In the mid-19th century, in the remote southwest desert that was Arizona Territory, there were not many ways to earn a fortune. Life was mostly a struggle just to survive, let alone prosper.
In the early 1850s, 10’s of thousands of young men from the eastern United States, Midwest, and Texas, became infected with a disease called “gold fever”. And many passed through the dirty, dusty little Mexican village of Tucson before proceeding west to the rich placer streams and rivers of Central California.
A few realized that the surest way to make a quick fortune was not to prospect for gold but to sell necessities to the fast-growing population of prospectors: shovels, picks, Levi’s (jeans), food, etc.
Edward Nye Fish
Ed Fish was one. He had made a lot of money selling prefab houses in San Francisco, and when he arrived in Tucson he had the resources to start several businesses, including a mercantile store located about where Granada crosses Alameda and Congress streets downtown. Today, the once-elegantly furnished Edward Nye Fish home houses our Tucson Museum of Art’s western art collection.
Other men, such as the nearly illiterate Sam Hughes, sold beef and critical supplies at huge profits to the U.S. Army stationed in forts around Southern Arizona. The soldiers were responsible for protecting the Anglo & Hispanic-American farmers, prospectors, stagecoaches and freight haulers from the Apaches.
As a young man, Mr. Hughes had been a successful merchant in the Gold Rush Country of California. However, while there he contracted tuberculosis. He came to Tucson in 1858 fully expecting to die but held out hope that the hot, dry air would cure him. It did, and he prospered once again.
In 1863, he married the orphaned 12-year-old daughter of a once-prominent Tucson family, Atanacia Santa Cruz. Sam was 34. She gave him 15 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood. They used their wealth to establish the first school and protestant church in Tucson and supported many other charitable causes. Today, a historic Tucson neighborhood is named in his honor: Sam Hughes Neighborhood National Historic District.
Regarding Mr. Hughes, you might also find a related article of interest. It is subtitled: How Tucson’s Wealthiest & Most Prominent Civic Leaders Committed Mass Murder & Got Away With It.
Today, in Tucson, there are myriad ways to make a good living. Not so in mid-19th century Tucson. But one of the strangest was baking and selling pies. John Allen had a knack for figuring out what folks needed and finding ways to satisfy those needs … at a handsome profit.
He wasn’t terribly successful at prospecting for gold, but he could bake a fine apple pie. It seems that others … eventually many, many others, liked his pies and were willing to pay a buck a piece for them. Back then, $1 US was worth about $15 in 2014 currency. So these dried apple pies were not cheap. But in mid-19th century Tucson, a good apple pie was both rare and treasured.
In the late 1850s, using proceeds from his pie business, Mr. Allen built several of Tucson’s earliest commercial buildings. Twice he served as Tucson’s mayor, was postmaster for a time, then served 3 terms as Tucson’s representative to the Arizona Legislature.
John Allen In Tombstone
In 1879, only 2 years after Ed Schieffelin discovered silver at Goose Flats, Mr. Allen opened a large mercantile to serve the newly minted Tombstone Mining District on the SW corner of 4th Street and the new town’s main thoroughfare.
A year later, he established a successful mercantile at a rowdy copper mining camp called Bisbee, only 25 miles south of Tombstone.
By 1881, things were going very well for Mr. Allen. That year the 63-year old Allen proposed marriage to a teenaged Mexican girl named Lola Tapia. Apparently, the girl’s mother was not thrilled with the idea of her beautiful young daughter marrying an old man, but (and this is really strange) the girl’s mother agreed to the marriage on the condition Lola stay in a convent. Lola remained at the convent until she gave birth to a daughter the following year.
The marriage ended 10 years later when Allen was granted a divorce on grounds that his wife was unfaithful. The divorce proceedings took 15 minutes. The Court fined Lola $25 for committing adultery. A few minutes later, she turned and married her lover.
As occurred with many of Southern Arizona’s most successful pioneers, their later years were not so prosperous. For example, Richard Gird, partner with Ed & Al Schieffelin in 19 Tombstone mining claims, invested his fortune in, among other enterprises, ranches in California and railroads and mines in Mexico. Yet, when he died in 1910, his estate was worth less than $1500, about $21,000 in U.S. currency today.
In his later years, Mr. Allen was often addressed as “General Pie”. After all, among his many public service positions, he had also been Arizona Territory’s Adjutant General (chief administrator).
Yet, similar to Mr. Gird’s misfortunes, Mr. Allen died a pauper in Tucson in 1899. However, the city named a historic Tucson neighborhood in his honor. It’s called the “Pie Allen Neighborhood National Historic District”. Click HERE for a brief history of Tucson.
Oh, and one more thing. That corner in Tombstone where Mr. Allen built his large general merchandise store. That was at 4th and Allen Street, arguably the most famous intersection in Old West history. But upon reflection, I’m somewhat surprised that the enterprising folks of Tombstone’s Historic District didn’t name it “Pie Street”. It would have fit well with Tombstone’s quirky reputation. And think of the opportunities for parents to teach their children American history. “Daddy, why is it named “Pie” Street?