An Article from the ...

Peter D. Berry

by Dick Brown

John Berry and Catharine Wolfe, a descendent of General Wolfe, the hero in the Battle of Quebec, were married in 1839 in Knox County, Ohio. Here five of their eight children were born. In the early 1850s, the family moved to Indiana for a time where their sixth child, John Jr. was born. Next they journeyed westward across northern Illinois to Iowa, and settled in Black Hawk county where Catharine had their fourth daughter and fourth son. Peter D. Berry, the youngest, was born May 8, 1858, in Cedar Falls. The family lived five years on their Iowa farm before relocating again in Grundy County, Missouri.

After the Civil War, John Berry uprooted his family for the last time. They traveled south across the Missouri River in 1866 and resettled in Jasper County, Missouri, on a farm ten miles northwest of Carthage, unknowingly nudging Pete closer to his canyon destiny. John Berry Sr., a farmer all his life, died in 1872, having brought his family west to new land and new opportunities. His holdings were divided among surviving family members, and Pete, at age 13, inherited 120 acres.

Pete and John, Jr. grew restless and eager to try new lines of work. John quit Missouri farm life first and joined the "Silver Rush" in Gunnison County, Colorado. In March of 1879, Pete Berry sold his farm, bought a horse, new saddle and bridle, and joined his brother in the Colorado Rockies. The remaining siblings continued the family farm where their mother died in 1906.

The Berry brothers were among the first prospectors to scour the carbonate fields around Quartz Creek. They staked several silver claims and settled in a mountain camp that came to be known as Quartzville, up the road from Ohio City, and not far from Missouri Flats---names reminiscent of their family roots.

As a young man of 21, tall, lean, sensitive and slow-speaking, with blue eyes and a quiet disposition, Pete learned prospecting and mining skills that he would put to use in later years. He worked hard and supplemented his miner's pay with ranch work, a nd invested his earnings in the boom town by purchasing some of the first recorded lots in Quartzville that became Pitkin, Colorado when the town was incorporated in 1879. He worked on the Eagle Lode, north of town in the summer of 1881 and he became pa rt owner of the Carthage Lode in 1882. Perhaps predicting his future in Arizona, mines in the Quartz Creek Mining District had the names Flagstaff, Horseshoe, and Last Chance.

John Berry tired of rock-hard labor in the mines and left Pitkin in 1883. He moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he opened the San Juan Sample and Club where, with its strategic location across from the railroad depot, he established a good trade. The saloon became the gathering place for weary travelers and townspeople. As proprietor, John soon became one of Flagstaff's leading businessmen, investing in brokerage and banking enterprises. Pete visited him in mid- February 1884 and found his brother's establishment to be a first class operation.

In August 1884, John Berry married Mary Parker in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Born in Ireland as Mary Hill, she shortened her name to May and from a previous marriage had a son named Sam Parker. In 1885 the couple had their own son, Newton.

Tragically in January 1887, John Berry was killed by a stray bullet while trying to quell a disturbance in his saloon. The entire town mourned the loss of this good-natured 33-year old native of Indiana. Pete arrived from Colorado in mid-February and immediately began tending the needs of his brother's widow. He worked with Flagstaff attorney E.M. Sanford and Prescott judge William "Buckey" O'Neill on the

Pete's role slowly changed from that of a caring brother-in-law to a substitute father and husband. On September 30, 1888, Pete married May in a private ceremony in Flagstaff. He built a new house for his ready-made family and on May 15, 1889, a son was born. Pete named his son Ralph J. Berry, after Ralph Cameron, his longtime friend.

At this time Pete began making prospecting trips to the Grand Canyon, escapades that soon spelled difficult times for his marriage. May shared none of Pete's adventure and enthusiasm, and found herself cursing the Canyon for the weeks and months when she was left home alone. Grubstaked by Flagstaff's first settler, Thomas F. McMillan, Pete, along with Ralph and Niles Cameron, Edwin Gale and Robert Ferguson, searched the Canyon for minerals worth mining. On that lucky day in April 1890, the group located a rich vein of copper on Horseshoe Mesa. Under the auspices of the Last Chance Mining Company, the partners developed their claim--- the Grand Canyon's greatest copper strike. To facilitate canyon access and ore removal, Pete helped engineer the Bright Angel and Grandview trails. He was one of the founders of the Grand Canyon Mining District.

While her wayward husband worked claims below the rim, May found another saloonman, A.E. Frankforter, himself at one time employed by Pete in the mines. In October 1893, Pete suspected May of infidelity and mistreatment of their 4-year old son and was arrested for shooting Frankforter in the legs. He claimed it was an accident and the matter was dismissed. Pete took his son and boarded the eastbound Overland Express for San Miguel, New Mexico, where he secretly placed Ralph in the care of the Sisters of Charity. May promptly filed for divorce and demanded custody of their son on the grounds that her husband had failed to provide the necessities and comforts of life. When their divorce was granted on March 19, 1894, the court ordered that custody of Ralph he held in abeyance, pending further orders which never came. Two months later, May married Frankforter.

Pete Berry moved to his Grandview cabin, which served as his permanent residence and a mining base camp. What began as a log house near Grandview Point, became the famous Grandview Hotel. It officially opened for business in June 1897 and became the new terminus for the Grand Canyon Stage Line. Whenever Pete was in charge of operations, the Grandview Hotel stood unrivaled among all other rim side tourist accommodations.

The 12th U.S. Census at Grand Canyon Forest Reserve showed Pete Berry, divorced head of family, age 42, owning his own home and working as a hotel proprietor. At Grandview he also outfitted parties with seasoned trail guides, sure-footed animals, and camping provisions for below-rim excursions. His hostelry and tourist enterprise also offered carriage rides along the rim and stage transportation to the railhead at Anita. Later, when the railroad reached the rim, he operated a stage between Grandview and Bright Angel Camp.

There were many visitors at Grandview in the summer of 1900, including a 38-year-old Illinois woman named Martha J. Thompson. She stayed on as the hotel housekeeper and became Pete's close companion. On August 26, 1903, Pete and Martha were married in Flagstaff.

When Pete and his partners sold their properties, including the hotel, to the Canyon Copper Company he continued as manager. At the same time he homesteaded 160 acres directly south of Grandview point where, under permit from the Secretary of Agriculture, he established a road house, general store and livery stables that he called the Summit Hotel as it was located at the highest point on the South Rim.

Only Pete Berry and John Hance filed a homestead entry on the South Rim. By January 1906, as the Forest Homestead Act was about to become law, Pete's homestead survey and hearings were complete. His certificate, Homestead Entry 167, was signed by President Teddy Roosevelt on April 1, 1907. About this time Ralph Berry also filed for a homestead claiming 135 acres in the Coconino Basin.

With year-round quarters on the South Rim, Pete served as unofficial guardian of the eastern end of the Canyon, first for the Forest Service, and later for the Park Service. He opposed the notion that the Santa Fe Railway and Fred Harvey Company be given total control of canyon country and had mixed feelings about the canyon becoming a national park. But unlike other old timers, he never expressed bitter sentiments about such matters.

In October 1911, Pete gave publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst the option on his homestead including the Canyon Copper Company properties. Pete closed his deal in October 1913, selling his homestead for $35,000, but continued to served as sales agent for the copper company. He cleared his debts, including an old mortgage with David Babbitt, bought a Hudson touring car and tried to interest some businessmen in establishing an automobile line to replace the old stage line.

Although not as colorful as other canyon pioneers, Pete was a hard working opportunist. When the railroad reached the rim at Bright Angel Camp in 1901 the Grandview Hotel was cut off from the tourist traffic, but Berry received county permission to repair washouts on the old Flagstaff-Grand Canyon Road. He began to promote 5-hour drives to Grandview with the accommodations of two hotels to serve the motoring public. By 1914, Pete was still managing the hotels and offering auto or stage pickup at the Canyon train depot.

In October 1916, the Grandview closed its doors for the last time. Pete and Martha moved to Ralph's Coconino Basin Ranch the following year. On March 5, 1919, Ralph died in the same Spanish influenza epidemic that claimed the life of John Hance. Pete administered his son's estate and he and Martha lived their remaining years at the ranch a few miles from Desert View.

Throughout the 1920s, Pete and Martha remained aloof of canyon residents and tourists, and rarely drove into the Village. Pete hunted wolves, trapped fox and sold furs. He operated a small trading post on the ranch which happened to straddle the Gray Mountain road used by Fred Harvey's excursions to the Indian reservations. He traded with the Navajos and often journeyed to Los Angeles to sell Navajo blankets and return with merchandise to trade the Indians. On occasion a few relatives visited "Uncle Pete" and National Park Service patrols occasionally stopped at the Berry Ranch for lunch and information.

A telephone line in those early days connected the El Tovar Hotel with fire patrols at Hull Tank. Pete had a key to the box for emergency fire use but the newfangled device became a major aggravation for him as he could rarely make it work. He was partially crippled by a fall while working on the line in December 1925, and in 1930 when both Pete and Martha were in poor health the Park Service provided a phone tap to his ranch from its Desert View line. Each morning, Pete was to report in; if there was no call the park rangers would come to investigate.

Pete was actually petrified of using the phone. On January 21, 1931, Martha became desperately ill and Pete, after much hesitation, determined that he just had to use the wretched thing. According to Jim Shirley, Pete cranked and cranked, but neglected to flip the switch, and so failed to make connection. And the tragedy of it all-- Martha died of blood poisoning. Remembered as one of the best loved canyon citizens, she was buried in Pioneer Cemetery.

A year later, "Uncle Pete" was snowbound at the ranch, but friends kept in touch by telephone. In the summer of 1932, he suffered with stomach cancer and spent many weeks in Flagstaff's Mercy Hospital. He grew homesick and was able to return to his ranch in August where a visiting nephew cared for the 74-year-old canyon pioneer. Sadly, at 10:15 PM on September 29, 1932 Pete died. Funeral services were held at the Community Building and grave side services were conducted by the Knights of Pythias at the Pioneer Cemetery. Pete was laid to rest beside Martha and Ralph in the family plot.

The following year, the Desert View Watchtower was dedicated. Its Kiva logs had been cut by Pete and his partners for the Grandview Hotel. It was through the generosity of William Randolph Hearst that the kiva was able to preserve these historic logs.

Peter D. Berry had been driven by a quest to unlock the Canyon's legendary mineral secrets. He spent nearly half of a century exploring mesas and side canyons below the rim, mining high-grade copper ore, building tourist enterprises, and living on the rim. As a master trail builder, he brought the canyon within reach of generations to come. The inset stone and snubbed timbers that remain on the Grandview Trail testify to the workmanship and durability of Pete's trail.

Perhaps it is an oversight by those who named Canyon features, but there is not a single butte, mesa, creek or trail named after this famous canyon pioneer.

From The Grand Canyon Pioneers Society Newsletter, October 1994

A Follow Up On Pete Berry

Jeanne Schick submitted the following stories concerning Pete Berry 's place that she received in a letter from Art Metzger.

When Mrs. Belknap bought the homestead from Pete Berry she wanted to develop live water there if possible. Art Metzger thought there might be water around the place because of the snow country that surround it, and the overlay of Coconino sandstone. Using his suspicion she proceeded with a well-digging. Art contacted Jimmy Fambourgh, another old timer at Grand Canyon, and Jimmy with his forked stick water-witched a well site, then with the aid of some CCC boys they dug a hole about 30 or 40 feet deep. NO WATER. The magic of the water-witch for some reason failed to work.

Art knew water-witching would locate a source of water, because he had been with Jimmy on a trip to Dripping Springs at one time where he tried it. The trick fascinated Art, it was the first time he had ever heard about such a thing. When he tried holding the witcher, no indication showed, but when Jimmy stood behind him and placed his hands on his wrists the forked stick turned down indicating there was water underground.

Another story that took place at the Berry homestead told by Art Metzger concerned three Hopi Indians. The three came to the Berry Homestead to plant some corn. Jimmy and Art stood by and watched them dig a hole 18 inches wide and about a foot deep. They planted the grain and crumbled the soil by hand into the hole filling it to near the top. "How long will it take to sprout?" asked Art and the Hopis replied without hesitation, "ten days". Art and Jim returned to the canyon village and Jimmy remarked that if that grain sprouted before Christmas he would be surprised.

Out of curiosity Art drove back to the site on the evening of the tenth day. Believe it or not, IT WAS UP.

From The Grand Canyon Pioneers Society Newsletter, September 1990


Used by permission of the Grand Canyon Pioneers Society.

[ Grand Canyon Home | Grand Canyon Pioneers Society | To top of article | Index of GCPS Articles ]
Copyright © Grand Canyon Pioneers Society, 1999, all rights reserved. This publication and its text and photos may not be copied for commercial use without the express written permission of the Grand Canyon Pioneers Society, PO Box 2372, Flagstaff, AZ 86003-2372.