Kay Jones, President of the CVHistorical Society
The history of Chino Valley begins not within the corporate boundary of the town of that name, but rather one mile north of it, at a place called Del Rio Springs. It was there on December 21, 1863, that the United States government established a military camp for the protection of miners and prospectors in the general area. How the broad valley stretching nearly from Seligman to Prescott got its name is a matter of some controversy. Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple, who in early 1854, spent several days in the locality while surveying a proposed railroad route along the 35th parallel. From “Val de China,” Whipple wrote in his journal entry of January 13: “The rich black loamy soil we have passed over is covered most luxuriantly with the excellent gramma-grass, so often referred to as being abundant throughout this region called ‘de China,’ from which the valley derives its name.” The gramma grass referenced by the explorer terminated in a graceful curl, and that “chino” in the Mexican vernacular meant “curly hair,’ hence the name applied to this valley of gramma grass. Some claim “chino” refers to the Italian spelling of Jesuit missionary Father Kino’s name. History shows Father Kino was not known to have traveled this far north. The camp in Chino Valley, was garrisoned by five infantry companies and one cavalry company from California all under the command of Major Edward B. Willis of the 1st California Infantry. Initially an encampment of tents, Ft. Whipple, soon saw the addition of “a very good building with canvas roof’” for the Quartermaster and Commissary, and the erection of a hospital. A few stone and mud buildings for kitchen and a blacksmith shop comprised the other facilities of the post. The Del Rio cemetery is believed to be the burial site of Pvt. Joseph Fisher, the first casualty after the camp was established. A deficiency of the location was its lack of timber. Although firewood could be found on the hills three miles away, construction quality logs had to be hauled from a forest 20 miles to the south. Del Rio Springs Historical Marker. Click for a larger view. Only a month after its founding, the camp played an important role in Arizona history when it became the first territorial capital. With the Civil War in progress, the Confederates started a long chain of events that ultimately culminated in this designation. The federal Territory of New Mexico included all of New Mexico and Arizona and the southern part of Nevada. The confederates divided this region into their own Territory of New Mexico and Territory of Arizona. Confederate action spurred a Union reaction, and on February 24, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating the Arizona Territory. Lincoln’s gubernatorial party, headed by John N. Goodwin, left Ft. Leavenworth in Sept. of 1863, and crossed the eastern boundary of the new territory in December. On December 29th, the party arrived at Navajo Springs, AZ and formally proclaimed the Territory of Arizona. The Goodwin party then proceeded westward to the San Francisco Mountains and thence southwestward to the military post in the Val de Chine, where the seat of government was established. (see photo of Historical Marker). Establishment of the territorial capital and the security afforded by its garrison had immediate civilizing effects upon the region. Also, some 600 head of cattle brought to the area by the Goodwin party thrived amid the luxuriant grass and abundant water at Del Rio Springs, thus, ranching gained a foothold in the valley. Chino Valley’s tenure as territorial capital was to prove fleeting. In early 1864, it became apparent to officials that the center of the most important activity – mining – had shifted about 20 miles to the south. Therefore, on May 18, 1864, Fort Whipple was moved to a permanent location one mile north of the Prescott town-site. The Chino Valley site was then named Camp Clark after Surveyor General John A. Clark.