History of Aquaculture in Arizona
by Bill Roberts, excerpted from The Traveler, January 1997


       Few of the pioneers who entered Arizona Territory in the early 1860s were visionaries. Most were merely seeking gold, or a new start. Frederick Louis Brill, who settled near Wickenburg in 1866 was of the first category. Brill had already made his name as one of the top ranchers and farmers in the Territory by 1870. But it was 10 years later that he did what no other man had even dreamed of: start a fish farm in the middle of the desert. Here is the story of Frederick L. Brill, one of the most successful and exceptional of the men who carved a place in the wilderness of Arizona Territory in its early years.
    What kind of man would even dream of starting a fish farm in the desert near Wickenburg? One that already was highly successful in business, farming and ranching, one that was extremely thrifty with that precious desert resource, water, and one who was adventurous enough to try just about anything that was enterprising. Such a man was Frederick Brill. Brill had been on his ranch 3 miles outside Wickenburg on the old wagon trail to Phoenix for some 15 years before he had a flourishing fish farm, supplying fresh carp to Chinese restaurant owners in both Prescott and Phoenix. In those 15 years, Brill had suffered losses of valuable stock to Indian, had his herder, Ben Weaver, son of mountainman Pauline Weaver, killed in an Indian raid, and despite it all, had become one of the best known farmers of fruits and vegetables in the Territory.

      A German Immigrant - Frederick L. Brill was born in Bilstein, Westphalia, Prussia (Germany) on April 4, 1833. He attended public schools and took a college course at Lippstadt, Germany before leaving for the United States in 1849 at the age of 16. His ship put in at New Orleans, where he got work as a cigar maker. A year later, the young Brill moved to San Antonio, Texas and, having learned the trade, opened his own cigar factory. He was only 17, but extremely industrious and knowledgeable of business. He ran his cigar factory for two years, built up the business, and sold it in 1852. Now, with the money in his pocket, he decided to head for California. He arrived in San Francisco and headed into the placer fields of Mariposa County. He opened a boarding house, taking advantage of the heavy influx of miners into the area. He sold that business in 1855 and moved to San Diego. There Brill went into the cattle business and made a name for himself in the community. Within five years, he became an American citizen.

      Into The New Arizona Territory - When Arizona Territory was but two years old, Brill obtained an Army contract to deliver beef to the troops in the Indian infested wilderness, 700 head of beef. He bought a parcel on the Hassayampa River 3 miles toward Phoenix from what was becoming the town of Wickenburg. Taking up the property in 1866, "Fritz" Brill immediately began planting the first large apple and peach orchard in Arizona Territory. Brill was long famous in the Territory for his produce and his beef, his herd estimated at 1,000 head. He also had a dairy farm that supplied the town and nearby mines with milk, butter and cheese. Brill's place had water. The Hassayampa River ran through it, and there were several springs on the property. Bill irrigated with spring water and watered his cattle in the river, which also provided the ranch with an abundance of sandy soil along its banks, soil ideal for raising vegetables and most of all, potatoes. The water from the springs ran through his orchard in ditches he had dug, irrigating the fruit trees through all of the seasons. These ditches ran into a tank, some 20 feet across, which provided a reservoir of water for his cattle when the Hassayampa was dry. Brill's ranch was, as it was later called, "A Garden of Allah,"smack in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

      Brill's Fish Farm - But few expected the announcement in the Phoenix Herald in the spring of 1881 that the famed pioneer was taking up fish farming in the desert outside Wickenburg. Brill started cautiously. He ordered a number of carp shipped express from California. Most arrived dead, making the cost per live surviving fish $2.50 each. The survivors flourished in Brill's small tank (pond) and he began enlarging the pond, which still is in evidence as a small lake on the old Brill home site outside Wickenburg. Brillís next order was for 500 fish to be shipped in five large barrels by rail to Maricopa Station from California. The entire lot cost him $150, including shipping. He had the barrels transferred to wagons at Maricopa and freighted them to his Wickenburg ranch, losing only 10 fish on the 80 mile wagon trip. Having expanded his pond to 25 yards across and four feet deep, he dumped the fish in and waited. Within two months Brill reported the carp had doubled in size and had started spawning. He hoped to have a large number of young fish for breeding by Christmas of 1881 and a few months later, in spring of '82, fish for sale for the tables of the Territory. Brill said he should even have enough by then to offer to the Arizona Fish Commission for stocking rivers in the Territory. Brill found ready customers in both Prescott and Phoenix for his fresh fish, particularly Chinese restaurants, which were in abundance at the time.
    The fish were profitable. The water in the fish breeding pond had already been utilized to irrigate Brill's fruit trees and water stock. Brill, in an interview with the Phoenix Herald in 1882, said the carp grew readily on scraps from the kitchen and mud and other natural nutrients in the pond. Brill said he found some carp had escaped into one of his irrigation ditches without his knowledge and when he drained the ditch to clean it out, he found ten large carp and a dozen young ones. He said one of the large fish weighed 3.5 pounds and was 17 inches long. This was but eleven months after Brill had received his first shipment of carp. It is certain that Brill was an exceptional man, one who could succeed at cigar manufacturing, fruit and vegetable farming, ranching and even fish farming, a man who could make the desert flourish.

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