Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

September 28, 2012

Westerners Unearth Well-Digger's Story


by Sandy Unger

Several different groups of Sedona Westerners tramp every season in an area that was identified, in "Those Early Days," as Grasshopper Flats. It was known for its abundance of grasshoppers, which were collected as bait by fishermen on their way to Oak Creek.

The events recounted here, occurring in the above area, are fully documented in the Archives of the Sedona Historical Society. Two main characters are featured. The first, Fannie Belle Gulick, after a stint in the goldfields of Nevada, relocated to Las Vegas and settled into the Oldest Profession: she rose to be Madam of a successful bordello. Visiting Sedona for the first time in the early 1940's, she is said to have been "a wily business woman." She bought up all the property that was available in Grasshopper Flats. As the story goes, land could be had for $25 per acre. Why so little? Well, over half a dozen homesteaders and/or squatters had already tried to "dry farm" in this area, and all had "starved out."

Why didn't they sink a well? The prevailing consensus was that the gamble was too great. A University of Arizona professor, reputed to be an expert on the geology of northern Arizona, had made the final judgment: "You might drill down 2,500 feet and end up with a $20,000 dry hole."

Carl Williams, Geologist and Well-Driller, provided the impetus which resulted in Grasshopper Flats becoming West Sedona and Big Park turning into the Village of Oak Creek. Photo courtesy of the Sedona Historical Society.

Well-driller Carl E. Williams, as a young man, had completed a year-and-a-half of graduate studies at Stanford University. In 1946, he was diagnosed with a crippling arthritic condition; he was unconditionally advised to sell out his prosperous business in Oregon, and move as soon as possible to Arizona.

It is unclear how Fannie and Carl got together. Fannie would not pay ahead of time; she supposedly offered "a few of her acres" in the unlikely case that Carl was successful. Williams was shown reports that allegedly proved there could be no underground "reservoirs."

He studied the reports. And he studied the land. There was Montezuma Well, about 16 miles southwest of Sedona, where nearly two million gallons of water poured each day out of a "limestone pit." About eight miles west, at about 500 feet lower altitude than Sedona, there were Page Springs, discharging about 15,000,000 (fifteen million) gallons per diem.

Williams looked and found deep fissures and faults etching the Rim and the nearby mountains. Water, he reasoned, must be carried down from the High Country through deep fractures and joints. He became certain that this flow was being captured in underground aquifers, which would supply wells drilled to a 500-foot depth in Sedona!

Carl Williams brought in the first well in 1947, on Fannie's property in Grasshopper Flats. It was an occasion of widespread celebration. The little town held a picnic on the site for all comers. Hundreds came.

In the aftermath, as it was written in the 1950's, "The fame of the man who brought water to Sedona is almost legendary. He has been honored with the presidency of the Oak Creek-Sedona Chamber of Commerce...and many similar accolades. People stop him at every turn simply to shake the hand of the man who lit the fuse that caused the big boom in Sedona."

Fannie Gulick did not fare badly. She was worth millions ($$$) by the late 1950's. Upon her death, and her estate settled, a Phoenix-based development company bought the 1000 acres in Big Park, which she had accumulated, and in 1968, successfully changed the name and character of Big Park into the present "Village of Oak Creek."

After several happy years in Arizona, Carl Williams was able to lay aside his crutches and canes; he had substantially recovered his health!

The Westerners always welcome new members! If you are interested in joining the club, visit our website at You may also join by attending any monthly meeting, which is the second Thursday of every month beginning at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Synagogue and Community Center on Meadow Lark Road.