Just a short three miles west of Allentown, Arizona on Route 66, is the small town of Houck. This community of a little more than 1,000 people is called Ma’ii Tó by the Navajo, meaning Coyote Water, which is the name of a local spring.
Houck was founded by an express rider carrying the mail between Prescott, Arizona and Fort Wingate, New Mexico. The first route through the area was a wagon road on the south side of the Puerco River that connected Fort Wingate, New Mexico with Fort Whipple, Arizona. This road became the “Overland Stage Road” and was in regular use by the 1870s. It intersected with the 1858 Beale Wagon Road farther west at Navajo Springs.
In 1874, the mail carrier, James D. Houck, built a trading post on the south side of the Puerco River, where he also had a water tank, so the site was first called Houck’s Tank. The main section of the post was an oblong red sandstone building put together with mud and mortar. He ran sheep in the area in addition to operating the trading post. In 1880, William Walker and William Smith were murdered by Native Americans here. If his nearby neighbors didn’t already know, violence appeared to follow Houck as he would make a reputation for himself in years to come.
He continued to run the post intermittently until 1885 when he moved to the Mogollon Mountains. That very same year, he served as a representative in the Arizona Territorial Legislature. He was serving as an Apache County Deputy Sheriff under Commodore Perry Owens when the Pleasant Valley War between sheep and cattlemen erupted in 1887. During this conflict, William Graham was gunned down on August 17, 1887. He lived long enough to identify Ed Tewskbury as the shooter. However, Deputy J.D. Houck would publicly announce that he had shot and killed the man. The following year, he was involved in the lynching of three alleged cattle rustlers. He eventually made his way to a place north of Phoenix where he operated a sheep ranch.
The trading post then went through several hands, operating until 1922. At that time, the highway was moved north of the Puerco River and when a competitor got a trading license for a new store along the rerouted road, the owner abandoned the post. Cowboys from a neighboring ranch used the buildings for a line camp. Unfortunately, there are no remains today.
The transcontinental railroad was built through the area in 1881, originally crossing from north to south of the Puerco River. A post office was established in Houck in 1884, with J.W. Bennett as the first postmaster. Bennett was the second owner of Houck’s Trading Post. In 1913, the wagon road (Adamana-State Line Highway) was an alternative route of the US Old Trails Highway, which was rerouted to the north side of the Puerco River in about 1920. After the road was rerouted, most of the businesses moved to the north side of the river. The rerouted Old Trails Highway become part of Route 66 in 1926.
Though there had been several other trading posts in the area over the years, the one doing the most business during the Route 66 era was the White Mound Trading Post, which was established in about 1924. This post was first located north of the Allentown Bridge along the US Old Trails Highway and owned and operated by Joseph Grubbs. At some point, in about 1933, the highway was rerouted farther north, and Grubbs moved the store to the tract now occupied by Fort Courage, a tourist facility. In 1934, the Arizona Navajo Reservation Boundary Act extended the reservation boundary south of the new store, so in 1936 Joseph Grubbs deeded the land to the US government. However, the store evidently continued to operate into the late 1940s and belonged to Al Frick, who also owned the Lupton Trading Post store.
Unlike many other small towns located on Route 66, the passing traffic had little effect on the small town, which never featured more than a trading post, gas, and groceries. The White Mound Trading Post held Houck’s post office from 1924 until 1946. In 1958, U.S. Interstate 40 came through the area, superseding Route 66. The White Mound Trading Post closed two years later.
Then, in the 1960s, a new modern trading post was built at the same site. Called Fort Courage, this place was inspired by the 1960s television show F-Troop. Over the years this stop featured a coffee shop, restaurant, gas station, grocery store, gift shop, and trading post which kept a large selection of authentic Indian jewelry, Navajo rugs, and all types of curios and souvenirs. It also featured motel units, a trailer park, and a campground. Today, however, Fort Courage is only a shell of its former self, with only abandoned buildings to testify to more prosperous times.
Unfortunately, on May 17, 2020, a fire destroyed a good portion of the old Route 66 attraction, including one of the towers. Fire crews were able to stop the fire from spreading to other structures and three suspects were arrested for arson.
Just south of Houck is the old Allentown Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also called the Puerco River Bridge, it was in 1923 part of the National Old Trails Road. The single-span wooden timber bridge became a part of Route 66 from 1926 to 1931. It is located just south of I-40, exit 351 on Indian Route 9402/Allentown Road.
Just past Houck, at the Pine Springs Exit #346, Route 66 travelers can follow an old alignment on the north frontage road, which crosses a box canyon, passes by the ruins of the Old Querino Canyon Trading Post and over the Querino Canyon Bridge. However, travelers should be aware that the north frontage road soon turns to dirt and can become impassable during rains.
Querino Canyon Bridge
The Querino Canyon Bridge is picturesquely situated over a rugged and beautiful canyon just outside Houck, Arizona. Designed by the Arizona Highway Department, the bridge is a representative example of early highway truss design: 77 feet long, 20 feet wide, and comprised of a concrete-decked steel trestle with three Pratt deck trusses supported by steel piers. Concrete abutments support the bridge from below and steel lattice guardrails typical of the period line the roadway.
The State built the bridge in 1929 as part of a grand rehabilitation and relocation of Route 66 across northern Arizona. The project included several bridges, drainage construction, and at least 25 miles of roadway. The largest of these multiple efforts, the bridge over Querino Canyon formed an integral link on one of America’s primary arteries.
This section of the highway became a county road during the 1960s after the construction of Interstate 40. The Querino Canyon Bridge remains intact, carrying local traffic on the Navajo Indian Reservation. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
The Querino Canyon Bridge crosses Querino Canyon 3.8 miles southwest of Houck, Arizona as part of Old Highway 66.
As you head on through Sanders and Chambers to Navajo, you begin to see signs of the Painted Desert, with its multi-colored sand formations and tremendous views. The Painted Desert covers almost 100,000 acres, stretching from the Petrified Forest to the Grand Canyon. There are times that even the sky above this colorful park glows with the pink and purple hues of the desert.
Richardson, Gladwell; Navajo Trader, University of Arizona Press, 1991
Hinkley, Jim; Route 66 Encyclopedia, Voyageur Press, 2012