The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former
Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of the
modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and
noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who
had irrigated the same lands.
If Swilling traveled between John Y.T. Smith's hay camp a few miles east of
downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell, as he presumably did in the summer of 1867,
he came within site of Usery Mountain Park, and even closer to the ruins of an
old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the
park and the Salt River.
The first Swilling canal brought water to fields east of the present Arizona
State Hospital near Phoenix and inspired the beginning of other canal building.
Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known
as "Scarface" to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park.
The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). "King"
was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running
stock in the area in the late 1870's and early 1880's. He had a tough struggle
to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country
where his activities, unorthodox, provided him a kind of unwanted security.....
On December 24, 1891, the Globe-Florence stage was held up by two highwaymen
and two bars of silver bullion, valued at $2,000, were stolen. The driver
identified the highwaymen as King Usery and Bill Blevins. Posses took the
field, soon learning that Usery had been riding a black horse stolen from the
Webb Ranch on Tonto Creek. At the George Middleton Ranch, the sheriff and his
deputies were told that Usery had been seen burying something in swampy ground
near the Salt River. One of the bars was quickly recovered. Surrounded at his
ranch, Usery surrendered but a search revealed he had hidden two pistols inside
his pants legs, suspending them from his belt with rawhide thongs. For this
crime, Usery was sentenced to a term of seven years in the Territorial Prison
in Yuma. Despite a successful plea for a new trial, the conviction stood. After
two years, he was pardoned.
Usery wandered from the legal path a second time and was convicted of horse
stealing. He received a light sentence in Gila County and upon his release, he
Usery Mountain Park is on the border of a mountain region. Nearby ranges are:
the Superstition on the east, the Goldfeilds on the north and northeast, the
Usery Mountains immediately northwest, and the McDowell Mountains across the
Salt River to the northwest. A broad basin lies west and south of the area.
Usery Pass is also known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high
country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led
by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, present a picturesque sight in
the spring and fall as they move into or out of the Coconino plateau region.