• Bill Cowan

William Madison Munds—An Arizona Pioneer

Updated: Jun 2

The View From Here


William Munds and his three sons ran cattle on the open range at Munds Park shortly after coming to Arizona in 1876. Photo courtesy of Frank Benedict

As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to share a little history of the Munds family – That for whom Munds Park is named.


Like most anglo Westerners, the Munds family originally came from the East. William Madison Munds was born September 26, 1835, in Clay County, Kentucky. William was raised on a small farm near Gentry, Missouri, along the Iowa border. At the young age of 14, he left his family behind and joined a wagon train of forty-niners heading to California’s gold fields. He settled in Eldorado County, and as he matured, he became a successful miner.


In 1857 at age 22, after eight years in Northern California, William Munds took his earnings and moved to Oregon and raised cattle and horses. He married Sarah Jane Cox on November 18, 1858, and the family lived in Roseburg, near her parents, for the next 17 years. Sarah was the daughter of a prominent rancher, John Cox, who had extensive holdings along the Pacific Coast.


The Munds family began to grow with the birth of their daughter Melvina in 1859. Three sons followed, each born in Roseburg; James, 1863; William Cornilius, nicknamed Neil, 1865; and John in 1868.


William Munds operated a butcher shop in Jerome to process and distribute the results of his cattle operation. He was also the first Mayor of Jerome when it incorporated in 1899. Photo courtesy of Jerome Historical Society

The union between William and Sarah proved to be somewhat stormy. Sometime in the early 1870s, William got into an altercation with Sarah’s cousin, George W. Cox, and William was charged with assault. Following his release from this incident, he decided it was time for a change in scenery.


The family learned of the boundless grass and lucrative mining opportunities in Arizona’s newly formed territory, so in 1875 William (age 40) and his three sons headed South West. They loaded all their worldly possessions into two covered wagons, along with a large herd of cattle and horses. They moved down the Pacific Coast across Nevada and into Arizona at Stone’s Ferry, crossing the Colorado River near the mouth of the Virgin River.


From October 1871 to February 1875, all of the Verde Valley’s upper reaches had been set aside and occupied by the Rio Verde Indian Reservation. However, the proclamation was rescinded in February 1875 and the Indians in Central Arizona were relocated to San Carlos south of Globe. The former reservation was opened to homesteaders just months before the Munds men and their stock arrived from Oregon. William acquired one of the first homesteads in the Upper Verde near what is today Bridgeport (near present-day Cottonwood), eventually moving to Spring Creek, a tributary of Oak Creek, above what would become Cornville.


As the grass dried up each summer, the pioneers drove their stock to the Mogollon Mountain highlands to take advantage of the lush grasses and cool weather. William and his family found an isolated park that was claim-free. The meadows provided excellent grazing for the summer months, so the Munds family established it as their summer headquarters.


The land was free for the taking. If the land was not “Claimed or Staked,” settlers could claim up to 160 acres (roughly 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile or equivalent) under the Homestead Act of 1862. To make a claim, pioneers needed to be an American citizen over the age of 21 and file for a homestead. That was it. Because William had used his one allowable homestead claim for the Spring Creek Ranch, James, the oldest son, filed a homestead claim for the west half of Munds Park. The family built a large home with barns and fences in the northwest end of the meadow.


On September 27, 1884, Melvina married Dr. Myron Carrier from New York. The doctor came out west and ran cattle with D. J. Brannon and homesteaded the area that is now Munds Park, East of Interstate 17. Back in those days, the springs provided enough water to raise wheat, barley, alfalfa and potatoes.


The Munds - Carrier Family with Melvina Munds Carrier (left) and William Munds (right)

William Munds was an active citizen in Central Arizona. In 1876, he was named the 1st Marshall for the American Centennial 4th of July celebration. Later he became the committeeman for the Yavapai County Democratic Party, nominated for both the county board of supervisors and the territorial assembly. While working cattle on the mountain, he became the Mogollon Livestock Association’s vice-president on April 11, 1885. William Munds was instrumental in deciding the dates for the rodeos (spring and fall roundups) and selecting the “Boss of the Plains,” the man in charge of the roundups. As the Jerome mines prospered and the population increased, William Munds established a butcher shop to sell the beef from his herds. When Jerome was incorporated in 1899, William Munds was elected the town’s first Mayor.


In 1903 William left Jerome in a buggy along with his second wife Cornelia to inspect his cattle and stock operation. He took ill with stomach problems as they traveled along Oak Creek and forced them to stop at the home of Henry Schuerman, the father-in-law of his oldest son James. William died at the Schuerman Ranch near Red Rock Crossing on June 11, 1903, ending the life of one of northern Arizona’s most prominent pioneers.


If you get out into our spectacular Northern Arizona backwoods, please try to make the place better for your presence - do not litter and leave the area cleaner than you found it.


Enjoy Northern Arizona!!


This article on the history of Munds Park is part 1 of a 12 part series.



Bill Cowan's book on the Verde Valley History is available at Candy’s Creekside Cottage in McGuireville, Arizona and from Amazon, eBay, and various other retailers, including the Verde Canyon Railroad.