years, culminating in the very real murder of Marshal and Major Joseph Cummings 150 years ago. The equally very real Jack Swilling who appears throughout this story, he of the Arizona Rangers, Apache fighting, saloon, gambling hall, and bordello entrepeneuring, went on to found Phoenix, Arizona. But not for another four years after the Cummings murder.

And here I am, 146 years later, driving my car through the run down blocks north of the Phoenix Airport between 32nd and 36th street just south of Van Buren Street. For here, Jack Swilling, after venturing into gold mining, farming, flour milling, and postal contracting founded the company that built the irrigation ditches and canals that have grown into modern day Phoenix. It was here that he built his forty-seven hundred square foot Swilling’s Castle. Today it is an area of run down motels (one looking like it might, just might, in its hey dey, have been built in homage to a long abandoned, and now destroyed, castle), warehouses, condemned stucco homes, and empty lots owned by the Airport Authority. Driving around, looking for any sign of Phoenix’s founder, I attracted a police tail in less than five minutes. I looked in vain for any marker, any monument, any sign of this great city’s founder. I learned from the mayor’s office, that yes, there used to be a sign on Van Buren Street, but it had been destroyed in a car accident and never replaced. I’m told there’s a sign at a fountain by the downtown courthouse.

And Swilling himself? He died at the age of 48 four and a half years after Cummings, in the Yuma jail, facing false charges that he had robbed a stagecoach. Cause of death was essentially the use of pain killers and alcohol to treat major injuries sustained in 1854.

Categories: Where They Bury You | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Jack Swilling, the Founder of Phoenix

  1. Fascinating post. I could just envisage this, and you driving round with the police tailing you as well!

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