Print Bill Cowan wrote the book on Verde Valley
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 00:00

There were numerous celebrations around the state last week to mark the 100th anniversary of Arizona’s statehood, the centennial mark of when the territory became the 48th state in the union.

It was perfect timing for the Lake Montezuma Women’s Civic Club to learn about the history of a particularly near and dear part of Arizona, the Verde Valley.

The women, decked out in several shades of red to mark the Valentine’s Day and state birthday occasion, gathered at the Lodge at Cliff Castle on the Yavapai-Apache Nation to listen to Bill Cowan, a historian who recently authored a book on the history of the Verde Valley as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.

Author Bill Cowan listens to his introduction to the Lake Montezuma Women’s Civic Club in Camp Verde on Feb. 14. Cowan spoke to the club on Arizona Statehood Day about the 100 years of Arizona history.Through words and photographs, Cowan tells the story of this area from its earliest inhabitants to the explorers and settlers who transformed the Verde Valley.

A member of the Yavapai County Centennial Committee, Cowan said he learned much of the area’s history through his years working for the U.S. Forest Service.

Much of the rest he learned while slinging tequila shots as a bartender at the Mormon Lake Lodge.

“I was not only drinking tequila but pouring it into many an old man,” Cowan said. “There’s no better place to get a story.”

Among other achievements, Cowan was also largely responsible for starting the tradition of the annual duck race up in Lake Montezuma’s Sycamore Park.

Cowan said he remembers when he first moved to the Verde Valley, back when Sedona wasn’t much more than “two tomahawk shops and a Shell station.”

There was a time, Cowan said, when people in the Verde Valley considered themselves practically residents of the same community, regardless of what town they lived in.

That’s not so much the case anymore, Cowan said, theorizing that the sense of local identity has changed a bit with the influx of more residents from different places around the country.

“They no longer think of themselves as members of that greater community,” Cowan said.

Aside from his musings on how the Verde Valley is today, Cowan went on to talk about the long history of the region, recorded in part by ancient petroglyphs still preserved at places like the V-Bar-V Heritage Site. The Yavapai people — noted in the area by Spanish explorers in the 16th century — like the Sinaguan people before them, called this area home.

Europeans returned to the Verde Valley in the 19th century, by which point the Apaches had also moved to the Verde Valley.

Kit Carson and others eventually trickled through, along with people looking to trap beavers and other animals.

“I wonder how Beaver Creek got its name?” Cowan joked.

Arizona was a bit unusual as much of the state was, in Cowan’s words, settled “west to east,” unlike most of America.

The California Gold Rush drew hordes of people seeking their fortunes to the Pacific, and when reports of gold discovered in the Bradshaws circulated, those 49ers began to make their way to this part of the desert.

Settlers eventually established the foundations of the communities we recognize today, and behind some familiar surnames is the story of how people came together in what was then a new frontier.

Many people might not be aware that something as simple as a street name has a story behind it.

Cowan does his best to tell those stories in his book, available for sale on the Internet and at some local shops.

The rest, as Cowan is well aware, is history.