The town of Crittenden was created 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. For almost 20 years Crittenden thrived until the railroad station was moved to Patagonia, a few miles south. This is the first in a series of articles about the community and its most prominent area residents. Two individuals mentioned below, John Smith and Rollin R Richardson were the topic of the Glimpses article in August 2021 and February 2019 respectively.

This section of George Roskruge’s 1893 Official Map of Pima County identifies major ranch and property owners in the Crittenden area. The red line traces the route Peterson probably used on his mail route.

Information about Crittenden residents between 1882 and 1900 can only be gleaned from newspaper accounts. The 1890 census data are not available because the census records were damaged in a 1920 fire in the Commerce Department building. Tucson newspapers received periodic reports from Crittenden: “From Captain John Smith, of Crittenden…the following items were gathered… The railroad company have sixty-five men at work constructing a hundred-foot bridge across the Sonoita River fourteen miles below Crittenden. Richardson & Co. are doing well in agricultural matters. Crittenden gives promise of becoming a town. At present it has a store and post office, two restaurants, one blacksmith shop, two saloons, one section house, depot, two residences and nearby a Mexican camp. It is a distributing point for Harshaw, Red Rock, La Noria, Washington Camp, San Rafael, Santa Rita and Gringoria. There is about 150 people in and around the place at present and are all busy.” [Arizona Weekly Citizen, 7/28/1883]. 

An 1885 article notes: “the town of Crittenden is not a very extensive place…but it is a very busy little town… More ore is shipped from Crittenden than from any other railroad station in Southern Arizona. Crittenden has an excellent school taught by Mr. A. P. Wright” The businesses mentioned include John Smith’s general store; blacksmith and miner A. J. Stockton, meat market owners Vanderlip & Stevens, railroad agent R.J. Zeimet, and a restaurant “kept by the two ladies who formerly conducted the German restaurant on Church Plaza in this city.” [Tucson Citizen, 9/23/1885]. 

Though the community was thriving, living in the area in the 1880s was dangerous. Apaches were still raiding in Arizona and Mexico and the closest military installation, Fort Crittenden, had closed in 1873. On July 22, 1885, a Crittenden resident, Frank Peterson, was killed while carrying the mail. His route began when the mail arrived by train at 7 pm. He was required to deliver the mail to Harshaw that same evening [ca. 6 miles]. His route the next day went from Harshaw to Locheil and Washington Camp [ca. 10 miles], and returning to Crittenden via Harshaw. When he did not return on July 23, his wife of 18 days drove to Harshaw to learn that local citizens were alarmed that Peterson had not passed through town that day. A search party began to look for him and “Early on the morning of the 24th… the body of Mr. Peterson was found near the road not far from the old Mowry mines. His lifeless body must have lain in the sun and in the night since the previous afternoon. The mail wagon was also found the remains of the mail pouch and the trail of four horses two having shoes and two without the former being those of those of the mail carrier. Murder and robbery had been committed.” [Tucson Citizen, 7/27/1885].

A subsequent account provided by Emil Sydow, Lochiel postmaster noted: “When Petersen left Lochiel…he felt somewhat nervous, as news had come from the authorities of Santa Cruz that the Indians had killed Andres Lopez and E. Ruiz two miles beyond San Lazaro, about 18 miles from Lochiel, and that the Indians…would likely cross the Patagonia mountains through San Antonio pass. Peterson left about 11 am and Mr. Sydow left about an hour and a half later and heard the shots that killed Peterson while he was going up the long hill about seven miles from Lochiel. He passed the place of the murder…but did not notice anything, as the Indians had obliterated all tracks and traces. [Arizona Weekly Citizen, 8/8/1885]. Captain Henry Lawton, U.S. Army, pursued the alleged murderers but there are no reports of their capture. [Arizona Weekly Citizen, 8/1/1885].

Peterson was buried in Crittenden on July 25th, “on the rising ground back of the town.” [Tucson Citizen, 7/27/1885]. “He was one of our best citizens and was respected by all who knew him.” [St. Johns Herald, 7/30/1885].