Supplied by Sedona Heritage Museum
One might claim that Sedona began 350 million years ago. That’s how long it has taken for Nature to form our red rocks by earth thrusts, sea changes and erosion forces. Or maybe 1000 years ago, when primitive hunter-gatherers evolved into the Native Americans we know as Sinagua, who farmed and traded with faraway tribes. At the Sedona Heritage Museum, we focus on ‘modern’ history from 1876 to the present.
How Sedona got its name
By the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families called this area home. T. C. Schnebly was an enterprising young man from Gorin, Missouri who had married Sedona Miller. T.C.’s brother, Ellsworth, had moved to Arizona for health reasons, and convinced T. C. and Sedona to join him in red rock country. The Schnebly’s built a large two-story home that also served as the area’s first hotel and general store. T.C. saw a need for regular mail service, and organized the little village’s first post office.
T. C. suggested the names, Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly Station, to Washington, D.C., but the Postmaster General at the time had a prejudice for one-word names for postmarks. Ellsworth advised him, “Why don’t you name it after your wife?”
When Amanda Miller’s little daughter was born on Feb. 24, 1877, in Missouri, Amanda “just thought up” the name Sedona for the child because she thought it sounded pretty. So, the name Sedona isn’t Spanish, nor Native American.
Sedona’s Orchard Industry
Most agriculture in early Sedona was for home consumption, or for a limited seasonal market in Flagstaff and the boom town of Jerome.Using water from Oak Creek, both the Native Americans and our first Anglo settlers irrigated small patches of ground to raise food for their families. Every homestead had a vegetable garden and a collection of chickens, turkeys and pigs. Cattle provided beef as well as milk and butter. But it was fruit growing — particularly apples and peaches — which played the most significant part in the early Sedona economy.
After farmers learned to channel the water of Oak Creek for irrigation, they planted larger orchards. The Schuermans planted a vineyard, growing grapes for wine and finding a ready market with local cowboys, Jerome miners and Flagstaff loggers. The Jordans, Pendleys and others blasted out irrigation routes and moved the water through ditches, flumes and pipelines.
Fruit was driven to markets in Jerome, Prescott, Flagstaff and Phoenix. Oak Creek Canyon fruit was so popular, that people from Phoenix drove here just to purchase fruit at fruit stands. Commercial orcharding all but disappeared from this area by the 1970s-1980s.
Golden Age of Western Movies
Almost 100 feature films and countless video productions and commercials have been shot either in full or in part in the Sedona area. For three decades, Westerns were the most popular movies in America. From “shoot’em-ups” to romance, dramas, and the singing cowboy films, they attracted audiences around the world.
Moviemaking in Sedona began in 1923, with Zane Grey’s silent film the Call of the Canyon. In 1945, John Wayne came to town for his first stint as producer. For his Angel and the Badman film, a western town street set, a sound stage, and a motel were built. That area is now the Sedona West residential subdivision where the streets are named after movies made here, like Johnny Guitar, Pony Soldier, and Gun Fury.
During our heyday of film-making, almost every major studio and every major stare worked here, including James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Sterling Hayden, Joan Crawford, Glenn Ford, Robert DeNiro, Robert Young, Hopalong Cassidy, Tyrone Power, Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, and hundreds of others.
Ranching and Real Cowboys
While Sedona’s red rock formations and pinion-juniper landscape made an ideal setting for Hollywood’s cowboys, the real cowboys were hard at work riding, roping and branding. These were not just rodeo sports to these hardy men — and yes, women, too.
Ranchers like the Van Derens, Owenbys, Otto Hallermund, Kel Fox and Pete Michelbach moved their cattle from their winter ranges around Sedona to the tall grassy meadows of the Mogollon Rim in summer. Families moved with their herds, putting their children in area schools during the winter months. The U.S. Forest Service managed then and still manages today a grazing permit program for ranchers.
In the spring and fall during roundups, the different cattle outfits worked together to round up the livestock that roamed far and wide before fences. After a couple days, the calves would find their mothers and they could then be branded correctly. Then the herd was on the move and so were the cowboys.
Pioneers & Community
Oak Creek Canyon’s earliest settlers were looking for land or isolation, but either way, they were looking for a future. Jim Thompson was the first to arrive in 1876. After two lonely years he invited the Abraham James family and married their daughter, Margaret. Bear Howard escaped from a California prison and hid out in the canyon. His daughter and family, the Purtymuns, joined him and Purtymun descendants still live in the canyon today. The Chavez and Armijo families were related to some of the oldest Hispanic families of the southwest.
Red Rock, the mid-point between Indian Gardens and the rest of the Verde Valley, was the social center of the extended canyon community long before anyone heard of the name ‘Sedona’. There ran the main road, and was established the first school in 1891 and the first cemetery in 1893. The school hosted election voting, dances, socials, and meetings along with classes.
The greater Sedona area has always straddled two counties – neither much interested in providing services to this remote and rural place. The City did not incorporate until 1988. Residents got used to doing things themselves. Today, this is still prevalent in the strong sense of volunteerism and pride held by citizens.
Native American History
The first documented human presence in Sedona area dates to between 11,500 to 9000 B.C. It was not until 1995 that a Clovis projectile point discovered in Honankirevealed the presence of the Paleo-Indians, who were big-game hunters. Around 9000 B.C., the pre-historic Archaic people appeared in the Verde Valley. These werehunter-gatherers and their presence in the area was longer than in other areas of the Southwest, most likely because of the ecological diversity and large amount of resources. They left by 300 A.D. There is an assortment of rock art left by the Archaic people in places near Sedona such as Palatki and Honanki.
Around 650 A.D., the Sinagua people entered the Verde Valley. Their culture is known for its art such as pottery, basketry and their masonry. They left rock art, pueblos, and cliff dwellings such as Montezuma Castle, Honanki, Palatki and Tuzigoot, especially in the later period of their presence. The Sinagua abandoned the Verde Valley about 1400 A.D. Researchers believe the Sinagua and other clans moved to the Hopi mesas in Arizona and the Zuni and other pueblos in New Mexico.
The Yavapai came from the west when the Sinagua were still there in the Verde Valley around 1300 A.D. They were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Some archaeologists place the Apache arrival in the Verde Valleyaround 1450 A.D. Many Apache groups were nomadic or seminomadic and traveled over large areas.
The Yavapai and Apache tribes were forcibly removed from the Verde Valley in 1876, to the San Carlos Indian Reservation, 180 miles (290 km) southeast. About 1,500 people were marched, in midwinter, to San Carlos. Several hundred lost their lives. The survivors were interned for 25 years. About 200 Yavapai and Apache people returned to the Verde Valley in 1900 and have since intermingled as a single political entity although culturally distinct  residing in the Yavapai-Apache Nation.