Just a Wee Blether…

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.

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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.

Just a Wee Blether…

About living in Arizona’s ‘Little Scotland’

Out here in Arizona we can drive on Apache Boulevard…and Chaparral Road. This is Wild West country after all. And there are plenty other streets in the vicinity that evoke the history of this part of the world. They include Comanche Drive, Stetson Road, Jackrabbit Road, Cactus Road and Gunsight Road.

My home city is only 176 miles from the Mexican border so there is also a massive Hispanic culture, again reflected in the names of the roads – Santa Cruz Drive, Diablo Way, Guadalupe Road, Ocotillo Road and the Agua Fria Freeway.

When we moved here last year we stayed with family in East Barbarita Avenue. It was just the sort of typical south-west address I had envisioned myself having as an Arizona resident. In fact, I was drinking Dos Equis beer and calling the neighbours ‘amigo’ when we decided to find our own place.

There were so many cool addresses that we were spoiled for choice, names that sounded straight from a spaghetti western. Tonto Street perhaps, or Pueblo Avenue.

Eventually we found the perfect place, a three-bedroom town house in a quiet area. So we packed all our belongings and flitted for the second time in a matter of months, to an address on – North McQueen Road.

McQueen? I might as well have been moving to Paisley Road West. I went to school in Ayrshire with a family of boys called McQueen. I used to watch Kilbirnie’s finest footballing son Gordon McQueen not just playing for Scotland but as a raw centre half with Largs Thistle.

So much for all my dreams of welcoming visitors to my little slice of the desert. You can’t really wear a cowboy hat and ride a horse in McQueen Road. This was about as American as deep fried haggis and chips.

It was all a bit disappointing to be honest. Apparently the road was named after a family called McQueen who once owned a large ranch in these parts. I am willing to bet that the wonders of ancestry.com would reveal descendants that were Scottish or Irish, or both.

But the McQueens were just the tip of the iceberg. A quick drive round the neighbourhood revealed many more examples of Scotland’s influence on this part of the world.

Apart from Burt Lancaster’s character in Local Hero, the most famous Knox in history was John Knox, the Scottish clergyman. Knox Street is a few hundred yards as is Highland Drive which speaks for itself. Hamilton Road is not far and there is even a nod to Sir Walter Scott with Ivanhoe Street.

We could claim Hartford Street as having been named after Asa Hartford, a one-time footballing colleague of Gordon McQueen. There is Inverness Drive, McLintock Drive, McDonald Road, McDowell Road and Jackson Street. I would like to think McKellips Road was named after someone whose family name was originally McKillop and who came from the Highlands.

Dunbar Drive, McNair Street, Loughlin Drive, McArthur Drive – the list goes on.

The one major shock I had was discovering that a five-minute walk from my pleasant town house took me to Thatcher Boulevard. I’m 5,000 miles away and I still can’t escape the woman.

So here I am, almost a year after my dream move to the States, stuck in North McQueen Road in what seems like Little Scotland, Arizona. One day I’ll graduate to Palomino Drive or Calle Magdalena. There is even a Sesame Street.

But there is one street name here that, to my mind, is head and shoulders above the rest, and proves that a sense of humour is still alive. It is in Central Phoenix and was named after a planner called Jimmy Wong. The street’s name – Wong Way.