The Hawks-Berry Conflict & The Birth of Flagstaff Tourism
Flagstaff Front Street

On a cold January night in 1887 a tragedy occurred that set in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to the development of a brand new industry in Flagstaff. One of Flagstaff’s earliest settlers lost two sons, one man lost a brother, and the ripple effects of these two tragedies led to the start of the Flagstaff tourism industry. But how?

Our story of tragedy and triumph starts way back in about 1882 in the railroad camp that would eventually become Flagstaff. A man by the name of J.F. or Dad Hawks and his family arrived and he opened the very first restaurant. As with the other settlers of the time, Hawks dabbled in a number of service industries over the years and the building that housed his final restaurant was built in 1897 and is still located at 14 N San Francisco Street.

Dad Hawks and his wife had 6 kids and two of their sons were named George and William. On the fateful night of January 18th, 1887 the brothers decided to hit the town for a few drinks. They went to John Berry’s San Juan Saloon and George proceeded to get himself into trouble with another patron. His brother William furnished him with a gun, but instead of shooting his opponent George opted to hit him over the head and attempt to run. George was stopped before he could reach the door and as John Berry attempted to take the gun away from the youth, the saloon owner was fatally shot in the belly.

The brothers were taken to the jail which was located in what is now the empty parking lot at 16 N Leroux, and put under the watch of the towns deputy’s. Now, Dad Hawks was a well known and well respected member of the Flagstaff at the time, but so was John Berry and his death hit the community pretty hard. And as has happened many times in the past, the death of a friend riled up the town’s residents and a mob headed for the jail to demand justice. The lynch mob told the deputy’s to hand over the boys or be shot, and as the deputy’s turned a blind eye the boys lives were taken in their cells.

The next ripple of change that resulted from this tragedy leads us to Colorado. John Berry’s brother Pete was working in the mining industry when he was informed of the fatal accident, and he promptly came to Flagstaff for two reasons. First, to handle the matters of his brothers estate and second, to exact revenge. Of course, the latter was not possible as the boys had already been killed by the mob.

Pete decided to stay in Flagstaff to take care of his brother’s family and run the saloon. His fate, however, was not to be restricted to just serving whiskey. While in Colorado he had spent some time learning about mining operations and the possibility of opportunity in the Grand Canyon beckoned. Over the years he found success in mining and he is remembered for a number of contributions he made to the development of the Grand Canyon including his help with the construction of the Grandview and Bright Angel Trails.

At one point, he staked a claim on a plot of land on the rim of the Grand Canyon and when the mining opportunities at this site didn’t pan out he decided to build a hotel. He called it the Grandview Hotel and it became the destination of the Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach. From 1892 until 1901, the Stagecoach transported curious travellers from Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in a mere five hours and the Grandview hotel became the terminus of the line in 1897. Pete also operated a number of tour and outfitter operations out of the hotel.

The hotel and stagecoach were the premiere method for visiting the canyon until the turn of the century when they became outdated by the arrival of the Grand Canyon Railway in 1901 and the fabulous El Tovar Hotel in 1905. However, the arrival of a new era of tourism did not deter Pete Berry and he continued to work hard in the industry for a couple of decades. Due to his hard work, foresight, and persistence he is considered by many to be the father of the Flagstaff tourism industry. Both Pete and his wife Martha are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at Grand Canyon.

So the accidental death of a saloon owner and brother and the vigilante deaths of a couple of unfortunate young men, led a man down a path that ended in the development of not only tourism in Flagstaff but in the Grand Canyon as well.


What to Read Next: The History of Old Two Spot