Riding The Arizona Trails

 Stories From The Wild West Gazette


Ethel and Pancho by Rod Timanus

Pancho Villa. Perhaps no other name in Mexican history, other than Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, can elicit a wider variety of impassioned perceptions.

Villa has been described, with equal intensity, as a heartless bandit, a cold-blooded killer, a shameless self-promoter, a heroic revolutionary, and a champion of the poor and downtrodden. In truth, he was probably all of those things to one degree or another.

Villa was the absolute ruler of the northern Mexican province of Chihuahua, an area he had lived in, PANCHO VILLA THE DAY AFTER HIS VICTORY IN OJINAGA IN 1914and exploited, since his arrival there from Durango in 1897 at the age of twenty. Between 1897 and 1900, Villa rustled cattle, robbed banks, and always managed to skillfully avoid capture and punishment for his crimes. He amassed a following of like-minded individuals and was soon a very powerful bandit leader. When he and his bandit army joined forces with a revolutionary army raised by Francisco Madero in 1910 to help overthrow the oppressive government of Porfirio Diaz, Villa became a revered hero to the populace and was named governor of Chihuahua. The revolution both succeeded and failed within a short period of time and Villa’s forces soon came under attack by other segments of the revolutionary army. By 1912, open warfare raged throughout Mexico, but Villa and his army could not be dislodged from their Chihuahua stronghold.

It was during this time of dangerous turmoil that Villa encountered Ethel Exile Bingham Farnsworth, a strong-willed Mormon woman who stood her ground and refused to be intimidated by the great and powerful Pancho Villa.

In 1875, Brigham Young had ordered a five-man expedition to ride from Utah to northern Mexico to explore the possibility of creating Mormon settlements there. After the expedition was met cordially by Mexican authorities, land was purchased, and all necessary arrangements were made, in 1885 Mormon colonists from Utah arrived to begin construction of their new homes. The first, and ultimately most successful, of the nine Mormon settlements was located in Chihuahua and was named Colonia Juarez. By the time Ethel Exile Bingham, born in Riverside, Utah in 1887, married Stephen August Farnsworth there in 1903, the community was productive and thriving.

Colonia Juarez, with its red brick houses, irrigated farmland and orchards, tanneries, gristmills, mercantiles, and a cannery, provided an ideal environment for the Mormon colonists. Relations with the local Mexican population were generally good, although the Mormons were considered rich compared to the dirt poor native inhabitants. Stephen ranched and farmed his property, while Ethel kept his house and bore him four children, two boys and two girls, before 1912.

By that time the Mexican Revolution had raged throughout the countryside for two years, with rebel armies fighting government troops and each other for power. Revolutionaries and federal soldiers alike roamed the land taking whatever they wanted or needed from the civilian population at the point of a gun, ruthlessly executing whoever objected to their thievery. The Colonia Juarez citizens began to hide caches of food, valuables, and their livestock in the nearby Sierra Madre mountains to keep them from being stolen. It was such a dangerous and chaotic time that President Howard Taft ordered all Americans living in Mexico to leave for their own safety. Between 2,000 to 6,000 Mormon colonists wisely chose to join the exodus across the border to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

However, by 1913 many Mormon families began to return to Mexico, either thinking the worst was over or overwhelmed by curiosity about the fate of their homes and property. Stephen and Ethel, with their children, came back to Colonia Juarez to find it a ravaged, looted wasteland. Their home had been burned and they were obliged to take up residence in a nearby house that had escaped major damage. The rebel army of Pancho Villa now occupied the town and had ransacked all the homes and stores, carting away everything useful and destroying all else. Villa’s headquarters was situated in a large house behind the local school, or Stake Academy, while the Farnsworth family lived only a block away.

The Academia Juarez has existed since 1897.
It goes from 7th to 12th grade.

While Ethel cared for the children and put the house in order, Stephen busied himself gathering firewood and whatever foodstuffs he could find to augment the meager supplies they had brought with them. He had several large piles of collected wood around the house that the rebel soldiers soon discovered made perfect observation posts and defensive positions. Each day the soldiers, some mere boys, would sit atop the woodpiles watching for the approach of any enemy and Ethel, ever the charitable woman, would send her children out laden with plates of beans and slices of fresh-baked bread for the ragged sentries to eat. But when word of her kindness spread, she found herself feeding not only the rebel soldiers but several of her Mexican neighbors also. Each day she supplied meals for a mentally handicapped orphan boy, a blind old man, and a young widow and her children.

Soon, though, Stephen decided he must ride up into the nearby mountains to discover the fate of the livestock previously hidden there. He took his sons with him, leaving Ethel and the girls in possession of the remaining family horse, a sorrel they called Dick, to use in case of emergency. There being no trouble with Villa’s soldiers and no indication that any hostilities were likely to break out, Stephen obviously felt secure leaving his wife and daughters alone and unprotected. But the very next morning after Stephen’s departure, when Ethel went out to the corral near the house to feed Dick she was dismayed to find the gate securely fastened but the horse gone. Knowing exactly what had happened, Ethel marched resolutely down the block to Villa’s headquarters. In a rope corral there she spotted her horse among the others inside the crude enclosure, and without hesitation she ducked under the rope.

She untied her apron and slipped it around the neck of her horse, leading him out of the herd and under the rope barrier right into the gun sights of a startled guard who started shouting at her to stop right where she was. The clamor raised by the guard caught the attention of other soldiers nearby and they ran to the spot with their weapons at the ready. Now confronted by a mob of heavily armed rebel soldiers shouting and gesturing at her all at once, Ethel realized that her life could end in an instant.

”I want to speak to General Villa!” she shouted above the din.

After a short consultation, the soldiers decided to grant her demand and promptly marched her over to Villa’s headquarters. Once inside, Ethel was ushered into a where Pancho Villa waited. He was an imposing figure, thick-bodied and standing taller than most of his soldiers, with a broad face and high forehead. The whole time the soldiers were explaining the situation to him, he fixed Ethel with a fierce scowl that made her knees tremble. She knew of his reputation for ordering executions on a suspicion or whim, and had also heard tales of his insatiable appetite for women. She was terrified, but determined not to show it.

When the soldiers finished their list of charges, Villa nodded his head slightly toward Ethel to indicate she was now free to speak.

”General Villa,” she said without hesitation, ”The horse is mine! Your soldiers stole him from me even after I shared my food with them and your people. You say your revolution is to protect the poor and weak. Well, I’m poor and alone and I need my horse to go for help in case my children get sick. It’s my horse and your soldiers had no right to take him!”

A thick silence followed Ethel’s pronouncement. The soldiers shifted uneasily and glanced at each other. Villa continued to glare at her. With a look of anticipation, she returned his stare with equal intensity. Then, slowly, Villa’s eyes softened and his thick mustache twitched slightly as the corners of his mouth curled up in a grin. In the next instant, he threw back his head and laughed heartily.

”I admire a brave woman!” he announced, ”You may take your horse!”

Ethel Exile Bingham Farnsworth went home with her horse that day, and with the story of an extraordinary encounter she would relate to her family, her children, and her grandchildren in the years to follow. She passed away in Chandler, Arizona in 1960.

     Pancho Villa, however, was not lucky enough to see old age. He was assassinated in 1923 near the town of Parral, Mexico.

      Mr. E.B. Farnsworth of Glendale, Arizona kindly shared the written family history about his grandmother which this article chronicles.  Art By Rod Timanus Photo Compliments of Pancho Villa Website.           



On the Arizona Trail - by Rod Timanus - Published WWG Vol 2 No 6 Nov 2008

Pioneer Living History Village and Deer Valley Rock Art Center

Probably the two best kept secrets in the Valley of the Sun, except to schoolchildren who have visited on class fieldtrips over the years, are steeped in so much tangible history that it is hard to imagine that they remain virtually unknown to the general public.

Pioneer Living History Village, open since 1969, started out as the vision of several prominent politicians who lamented the loss of Arizona’s territorial past to the sprawl of urban development and population increase. Senators Carl Hayden and Barry Goldwater, among others, helped spearhead a drive to save many of the state’s older buildings from the wrecking ball and relocate them to a safe site. On a state land lease property donated by the Robert Lockett family in 1962, Pioneer Living History Village was born in 1966 with the relocation and reconstruction of two one-room log buildings dating back to 1875-80. The Schoolhouse and Teacherage which once stood in Gordon Canyon, 30 miles east of Payson, became the centerpieces of the Pioneer Village experience.

Over the years many more buildings were added to the site, including a Ranch cabin (1870) from Gordon Canyon, the Opera House (1876) from Prescott, the Ashurst Cabin (1879) from Anderson Mesa near Flagstaff, the Northern Cabin.

(1885) from Newman Canyon also near Flagstaff, and the Flying V Cabin (1880) from Pleasant Valley near Young. From Phoenix came the Holsum Bakery building (1880), the Wheelwright Shop (1890), and the Victorian House (1890). From Glendale came the Jack Farmhouse (1885), and the Meritt House (1890).

Many recreated buildings were constructed, patterned after real structures that no longer exist, to fill in time gaps and represent other aspects of frontier living. All together they help create the experience of walking the unpaved streets of a town that might have existed during the days of Arizona Territory (1863-1912). To further enhance the feel of stepping back in time, most of the buildings are outfitted with period furniture and implements the early pioneers would have been quite familiar with.

Interpreters in period clothing can also be found in several buildings, ready to answer any questions and share stories of Arizona history.

Although there are gun safety demonstrations for the schoolchildren, a very important part of the experience, and tongue-in-cheek cowboy action shootouts staged for the entertainment of the audience of visitors, Pioneer Living History Village is still the real deal. It is not a reconstructed or false-front town where behind every door can be found a restaurant or gift shop ready to relieve the visitor of his cash with an array of food, drink, and baubles. It would be safe to say that there is more collective and real Arizona history here than anywhere else in the state.

For more information click here Pioneer Living History Village

Photo credit Barbara Prichard aka Tumbleweed Tillie Official Photographer of the Wild West Gazette & Pioneer Living History Village. Rod Timanus is an accomplished, published western writer and member of Western Writers of America. 



The Deer Valley Rock Art Center presents a far older picture of Arizona history, a history of the Native Trailpeople inhabiting this valley long centuries ago. The site was discovered during the construction of the Adobe Dam in 1980 at a location known as Hedgpeth Hills, and was developed by the Flood Control District of Maricopa County. While the Flood Control District owns the dam, the land, and the building, Arizona State University operates the site through the School of Human Evolution and Social Change department.

The ancient petroglyphs, images actually carved into the stone as opposed to painted on (pictographs), found here were created hundreds, probably thousands, of years ago by the people living in the area. Each new generation added their own symbolic markings to the local rocks until an artistic record was created for us to wonder at and about today. To this day researchers are still trying to decipher what many of the images mean, although many are easily recognizable as people and animals. This place was obviously important, even sacred, to that ancient race of people. They speak to us today through the carved images they left behind in the desert.

The visitor center, through which you enter the site, is a modest building with exhibits geared more toward children. Once outside, though, children and adults alike will marvel at the 1500 petroglyphs found on a hillside just a quarter-mile walk along a clearly marked path. Along the way the desert plants and geology are certainly interesting, with identifying signs, but the real treat is at the end of the trail where the petroglyphs are located. You could spend much enjoyable time trying to spot all the images, benches under shade are provided for that purpose, and marveling at the ingenuity it took to create them using rough tools.

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center is located on West Deer Valley Road just west of 35th Avenue (watch for the entrance on your right when the road curves). The hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 12pm to 5pm, October through April and Tuesday-Sunday 8am to 2pm May through September.

Both these locations, Pioneer Living History Village and the Deer Valley Rock Art Center, will provide an interesting glimpse into the past of Arizona many visitors do not see, experience, or understand. These two locations are not well advertised and therefore not easy to find, but are definitely worth the time and effort to do so if you are even remotely interested in the lives and beliefs of the people who were here long ago and who helped shape the Arizona we know today.



On the Arizona Trail - by Rod Timanus Published WWG Vol 2 No 5 Sept 2008

  Montezuma Castle National Monument

     Just a 90 minute drive north on I-17 from Phoenix, 45 minutes south from Flagstaff, stands a very tangible link to the ancient past of Arizona that will inspire and amaze any traveler. Perched  100 feet above the ground within a massive recess in the face of a limestone cliff, the ruins of Montezuma Castle stand in silent witness to the passage of the centuries.

     Located within the Verde Valley, this apartment-like dwelling was constructed in the 12th century entirely by hand using primitive tools and materials.  The builders were the Sinagua Indians, so named by the Spanish, who mysteriously disappeared into the shadows of history around the 1400s.

It was, and is, a marvel of ancient construction skills, and in its heyday stood five levels tall with a total of twenty separate rooms of various sizes. Nearby, at the base of the cliff, once stood a six-story structure of forty-five rooms that has deteriorated to the point of being almost a pile of rubble. The cliff dwelling, with its protective stone overhang, has survived the last 600 years in much better condition. In fact, it is one of the best-preserved ancient native structures in the Southwest.

     The Sinagua were an agricultural people who had abandoned their hunter-gatherer life, although they did hunt to supplement their diet, but had long since deserted their homes by the time the Spanish arrived in the area in the late 1500s. If the Spanish explorers glimpsed the cliff dwelling they were not impressed enough to leave any record. It was the first Anglo settlers in the 1860s who gave the site the distinctive and erroneous name of Montezuma Castle, believing that the structure must be Aztec in origin.

      By 1897, members of the Arizona Antiquarian Association began restoration on the site and in 1906 it was named a National Monument by a presidential proclamation issued by Theodore Roosevelt. Since that time the federal government has managed the site, and has purchased adjacent private lands to expand and preserve the surrounding area in its original condition.

     Viewed now only from below, over thirty years ago the practice of allowing tourists to climb up to the structure via a series of installed ladders and wander through its rooms was ended, the Castle is still an impressive sight.

At the base of the cliff a series of paved trails wander 1/3 of a mile through stately sycamore trees and beside a meandering stream, providing views of the cliff dwelling from varied and interesting angles. Benches are provided to rest and relax while taking in the sights and sounds of the natural environment.

Inside the park visitor center there are exhibits of artifacts and a modest gift store that provide more information on the Sinagua people who built the Castle and the history of the site.

     The 102-year old park is open daily 8am to 6pm from June through August and 8am to 5pm from September through May. Admission price is a quite manageable $5.00 for adults 16 and over and free for children under 16. It is located just off exit 289 of I-17 on Montezuma Castle Road.

     For a tranquil, go-at-your-own-pace stroll through an ancient site without the hustle, bustle, and crowds associated with other Arizona attractions or similar areas, this trip is highly recommended.



Rod & Tillie have participated in the following events with Wild West Gazette: 

  • Mesa 2008 Wild West Days Oct 2008
  • Spirit of the Old West Alive Nov 5th, 2008
  • Spirit of the Old West Alive Nov 19th, 2008
  • Cowboy Santa at Frontier Town Nov 29-30th & Dec 13-14th, 2008
  • Rendezvous of Gunfighters Yuma AZ Jan 1, 2009
  • Various Events at Pioneer Village 2009