Parker Canyon bears the name of an Arizona pioneering family, headed by William Andrew Parker, who along with several of his adult children, moved to the San Rafael Valley around 1881. “It wasn’t long before the area was known as Parker’s Creek, then as Parker Canyon.” [Kathy Goodwin. A Look at the Parker Family. Zopilote Press, 2006:23-24]. The canyon is best known today for Parker Canyon Lake which was constructed in the early 1960s.
William Parker was born in Tennessee in 1824. He married Mary Jane Tackett in Missouri in 1842. The couple moved to California around 1852 where they farmed in various areas of the state and had six children. In the early 1870s the family moved to the Phoenix area of Arizona Territory and by 1881 had moved to the San Rafael Valley. Several of their adult children homesteaded nearby, including sons John and James, and daughters Nancy Bennett and Martha Sorrells and their husbands.
William and Mary Jane never filed a homestead claim. They ranched just north of son James’160-acre claim until their deaths in 1891 and 1893 respectively. Jim Parker and his wife Margaret Emily “Emma” married in Phoenix in 1872 and had 13 children. Jim and Emma’s sons, George, Duke, Frank, and Robert Lee continued the Parker family ranching tradition on their own homesteads in the San Rafael Valley. Over ten Parker family homestead claims were registered with the Government Land Office in Santa Cruz and Cochise counties.
Two Parker family cemeteries exist. One is located on the site of James and Emma’s homestead, and the second is where William and Mary Jane ranched.
Early in the 1960s, articles about Parker Canyon began to appear in local newspapers as the proposed location of a new trout fishing lake. “The lake will cover 132 surface acres on the road from Canelo through Montezuma Pass – about 80 miles from Tucson. It’ll be a trout lake with Forest Service licensed concession” [Arizona Daily Star, 12/19/1960]. Arizona Game & Fish Department had responsibility for the construction and funding for the project. But before work could begin, the U.S District Forester in Albuquerque needed to issue authority to start work and complete a land exchange agreement “between the Forest Service and Amado rancher George Parker, whose land is to provide the bulk of the lake’s site.” [Tucson Daily Citizen, 3/1/1961].
George W. Parker, Jr. was the great-grandson of William and grandson of Jim. His father, George, was Jim and Emma’s oldest son. Born in 1908 in Nogales, George Jr. was raised on his father’s San Rafael Valley ranch. He was a noted marksman, becoming the Arizona Rifle Marksman champion at age 16. [Tucson Citizen, 5/8/1984]. His first career was in law enforcement, including as a U.S. Border Patrol officer. By 1940 he was working as a hunting guide and became a well-known big game hunter. George’s El Cazador [the hunter} Ranch in Amado had “a large room almost 50 feet long, 20 feet wide and 13 feet high at the main ranch house [with] a private collection of big game animal trophies that would be hard to equal anywhere in this country.” [Arizona Daily Star, 2/28/1960].
The land that George proposed to exchange with the Forest Service included the homestead of his uncle, Robert Lee Parker, and the homesteads of John Merritt and James Guthrie. It took until May 1961 for the exchange agreement to be finalized. The “bid call” to construct the lake and dam was opened on June 19. [Arizona Daily Star, 5/18/1961]. By June 1962 “Parker Canyon Dam, high in the Huachucas, was formally approved. The…90-foot high, 825-foot-long earth-and-stone structure will bottle up southern Arizona’s largest lake. Now all the officials can do is await the summer runoffs which eventually will fill the hole gouged from the 5,400-foot-high juniper country.” [Arizona Daily Star, 6/15/1962].
The lake was dedicated in summer of 1963 and opened for fishing in May 1964. It took until March 1965 before the lake was nearly full. [Arizona Daily Star, 3/20/1965]. George Parker owned the concessions at Parker Canyon Lake until the mid-1970s. He died in Amado in 1984, age 76.
Special thanks to Kathy Goodwin for sharing her in-depth knowledge of the Parker family and the photo that accompanies this article.