HOW SEDONA GOT ITS NAME

The Mogollon Rim (pronounced “Mug-e-on” by the locals) dissects the Arizona territory across the middle – east and west — separating the desert south from the forestlands of the north. The rim rock of this plateau in most areas is volcanic rock; reminiscent of the ancient lava flows from the San Francisco Mountains north of Flagstaff. But a few rims are sandstone.

One such outcropping forms the cliffs on both sides of Oak Creek Canyon. Oak Creek is a major contributor to the river that flows through the Verde Valley on its way to its confluence with the Salt River near Phoenix.

This Oak Creek Canyon is very much like the tall canyons of Southern Utah – coral sandstone with patina shadings.

In the 1870s Oak Creek attracted a series of homesteaders. Glenn Kilbourne and Carley Burch, the two main characters in Zane Grey’s “The Call of the Canyon” novel, lived under these tall stone walls and the ponderosa pine that covered the canyon floor. But it was later settlers who made Oak Creek the land it is today and paved the way for the heavy tourist trade that thrives in Northern Arizona.

In 1876 J.J. Thompson claimed property near the middle of the canyon under the Homestead Act of 1862. Thompson took up squatters rights to a piece of land he called “Indian Gardens” since it was located on ground that a tribe of local Native Americans from the Tonto Apache tribe had used to raised crops with the water from the creek. Thompson found that the area was ideal for orchards of apples, pears and peaches.

As trails and dusty wagon roads began to traverse the creek a little further downstream at Oak Creek Crossing, more log cabins sprung up in the juniper and pinons. The homesteaders dug irrigation ditches so they could plant crops in the fertile soil of the canyon and the Verde Valley beyond.

As the community grew, stage coach service between Flagstaff and Prescott took shape. The Southern Pacific Railroad reached Flagstaff in 1876 and the American stars and stripes were raised on a ponderosa pine pole on July 4th – giving the town its name. A new road from Flagstaff south through the forest dropped over the edge of the Mogollon Rim at Schnebly Hill, an area named after another pioneer, Theodore Carlton Schnebly. He had become the first postmaster of the fledgling town at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. The post office was the main building in the community since it was also the stage stop.

Now, traditionally in the old west, locations where the stage dropped off and took on passengers were given names associated with the Post Office in the area. Most folks along the creek called the location “Schneblys,” but when the stage company came to town Theodore Carlton Schnebly decided the name of the stage stop should be given to his wife. After all, she was renowned to the locals for her hospitality, industriousness, and especially her smile. So, he named the stage stop after the woman he called Arabella. But, legally the stage stop was labeled after her given name: Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly.

I think we can all safely say we’re thankful that the town isn’t named Schnebly. Sedona Schnebly continued her life in the beautiful Verde Valley until 1950. But her name lives on in the tourist town that bears her first name.

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