Saturday, March 31, 2012

Picacho Pass: April 1862

Recently I went on a road trip to Tucson, Arizona, with my mom and a friend. While there, my uncle kindly drove us to Picacho Peak State Park along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix. I had long wanted to visit this place as the site of the Picacho Pass skirmish is nearby. This was not the only clash between Union and Confederate soldiers in the Arizona Territory, but it is the most famous. Taking place on either April 15th or April 16th (the 15th seems to be the most accepted), the skirmish erupted as thirteen men led by Lieutenant James Barrett of the 1st California Cavalry scouted east of El Picacho, a 3,374 foot mountain. Another detachment was to pass to the west side of the mountain. The detachments were to capture a Confederate force stationed in the pass. Instead, Barrett and his men attacked the ten men from Captain Sherod Hunter’s Arizona Rangers. The fighting lasted for approximately one hour and a half; by the end Lieutenant Barrett had fallen dead along with Private George Johnson and W. S. Leonard (mortally wounded). Privates James Botsford, Peter Gann, and William Tobin were wounded. The Confederates lost three men captured: Sergeant Henry Holmes, William Dwyer, and John Hill. These three men were taken to Fort Yuma, California, where they were paroled in December 1862. The three prisoners maintained that a sizable force defended Tucson, and as a result, the Unionists retreated about forty miles. This small military action probably ended up delaying the advance of the California Column by a few weeks. An excellent source for this skirmish is Andrew E. Masich’s The Civil War In Arizona: The Story Of The California Volunteers, 1861-1865, a book that I have highlighted in an earlier posting. For other information about the events at Picacho Pass, the Picacho Peak State Park website includes a 4:35 minute video about the Civil War in the Southwest.

During my visit to Picacho Peak State Park, the weather was unstable with sleet falling intermittently. Here is a view of Picacho Pass where the skirmish took place:

According to Masich’s book, “In 1928 the Arizona Historical Society and the Southern Pacific Railroad erected a fifteen-foot stone obelisk in the railroad right of way between the tracks and the peak on a spot a railroad signal superintendent believed to be Barrett’s burial site” (p. 42). In 1975, the obelisk was moved near the entrance to the state park after a bronze plaque on the obelisk was stolen.

The park even includes a map depicting the action at Picacho Pass:

A courtyard area includes a wall with special plaques:

Lovely saguaro cacti dot the slopes of Picacho Peak and the Pass. This magnificent saguaro specimen on the slope of Picacho Peak may have witnessed the nearby skirmish.


  1. Jane,
    Is that your providing scale in the last photo?

    Also, did you notice the cacti in the background flipping you the bird when you were reading the plaque?

  2. Ack, no, I did not notice the cacti! That cacti must not have appreciated a visit by an Oklahoman...or else it just has a prickly personality. Sorry, I couldn't resist a pun.

    No, that is my friend in the photograph, however, we look so much alike that we are often taken for sisters.