Goldie Tracy Richmond and the Tohono O'odham people: Part I

Courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

December 19, 2010 - 12:00 am
Tracy's Trading Post in San Simon.

Jim and Louise Slack operated the Texaco Station at the intersection of Maricopa Road and Casa Grande Highway in the 1950s.

After the station burned in 1960, Slack took a job as a traveling salesman for Bowes Seal-Fast Automotive Products that covered the outback and isolated areas of southern Arizona that included the Tohono O'odham Reservation.

The main part of the Tohono O'odham “People of the Desert” Reservation stretches through the Sonoran Desert from Tucson to Ajo and covers 4,453.307 square miles. It is one of the largest reservations in the Southwest. The 2000 census listed 10,787 people living on the reservation with almost 28,000 listed on its tribal enrollment. At one time, its land and people were much greater. The Gadsden Purchase split the Tohono O’odham Nation in1853, which left several thousand of its people living south of the United States border.

The Tohono O’odham people trace their heritage to the Hohokam who settled along the Gila, Salt and Santa Cruz Rivers thousands of years ago. These ancestors were master desert dwellers with their sophisticated canal systems and abundance of foods that included corn, beans, squash, tobacco and cotton. Like the Hohokam, the Tohono O’odham farmers planted and raised crops of tepary beans, squash, sugar cane and melons near the washes and gathered the fruit of the saguaro, cholla buds and mesquite bean pods. They also lived off the land, hunting deer, rabbit, javelina and the large variety of other desert wildlife.  

The Tohono O’odham Nation, divided into eleven districts, is located in three counties: Maricopa, Pinal and Pima. Three of these districts are not contiguous to the rest of the reservation. San Lucy District (1882) is northwest of Gila Bend and in Maricopa County.  It has 473 acres and a population of 304.  Florence Village District (1978) is located southwest of Florence in Pinal County with 25.8 acres and 54 people. The San Xavier Reservation (1874) is in Pima County with 111.543 square miles and a population of 2,053.

San Xavier Reservation is about nine miles south of Tucson, and is home to the Mission San Xavier del Bac or White Dove of the Desert.  It is a national historic landmark founded as a Catholic mission by Father Kino in 1692.  Construction on its present church, which began in 1783 and was completed in 1797, includes the original statuary and mural paintings. It is one of the most heavily visited places in Arizona with visitors coming from all over the world to see it each year. 
 
The Tohono O’odham Nation administrative offices are in Sells, Arizona. There are three Desert Diamond Casinos (1993, 2002, 2007) located on the reservation, and most of its income comes from these casinos. However, because of the physical isolation of the reservation, the income is not sufficient to support the basic needs of its people. On the other hand, because of its isolation, the Tohono O’odham language is stronger than with most other aboriginal groups in this country. One of the most popular annual events on the Reservation is the Sells rodeo and parade held in February. This event is approximately 80 years old. Sells is about 75 miles south of Casa Grande. Its people do not use the name, Papago, given to the Tohono O’odham long ago. 
 
Frequently, Jim Slack spoke of a most extraordinary woman he encountered on his business trips selling automotive parts in the isolated southern desert of Arizona. This woman owned and operated Tracy’s Trading Post in San Simon. She also promoted the sale of thousands of Papago baskets for local artists, quilts she made from 1932 to 1966, and assisted the Papagos wherever needed throughout the years. This author came to know this incredible woman through the pages of “Angel to the Papagos” by Charlsie Poe.

Before Goldie Richmond retired to Mesa and quietly passed away in 1972, she left a lifelong connection and legacy with the Papago people through her work and the quilts that depicted themes related to their lifestyles. One quilt depicted the Rodeo with bucking broncos and roping at Sells. Another stitched quilt included baskets and pottery designs; and yet another titled, “Fruit Time” was appliquéd with cactus plants and Sonoran desert animals. One quilt, “Papago Indian Activities Quilt” is considered by many experts to be one of the most significant quilts of the 20th century. It is on permanent display at the Arizona State Museum.  

Goldie stitched her first quilt blocks at the age of three and made about 14 quilts per year. During the time she lived at Tracy’s Trading Post, she estimated she had stitched 500 quilts. Most of these incredible quilts, sold from California to New York, are lost forever to the public. 

Goldie Preston Tracy Richmond was born in Kansas in 1896. She grew up in poverty, faced death more than once throughout her early life, and endured constant harassment from classmates because of her size. Taught early to hide the pain and get on with your life by her strict mother, she graduated from grade school at eleven and very quickly took on the responsibilities of an adult. At 21, she became the third wife of Marion Tracy who was more than 40 years her senior, and instantly became a stepmother, grandmother and great grandmother for his many offspring.

Four years later, she moved, with her ailing elderly husband, to the Southern Arizona mining town of Quijotoa on the Tohono O'odham Reservation to take care of his dying, prospecting brother. It was here that she became a prospector, an animal trapper, hunter and later a trading post operator to make a living for them. She trapped during the winter and hunted during the hot summer months.

To be continued ...

Photo courtesy of Marian Coplen Futch 

Editor’s note:  Maricopa factoids are a regular feature on InMaricopa.com. They are provided by the Maricopa Historical Society, a branch of the Friends of the Maricopa Public Library. Most information comes from “Reflections of a Desert Town” by author and historical society chairperson Patricia Brock. 

Gift Cards are available for Brock’s the new book: “Images of America: Maricopa” along with a short story of Maricopa. Contact Brock at 480-821-0604 or hpbrock@cox.net to purchase a gift card or to reserve a copy of the book.  
 
 

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