About a Scot who beat me to Arizona
So it seems there were Scots in Arizona long before I arrived – lots of them. And, in a typically Scottish way, a few of them left a lasting imprint on the place. Scots tend to do this sort of thing all round the world.
A few years ago I was up in what you might call the Arizona high country – not quite a trek through the wilds but a visit to an out-of-the-way National Park. It’s called the Tonto Natural Bridge and it’s quite a sight to behold. A travertine stone arch stretching across a creek far below, it is one of the hidden natural gems in the state and a popular visitor attraction.
And, fellow Scots, prepare to be amazed – it was “discovered” by a man from the east coast fishing village of Inverbervie, just south of Stonehaven. A rough and ready chap by the name of Davy Gowan who was on the run from pursuing Indians.
Discovering this fact was one of those bizarre moments. I was standing in the park’s rudimentary visitor centre and picked up the piece of paper that passed as historical literature. And there it was – the attraction I had just paid six dollars to see thousands of miles from Scotland was found by a prospector from my home country.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Enterprising Scots still make their mark in the world -and there was something of the “chancer” about Gowan, so no surprise there either. So here is the story of the Inverbervie boy whose discovery is one of Arizona’s most stunning natural wonders.
Gowan was an imposing man with long red hair, a thick Scottish accent and a nomadic character. He had been shipwrecked off the west coast of America and wandered from place to place working as a miner and a gold prospector.
But Gowan was also as shrewd as they come – and at the Tonto Bridge he saw an opportunity that was too good to let slip. He arrived in the Arizona Territory in the 1870s. While prospecting along Pine Creek he came across the amazing travertine arch, believed to be the largest in the world.
Indians were a constant danger and on one occasion, Gowan had to hide under the bridge for three days. When he emerged he behaved in true Scottish entrepreneurial style – and claimed squatters’ rights.
Gowan insisted he had been the first white man to set eyes on the bridge. Of course he hadn’t but his claim was successful and Tonto Natural Bridge became his.
More than 20 years later he contacted his Scottish nephew, David Goodfellow. Young David arrived with his family and set up home with ‘Uncle Davy’. Gowan never really settled, he was too restless, he continued to mine, and his sense of humor showed through in census documents where he gave as his birthplace ‘Atlantic Ocean’.
One day in the winter of 1925, old Davy Gowan left home and never returned. Weeks later his frozen body was found in the icy wilderness.
When you read and write about these stories in the comfort of an office, it is difficult to imagine the reality. Standing in remote Arizona and reading about Davy Gowan made it real – and a bit strange that 150 years ago someone could come so far and do something that is still remembered.
PS – If you’re a devout follower of my blog – there must be one somewhere – it hasn’t appeared for two weeks because I had the Arizona flu. And being an American flu it’s bigger than what I’m used to.