How the White Tank Mountains Got Their Name

Thousands visit the White Tank Mountain Park each year and many wonder…

Why are they called the White Tank Mountains?

In 1863, when gold was discovered in central Arizona, one of the first roads heading north into that region passed by the eastern side of the mountain range.  This road stretched from the Gila River into the new towns of Wickenburg and Prescott.  The road followed an old trail that took advantage of an important source of water in the middle of the desert.  In the northeast portion of the White Tank Mountains was a natural basin or tank that held water year round.  Named the “White Tank” for the white granite cliffs surrounding it, this large watering hole appears on maps and in journals as an important watering place from 1863 to 1895.

The White Tank was the only water for 20 to 30 miles during those first few years of Arizona Territorial history and gives the mountains their name.

Why can’t I go see the White Tank? 

The White Tank was destroyed sometime between 1898 and 1902.  Heavy rains caused the collapse of the cliff above the tank, filling it in.  The exact location of the tank is now a mystery.  When government surveyors came through this area in 1894, the mountains were too rugged to be surveyed.  The survey does show a road turning off the main wagon road and heading into the hills towards the tank.  Today, the mountains boast many smaller tanks and springs, but the original tank that gave the mountains their name, and its exact location, has been lost.



Rail Lines in Waddell

Rail Tracks into FertizonaThe Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railroad added a 12 mile rail spur into Waddell in 1928.  The new rail line provided freight service for the farms and orchards along Cotton Lane.  The original rail sidings on the spur were named for men connected with the Beardsley Project.  This was a privately funded water reclamation project to dam the Agua Fria River and provide irrigation water to Waddell by the Maricopa Water District.

Starting at the main rail line near Grand Avenue and El Mirage Road, the tracks ran southwest to the west side of Cotton Lane at Waddell Road and then south to Indian School Road.

Donald Ware Waddell

Donald Ware Waddell

Four rail sidings were added with the new rail spur along Cotton Lane in 1928 including ‘Waddell’ which was on Waddell Road.  This siding is named for Donald Ware Waddell.  Mr. Waddell of the New York based firm, Brandon and Waddell, financed the construction of the dam.  Mr. Waddell stayed on in Arizona and was actively involved in the Maricopa Water District.

The siding at Glendale Avenue was originally called ‘Brandon’.  John R. Brandon was the associate of Donald Waddell.  The siding name was later changed to ‘Citrus Park’ after the grapefruit orchards and cannery located on Citrus Road just south of Northern Avenue.

Fennemore Siding SignThe ‘Fennemore’ siding is at Olive Road.  The Fennemore name probably refers to Harry Melton Fennemore, a prominent attorney in Phoenix and one of the attorneys used by the Santa Fe Railroad at the time.  Mr. Fennemore’s law firm is still in operation in Phoenix and is the oldest law firm in Arizona.

Harry M. Fennemore

Harry M. Fennemore

The siding at Indian School Road was originally called ‘Griggs’.  Griggs might refer to Charles E. Griggs, engineer for the Maricopa Water District at the time.  Mr. Griggs would later be the Superintendent of Streets for the City of Phoenix.  The Griggs station was closest to farming operations at Goodyear Farms and was shown on later maps as ‘Litchfield’ and then ’McMicken’.  The Litchfield name was in honor of Paul Litchfield, founder of Litchfield Park and Vice President of Goodyear Tire and Rubber in the 20’s.  The McMicken name was in honor of Kenneth B. McMicken, the Vice President and General Manager of Goodyear Farms.

The only siding still in use is Fennemore, providing rail service to Fertizona, a fertilizer and agriculture product company.    Most of the original spur line was removed in the 1980’s and Fennemore is now connected by a spur line that runs along Olive Road.

Rail Date Nails

Date Nails from the old rail road spur in Waddell



Illness Hits the Cotton Camp at Waddell

In 1938, Waddell was at the center of a human tragedy caused by nature and the cotton industry.    

 Cotton farmers had put in a record crop that year, and growers feared there would not be enough pickers.  The Farm Labor Service launched a recruiting campaign.  Flyers were handed out in neighboring states and advertisements put newspapers, to attract migrant workers to the valley. The program may have been too successful.  Reportedly some 25,000 people were lured to Arizona from September 1937 through the early months of 1938. 

 As the cotton harvest was finishing up in Arizona, in early 1938, transient families were encouraged to travel on to California to follow the harvest of crops there.  But heavy rains in January and February in California caused massive flooding.  California crops were wiped out and the roads west were impassable.  Many farm workers, unable to proceed on to California, turned back to the Salt RiverValley where they joined those workers who had not yet moved on.  With no work, poor living conditions and little money to live on, sickness and hunger ravaged the farm camps. 

 One of those camps was the Waddell camp located north of the cotton gin at Cotton Lane and Waddell Road.  After public outcry about the reported conditions, the Waddell camp was inspected by Arizona Governor R. C. Stanford and the state superintendant of public health, Dr. Colt Hughes.  Many families were on the verge of starvation.  Widespread illness included measles, whooping cough and typhoid fever.  Nurses were sent to the camps and emergency food supplies were brought in. Several children with typhoid were sent by ambulance to the county clinic.  Similar conditions were found at the worker camps all over the valley.

History of the White Tank Mountains Talk

I have been asked by the White Tank Branch Library to do my talk again!  Taking place inside the program room on Saturday, April 6th, at 11:00 am.     I start the area history in 1863.  Come and learn about the ranchers, miners and freighters who made their mark on the mountains and the importance of the White Tank in Arizona territorial history.   I hope you can join me!   The Library is at the entrance to the Park.  (4 miles west of the 303 on Olive Road.)


Fennemore Camp

Fennemore camp 1   The remains of a prisoner of war camp still stand on the southwest corner of Cotton Lane and Olive Avenue in Waddell.  Referred to as the Fennemore Camp, it was used to house German and Italian prisoners during World War II.  The men were brought here from the permanent camps at Florence or Papago to work in the farm fields. 

   After the war, the site was used as a farm worker camp.  The block building that is still visible was a lavatory and wash house.  The other buildings have all been destroyed or relocated.  Several of the small relocated wooden cabins still exist in the area.  

The “Bug” Fire – The Story of a Fire Started by a Caterpillar

On one of the hottest days of the year, Waddell resident, Louis Chappell of Rural Metro received a call of a possible brush fire in the White Tank Mountains.   It was Friday afternoon, July 31, 1993, and over 110 degrees when a helicopter met him at Jackrabbit and Indian School Roads and flew him over the mountains to investigate.  As Initial Attack Incident Commander, it was Louis’s job to evaluate the fire, the conditions, and how to proceed. 

The fire was small when Louis and a hand crew (10 men) from Rural Metro set off for the very top of the mountain, by the towers, to fight the brush fire.  It was almost 114 degrees that day, and for a good three hours they protected the towers from burning.  Then, in the late afternoon, the conditions changed.  “The wind picked up down in a canyon and [the fire] just took off,” Louis said.  “We took off running.”  The fire went to a couple of hundred acres in just a few minutes.  By dark, the fire was no longer threatening the towers but was spreading fast.

Normally, a lot of firefighting takes place at night.  The humidity comes up, winds die down, and you can set back fires, but the steep and rocky terrain of the White Tank Mountains made working at night too dangerous.  That night, Louis had to watch the fire spreading from his back porch.  

By Saturday, the winds had funneled up the steep canyons and whipped the fires through the dry grasses and scrub on the mountain.   A command center was set up in the park and the fire was given a name.  The fire had been called in by a worker who was building a road to the new 300’ tower they were installing on the mountain top.  Sparks from the caterpillar blade hitting the rocks started the fire.  So the newly named “Bug” fire was started by a caterpillar. 

Ten Hot Shot crews were brought in.  One crew was from Texas and four crews had just gotten back from working the “Geronimo” fire near Payson.  400 firefighters were working the fire by Sunday.  They had a 2 to 3 mile hike into the mountains to get to the fire through steep and rocky terrain.  It was also 117 degrees that day. Fifteen workers had to be treated for heat exhaustion. 

“The only way you could really fight that fire was with hand crews and hand tools, and use the buckets and the airplanes to drop retardants and water on the hot spots”, said Louis.  Air support consisted of six air tankers, three helicopters and two lead planes.  The helicopters were picking up water out of the Beardsley Canal.  Guided by the lead planes, water and retardant were dropped to protect the towers and to keep the fire out of the park.  Observers were put on the back side of the mountains to watch for the safety of the hundreds of firefighters on the ground.  By Monday, the work force was down to 100 and the temperature was down to 109 degrees.  

The “Bug” fire took about a week to fight.  A lot of effort went into those first few hours to protect the towers, and then the main objective was to protect the park.   In the end, over 3000 acres were burned.  I asked Louis about the saguaros’ ability to live through a fire.  “Most saguaros don’t die in a fire like this,” Louis said.  “The fire moves too fast.”

I learned a great deal about fighting brush fires by talking to Louis.  He has a passion for his profession, just like a lot of people who are very good at what they do.  The “Bug” fire was viewed from many back porches that week.  Like my neighbors, I wondered how the firefighters would be able to save the park during one of the hottest weeks of the year, in terrain known for its ruggedness.  Maybe they are all like Louis Chappell: men and women who enjoy challenges, the opportunity to put years of training to use, and have trust in the people they work with.  Maybe they would all agree with Louis, who told me, “It was a fun fire, but it was really, really, really hot.”

Wiki page for Waddell

Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately it has some misinformation and a lot of just plain bunk.  The Wiki page for Waddell, Arizona was so bad; I must conclude it was posted as a joke.  I had the opportunity to talk to James Truman last year.  His family was mentioned in the error filled entry and he asked me if I could correct the information on the Wiki page for Waddell.  The process was a little more involved than I thought; it is important to list sources to show credibility and I felt obligated to leave in information that listed a source.  Check it out.  Here is the updated information I posted followed by the wildly imaginative information that I deleted.

Waddell is an unincorporated community in Maricopa County, Arizona, United States, northwest of the city of Phoenix. Waddell is named after Donald Ware Waddell, native of Ohio, who was a partner in the New York City investment firm of Brandon, Gordon and Waddell. It was this firm that organized the private financing for construction of the dam for the water reclamation project that creates Lake Pleasant. The intended Waddell town site was laid out by Donald W. Waddell in 1935, on property he owned on the northeast corner of Waddell Road and Cotton Lane (Section 12, T3N, R2W, G&SRB&M).  Waddell moved to the area to oversee the firm’s interests in the project. He served on the board of the Maricopa Water District and invested in land through his interests in the Arizona Citrus Land Company and the Waddell Ranch Company.

In 1937 the Waddell Post Office was established inside the store on the original town site. Later the post office moved across the street and shared space with the cotton gin office. The current Waddell Post Office was built in 1992 and is located on Glendale Avenue and Cotton Lane, four miles south of the original site. The town never did develop, but remained a post office and place name for the area.

The dam on the Agua Fria River that creates Lake Pleasant (once called Frog Tanks Dam then, Pleasant Dam) was renamed for Donald W. Waddell in 1963, shortly after his death, in recognition of his contributions to the Maricopa Water District. Barry M. Goldwater spoke at the dedication ceremony.

Old Wikipedia for Waddell, AZ

“The original Waddell area is located right off Waddell Rd. and between Citrus Rd. and 186th Avenue. It was established sometime in the 1930s when a citrus farmer named Truman began farming the land. The very first citrus tree planted by Truman, on the corner of Waddell Rd. and Cotton Lane, stayed standing as a landmark until February 2009 due to development. Some unincorporated areas west of Surprise, Arizona, may still identify as being part of Waddell. The city of Surprise offered to annex the town but was denied by the HOA.

Was named after General George Allen Waddell III of the 5th cavalry who fought in the Indian American War. General Waddell resided along the road of his namesake until his death in 1855. General Waddell’s vision for his town was to become the only all cow farming town in Arizona. ”

Alsup Road

Alsup Road Sign  When you drive down Northern Avenue or Camelback Road, you will see a street called Alsup Avenue, half way between Sarival and Reems Roads. The road is named after a young man, Robert Alsup. 

  In 1939, Paul Litchfield began an Apprentice Farmer project.  The aim was to give deserving young men practical experience in farming practices, finance, marketing and farm machinery.  The reward of their hard work was the opportunity to purchase 80 acres parcels from Goodyear Farms.  The result of the program was the Adaman Farm Co-Operative. 

   Robert “Bob” Alsup was an apprentice farmer who came to the valley from New Mexico to be part of the program.  In October 1941, Bob put his training aside to join the Army Air Corp during World War II.  Goodyear Farms was holding his place open for him on his return to the program, when in March 1943 he was killed in a plane crash in Hawaii while serving his country.  He was 23 years of age.  His fellow apprentices named the road, Alsup Avenue, in his honor. 

Alsup Hall 2012

Alsup Hall 2012

  There is an old meeting hall for the Adaman group on Bethany Home Road that was also named in his honor.  Alsup Hall was the site of annual dinners, picnics, monthly dances, and many educational programs for the group.  Sold to a private owner in 1993 the building still stands just east of Sarival Road.

Rock Houses on Glendale Ave.

Andrews' Rock House 2010

                        Andrews’ Rock House 2010
                         Glendale Ave & 175th Ave

    Elmer and Mary Andrews came to Arizona in 1935 from Marion, Ohio and worked the farms and orchards in the Clearwater Farms area, which at the time was known as Citrus Park.  They first lived in a dugout in the White Tank Mountains and then in a cabin at the farm camp on Citrus Road south of Northern Avenue.  Elmer earned 20 cents an hour working at the grapefruit cannery. 

Mary & Elmer Andrews

Mary & Elmer Andrews

When World War II started, the Andrews family went back to Ohio.  It was 1940 and Elmer had a job building cranes for the war effort.  The family spent the next seven years in Ohio and during that time Elmer studied nights and became an Ordained Minister.  With war jobs ending, the Andrews, with their four children, returned to Arizona and Citrus Park in 1947.  Elmer and Mary were supported by their church in Ohio for $35 per month to be missionaries at the farm labor camps. Living in the 29’ trailer Elmer had built, they returned to the same farm camp where they had once lived and worked.  Back at Citrus Park, the Andrews were given a cabin to use for a Sunday School.  There were about 50 camps within ten miles of Citrus Park at this time.  Elmer and Mary would set up a large tent and preach at the various camps, starting little church groups.

Elmer and Betty Andrews in grapefruit orchard

Elmer and Betty Andrews

    In 1949, the Andrews family was able to purchase six acres of grapefruit trees for $1200 on Glendale Avenue and 175thAvenue.  (They would eventually own 14 acres.)  Gathering rocks from the White Tank Mountains, the family built the larger of the two houses. 

Mary Andrews (center) in front of house in 1951

Mary Andrews (center) in front of house in 1951

Later, a second rock house was built for the oldest son and his wife.  The church they built was of wood and has not survived.  It was large enough to hold a congregation of over 100 and was at the east end of the property.   The church was 50 feet long and had a second story apartment where their daughter Doris and her husband lived.  Church services were held in English in the morning and in Spanish on Sunday afternoons. 

    The true legacy of the Andrews family was the hundreds of families they helped during those years.  Farm laborers in need knew to come to the rock house for food and the Andrews seemed to always find a way to help.   Local farmers gave what they had or allowed them to glean fields.  What could not be canned and given away was sold to buy more food.   The farm camps were emptying out in the late 50’s and in 1959 the Andrews left the area and moved to Buckeye.   The rock walls of the two houses still stand on eight empty acres in Clearwater Farms Unit II.  You can see the ruined foundation of the church under debris at the east end of the property. 

Spanish congregation at church

       Spanish congregation at church

My thanks to Doris Andrews Shankle for the use of her photos and sharing her memories of growing up in the orchard.

Hello Waddell!

My name is Karen Krause and I am writing a history of Waddell, Arizona and the White Tank Mountains.  I would love to see any information or photos you have to share.  Please enjoy the information I have found so far.  I always need imput on where I should look next or who to talk to.  Thanks.