Published by CCA Media
Cape Cod, U.S.A.
In the mid to late 1800s as the nation pushed its way to the Pacific Ocean, Swilling’s Mills was one of hundreds of tiny communities sprouting up in the scorched soil of the American West. Most of those rowdy, untamed towns died off quickly.
The citizens of Swilling’s Mills wanted their town to endure and prosper, but how could a town with such an inelegant name ever expect to attract new settlers and become a real city?
“Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, the name of this village should be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on the back of a mule,” said Grover Jeffries, the owner of the mercantile store.
He urged of all his customers to join forces with him in demanding that the horrible name be changed to anything but Swilling’s Mills.
“There’s nothing wrong with our town’s name said one of the men at a meeting called for the purpose of instituting a more fitting and proper appellation for the community. “Our village was not named for the four dance halls and 16 saloons on Main Street, or for the drunken swilling of cheap whiskey – but for Major Jack Swilling, hero of the Indian Wars, the Civil War, and the great canal builder who founded this town.”
“He’s right,” added a rancher, “Jack Swilling was a stalwart of the first rank. He was our first postmaster and justice of the peace. And even if he was one of the most eager patrons of the 16 saloons and four dance halls, he should never be dishonored by disowning ‘Swilling’ as our name.”
Jack Swilling in the 1870s
The town’s sheriff was not so sure. “I know that Swilling was a visionary. When he saw this area he felt that it would be the center of a booming farming community except that it lacked water. His canal building is what made our town wet and prosperous – but what about his involvement in the infamous “Favorite Killing?”
A few newcomers to the West were unfamiliar with the story, so he explained…..
“A few years after Major Swilling started the town in 1871, President U.S. Grant gave him a land patent for the area and it was decided to hold an election for the first sheriff. Jack Swilling did not run and may not have been involved – but the race was tainted. There were three candidates; Jim Favorite, Tom Barnum, and John A. Chenworth.
Favorite and Chenworth were the leading contenders for the job. One of the two heard that the other was saying that if he lost, he had been guaranteed the job of deputy. This led to a falling out and a sunlit gunfight at dawn between them. Favorite fell dead and Chenworth fell out of the race. His withdrawal left Tom Barnum as the only candidate and the first sheriff of our town.”
Storekeeper Grover Jeffries got up from his seat in the audience and walked to the front of the hall, dragging his chair along behind him. Trying to look as ‘official’ as possible he took his apron off, straightened his string tie and put on a black suit jacket of the latest back-east style.
Jeffries was a large man for the times, close to five foot nine inches tall. His legendary appetite had pushed his weight somewhere north of 250. Seeing him climb clumsily upon his chair and stand up so that everybody in the hall could see him, reminded some people of watching a burly grizzly bear attempting to climb a cottonwood to make lunch of a treed dog.
“Citizens of Swilling’s Mills – Godfrey Daniels how I hate that name!” he swore. “I stand before you today to implore you to vote to give our town new life with a new name.” After brushing aside a wave of coarse black hair that had partially covered his eyes, he stroked his long beard for a moment while he made sure he had the attention of every man in the room.
From high atop his chair that groaned audibly from his bulk, the storekeeper continued…
“I don’t want to speak badly of our founder. The sheriff has already told you that Jack Swilling may have been involved in the killing of Jim Favorite. It is my duty now to tell you of another incident; another blot upon the name of Jack Swilling! And remember my friends a blot upon the name of Swilling is equally a reproach our town, Swilling’s Mills.”
Jeffries reached in his jacket and withdrew a newspaper clipping from an interior pocket.
“As I have stated I personally do not wish to say anything negative about Swilling, but I shall quote the following story from our town’s newspaper, “
Putting on his spectacles, Jeffries read the article: “The day passed off quietly to the relief of all; but after dark, Jack Swilling allowed his angry feelings, at the result of the election, to get the best of him, and narrowly escaped a lynching. He had left the polls, and was up at the old house of Dennis & Murphy, when a Mexican who had not voted to suit Jack came along on horseback. The Mexican dismounted, when Jack, who was standing a little distance from him, deliberately pulled a double barreled shot gun on him, and lodged the contents in his stomach. The gun was fortunately loaded with small bird shot, and they did not penetrate the vital parts.
“Andrew and Jake Starar, who were still at the polls, heard the shot, and suspecting some foul play immediately spurred their horses to that direction. Just as they reached the outskirts of town, they saw in the moonlight on the left hand side of the road the gleam of a gun barrel pointed towards them. After some parleying they found it to be the Mexican who had just been shot and he told them he was ‘laying for Jack Swilling.’ Jake Starar, fearing more trouble took the Mexican down to his house, and told him to lock himself in and shoot the first man who came to the door. A committee of citizens headed by Jake and Andy Starar, immediately waited on Jack Swilling, and quietly told him that at the very next lawless act he would die like a dog, without judge or jury.”
“That is the end of the story as printed many years ago in our local newspaper gentlemen. There can be no doubt about the veracity of the story. I hope that you will join me now in crafting a more fitting title for our municipality.”
The men agreed generally that they didn’t like “Swilling’s Mills” but they were unable to come up with an alternative. The debate of the fate of the town’s moniker continued for some years. The village finally got a change of name and grew quickly into a city and the city bloomed into a megalopolis – today it is one of the largest in the United States.
It’s new name? Many sources say that one of Jack Swilling’s old pals, ‘Lord’ Darrell Dupa came up with it. He suggested the name “Phoenix”
Phoenix, Arizona today is the sixth largest city in all of the 48 contiguous states. It is also the largest U.S. state capital, and with 1.4 million people it is the only one with a population over a million.
‘Lord’ Dupa’s house, built in 1871 and still standing today in the re-named Swilling’s Mills. Photo by Marine 69-71 Wikipedia
Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His sighting of a swamp creature just before the turn of the century, led to appearances in the Bridgewater Triangle Documentary Film, America’s Bermuda Triangle, and on Destination America’s Monsters and Mysteries series.
In addition to his radio and newspaper work, he held management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space:
He also shares news and videos on his Youtube Channel:
Swilling’s Mills was one of hundreds of tiny communities sprouting up in the scorched soil of the American West in the late 1800s. Most of those rowdy, untamed towns died off quickly. “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, the name of this village should be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on the back of a mule,” said Grover Jeffries, the owner of the mercantile store. He called a meeting and preached to everyone that the settlement must have a proper name in order to survive and prosper. The battle continued for years as no suggestion for a new name was able to gain approval. Did the town finally get a new handle? Does it still exist today? All the answers are in Bill Russo's 1400 word, fact based tale "Getting Rid of Swilling's Mills".