by Rob Samuelsen

The Ghost of Christmas Past is alive and well in Arizona.  Taking Ebenezer Scrooge on a quick tour of Arizona’s past, the ghost guides Scrooge to the December 25th, 1847 dry camp of the Mormon Battalion.  This Christmas Camp provided a brief respite after an 18-mile day heading northwest from Picacho Peak towards the Gila River.  While today, it’s protected and memorialized by the Sonora Desert National Monument west of Maricopa, in 1847 it was a God-forsaken place between the mileposts of agony and despair.  The battalion had run out of water, feeding on food rations, and they were still miles away from the life-giving sustenance of the Gila.  Were it not for friendly encounters with Indian guides, the Scrooge could have wreaked havoc on this motley band of dispirited warriors.

The next guided visit takes Scrooge to Christmas, Arizona, a townsite so named for its staking on Christmas Day in 1902.  Established to support copper mines in the Dripping Springs Mountains northeast of Winkelman, it took an act of Congress to gerrymander the Apache Reservation around the deposits so the white man could exploit its riches.  News of this action arrived on Christmas Eve, hence the holiday moniker for this settlement.  Fate, though, plagued miners with bankruptcies and storekeepers with closures ultimately leading to the demise of Christmas.  Today, Freeport McMoran controls the area and only phantasmal cousins of the Ghost of Christmas Past reside in the crevasses and ruins of what now remains.

Finally, the Ghost takes Scrooge 14 miles northwest of Kingman, Arizona to Santa Claus.  Santa Claus Acres, established in 1937, captured visions of grandeur from wannabe real estate developers.  Based on the hopes of capitalizing on Santa’s fame, this section of parched desert could not overcome its desolation.  Even the well-travelled State Route 83 could not bring success to this hamlet and all that remains today are several vandalized buildings, a vacant wishing well, and the “Old 1225,” a derailed, pink children’s train tagged with graffiti that mar the hand-painted renderings of Santa and his elves.

Ebenezer Scrooge sees the error of his ways.  Christmas Camp is abandoned by explorers, Christmas is abandoned by miners, and Santa Claus is abandoned by real estate developers.  The five “C’s” of the state are marred by the three devils of southwestern society.  While citrus, cattle, and climate bring hope and optimism, explorers, miners, and developers leave behind heartache and ruin.  The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals the dark history of Arizona as Scrooge’s role plays out before his eyes.  The elves are gone, Santa’s workshop is empty, and Santa is without a sleigh.

“These are the shadows of things that have been,” screams Scrooge in an attempt to deny his part in history.  Little did I consider how Charles Dicken’s epic story A Christmas Carol could correspond to long lost ambitions in Arizona’s past.  May we reject the spirit of Ebenezer, embrace the yearnings of hope, and rejoice in the glory of the season!

About author View all posts

Guest Author