Charles Debrille Poston, continued
Last week, Charles D. Poston, with the help of Major Samuel P. Heintzelman, had just managed to secure the funds for the founding of the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company. William Wrightson, Horace Grosvenor, Phocion Way, and others were recruited to join them, and leading a wagon train laden with men, supplies, and equipment, Poston set out from San Antonio on May 1, 1856, reaching Tubac in September. With the old Spanish presidio, recently abandoned by the Mexican garrison, serving as headquarters, they set about opening mines in the nearby Santa Rita mountains, and elsewhere in the area, and building a smelting facility.
Poston was made acalde, or mayor, of the new town of approximately 800 residents, which gave him civic, paternal and religious authority. He became known as “Colonel” Poston and performed many marriages in Tubac, never charging a fee and even throwing in a turkey dinner for the newlyweds. He baptized many infants and authorized divorces as well. This came to the attention of Bishop Lamy in Santa Fe who sent Fr. Macheboeuf to investigate and to determine the sanctity of the unions performed by Poston. After much negotiating, and a donation of US$700, the marriages were declared valid and everyone was satisfied. Poston also printed his own currency on the Cincinnati-made Washington press that had been sent to Tubac. Pieces of pasteboard, about the size of a calling card, were used and depictions of different animals indicated the denominations of these boletas.
By 1857, the mines were producing US$3000 per day in silver, which continued until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, when the troops stationed in Arizona were called east, leaving them unprotected from outlaws and Apaches. Many of his employees were killed including his brother, John Poston, who was murdered at the Heintzelman mine near Arivaca. Poston’s dream of unbounded prosperity “vanished like a shadow” as the area was nearly depopulated by the Apache hostilities, with Poston and his mining engineer, Raphael Pumpelly, barely escaping with their lives.
Forced to leave Tubac, Charles Poston made his way to Washington where he worked for General Heintzelman as a civilian aide. Heintzelman introduced him to President Lincoln, and Poston, using his skills as a bon vivant, gastronome and host, organized an oyster dinner for the outgoing members of the 37th Congress of the United States in order to promote the simple two-page legislation he had proposed to create the Territory of Arizona. This legislation would create a number of official territorial jobs, and as none of these lawmakers had been re-elected for their districts, they recognized the opportunities and passed it. In 1863, President Lincoln signed the Organic Act, as it was known, into law. To mark the occasion, Poston presented Lincoln with a US$1500 inkwell commissioned from Tiffany & Co. and made from Arizona silver. Poston was appointed Indian Agent, during which time he helped pass legislation to provide funds to irrigate Indian lands. He was elected territorial delegate a year later in July of 1864, becoming the first man to represent Arizona in the Congress of the United States.
After serving out his term as delegate, Poston spent a decade traveling the world. He had a particular interest in Asia, and, after wrangling an honorary position as “Bearer of Dispatches” for the Chinese Embassy to the Emperor of China, he traveled there with his old friend J. Ross Brown, who had been appointed Minister to China. The following year, he went to India where he became acquainted with the Zoroastrian religion and the sun worship of the Parsi community on the sub-continent. In Bombay, he was presented with a costume of the order of Sun Worshipers of Asia by the high priest, Sir Jamsetteje Jeejeeboy, which he wore in the United States when he lectured on Zoroastrianism. Poston attempted to develop a sun cult in Arizona, envisioning a temple to the sun on a flat-topped butte three miles northwest of Florence. This cult failed to catch hold and, since all the monies raised for the cult had been spent on the construction of a road to the top of the butte, the temple was never built and the undertaking became know as ‘Poston’s Folly’.
During the following years, Poston wrote a number of books including The Parsees, published in 1872 and The Sun Worshipers, published in 1877. Overland Monthly published in installments his work entitled Building a Sate in Apache Land in 1894. He also had a poem, Apache Land, published in 1878. His employment was varied, including a stint as a campaign worker for Samuel J. Tilden during the presidential campaign of 1876, as the register of the U.S. land office at Florence, Arizona, and as consular agent in Nogales.
In 1899, the Arizona Legislature granted him a pension and Poston spent his last years in Phoenix, Arizona, where he died on June 24, 1902. He was originally buried in a Phoenix cemetery, but the Daughters of the American Revolution, in cooperation with the governor, arranged for his body to be exhumed and reburied atop Poston’s Butte beneath a pyramid of native stone in 1925. It is a perfect resting place for this intelligent, imaginative, and pioneering early Arizona resident. It is a place where his pyramid monument (expressed so aptly by Shaw Kinsley in his series of articles about the personalities from Tubac’s past), “catches the sun’s first rays and reflects its last glimmers”. Charles Debrille Poston died without a penny in his pocket, but his rich legacy of exploring the world and living life to its fullest lives on in our imaginations today.
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