Cave Creek History

Cave Creek Carriage
Cave Creek Fiesta Days Parade

The Past Is Never Far From The Future

By Curtis Riggs

Cave Creek is about more than magnificent scenery, great bars and restaurants, fine art galleries and all of the eccentric characters that add to the town’s appealing eclectic funkiness.

  • Cave Creek is about hanging on to the Western roots that helped shape it.
  • Cave Creek is about reaching back a little farther to embrace a culture that thrived locally 1,250 years ago.
  • Cave Creek is about doing things a bit differently and not being afraid to show it.
  • Cave Creek is about being an outpost that isn’t so far out any more.The past has always been important here.

History does more than define Cave Creek. It breathes life into it daily and is a constant reminder of the privilege it is to be a Cave Creeker. The miners who flocked to the area in search of riches in the early 1870s and the ranchers who came for the plentiful grasses and water a couple of decades later helped shape both the history and the future of Cave Creek.

The Cartwright Ranch near Seven Springs was established in 1887. At one time it included 65,000 acres.

Despite the mines playing out and most of the grass and water now being on golf courses Cave Creek has never lost that pioneer spirit that makes it a special place.

“Part of the allure of Cave Creek is that its feistiness is still alive and well,” says six-term Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia.

There are more horses than vehicles on the streets when the community celebrates its Western roots twice annually. Fiesta Days is in April and Wild West Days is in November.

Horses are common in Cave Creek even when it isn’t a community celebration. Equestrians often ride to Harold’s or the Buffalo Chip just as the locals did before Cave Creek Road was an honest to goodness four-lane, paved road.

Cave Creek got serious about preserving its history in 2000 when it became a partner in the purchase of Spur Cross Ranch. More than 1,000 ancient Hohokam sites are found at Spur Cross north of town. Francia says the spirits of these first Cave Creekers are connected to the souls of the modern ones. To him it was their guidance that allowed Cave Creek and its two partners to preserve Spur Cross Ranch. Spur Cross opened as a conservation area in 2001.

A good example of the quirkiness of Cave Creek is the healthy debate about where Cave Creek got its name. Some say it is named for the cave on the west side of Cave Creek Wash. Others say that it is named after a miner called Old Rackensack, who frequented the area, and whose real name was Edward G. Cave.

Cave Creek grew out of an area by a spring near the present-day Rancho Manaña, a Golf Course that was called Cave Creek Station in 1877. By 1886, there were enough children in the area to warrant a school. A one-room schoolhouse was built near the intersection of Schoolhouse and Cave Creek roads. Many longtime Creekers tell of riding their horses to school there as late as the 1960s and 70s.

James D. Houck established a sheep-shearing station in Cave Creek when sheep were brought to the area for grazing in the early 1900s. People began moving to Cave Creek for the weather and their health after World War I. Modern Cave Creek grew because of all of those with respiratory problems who moved here in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Cave Creek became an exciting place when workers building Bartlett Dam began stopping through on their way to and from work in the 30s and 40s. Places like Harold’s got their start then. Several dude ranches operated in Cave Creek from the 1940s though the 1960s.

Cave Creek has always been the kind of place that attracted people from all walks of life. Mayor Francia said it was not unusual for hippies to be living in teepees beside expensive homes that were going up when he first came to Cave Creek in the 1970s.

“Cave Creek embodies and offers a sense of freedom to the individual,” says Francia, who has the guided the town with his Buddhist principles since the mid-1990s.

Creekers used to listen to the roar of the tigers that were kept behind Harold’s for many years when they slept on their roofs in the years before air conditioning. There are many stories about the goats and other animals that were used in the annual Christmas pageants and what could happen when they got away while their owners were inside talking with friends.

Much of the allure of Cave Creek comes from all of the local characters that have called it home over the years. Eccentric ones like former Harold’s owner Harold Gavagin, cowboys like “Dirty” Al Rance, dude ranchers like Hube Yates and television stars like Dick Van Dyke all have added to the community’s character, and craziness, over the years.

Cave Creek is about more than all of the cowboys, Indians, miners, hippies, bikers and nature lovers who helped to establish it. It’s about what happens when it is all added together and stirred vigorously.

For a complete history, please refer to the