Arizona’s ‘Capital on Wheels’ ~ by Susan Page Davis

For my book My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains, my characters needed some transportation in Arizona during the territorial period after the Civil War. There weren’t any trains there yet, so stagecoaches it was.

The first stagecoach appeared in Arizona in 1857, and this mode of transportation had come to stay.

Before the Civil War, the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line had a regular route across Texas and what is now New Mexico and Arizona, to southern California. When the war broke out, however, they abandoned it and used their northern route, through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

But people still needed to travel in Arizona. When the war ended, the capital was at Prescott, which had remained Union territory. People in more populated southern locations, such as Tucson, needed to go back and forth to the capital. Several independent stage lines sprang up and developed their routes with varying success.

When I went to Prescott to do research for the book, the stagecoach problem was one of my focuses. The place where I found the most help was in the archives at the Sharlot Hall Museum. There I learned about several enterprising men who gave it a good try, and it was tough in those times.

The owners and workers found a great many obstacles to maintaining regular stage service over hundreds of miles of desert, and having to deal with increasingly hostile Indian tribes as well as the inhospitable terrain and climate. Indians stole hundreds of horses from mining operations and stagecoach stations. Some of the station agents had to haul in feed and water for the animals.

My characters attempted to make a stagecoach journey from Tucson to the fledgling mining town of Wickenburg, and from there on up to Prescott. As readers will see, this journey was interrupted several times.

The capital itself was a thorny problem during that period, and it was changed so often it got the nickname “Capital on Wheels.”

After the Confederate Territory of Arizona was formed in 1862, and in February, 1863 officially got Tucson as its capital with Jefferson Davis’s approval, Abraham Lincoln signed the law officially creating the Arizona Territory with Prescott as its capital. The territory was divided into north and south for a while, and for the rest of the Civil War it had two capitals.

Superstition MountainsAfter the war, in 1867, the capital was moved back to Tucson for the reunited Arizona Territory. At that time, Tucson was more developed than any other city in the territory.

However, in 1879, the legislature voted to move the seat of government back to Prescott. That move lasted ten years.

The capital had been located in each location for about the same length of time all told, and some people began to feel it should be moved to a neutral location, somewhere between Tucson and Prescott. By this time, more towns had been founded, and some of them mushroomed. Phoenix was not in existence at the time of my story, but twenty years later it was thriving. In 1889 the capital was moved permanently to Phoenix. Arizona became a state in 1912.

Today we can swiftly drive the length of Arizona in air-conditioned cars in a few hours. We can enjoy the vistas of the beautiful desert without discomfort. But our modern travels are a far cry from what Carmela Wade experienced.


About My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains

A Chance for Escape Takes Two Unlikely Allies on a Romantic Adventure through the Desert

Since she was orphaned at age twelve, Carmela Wade has lived a lie orchestrated by her uncle, pretending to be a survivor of an Indian kidnapping and profiting from telling her made-up story on the speaker circuit. But as she matures into adulthood, Carmela hates the lies and longs to be free. On a stagecoach in Arizona Territory, Carmela and her uncle are fellow passengers with US Marshal Freeland McKay and his handcuffed prisoner.

The stage is attacked. Suddenly a chance to make a new life may be within Carmela’s reach. . .if she can survive the harsh terrain and being handcuffed to an unconscious man.


Desert Moon



Susan will give a copy of My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains to one person who comments on today’s post, and a copy of Desert Moon to another commenter. The winners may choose to receive either print or digital format.



Susan Page Davis


Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and also a winner of the Carol Award and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards. A Maine native, she now lives in Kentucky. Visit her website at, where you can see all her books, sign up for her occasional newsletter, and read a short story on her romance page.

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38 thoughts on “Arizona’s ‘Capital on Wheels’ ~ by Susan Page Davis”

  1. Hi Susan! I like learning more about stagecoaches, I read a lot of historical fiction and they are featured in just about every one. I can’t imaging traveling for days on end in them let alone worrying about hostile Indians and robbers and such! I really enjoyed hearing how you got your research for the book. I’ve read Erica Vetsch’s “My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, TX” and I am loving this new line of books 🙂

    Thank you for a chance to win either one of these, blessings!

    • Trixi, you know what? The best diagram I found of the undercarriage of a stagecoach was in a children’s book. I am sure it wasn’t very comfortable to travel that way–and we think modern travel is dangerous!

  2. I can only imagine traveling across country in a stagecoach. We have some large museums where I live in Auburn, IN. One is a museum of transportation. It has everything from Indy Cars to a cadillac owned previously by Elvis, The Batmobile, the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, Model A’s, covered wagons, and yes, stagecoaches. They are all authentic and the stagecoaches ranged in sizes and some of them were quite small. The insides might have held two comfortably but four (two on each side of the coach) would be a tight squeeze. It made me think people might have been slight in build back in those day.

    Thank you for sharing this post and I would love to win one of your books. Thank you for the chance.

    Cindy W.

    • So cool, Cindy! I’d love to see that museum. You’re right–there was a large variety in stagecoaches back then. We think of the red-and-yellow Concord coaches because we see them a lot on TV and in movies. They were the Cadillac of stagecoaches.

  3. Susan- What a fantastic blog, I loved the history you have given us about Arizona. I’ve never read any of your books, but I’m going to have to try one. I love when authors incorporate history in their books. Have a blessed day.

  4. Susan I love your stories the romance collections. But I never read a full novel by you. Your books seems very interesting

    • Yes, I’ve done a lot of novellas, Kirsten, but I’ve done a lot of longer books too. If you haven’t caught my Ladies’ Shooting Club series, set in historic Idaho, give it a try.

  5. I love this interesting history! I can only imagine all the problems associated with stagecoach travel and am so thankful for the air-conditioned cars we enjoy today. I can’t wait to read Carmela’s story!

  6. Hi Susan….Welcome back! We’re so happy to have you visit again. I loved your blog. Arizona has such a rich history but it often gets overlooked. I’ve always enjoyed my visits there. I imagine travel was difficult. I have to say that I LOVE the premise of Superstition Mountain! Trying to survive while handcuffed to a wanted man…oh yeah!! I can see conflict already.

    Wishing you much success!

  7. Fascinating facts. Didn’t know most of them but I live in the east lol. I did make a couple of trips and we got to see and even ride in a stagecoach (a bumpy ride for sure). I never thought about the civil war reaching that far west. Thanks!

  8. The war had a big effect on the southwestern states, perhaps Texas most of all, but it touched everyone, and it did set back development and expansion. Thanks for taking part today!

  9. Thank you for sharing about stagecoaches. I love the synopsis of your book. I would love to win a copy. Thank you for the chance.

  10. Welcome back to Petticoats and Pistols, Susan! As I am soon to be embarking on a trip through Arizona, your post and pictures held special appeal to me! I will have to check my route and see if I come anywhere near Superstition Mountains. I enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks, Kathryn! I hope you have a wonderful trip. The Superstitions are quite close to Phoenix and Mesa. I also went up to Prescott to do research. The Sharlot Hall Museum there is wonderful. I also used their library and archives, which was a great help.

  11. I’ve never been to Arizona so I really enjoyed reading about some of its history and about also stagecoaches. It’s amazing too how many times the capitol was moved! I wonder if it has the state record for such a thing? LOL I agree with the others who have said that My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains has such an intriguing premise.

    I did look up your website and oh how I envy your growing up in Maine. I’m a lifelong Northeasterner and went to college in Boston, but my family truly loved our vacations in Maine. If my son and I were to move from Penna. where we live now, I think we’d move to Maine in a heartbeat.

    Have a great weekend!

  12. I’m not sure about the record for moving the capital. For quite a while Arizona was part of New Mexico Territory, and then it got sliced horizontally during the war, then vertically again afterward. The bottom part of Nevada was at one time part of it too, so it’s a wonder those states ended up the shape they are. As to Maine, it has many good points in its favor, but the snow, ice, cold, and salt on the roads get some people down. No poison snakes, though. And another thing–I’ve lived in western KY for almost seven years, and it still seems like the sun doesn’t rise and set at the right time. 🙂

  13. Thank you, Susan for sharing this interesting bit of history. The stagecoach certainly beat walking but it was not the most comfortable mode of transportation. We are very fortunate today.

  14. This is so whetting my appetite to get back to my historical! I did some research on the Northern route, through Wyoming. Someone mentioned the undercarriage of a stagecoach – there is a stagecoach in the museum underneath the St. Louis Arch where I took several pictures. Looking forward to reading this one! Great information!

  15. So cool, Regina. Look for Overland Stage by Glen Dines in your children’s room, and also a novel that I found very educational on this topic was Six-Horse Hitch by Kentucky author Janice Holt Giles.

  16. Susan, thanks for visiting P&P & the blog on stagecoaches. The info about the capitol of Arizona was interesting….didn’t realize that it kept changing….a total of 3 different cities. Yes, the West was hard on everyone trying to build a place in our history, especially the women folk. Those dusty long hard rides on stagecoaches must have been brutal; don’t think I would like to have tried it. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of one of your books.

  17. I never realized the state capitol jumped around so much. All three places are nice and would have served well as the permanent location. I take it the picture in the post is taken in the Lost Dutchman State Park. We haven’t been there yet, but it is now on our travel list. Lovely country.
    I look forward to reading Carmela’s story. Desert Moon and Honor Bond sound very good too.

    • Yes, Patricia, that is Superstition Mountain, the main one of the small range, and it was taken last year from near the Superstition Mountain Museum. I should have sent a caption with that photo. The Lost Dutchman Mine came about and was lost after the time period of my story, so it’s not mentioned in this book.

    • aku mau tanya. ada ngak operamini nexian g923 yang gratis internet. kalau setel APN mobinity didaerah kota makassar. sudah ngak bisa conection lagi. mungkin diaekabbsn. karnah kebanyakan orang yang pake APN mobinity.

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