Smith Canyon, north of Patagonia on the west side of Highway 82, gets its name from John Smith who owned property and businesses in the community of Crittenden (not to be confused with Fort Crittenden). Crittenden was established about 1882 when the New Mexico & Arizona (NM&A) railroad established a stop to serve the mines at Harshaw, Lochiel, and Washington Camp and the Crittenden Land & Cattle Company owned by Rollin R. Richardson. “The leading business houses at Crittenden are those of John Smith, general merchandise and hotel; William Powers, blacksmith and wagon shop; James Kane hotel.” [The Oasis, 5/13/1899]. 

Smith Hotel, 1880s. The second story of the building, which was accessed by an outside staircase, was removed after it was damaged in the 1887 earthquake. The one-story building still stands today on the west side of Highway 82 a few miles north of Patagonia. Photo courtesy Empire Ranch Foundation

John Smith was born in Denmark in 1843 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1865. In 1866 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with the 6th Cavalry until 1871 when he was discharged near Ft. Hayes, KS. “After his discharge from the army in 1871 he went to Texas and engaged in the cattle business, where he was cleaned out by Indians in 1873.” [The Oasis, 5/13/1899].

He next lived in New Mexico and in 1881 came to Arizona “just as the construction of the New Mexico & Arizona railway was commenced out of Benson. He entered the service of the railway, where he remained until the construction reached Crittenden, when grasping the business opportunity he opened the first store in the place, and constructed the first house.” [The Oasis, 5/13/1899]. John quickly became a town leader and owned several businesses, served as Postmaster (1884-1886; 1888-1901), Notary Public, and Mayor.

In 1886 John married Helena Rieger who was born in Germany in 1855. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1878 and lived in California for several years before moving to Tucson where she met John. [Arizona Daily Star, 12/1/1935]. “Our merchant and postmaster John Smith and Alisa Helena Rieger of this place were joined in wedlock Monday evening. Numerous guests were present at the ceremony and heartily congratulated the newly married pair. After the congratulations everybody repaired to Emil Sydow’s place to swing the ‘light fantastic.’” [Tucson Citizen, 11/13/1886]. The couple had three children: Helene, born in 1889; Oliver, born in 1890; and Emeline, born in 1894. Emeline died in 1896 and was buried in the Crittenden Cemetery on the hill behind the town.

John and Helena were best known for their hotel, a two-story stone building, across the road from the NM&A depot. Daughter Helene recalled that her mother managed the hotel, which was frequented by local miners, railway passengers, and other travelers. “If guests at the hotel were flush with money, they paid 50 cents a night and slept on the first floor. For the men who slept in the big second-story dormitory, the cost per night was 25 cents.” Helene also helped: “As early as I can remember, it was my job to keep all the lamps filled with kerosene and the lamp chimneys clean and shining. When I was 9 years old, Jim [the Chinese cook] taught me how to bake bread and from that day on it was my task to keep the hotel supplied with bread.” [Tucson Daily Citizen, 5/30/1963].

Crittenden remained a thriving community until about 1900 when the railroad station was discontinued. [Arizona Daily Star, 8/9/1900]. In 1901 the post office was closed, and the schoolhouse was moved to Patagonia. [The Oasis, 2/2/1901; 5/25/1901]. After closing the Smith Hotel, John and Helena bought and managed Patagonia’s Crocomb Hotel for a time. [Arizona Daily Star, 1/16/1907]. In 1907 the couple reopened the Smith Hotel when the Mansfield mining camp provided sufficient business. 

John lived and worked in Crittenden until his death in 1916. Helena stayed on in stone house until her death in 1935. Daughter Helene May, son-in-law Charles May, and their two daughters, Vivian and Argenta, lived with Helena. Charles and Helene, and their daughter Vivian May Davis and Vivian’s family lived in the stone house until Vivian’s death in 1995.

John and Helena, Charles and Helene, and Vivian and her husband Richard, are all buried in the Crittenden Cemetery.

The Smith’s son Oliver (Ole) moved to Alaska to work as a mine bookkeeper and postmaster. He married Anna Early in 1916 and they had three children: Royal, Forrest, and Virginia. Ole returned to Miami, AZ by 1930 and is buried in Pinal Cemetery.