The town of Fairbanks came into existence
in 1882 when the railroad established a station. It was named for N.K. Fairbank,
well-known Chicago merchant, a stockholder in the railroad and an organizer of the Grand
Central Mining Company. Fairbank became an important supply point for Tombstone and was a
bustling community well into the twentieth century. The Post office was established
on May 13, 1883 and has not been discontinued. Before the post office was
established people had to go to Contention City, just north of the mill.
Fairbanks was not only
the main supply point for Tombstone but also served the many freighters hauling ore from
the Tombstone mines to the mills at Contention City and Charleston. It was an
important point in the railroad between Guaymas, Mexico and Benson, Arizona, and a stage
station for mail and express. The town had about 100 residents, a Wells Fargo
office, store, meat market, restaurant, saloon and a mill. In 1885 the Butterfield
State Line opened a stage station.
Fairbank faded away when drought ruined the
farmers, who traded there and the Tombstone mines closed in 1887 forcing the mills that
processed their ore to shut down. In September 1890, Fairbank was flooded by the San
Pedro River. There was much property damage, but apparently no lives were lost.
The general store was open until a few
years ago and Fairbank is still on the Southern Pacific Railroad today. However the
excursion train out of Benson, Arizona does a turn around at Fairbanks, the end of its
Fairbank also managed to be written up in
the chapters of the wild and wooly West on February 15, 1900. Perhaps the most
memorable tale recounted about Fairbank concerns events in February 1900.
Billy Stiles and Burt Alvord, both deputy sheriffs, who yo-yoed between playing lawmen and
outlaws, joined up with the Owen brothers, Bravo Juan Yaos, Bob Brown, and Three-Fingered
Jack Dunlap. Their mission was to rob the Wells Fargo express box when the
train arrived at the Fairbank railroad station.
The train pulled into the station and as
the crowd was milling about the outlaws mingled with the crowd, pretending to be drunken
cowboys. Milton was standing in the open door of the baggage car when the outlaws
opened fire with lever-action Winchesters, shattering his left arm and severing an artery.
Unable to return fire because of the innocent by-standers Milton grabbed his
shotgun and awaited his chance. The outlaws took the opportunity to charge the train
in all the confusion and were met with buckshot. Three-finger Jack was caught in the
chest and died shortly after confessing who the gang members were. Bravo Juan took a
load of buckshot in his pants as he went the other direction. Milton slammed the
door shut, tossing the keys into a corner of the baggage car. He stayed conscious
just long enough to make a tourniquet for his nearly severed arm, then collapsed
unconscious between two large trunks, which fortunately saved his life as the remaining
three outlaws riddled the baggage car with bullets.
When the firing stopped the outlaws opened
the door of the baggage car and found Milton lying in a pool of blood. Believing him
to be dead they searched his body for the keys but were unable to find them.
Frustrated, the outlaws mounted their horses and rode away. The gang was later
caught and served lengthy prison sentences.
Medical care for Jeff Milton in Fairbank
was limited, so he was moved to San Francisco for hospitalization and specialized
treatment. When told an arm would have to be amputated, Milton went into a rage,
vowing he would kill any doctor who amputated his arm. Milton won the
argument. The shattered arm served him well in his later activities as a U.S.
Immigration Service border rider. He died in Tucson on May 7, 1947 at the age of 85.
Today the ghost town of Fairbank is the
Bureau of Land Management regional headquarters and is part of the San Pedro River
Riparian Area. The area is rich in natural history with remains of Pima Indian
Villages and petroglyphs. This is also a prime area for birding being located the
heart of the best birding area in the United States.
The photo shown here is the San
Pedro River near Fairbank. The San Pedro does flow year round, however
large portions of the river bed is dry as it goes underground only to re-appear
above ground miles down the riverbed.