Fish Canyon lies just north of, and runs parallel to, Gardner Canyon. Vehicular access is via Gardner Canyon Road. Familiar landmarks along Fish Canyon Road include Santa Rita Abbey and Kentucky Camp. The canyon bears the name of Edward Nye Fish, a southern Arizona entrepreneur and businessman who arrived in Arizona Territory in 1865.
Edward Nye (E.N.) Fish was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts August 12, 1827. Trained as a wheelwright and tinsmith, he responded to the lure of the California Gold Rush, not in search of gold, but rather to make his fortune through business ventures in support of the growing population and economy. Fish and partners arrived in San Francisco via ship in 1849 with “frame houses cut and ready to assemble. There was plenty of money, but housing was nonexistent. The men purchased lots on Mason Street at the corner of Market and assembled their houses. While still under construction, the houses were sold for a fabulous sum.” [Lyons, Bettina. A History of the Edward Nye Fish House and Edward Nye Fish Family. Tucson: Tucson Museum of Art, June 1980: 9].
Between 1849 and 1865 Fish owned and operated hardware stores in Sacramento, on the American River, and in San Francisco. He married Barbara Jamison in 1861 and they had two children: Jane Elizabeth and Edward Nye Jr.
Fish arrived in Tucson in 1865 and was first associated with the firm of Garrison and Fish, post traders in Calabasas. He next partnered with a San Francisco associate, Simon Silverberg, to establish the E.N. Fish & Co. store in Tucson. He built a fine home for his family in the center of Tucson. His wife Barbara lived only a few years in Tucson before returning to San Francisco where she died in 1872 of tuberculosis. In 1874 Fish married Maria Wakefield, the first public school teacher in Tucson; Maria was born in Bombay, New York on February 9, 1845. The couple had four children: Franklin, Clara, Emma, and Florence. [Lyons: 12].
Throughout his life Fish was involved in many business enterprises and made and lost several fortunes. He often provided the financing and left the operational details to others. For example, his brother-in-law, William Wakefield, proved up the 160-acre homestead that Walter Vail and Herbert Hislop purchased in 1876 to establish the Empire Ranch. In June 1876 Wakefield sold the land for $500 to Fish and Silverberg who in turn sold it to Vail & Hislop for $2,000.
Fish owned a sawmill in the Santa Rita Mountains, and hired others to run it and supply lumber for sale at E.N. Fish & Co. He later sold the sawmill to Thomas Gardner and partnered with Gardner to raise horses. Fish eventually purchased his own horse ranch in Fish Canyon where, according to his granddaughter Virginia Flaccus, “he took on a herd of wild horses. They were beautiful animals. I think they were the remains of the Spanish herd that was brought over here, because, really, they looked like Arabian stock.” [Flaccus, Virginia, Oral history, Empire Ranch Foundation, July 3, 2002:4].
Maria Wakefield Fish, age 64, died on September 22, 1909. Edward Nye Fish, age 87, died at his home in Tucson on December 18, 1914. The home still stands and is part of the Tucson Museum of Art complex at 140 N. Main Street.