The people of Arizona—indeed, the whole of America—owe a debt of gratitude for the vision of Sharlot Hall in preserving Arizona’s frontier history in a museum complex at Prescott, Arizona. Born in Kansas, but moving with her family to Arizona Territory at age eleven, Sharlot Hall became a ranch woman, a historian, a writer and poet, and a woman with political influence. Although she had some education in public schools, first for a couple of brief terms in a log-and-adobe schoolhouse four miles from her family’s ranch, she was largely self-educated. At a young age, she showed an interest and talent in poetry. But childhood days were spent with her brother on the Hall homestead, Orchard Ranch, raising horses, tending pigs and cows, and growing vegetables, apples, and pears. Later, she boarded in Prescott for one year of schooling in town. Upon graduation she attended the Cumnock School of Expression in Los Angeles. However, she did not receive an honorary Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arizona until 1921, more than a decade after she had made her mark in Arizona literature and politics.
At age 20, she had sold her first article to a children’s magazine, and within two years, she was recognized as a journalist, poet, and essayist. Sharlot became a regular contributor to a magazine Land of Sunshine, which later changed its title to Out West. In 1906, she was promoted to associate editor for the magazine. During the years she contributed to Out West, legislation to admit Arizona Territory and New Mexico Territory as a single combined state was proposed in the U.S. Congress. Sharlot opposed the measure and toured the territory, gathering opposition for the bill. In a 64-page article for Out West, she touted Arizona’s numerous resources and the importance of the territory becoming an independent state. She wrote the epic poem Arizona, mocking the proposal. After it appeared in several publications, a copy of the poem was placed on every Congressman’s desk on the day of the vote. The legislation was defeated, partly due to her efforts.
In 1909, Sharlot became the first woman to hold a salaried territorial office when she was appointed as Territorial Historian. Her first compilation of poems, Cactus and pine: Songs of the Southwest, was published. During her tenure as historian, she visited prehistoric ruins and Indian reservations, collecting pioneer material throughout Arizona. In 1911, Sharlot made a 10-week wagon trip to the Arizona Strip above Grand Canyon in an effort to raise awareness of the area’s potential among Arizona residents. The trip’s goal was to prevent Utah from obtaining the region as Nevada had obtained Pah-Ute County in 1866. However, in 1912, the year Arizona gained statehood, she resigned as Territorial Historian and returned to her family ranch to care for her parents.
Although, Sharlot Hall was a daughter of the land, ranching was not her passion. In lines from a letter she penned to Matt Riordan in 1910, she proclaimed her love of the outdoors and “…big things…I couldn’t be a tame house cat woman and spend big sunny glorious days giving card parties and planning dresses—I thank God that he lets me see some of (the world) not through a window pane.” Until 1927, Orchard Ranch was Sharlot’s home. However, the hardships of ranch life, and particularly of ranch women, were a frequent theme in her writing. She reappeared in public life in 1923 with the release of an expanded version of Cactus and pine containing a selection of additional poems. She was selected as a presidential elector, voting for Calvin Coolidge in 1925. From Arizona’s three electors, Sharlot was chosen to deliver the vote to Washington DC. For the trip the Arizona Industrial Congress commissioned an overdress of copper links which she wore to the inauguration. Later, Sharlot often wore this unusual garment with its copper accessories and a cactus hat as she lectured about Arizona and its resources. She also used her trip to Washington to visit museums and learn about their management—for she already had in mind her own museum in Prescott.
Following the death of her father, Sharlot had acquired the log cabin which had served as the “Governor’s mansion” for Arizona Territory’s first governors. Her first ideas of collecting history had come from Henry Fleury, who had come to Prescott in 1864 as secretary to the first governor, John Goodwin, and who lived in the old log Governor’s Mansion. While Sharlot attended school in Prescott, the gruff, grey-bearded Fleury told her many fascinating stories of Prescott‘s early times.
She felt at home in this old log structure so filled with memories of those stories and made the cabin her living quarters. The building also housed her collection of artifacts related to Arizona pioneers and pre-historic Yavapai county. In 1928, she founded the Prescott Historical Society, and opened what she called the Old Governor’s Mansion Museum, which is now the Sharlot Hall Museum. Over the following years, she expanded her museum with the acquisition of additional historical buildings. She also gave talks on local history and folklore to schools and clubs throughout the state. Sharlot Hall died on April 9, 1943, leaving a legacy to her fellow Arizonians and all those who visit the state.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com