William H. Hardy was one of the first pioneers to put down permanent roots in the area presently known as northwestern Arizona and southern Nevada. Coming west in the 1850s from Forest Hill, New York, as a forty-niner, he made his fortune in the Mother Lode Country of California. He moved to Colorado River country in 1863, and in early 1864, he established a landing on the Arizona side of the river where Bullhead City is now, not far from Laughlin, Nevada.
Hardy modestly named his new “city” for himself — for the next thirty years and more, Hardyville was a place on the map in this region where there were few place names. As the years passed, he became involved in and the driving force behind almost every enterprise that developed in his region. He built cities, ran stores, owned, built, and operated the toll road from the Colorado River to Prescott, operated mines, and on and on. He made and lost fortunes with apparent ease. He became known to the people of the region as the “Grand Old Man of the Upper Colorado.”
It would be easy to gather together enough Hardy stories to fill a book. Some are sad — they chronicle the tragedies of the days of the Indian wars in California, Nevada, and Arizona that Hardy lived through. Many are inspiring as they tell of the challenges met and conquered by men like Hardy in taming the wild desert frontier. Some few are humorous — the subject of this vignette is one of the humorous ones.
Hardy was constantly on the watch for any kind of entrepreneurial enterprise he might become involved in. The problem was that there weren’t many resources in that region in the early days of the 1860s and 1870s. And there weren’t many resources. The Mojave Indians constituted a potential resource, and Hardy made use of them frequently in his enterprises for their mutual advantage. For example, they cut timber for him in the river bottom, they worked on his toll road, they labored making adobes for his buildings.
The event in question involves an effort on the part of Hardy to capitalize on his belief that there were large numbers of fish in the Colorado River that were going to waste. He hit upon a way to “harvest” large numbers of these fish with one fell swoop, and he organized the Mojaves to assist him in capitalizing on the harvest by preparing the fish for shipment and delivering them to market throughout the desert country.
In those days there were no wire services to newspapers. Most papers had “correspondents” in the various communities who sent them the news — sometimes for pay and sometimes as a public service. Our knowledge of the Hardy fish enterprise is derived from a firsthand account that was sent from Hardyville to the Prescott Arizona Miner by some unidentified wag. That account tells the tale.
The article was titled “Remarkable Fish Story.” It was dated at Hardyville, Arizona Territory, April 20, 1872, and addressed to “Editor of the Arizona Miner.” It follows:
It seems to me only right that an event, long to be remembered by the good citizens of Hardyville, should be recorded in your paper. And hence I propose to detail to you a wonderful fish story.
Be it known that in the spring of the year it is usual for immense schools of Colorado Salmon to pass lazily up the river on their way (so it is said by those posted in piscatory) to cooler and purer water, to lay eggs, hatch, nurse and raise up little salmons. Now, beef, here, is historically tough, blue, bony, 20 cents per pound and scarce. Bacon is not deemed healthy in warm weather at fifty cents per pound. Hence, it is not strange that our most enterprising fellow-citizen, Wm. H. Hardy, should have conceived the glorious idea of turning the fat salmon to account. How to capture the scaly tribe that was the question? Having been told by a ‘heathen Chinee’ that in Hong Kong, blowing them up with giant powder was a favorite way, with his countrymen, of catching them. And being, of late, engaged in mining, and having witnessed its wonders, it is not strange either, that he should have come to the conclusion that he could play the deuce with Mr. Fish with that fearful explosion.
Knowing that it would be a success, he at once made arrangements for opening fish markets at Mineral Park, Cerbat, Chloride and Hardyville, and prepared a fish wagon for Prescott. Having secured four tons of salt from the Callville salt mines, and bought up all the empty barrels in the county, and congregated 173 Mohaves to assist in the business of cleaning and salting, it was announced on the morning of April 1st, the haul would be made. Of course, a large and curious crowd gathered on the river bank to witness the slaughter of so many fish. At precisely eight o’clock, Mr. H. with his Assistant, bearing several oyster cans, loaded with giant powder, stepped smilingly into the boat, and with a bold stroke, sped out into deep water where it was supposed several millions of the unsuspecting fish lay. Mr. H. gave the signal to throw out a torpedo; the assistant was nervous, and, instead of throwing it away from the boat; kerplunk, went the oyster can directly under the stern of the boat. Every one saw it, and every one felt that something terrible was about to happen. Mr. H. was alive to the full sense of his dangerous position. But, with remarkable presence of mind, ‘midst the hissing of fuse and sputtering of water, he commenced paddling for dear life, first one way, then another, and succeeded admirably in keeping the stern of his craft directly over the fearful fish annihilator.
Every one on short held their breath in that moment of suspense; all anxious, but all impotent to save the imperilled fisherman. In an instant there was a fearful shake of the earth, then a deafening report that was distinctly heard for many miles down and up the river; then a mountain of water sprang into the air, and bursting into ten thousands of volumes and sprays revealed cavorting and whirling fully fifty feet in mid air, boat paddles, fish, and fishermen in inextricable confusion. It was all done quicker than I can relate it. In a moment more, Mr. H. and his assistant were making desperate strokes in the muddy waters of the Colorado, and, amidst the shouts and cheers of the crowd on shore, succeeded in taking refuge on either end of the capsized boat. Soon a dozen dusky braves sprang into the water, and in a trice our adventurous fishermen, waterlogged, bruised but alive, were once more on terra firma.
Mr. Hardy says that it’s a d—-d humbug; that the Chinese nation is a humbug and a liar.
Owing to the confusion of the moment the fish recovered themselves, and all but one made good their escape. That one, a fine specimen of his tribe, a full four inches in length, can now be seen hanging up in Samuel Todd’s store at Hardyville, where it will be sacredly preserved as a relic of the scaly adventure of Mr. H.
Since Mr. H. has struck it rich in the Fairfield mine — at a depth of near 100 feet — he don’t care a cent — whether the joke is on him or the fish.
Hardy struggled against the rough elements of the frontier for more than thirty years, meeting with minimal success in the end. He was right that this section of desert would one day “blossom as the rose,” but he was more than a hundred years before the right time.