By Khevin Barnes

The author of this heretofore uncorroborated tale claims no responsibility for the accuracy nor the incidents contained here. And furthermore, he makes no guarantees of exactitude in sharing this marginally authentic accounting of the events that transpired in Vail, Arizona, under a full moon, two centuries ago.

Faint of heart be forewarned. The following is both a turbulent tale and an account of events sworn to be true by one Abraham Rincon, sometimes known as the “Saguaro Kid” who was both a prospector and a gambler, and on occasion was accused of being a scallywag and snake oil pitchman during the pioneer days of our fair city, and for whom a local mountain has been named to honor his obscure achievements. Though not well known, the rocky outcropping known as “Abe Rincon Peak” is still visible to sharp-eyed explorers just east of Pistol Hill.

But Abe wasn’t your average sort of street hustler like some of those you’d likely find in Tombstone or Buckeye long ago. In fact, lots of folks called him “Honest Abe” for his charitable work, mostly with the “Church of the Sacrosanct Coatimundi” and “The Javalina is not a Pig!” educational campaign. Additionally he was a failed prospector who had purchased 36 acres of desert land not far from the original Vail train station in hopes of striking gold.

The day was Friday June 15, 1821, nearly 200 years ago, and legend has it that Abe was riding his horse along the Old Spanish Trail when he encountered a number of strangers in a line of covered wagons. Upon questioning the group of travelers, the wagon train was found to contain 36 adults, 16 children, seven cows, 15 chickens and an irritable hound they called “boots”.

In those days, the area which would one day become the little town of Vail, was not much more than a water stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was located on the last section of flat land before the train tracks followed the old wagon road into the Cienega Creek bed.

Not one to pass up a good opportunity, Abe knew that the folks on this wagon train needed to find a place to settle, but not just any land in the parched patch of desert would do. They needed an incentive, and seeing an opportunity, his aim was to make the best of it. Abe Rincon was a clever man and had always liked having a backup plan for every failed business opportunity of his that ran dry, so he turned his 36 acres of unprofitable desert land into 18 two-acre parcels of home sites. Abe was proud of the big wooden sign that he had personally painted to welcome investors. It read “LOTS AVAILABLE”

But the best part of his plan was his offer that anyone purchasing a lot would have a good chance of discovering gold on their property. He promised that each home plot would have the beginnings of a small gold mine dug out of the sand and rock in the hopes that one of the lucky owners would strike it rich.

As you can imagine, the weary travelers purchased the 18 lots and began to build their homes and their lives in this brand new, as yet unnamed town just East of Tucson.

It didn’t take long for them to discover that the so-called gold mines on their land were simply holes in the desert, with no fortune to be found. Angrily, they called a town meeting and demanded that Abe be held accountable for leading them astray. Hoping to save himself from a lynching, Abe offered the following explanation.
“I never promised to make you rich” he said, “but I did hope to enrich your lives. It takes a heap of good people to create a town out of nothing with only a dream of a brighter future.
You see, it was never about the value of gold, but about the value of our little community that mattered. It was always about you the people. After all, a town’s gold lies in the people it houses. The treasure is all around you. It is you.”
The towns folk let out a thunderous cheer, and some wept openly and even danced in the sand, realizing that they had co-created something very special in a dry patch of desert. Naturally they voted to name Abe as the Mayor of the city and together they continued to live and thrive in this very special little town. Perhaps the most interesting twist to the tale is how the town finally got its name. Not long after the first summer monsoon blew across the land, Abe Rincon’s big advertising sign lost a few of the painted letters in the rain. All that remained that was readable in the “LOTS AVAILABLE” sign were the letters “VAIL”. And if you choose to believe such things, that’s a story as good as gold.
As for the original 18 lots that had been sold to the brave pioneers hoping for gold, exploratory holes had been dug in each of the small homesteads; 18 holes in all. They survived of course to become what we know today as the Rancho del Lago golf course.

Khevin Barnes is a local resident in Vail and a writer for CURE MAGAZINE and other publications for cancer survivors. He occasionally flies off in a fit of fiction to have a little fun. The real story of our city is far more interesting and you can discover it through the Vail Preservation Society.

About author View all posts

Guest Author