History came to Cave Creek on horseback in 1870. Soldiers from Fort McDowell rode past the imposing boulder piles in what is now Carefree, skirted the north side of Black Mountain, and rested at a shaded grassy spring just west of the present town center of Cave Creek.
The ferocious Tonto Apaches who cherished these desert Foothills had always been able to keep out intruders, but now they were largely subdued by General George Stoneman’s troops operating from bases at Prescott and Camp Verde. Those first soldiers came to Cave Creek not to fight Indians, but to mark out and improve a supply wagon road between Fort McDowell on the Verde River and Fort Whipple in Prescott.
By 1873, Cave Creek had attracted prospectors from the diggings in the Bradshaw Mountains. They found gold here, too, first on Gold Hill and later in scattered spots along upper Cave Creek. The gold boom fired imaginations and filled a few pockets for about 20 years. While plenty of gold was mined and processed, many now think that manipulating stocks and defrauding investors made more money.
But Cave Creek Station had come into being. Cattle ranching became lucrative during the lush years of the 1880s, and by 1886, there were enough children in the community to support a one-room schoolhouse.
Sheep took center stage here at the turn of the century when James D. Houck built a sheep-shearing station on what is now the Andora Hills section of Cave Creek. But extended droughts and overgrazing made both cattle and sheep ranching a big gamble in the Cave Creek area.
The town hit hard times during the second decade of the new century. For a time in the 1920s and 1930s, the town provided care and Spartan housing for tuberculosis sufferers seeking health in the sunlight and clear air of the West.
The languishing town perked up even more in the mid-1930s, when it became a recreation and supply base for workers who were building Horseshoe and Bartlett dams on the Verde River. But it was in the 1940s and 1950s when Cave Creek area began to take on much of its present form and character.
Three guest ranches (Spur Cross, Rancho Manana and Sierra Vista) introduced hundreds of people to the beauty of the desert foothills from 1928 to 1962. Plans for Carefree were drawn up in the late 1950s, and today it is an incorporated town of nearly 3,150 residents.
From horse soldiers to resort developments . . . it’s been a spectacle of historic dimensions. And for all who would like to know more of that spectacular history, the Cave Creek Museum is a great place to start.
The Museum’s north wing displays and explains prehistoric artifacts and a reproduction of a Hohokam house, while the south wing focuses on ranching, mining and pioneer life. The Research Library is rich in catalogued information. Also on the Museum grounds are a restored Historic Cave Creek Church, a tubercular cabin (now on the National Register), gazebo, and native botanical garden.
Cave Creek Timeline
700-1400 Indians Hohokam and Salado Indians
1870-1873 Military (Apache Wars); Military Road; Rancho Manana
1873 -1910 Mining Continental (first recorded in Cave Creek), Gold Hill, Mormon Girl, Maricopa, Phoenix Mines.
1877 -1920 Ranching Cave Creek Ranch (old Linville Place); CartwrightRanch; Houck Sheep Shearing Station
1925 -1935 TB Care Several TB Camps in Cave Creek area
1928 -1962 Guest Ranches Spur Cross; Rancho Manana; Sierra Vista-
1935-1943 Dam Building Barlett Dam, 1935-1938; Horseshoe Dam, 1940-1943
1960 on Resort/Retirement Carefree, and now Cave Creek