02. Dr. Chandler's Arrival in Arizona Territory

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    In 1939, Dr. Alexander John Chandler sat down with a reporter from Arizona Highways magazine to tell the story of his arrival in Arizona.  The story, as it appeared in the April edition that year, was as much fact as it was fiction. 

    The only passenger to alight from the west-bound train at Seligman, Arizona, junction on the Santa Fe one August night back in ’87, was a blue-eyed, boyish looking chap, who waited patiently while his luggage was being dumped onto a dark station platform.

    The panting locomotive gave a rasping gasp, coughed protestingly, then moved noisily out of the station, its few coaches clattering, taking with them, so far as he could see, every other living mortal west of east.

    In the distance a weird wail and a crescendo of taunting yaps rent the curtain of the night as the lone traveler stood watching the pinpoint of light from the locomotive until it was swallowed by velvet blackness.

    Stumbling around he finally ran into a bulky shadow which proved to be the inn where the sleepy landlord put him up for the night.  The next day the branch line train carried him to Prescott, then the Capital of Arizona territory.

    ‘Welcome to Arizona, Dr. Chandler!’ was the greeting of Will C. Barnes to the smiling man alighting from the coach.  Thus on August 8, 1887, without fanfare of triumphant entry, Dr. A. J. Chandler was welcomed to Arizona as its first territorial veterinarian – a man destined to become a power in the development and economic future of the state.

    A law passed by the territorial legislature that spring had established the Cattle Sanitary Board of Arizona for the protection of the rapidly growing livestock industry.  The Board was authorized to employ a veterinarian.

    Two members of the Board, Will C. Barnes and C. M. Bruce, were sent to Washington to contact Dr. Salmon, Chief of the Division of Animal Husbandry.  He advised them to go to Detroit, Michigan, to interview a young Canadian by the name of Chandler, who was making a success of his profession.

    Stopping off there on his way home, Bruce located the young man and liked him at sight – liked his smile, his clear blue eyes and the clear cut angle of his jaw which suggested strength and determination.

    Much to the envoy’s surprise, the young man took up his offer at once; although the salary was only a pittance compared to his present income.

    What Bruce did not know was that Dr. Chandler was looking for a chance to go west and launch out in a business career.  The proposition seemed the gateway leading to a ‘land of promise’ – a magnetic Yukon of opportunity.  The young challenger was eager to stake all on his belief in himself and his ability to storm the gateway wherein lay either nuggets or fool’s gold.

    Arizona was in the throes of a devastating drought when the new veterinarian arrived.  Livestock was dying at an alarming rate and vegetation was burned up.  Unaccustomed to a desert country and having just left the fresh green region around Detroit, the newcomer was disappointed and disillusioned.  How could one save sick cattle already dying of starvation?  Here was fool’s gold instead of nuggets in this Yukon of his dreams.

    He decided to go to California.  He handed in his resignation to a startled and reluctant Board.  Mr. Bruce was particularly insistent that he wait a little longer before making a definite move.  The young man was obdurate, but compromised by accepting an invitation to visit the ranch before making his decision.

    Thus far Chandler’s knowledge of the new territory was confined to Prescott and vicinity.  There was no railroad to Phoenix.  Only a narrow wagon road, little better than a trail, led over the mountains down through the Black Canyon to the little inland village.

    To the prairie-bred Canadian, such roads were an unknown quantity and the report of that two-day trip was lavishly garnished with chuckles.  The two nuns were his only traveling companions.

    The clattering of hoofs and the grinding of brakes played a sickening accompaniment as the stage rocked its breath-taking way down the steep grades.  Sometimes its sides scraped the boulders that jutted thick along the towering mountain walls, or teetered perilously on some canyon rim.

    The terrified nuns, with tear drenched faces, knelt in the bottom of the stage zealously telling their beads.

    The rain and he got to Phoenix the same night.  Until then, only one of Arizona’s many faceted sides – the dry one – had been introduced to the Detroiter.  Now, with the town flooded, another side – the wet one - was presented.

    Three weeks passed before he could get out of Phoenix – time enough to have his first impression of Arizona knocked into a cocked hat.  Vegetation was springing up like magic and people everywhere were jubilant.

    A trip to the Barbacomari ranch of the Bruces in southeastern Arizona, where thousands of sleek Herefords were seen feeding on lush grass-covered mesas, and his conversion was completed. 

    He decided to return after his visit to California – not to look after sick cattle all his life – but help bring water to a thirsty land.

    In California, he visited irrigation districts and found such lands selling for a thousand dollars an acre.  He decided what had been done in that older country could be duplicated in a newer one where lands were cheap.

    He resigned his office in ’92 to devote his entire time to the development of his dream of a huge irrigation project and the establishment of a new empire out on the desert about twenty miles southeast of Phoenix.1

     Several aspects of this version of the story are true: Dr. Chandler was approached by C. M. Bruce and Will C. Barnes to guage his interest in becoming Territorial Veterinary Surgeon for the Arizona Territory, and he accepted their offer despite having a successful veterinary business in Detroit.2

    One of Dr. Chandler's largest clients in Detroit was Dexter M. Ferry, founder of the Ferry Seed Company, the nation's largest distributor of seed.  Ferry and his partner in the seed business, Charles C. Bowen, saw an opportunity in the offer to Dr. Chandler to get into the lucrative business of land speculation.  Acting as an agent on the ground, Chandler went to Arizona backed by an almost unlimited flow of money from Ferry and Bowen                      

    1.  Blanche K. Murray, "Empire Builder.......," Arizona Highways Magazine, April 1939

    2.  Link to Chandler's listings in the Detroit directories


    Exhibit Home 03. Dr. Chandler's Drive West ► 
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