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Photo courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

 

Before it was relegated to its current status as the 600 building, the library at Maricopa High School was the office. Between 2000 and 2006, high school enrollment grew by more than 250 students to 876. Since then, more buildings were added to campus, including a new front office. The parking lot was also paved. At the end of 2019, enrollment was more than 2,200.

2020 photo by Raven Figueroa

This item appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

2002, City of Maricopa
2006, City of Maricopa

The growth of Maricopa was dramatic between 2002 and 2006, when the city was a poster child of the housing boom. The post-recession surge is evident again from the air, showing the spreading residential areas and the businesses along John Wayne Parkway as well as Copper Sky.

2020 photo by Kyle Norby (flight courtesy of Andy Estes, Desert Rat Aviation)

This item appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

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Maricopa Historical Society


A photo taken in Maricopa circa 1910 facing west shows the Southern Pacific tracks passing by a water tower, the Maricopa Train Station, along with what appear to be travelers waiting for the next train. In 2020, little is left at the location except the water tower and the tracks, which now belong to Union Pacific Railroad.

Photo by Kyle Norby

This item appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Alice Johnson-McKinney stays on independent path

Alice Johnson McKinney at the Stanfield homestead where she has lived since 1969. Photo by Victor Moreno

Alice Kulbeth Johnson-McKinney first traveled from Arkansas to Arizona in 1955 at age 15.

“My dad had a heart condition, and the doctor said, ‘If you lived in a warmer climate and didn’t work so hard, you could increase your life expectancy.’ He had a brother that worked for the mines in Globe, so we sold the house and everything and moved to Arizona.”

It was just the beginning of a remarkable life that included picking cotton, performing country music, waitressing, flipping houses before it was cool, marrying four times (twice to the same man), being caretaker to ailing spouses and standing centerstage in one of the most iconic friendships in Pinal County history.

“Oh, she’s a great lady,” said Paul Shirk, president of the Maricopa Historical Society. “And she has so many stories. Every time I talk to her, I hear a story I haven’t heard before.”

People like to ask her for stories about John Wayne, but she likes to share the full history as much as she can while she’s still here and can remember the details.

“There’s not too many of us left, the older farmers,” she said. “We’re getting old and passing on.”

In the 1950s, Johnson-McKinney’s father was a logger and took a little time to land a job with the Globe mining companies. Back in Arkansas he had played fiddle in a country band that also included 11-year-old Alice on upright bass and her little brother Larry playing mandolin/guitar. They had a regular gig on a local radio station. Based on that youthful experience, Alice and Larry landed jobs in Arizona before their parents did.

She marched into a Globe radio station and said they wanted to play on air and get paid.

Johnson-McKinney keeps a collection of family photos, including this one of her and her brother when they were a musical act in the 1950s.

“She said, ‘We can’t pay you unless you get sponsors,’” Alice recalled. “So, I went to town to a men’s store, and they said they’d be a sponsor. And I went to a furniture store, and they were a sponsor. We went back to the radio station, so they gave us a 30-minute program on Saturday mornings, and they paid us.”

She also landed a job as a car-hop at a foot-long hot dog place in Chandler.

Johnson-McKinney lasted in Globe through six weeks of school before deciding to return to her grandparents in Arkansas and finish high school in a school with more amenities. She also picked a lot of cotton on their small farm, up to 300 pounds a day while daydreaming of being a movie star. After graduation, she returned to Arizona.

When she was 19 and Larry was 14, they went to California to make a record. While waiting for their own recording session, Alice ended up recording two lines of a commercial for a clothing outlet because the chosen model could not fake a southern accent. They drew the interest of a talent scout, but their parents were not prepared to quit their jobs in Globe.

By 1965, Alice was married and divorced with a 6-year-old daughter, Becky, when she was waitressing at Copper Hills Restaurant in Globe. The owner, local icon Danko Gurovich, set her up on a blind date with a much-older, well-to-do farmer named Louis Johnson. It definitely was not a meet-cute.

John Wayne and Louis Johnson at their annual cattle sale.
Alice knew John Wayne during the last decade of his life through his friendship and partnership with her husband Louis Johnson.

“I was supposed to meet Louis at Durant’s Restaurant in Phoenix. It’s an hour and a half drive from Globe, and I never had gone on a blind date, so I just decided not to go. I didn’t show up,” she said. “Well, apparently he had had John Wayne fly over and was with him at Durant’s. Louis was really embarrassed and took a lot of razzing from the Duke because I didn’t show up.”

Johnson and Wayne had been partners growing cotton in Pinal County since 1958. Widely dubbed the best cotton farmer in the state, Johnson grew up picking cotton in Arizona and bought his first acres near Stanfield for $50 an acre when he was just 19.

“The Anderson Clayton Company would buy the land for you,” Johnson-McKinney said. “You would agree to use his gins, and then you just paid them back.”

Johnson and Wayne eventually combined their neighboring properties, and Johnson managed the 10,000 acres.

By 1965, when Gurovich tried to be matchmaker, Johnson and Wayne were moving into the cattle business after the federal government cut back on water allotments for cotton. Able to grow cotton on only a section of his land, Johnson created a feedlot.

He and Wayne put together 50,000 acres for a grassland ranch near Springerville in Apache County and bought purebred Herefords, paying over $100,000 for a single bull. Wayne and Johnson were in the middle of the effort to construct the 26 Bar Ranch when Alice came into the picture.

The day after that failed blind date, Gurovich pushed Alice to call Johnson and apologize. “Out of sympathy, I made another date with him because he asked me to bring Becky along. So, I said, ‘That’s pretty smart.’”

The 26 Bar Ranch sales barn on White and Parker Road. Photo by Kyle Norby

That first date was to the ranch he and Wayne were putting together. “Everyone” had told Alice how smart Johnson was. While that was not her first impression, she said she soon learned “everyone” was right. Johnson was intelligent, wise and a heck of a farmer.

“He wasn’t a big man, but his heart made up for it.”

She dated Johnson for a while, but Becky’s father came back into the picture. She decided to try marriage with him again for Becky’s sake. Not only did it break Johnson’s heart, but it didn’t take. “You should never marry a person a second time, because the problems are still there.”

When she divorced again, Johnson was waiting for her.

“We were very compatible,” she said. “Before we got married, we talked about a lot of things. It seemed like everything that suited him suited me… We were able to converse about everything.”

Johnson-McKinney said a level of trust built because she would never take money from him while they were dating. “I had a job and I was able to pay my bills and I had my own house.”

She also worked at a bank for a time and at Roosevelt Lake Estates, where she waitressed.

She married Louis Johnson in 1969, and they moved to the ranch between Stanfield and Maricopa, where they were surrounded by cotton.

Alice and Louis Johnson

“When I first came here in ’69, I don’t think the road had been paved that many years,” she said of Maricopa. “It looked like Stanfield. It had a bar and a service station and a small grocery store.”

Never one to be idle, she got to work in the four-acre yard and planted trees all over the property. She wanted evergreens to remind her of the pines in Arkansas. She and her brother stuccoed the 17-year-old, block house, a large but modest home.

Still sensing she was bored and a little isolated as a young woman used to working, Johnson had friend Verna Cooper take his wife to a meeting of the Cotton Wives Club, part of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association. Under Cooper’s wing, Alice joined the club and eventually became president. She still maintains friendships from the group.

Johnson and Wayne had started their annual cattle sale in 1968 at the Stanfield farm. He and Wayne trucked bulls and heifers down from Springerville. The sale started small but grew to national renown.

“One year we had ranches represented from 37 states,” Johnson-McKinney said. “John Wayne being a partner didn’t hurt any, as far as people wanted to see him, but the cattle were very good. That took precedent over celebrities.”

Alice proving to her new husband and friends she could pick cotton.

Louis Johnson did not leave cotton behind.

“He stayed with it. He wasn’t playing golf. He wasn’t going on vacation. He was looking at it every day,” Johnson-McKinney said. “He would look at the cotton in the morning with the sun shining on it from one direction, and in the evening he would look at it with the sun from the west shining on it.

“He said anytime you see a shoot off the main stem and there are four cotton bolls in there, it means you’re gonna get four bales per acre.”

Each year, Wayne and Johnson had a bet that if Johnson produced four bales of cotton per acre, Wayne would buy him a Cadillac. If not, Johnson would buy Wayne a car. Johnson received a Cadillac every year but one.

They played high-stakes jokes on each other as well. When Wayne said the Johnsons could eat free at Danko Gurovich’s restaurant, Johnson took full advantage one evening. He made off with a case of vodka and boxes of steaks, shrimp and bacon.

“They didn’t have enough bacon the next morning to serve in the restaurant,” Johnson-McKinney said. “We had bacon. I had an aunt that lived down the road, and we took it to her, and she divided it with all her neighbors down the street.”

Johnson and Gurovich also pretended to buy a racehorse named Snickerbar Dan, giving Wayne a share for $12,500. The horse did not exist.

Still, Wayne trusted Johnson when it came to business.

“Louis saved him,” Johnson-McKinney said. “He was in financial duress. They were repossessing all the farm stuff. He bought this farmland and didn’t know what he was doing.”

Alice Johnson-McKinney keeps books of photos from the 26 Bar Ranch days.

She said Wayne was actually “pretty gullible” and could be suckered in by just about anyone with an investment scheme until he got in the habit of turning them over to Johnson first. They were, in fact, like family, each called “uncle” by the other’s kids.

Alice speaks of The Duke with great affection. She said he felt perfectly at home in Maricopa and Stanfield and at the Johnson house in particular.

“He loved coming here. He liked visiting with the people, with the locals,” she said. “Even when he came and it wasn’t bull sale time, we’d have some local people [like Donna and Jimmie Kerr] come out and have dinner. He liked the ranch and farm people.

“He was just like he is. He either was not an actor, or he was acting all the time. What you see on screen is just the way he is in person.”

The Johnsons visited Wayne several times when he was filming on location, having dinner with him and Katharine Hepburn in Oregon during “Rooster Cogburn” and dropping in on him in Texas during “The Cowboys” and for the Houston premiere of “Hellfighters.”

John Wayne filming “The Cowboys” in Texas, where the Johnsons visited him on set.

Back at home, Alice still needed intellectual stimulation. She floated the idea of going back to college, but Louis couldn’t agree to that. So, when her stepson Johnny went off to New Mexico State University, she had him buy books for her.

“When Louis went to work at 4 o’clock in the morning, I would just read,” she said.

In the mid-1970s, when beef went into a slump, Alice and Becky started “flipping” houses. With money invested from the sale of her home after she married Johnson, McKinney bought a second house. She and Becky worked it into shape and sold it two months later for a profit.

“Becky and I flipped before flipping was flipping,” she said.

They continued that process through a series of houses as 50-50 partners. Then they decided to keep some of the houses they flipped to put up for rent as mines shut down around Casa Grande during a strike.

Alice Johnson-McKinney. Photo by Kyle Norby

“Men were going to other states for work. Women were wanting to reunite with the family,” she said. “I could give them $5,000 for their house, and they would sign it over to us. We didn’t have to go and borrow the money. You could assume somebody else’s mortgage, back in that day. You can’t do that now.”

Word got around among those who were losing their homes in Casa Grande that Alice and Becky would buy it for $2,000-$5,000, and they wouldn’t have to ruin their credit.

“That was very lucrative, because they might have paid on that house 10-15 years,” Johnson-McKinney said. “That’s how Becky and I formed a business, and now she has rental properties.”

Alice gave her own house the works, too.

“The master bedroom had its own bathroom, but all the other bedrooms had to share a common bathroom down the hall, and I didn’t like that,” she said. “I made all the bedrooms bigger, and they have their own bathrooms.”

She had told Johnson what elements she might want if she built her dream house. That included a deck, a dome and skylights to see the stars.

He gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wanted to the house. The result is a unique ranch house that is both western and Hollywood. She maintains a John Wayne suite, but also has The Duke memorabilia spread throughout the house. There are two kitchens, though she declares she’s not much of a cook. There is a bar, a pool and a tennis court. There are also unique family paintings.

Detail of one of the family paintings done of Louis, Alice and Becky.

After Wayne died of cancer in 1979, the Johnsons began selling off some of their assets as well. Alice and Becky continued their construction business and built houses for all the kids in the blended family. Then, as the end of the century neared, Louis fell ill.

“One day, everything was normal, and the next day, it was never the same,” Johnson-McKinney said.

After a grueling battle, Louis Johnson died of cancer in 2001.

Alice and Verne McKinney

That left Alice taking care of much of their assets around the country including an office building in Montana. She also bought a home there. She had to travel to Billings with a nephew to deal with a legal issue concerning the office building. There, she met a local rodeo cowboy and truck driver named Verne McKinney, who had been single for 30 years and had just retired.

Dancing in the Northern Hotel, they hit it off quickly.

After a long-distance correspondence, Alice and Verne married in 2003. During 14 years of marriage, they did some world traveling, and Alice’s ring of acquaintances widened even more.

But life was never a breeze. Johnson-McKinney cared for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother for the final three years of her life. Then cancer again hit home, taking Verne McKinney in 2017.

Alice continues to live independently but looked after. Her daughter lives in a house on the property, and there are laborers to help with upkeep.

She feels the housing developments in Maricopa inching closer and said she has had offers for her surrounding acreage. She now maintains 160 acres as a cushion.

“I won’t ever sell it,” she said. “This is my roots.”


This story appears in part in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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Maricopa Historical Society photo

A 1949 photo from atop the water tower was taken after a flood. The Maricopa dirt road heading north runs along the bed for the former Maricopa & Phoenix Railroad line that stopped running in the mid-1930s. Maricopa Market is the upper-right, white building. Today, the road is John Wayne Parkway, also known as State Route 347, also known as Maricopa Road.

Photo by Kyle Norby

This item appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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Then: Photo courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

After a 1931 fire destroyed Art Deal’s hotel and the railroad station, Jack and Clara Burkett decided to build another hotel. It was located at the southwest junction of the railroad tracks and Maricopa Road on the lot now occupied by F.O.R. Maricopa’s blue business barn. The new Maricopa Hotel included a basement, main floor and upstairs dance hall. It was reportedly the first place to buy liquor in Maricopa after Prohibition ended. The Burketts later added a café on the south side. For a time, the hotel also served as the post office. The hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1954.

Now: Photo by Victor Moreno

This item appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Photos by Kyle Norby

Millar Airfield, housing the Vietnam Aviation Veterans of Arizona museum, hosted its annual fall fly-in Saturday with a pancake breakfast, rides and, of course, lots of planes to show off as pilots from around the state and beyond landed at the private airstrip. The nonprofit museum displays military vehicles and equipment, photos, uniforms and artifacts of multiple wars.

Years of Joan Koczor's documentation of recent Maricopa history was turned over to the Maricopa Historical Society Monday.

Now with the confidence of having future storage and display space for their many items of historical significance to the community, Maricopa Historical Society was happy to accept a collection from Joan Koczor.

The historical compilation of articles, clippings, photographs and programs tells the story of recent Maricopa since the 1980s through incorporation.

Koczor was an early member of the Society, working alongside historian Patricia Brock and Mary Lou Smith. The organization had been busy collecting stories and items from long-time residents but realized the community was growing and changing fast.

“Mary Lou said, ‘We need someone to take the more current history,’” Koczor said. “Then I said, ‘I like history.’ All of a sudden, I started getting these things. Mary Lou game me some stuff she had in her basement. Shirley Ann Hartman had some stuff in there, too. I went into the archives of InMaricopa. It was one thing after another.”

The evolution of the post office, the library, the fire department and Copper Sky all became catalogued by Koczor, who writes a senior-advocacy column for InMaricopa magazine.

The opening of the current library, for instance, brought a who’s who of important guests, and Koczor made a point of talking with them and taking photos. She carefully compiled the information in massive binders.

Board member Dorothy Charles said everything Koczor turned over to the Society would be digitally copied, so the information can be generally available, and the originals will be safely stored.

Koczor said compiling the donated items took “hours of research, attendance at events and presentations,” with husband Ray showing nothing but support and patience while “schlepping” her around.

The events they attended would become Maricopa history through photographs and newspaper articles.

“A lot of this will help us with our event coming up,” said Society President Paul Shirk, referring to the new Tales & Treasures supper coming up Oct. 26. “We want to encourage people, if they got stuff, bring it in.”

Denny Hoeh shares a peek at the written works of some of the participants in the upcoming Maricopa Historical Society Speaker Series. Photo by Kyle Norby

To understand Arizona history, you have to learn about Italian explorer Eusebio Kino.

IF YOU GO
What
: Maricopa Historical Society Speaker Series
When: First Mondays, October-April, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Public Library
How much: Free
Info: MHS50.com

A Jesuit priest, Father Kino traveled around much of 17th century Arizona, including the area that is now Maricopa, as well as California and Sonora. While he was establishing dozens of Catholic missions, he was often the first non-Native through some areas to provide descriptions of the land and people.

Author Barbara Jarquay returns to the Maricopa Historical Society to talk about Father Kino and his legacy, one of eight historians who will participate in the new 2019-20 Speaker Series.

Other speakers’ topics range from POW camps in Pinal County to Maricopa’s archaeology and answer the big question: Why is Maricopa not in Mexico? The historical society’s vice president, Denny Hoeh, said the lineup may be even better than last year’s.

The year will also include a new fundraising dinner loaded with historical snippets, “Tales & Treasures.”

Oct. 7, local archaeologist Aaron Wright is scheduled to start things off. The focus of his studies has been the Great Bend of the Gila River and what he calls its “very impressive array” of archaeological sites. For the historical society, he will talk about the basics of Maricopa’s archaeology.

Hoeh said Wright’s award-winning work has disputed long-held beliefs about the source of some of the petroglyphs in southern Arizona, bringing the Patayan into the discussion. “He’s probably one of the national experts on the Patayan,” Hoeh said.

Nov. 4, Doug Whitbeck and Michael Daehler are scheduled to talk about the natural history of Sonoran Desert National Monument.

“People don’t know the Sonoran Desert is one of the most diverse areas on the planet,” Hoeh said.

Dec. 2, author Doug Hocking returns to talk about his new book coming out in October, “Terror on the Santa Fe Trail” about an Apache battle in the 1800s.

Jan. 6, Jaquay brings her new research in to Father Kino to the meeting. Also a geographer, she last spoke to the society about the history of Arizona sheepherding.

For Arizona, the Gadsden purchase of 1854 defined its current borders and placed what is now the city of Maricopa (not to mention Tucson and Yuma) into the United States. At the Feb. 3 meeting, historian Dan Judkins will explain how and why the crucial purchase came about.

March 2, Gerald T. Ahnert will discuss the Overland Mail Company that left its mark on Maricopa. He worked on a bill now in Congress waiting to be approved to designate the Butterfield Trails as a national historic trail. A native New Yorker, he has had his work featured in True West magazine.

“No Butterfield stage was ever held up by outlaws, and no one on his stages was ever killed during the company’s service on the Southern Overland Trail,” he wrote.

“He’s not a young man, but he is so adventuresome,” Hoeh said.

April 6, archivist Steve Hoza will wrap up the series with a talk about World War II prisoner-of-war camps in Pinal County. Hoeh said he even went to Germany to interview some of the former POWs and was a contributor to the History Channel’s “The Great Escapes of World War II.”

This year, Maricopa Historical Society will forego its traditional golf-tournament fundraiser and instead launch a new event. “Tales & Treasures” is scheduled for Oct. 26, a catered dinner at Leading Edge Academy that will dish up plenty of folklore and antiques.

The event is 3-6 p.m. and is $40 for members and $45 for nonmembers. Hoeh said the plan is to have local historians make the rounds during the meal, stopping at each table to share area history or at least the truth behind some tall tales. Funds raised go to the programs and projects of the society. Learn more in the October issue of InMaricopa.


This story appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Union Pacific's Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 steaming through Utah in May.

Union Pacific’s historic Big Boy steam locomotive No. 4014 is touring the Union Pacific system throughout 2019 to commemorate the transcontinental railroad’s 150th anniversary.

Tips from UPRR

  • Stand back at least 25 feet from all railroad tracks.
  • Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and right-of-way are private property – please do not trespass.
  • Never assume tracks are abandoned or inactive – ALWAYS expect a train.

The Big Boy’s return to the rails is the product of more than two years of meticulous restoration work by the Union Pacific Steam Team. No. 4014 is the world’s only operating Big Boy locomotive.

Oct. 16, it is expected to stop in Gila Bend around 12:30 p.m. and then pass through Maricopa (but not stop) on its way to Casa Grande to stay overnight. Maricopa’s Dale Brinkman estimates it will roll through Maricopa around 2:15 p.m.

UP says, due to the dynamic nature of these operations, running times and scheduled stops are subject to change. See the current schedule.

The 25 Big Boy reciprocating steam locomotives were manufactured 1941-44, with engines that weighed over 700,000 pounds. Eight are known to still be around. UPRR reacquired No. 4014 for the purpose of restoring it.

 

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Believed to have been taken between 1900 and 1920, this photo of a train at the pumping station with the iconic water tower nearby is so typical of Maricopa at that time it served as a postcard. For 40 years, Maricopa was a junction for the Southern Pacific Railroad where passengers bound for Phoenix could catch the Doodlebug into town. Just like the train, they could stop for a little refreshment in Maricopa before continuing on their journey. The east-west tracks now belong to Union Pacific, and the northbound spur was torn up.

Library of Congress


This item appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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In the history of Maricopa, a man named Perry Williams is noted three ways. An entrepreneur, he built Hotel Williams in 1884 on the southside of the railroad tracks, just feet from the rails. (The building was destroyed by fire in 1913.) After the post office moved from Maricopaville to modern-day Maricopa in 1887, Williams became the postmaster and may have run the post office out of the hotel. Most noted, thanks to a preserved photo of the time, was his ownership of at least one bobcat, which he kept at the post office as a tourist attraction for several years. Williams eventually sold his land holdings in Maricopa and moved back to Phoenix.

Photo Maricopa Historical Society


This item appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

Born in 1946 in Ak-Chin, Armida Mattia learned the art of O’odham basketweaving from her grandmother. Her baskets have been presented to governors, senators and presidents. In 2004, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian purchased one of Armida’s baskets for its collection.

Last year, her baskets were among those donated to the Maricopa Historical Society by local historian Patricia Brock. Ak-Chin’s Oral History division of the museum set up a meeting between Armida Mattia and the MHS Collections Committee.

Armida identified many of the baskets as hers by the stitch that was made and stated she used mainly yucca, black devil’s claw, bear grass and cat tails when weaving the baskets. A two-part owl basket and a large basket made especially for Harry and Patricia Brock are among the many baskets she wove.

Patricia gifted several baskets to the Maricopa Historical Society for safe keeping for the people of Maricopa.



This item appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Pierre Deck had some frights as a child in Mobile. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

Have you experienced paranormal activity in Maricopa? Tell us about it at Facebook.com/InMaricopa.

Maricopa’s history is chronicled well into the mid-19th century, when much of the American Southwest was still frontier land.

Most structures and relics from that period have been lost – whether from disaster, vandalism or purposeful destruction in the name of progress with new construction. The romanticized wild west, and the ghost stories that accompany it, however, live on.

Woman in white mourns in the wash

A summer storm lingered above Maricopa as a group of teenagers returned from church camp one evening in 1974.

Brent Murphree, who would later grow up to become vice mayor, was 14 at the time when his mother stopped at Headquarters Café to drop off campers. Inside, Murphree reunited with two friends from school. He waved his mother on for a chance to hang out with buddies.

After dinner, a slow drizzle met the teenagers outside; low-hanging clouds kept the air damp and the August evening cool.

“It’s a perfect setup for a scary story,” Murphree recalled. “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The friends piled in a vehicle and headed east on Honeycutt Road. The unpaved path, illuminated only by headlight beams, was crowded with outstretched branches belonging to pecan groves lining each side.

There was no bridge back then preventing Santa Rosa Wash from carving into the rural road. To continue to the other side, the geography forced motorists down a narrow, steep dip through the wash.

This monsoon, different from the usual, quick-moving, violent storms of its kind, produced a steady stream of runoff water that night.

“The wash was running so we took it really slow and as we got closer to the top, there was a lady standing there and she was all in white,” Murphree said.

An unfamiliar face tends to stick out in rural towns. This fair-haired stranger shook the psyches of the passengers who discovered her standing near the bank, drenched in water from her feet to her thighs.

Murphree thought she must be stranded, lost or even hurt. His attempt to open the door to assist her was met with immediate resistance from the driver, his friend, whose instinct was to place foot to accelerator at the ghostly sight.

“Her face was blank. She didn’t wave. There was no reaction whatsoever,” Murphree said.

The teens had heard the legend of La Llorona before, a woman in white who haunts the river where she killed her children and then herself. But the Mexican folktale and others like it never phased a skeptic like Murphree – until that night.

“That’s how I got really interested in the legend and doing a little bit of research on La Llorona and the white lady,” Murphree said.

The mystery of the woman in white hasn’t been solved, but Murphree said classmates claimed witness to other sightings of La Llorona in other areas where washes run.

 

Mobile’s ‘Ghost House’ spooks neighbors

Spirits reportedly haunt many parts of the Maricopa area beyond the banks of its running waters.

Longtime Maricopa resident Pierre Deck spent most of his childhood living in Mobile, a neighboring community 14 miles west of Maricopa. In the early 1960s, he and his brother entertained themselves by hunting rabbits and exploring the desert.

One day, the teenaged siblings took on a new expedition, one that took them into the bowels of a grand, abandoned house made of wood in their neighborhood. Inside, a grand staircase arched upward to a second story, the ceiling polished with a dusty but still-glistening chandelier.

“We went upstairs and all of a sudden that door shut, and the chandelier started going around,” Deck said.

The boys quickly left the home on their bicycles and later told the experience to a friend down the street. Come sundown, it was time for the Deck brothers to return home.

“We started riding, and all of a sudden the lights come on in the house,” Deck said, adding there was no electric service running to the estate. “Boy, you should have seen us tear them bikes up; we burned rubber.”

The ‘ghost house,’ as residents called it, was later demolished.

The late Suzie Smith at her home, which was south of the railroad tracks. (Maricopa Historical Society)

Haunted homestead south of the tracks

The 1950s in Maricopa were a simpler time, according to Maricopa historian Patricia Brock in her book “Reflections of a Desert Town.” However, it wasn’t without some aspect of paranormal terror.

Many of Brock’s notes are archived by the Maricopa Historical Society. One describes an old adobe home that provided a thrill for many school children.

The “Old Perry Williams and Dallas Smith House,” built in 1884, was a large, 10-room home that once stood south of where the business barn is today. Cactuses, shrubs and trees protected otherwise unobstructed views of the homestead. However, curious kids did get a glimpse from time to time.

“As we approached the house, we would gradually ease out toward the road so we did not disturb anyone or anything that might be beyond the sentinels. We knew it would be death before dawn if we did. One dare devil could not leave well enough alone and just had to push the button. He took a quick peek through the bushes, jumped back and screamed all the way to school. We never did find out what he saw,” Brock’s note alleged.

The home was occupied by Maricopa pioneer Susie Smith until the mid-1950s.

Brock’s book said Maricopa lost its ‘haunted house’ in 1960 when two boys playing with matches near the property accidentally set a blaze that brought the home down.


This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

The Hohokam canals carried water for people and crops.

Kyle Woodson, Ph.D., will present “Hohokam Canal Irrigation and Landscape Change on Santa Cruz Island in the Middle Gila Valley” at a meeting of the Maricopa Historical Society.

IF YOU GO
What: Maricopa Historical Society Presentation
When: Oct. 1, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
How much: Free

Woodson works for Gila River Indian Community’s Cultural Resource Management program. MHS meets Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Maricopa Public Library.

“Archaeological excavations conducted on the Gila River Indian Community in 2005 for the Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline’s (SFPP) East Line Expansion Project (ELX) resulted in the discovery of 38 prehistoric Hohokam canals,” Woodson explained in his abstract. “The canals were documented at three sites along the left bank of the Gila River. The canals occur on the Holocene terrace between Pima Butte and the confluence of the Santa Cruz and Gila rivers in an area of the middle Gila Valley known as ‘Santa Cruz Island.'”

The complex of canals, named the Riverbend canal system, was used 550-1,250 years ago. Woodson called the discovery “a major finding” in understanding the Hohokam canal system.

A study of the canal system reveals more information about the Hohokam and its use of the Santa Cruz Island.

“First, the ELX results suggest that this area primarily was used on a seasonal basis by people whose primary residence was across the Gila River at Hidden Ruin,” Woodson said. “Second, it appears that a segment of the canal system and its fields may have been abandoned at the end of the Colonial period as a result of salinization of agricultural soils. Third, evidence suggests that irrigators had to deal with increased flooding after the late Sedentary period, which may been a result of the downcutting and widening of the Gila River.”

The Hohokam are credited with the most extensive irrigation system in North America in the Classic period and were able to maintain crops in the same area for hundreds of years. Their farming culture disappeared for mysterious reasons, but their descendants include the Tohono O’odham and Pima.

“The responses of the Hohokam to these landscape changes is a testament to their resiliency,” Woodson said, “or their ability to adapt to potentially deleterious ecological conditions.”

This is the first in a monthly series of presentations for the Maricopa Historical Society. Upcoming presentations:

Nov. 5: The 1857 Battle on the Gila
Dec. 3: The Apache Wars
Jan. 7: The ’49ers Meet the Maricopa and Akimel
Feb. 4: Arizona Kicks on Route 66
March 4: The National Monument Next Door
April 1: Family History Tourism

Maricopa Historical Society

By Patricia Brock, Maricopa Historical Society

Three trains were in daily operation from Phoenix to Maricopa in the early 1900s, and Maricopa was quite a busy station. During a trip to Tucson in 1900, Tom Gregory, a Maricopa resident and manager of the Edwards Hotel, told the Arizona Daily Citizen, “For three months, we have had our hotel filled to the attic every night and the other hotel is crowded, too. The depot has its usual number of loungers, and the Pullman accommodations have been generously patronized. Maricopa has never been so busy. The crowds going to Phoenix (population in 1900 was 5,544) this winter have been greater than ever. And … if Phoenix continues to advertise as it has in the past year, the crowds will be even greater. I believe that Maricopa (population 160) has the finest winter weather on earth and is the perfect place for invalids with its pure desert air.”


This item appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Oliver Anderson, 88, moved to Maricopa in the 1950s. Photo by Mason Callejas

 

His story begins less than a month after Black Tuesday, America’s economic disaster that incited the Great Depression.

“He’s always served without fanfare, under the radar, wanting no recognition – just wanting the pure joy and knowledge that things will be better.” Kelly Anderson

Oliver Anderson, 88, was born a Phoenician on his family’s farm near Southern and 19th avenues in 1929. Life for all Americans then was a challenge. But the effects of the Wall Street crash were less noticeable to those who worked the ground.

“We grew our own food, and what you didn’t grow, you traded with your neighbors,” Anderson said.

From farm to island, Anderson later spent two years in Japan on a U.S. Air Force base.

In July 1954, the young cosmopolitan moved to Maricopa in the sweltering heat to work on a farm co-owned by his father and a business partner. Anderson-Palmisano Farms, started in 1949, grew cattle, cotton, grain and alfalfa.

Services in the dusty community were primitive – there were no residential phones and roads were paved with dirt. The 25-cycle electricity pumped currents so low, utility customers were bathed in beams of blinking lightbulbs.

“Maricopa was out in the country, but if you’re working seven days a week, time goes pretty fast – very rapidly,” Anderson said.

The rural town was inhabited with working people spread far from each other by the agriculture industry that provided most of them a living.

Townspeople saw each other once a week, usually at school functions or Headquarters Café.

Newsprint didn’t cover the happenings in the town yet, either. Residents visited Postmaster Fred Cole or the barber to stay informed.

“The haircut you received depended on his mood of that day,” Anderson said. “When you went in to get a haircut, that’s where you got the scoop.”

Those who made their mark in the early days didn’t do so without challenges, according to longtime Maricopa resident and farmer John Smith. Settling the rugged, desert land and transforming it into fertile ground was not always simple for many working in the often unforgiving agribusiness.

“Oliver has been successful out on that farm when very few people were,” Smith said. “Things got tough, but he managed to wade through — a few of us did — most didn’t.”

The Andersons made their contributions to the activities and culture in Maricopa, too.

Hermina, Anderson’s wife of 62 years, employed her musical prowess while directing dinner theaters at the school in the 1980s. She provided piano lessons to children and served on the school board.

With a small populace and no formal government, Maricopa pioneers, like Anderson, began a life of service to the community that would span decades.

With the Maricopa Rotary Club, Anderson helped the community in its effort to build a swimming pool. The annual Stage Coach Days celebration was launched to help fund it.

For 10 years Anderson served on the Maricopa School Board, before it became a unified district.

The Anderson family dressed for Stagecoach Days. Submitted photo

In the early 1980s, Anderson was asked to serve on an advisory committee to the University of Arizona dean of the burgeoning Maricopa Agricultural Center.

Anderson has served on the Pinal County Active Management Area Ground Water Users Advisory Committee for 45 years; the board of directors for the Arizona Cotton Growers Association for 35 years; the Pinal County Farm Bureau Board of Directors; the Arizona Farm Bureau Board of Directors and many more.

It’s a service to others he can’t seem to stop. “When I get on, I can’t get off,” he said, eyes glimmering.

Leadership seems to run in the Anderson family.

Anderson’s son Kelly was the first publicly elected mayor in 2004 and has himself served on many boards and committees, including a six-year appointment to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s State Transportation Board.

The eldest son of Anderson’s four children, Kelly Anderson attributes his civic success to his father.

“He’s always served without fanfare, under the radar, wanting no recognition – just wanting the pure joy and knowledge that things will be better,” Kelly said.

The quiet management style of the Anderson clan has lent well to their business.

Kelly is the third generation to manage the family farm.

The 600-acre operation on Farrell Road has evolved to specialty crops – producing dry flower products for big-name brands like Hobby Lobby, Pottery Barn and Michael’s.

Oliver and Hermina’s three other children – Troy, Lynn and Wendy – specialize in the arts, electronics and medical care.

It’s that kind of success of his own children and other Maricopa schoolchildren that routinely has Oliver steeped in pride, according to Kelly.

“A lot of (students) come back to Maricopa to have a career and do something. It’s a nice return on your time invested,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s wife, Torri Anderson, has served as president and board member of the Maricopa Unified School District for years.

Maricopa’s legacy is embedded in the souls of its people – who as Oliver Anderson said – consistently come together for the good of the community through flood, fire and fundraising.

“It’s the folks that came here initially and said, ‘Hey, by golly, regardless of if it’s dusty, regardless of it’s hot, regardless of if it’s a long way from town, this is my home, I want to live here,’” Oliver said.


This story appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

During a long, hot summer, finding ways to keep cool has always been a priority in Maricopa. Swimming is a big temptation, but in the 1950s the only swimming opportunities were illicit ones in irrigation canals and ditches.

The fledgling Rotary Club decided in 1956 the community needed a swimming pool. As the late Don Pearce recalled to InMaricopa last year, “Too many kids were drowning or getting hurt.” So, Rotarians John Smith and Fred Enke donated 3.5 acres along Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway for a pool and a park. Cost of building a pool had been estimated at $50,000, but Rotarians and local businesses donated enough in resources and labor to cut that to just over $24,000. The Rotary Club started the annual Stagecoach Days to help fund the pool. Smith and Enke took out loans to cover much of the rest of the expenses.

The pool opened in 1958. A year later, Pearce moved to town. He maintained the pool until it was closed in 2014. With the opening of Copper Sky, the Rotary pool became obsolete for most Maricopans. Roadwork connected to the coming overpass took away most of the park grounds at the site, and Stagecoach Days has mostly faded away. But the memory remains of community generosity and hard work to create a vital part of Maricopa summers for nearly 60 years.

 

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Did you know Maricopa Elementary School briefly carried a different name? In 1953, just before the beginning of the school year, the red brick schoolhouse (built by community members in 1914) was destroyed by fire. According to local historian Patricia Brock, Elton K. Porter died of a heart attack while fighting the fire. Porter farmed cotton in Maricopa and was a member of the school board. When the elementary school was rebuilt on the corner of Honeycutt Avenue and Maricopa Road (now John Wayne Parkway), it was named Elton K. Porter Grade School. Though the name reverted to Maricopa Elementary School in the 1960s, Porter was also remembered with the naming of an important north-south thoroughfare.

Photo courtesy MUSD/Maricopa Historical Society


This item appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

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Pecan groves in Maricopa in 1990s. Photo courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

By Patricia Brock, Oliver Anderson and the Maricopa Historical Society

Maricopa lost its importance as a railroad junction when the railroad redirected a line through Picacho into the Phoenix area in the mid-1930s.

Maricopa people found the desert lands ideal for farming and began cultivating rows of green plants offering up snowy white blossoms of cotton (1940-60s) that lined the roadways and earned the Maricopa/Stanfield area the title of having the highest cotton yield average of any large area in the world. Throughout the years, farmers experimented with and grew a variety of other crops that included pecans.

More than 20 years ago, Farmers Investment Company planted over 700 acres of pecan trees in the Maricopa area. In 2005, Maricopa had a groundbreaking for Pacana Park, named in honor of the one-time pecan grove.

In the mid-1900s, John Cobb lived in Mobile. He was a hard worker in the pecan groves and took care of his money. He worked in the pecan trees on Pat Murphree’s farm when he was 92 years old. He frequently brought his savings to the post office and asked postmaster Fred Cole to store it in his safe.

John Smith experimented in the early 1970s with growing pecan trees and converted his cotton and wheat fields to mainly a pecan farm.

Have you been down Murphy Road to see the pecan trees getting a light trim? A severe tree trimming is done every few years to keep stems strong to ensure continued good harvests. “Skipper” Hall owns most of these trees and the custom maintenance has been done by the Ed Shappell family for decades.

The Murphy Road and other area pecan trees will soon leaf out and produce pecan nuts. The harvest begins after the first frost in October or November when the epicarp, the outer covering of the nut, begins to crack. The harvesting begins when equipment shakes each tree so the nuts will fall.

The nuts are gathered in rows for collection. Then leaves are removed from the nuts. The harvest is finally taken to Farmers Investment Company in Tucson.


This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Dorothy Charles in her former ranger hat. Photo by Mason Callejas

When Dorothy Shally Charles started working for the National Park Service, singing was a job requirement.

IF YOU GO
What: The History of Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley
Who: Dorothy Charles and the Maricopa Historical Society
When: April 2, 5:30 p.m.”
Where: Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
How much: Free

“I told my boss I couldn’t sing. He said, ‘No, that’s what we do.’”

Still in college, Charles was a seasonal naturalist at Grand Canyon National Park in 1965. The naturalists told visitors what was going on, sang them campfire-style songs and then presented nature programs. Being a rookie, Charles was already petrified without suddenly learning she had to lead some songs, but she did it through the summer.

That job requirement, along with the dresses, low-heeled pumps and nylons necessary for female staff, eventually went away during Charles’ 25-year career. Besides Grand Canyon, her work took her to Badlands National Monument (which later became a national park) in South Dakota and Death Valley National Monument in California.

Her time specifically at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley culminated in co-writing a book about the historic hacienda. April 2, she is scheduled to talk about Scotty’s Castle in a presentation to the Maricopa Historical Society.

Dorothy and her husband Kent Charles have lived in Tortosa since 2011. About a year after her introduction to the city, Dorothy Charles became an important part of the society’s archival work.

“I’d work with Dorothy on any project and know that it would be well organized and a project well worth doing,” said Joan Garrett, who has been a cohort in making sure the historical society’s assets are managed correctly for future generations.

Growing up the San Francisco Bay area, Charles credits her mother with her love of the outdoors. The family commonly did a lot of hiking and camping and spent summers with grandparents in the Sierras. When her father had his annual two weeks’ vacation from New York Life Insurance Company, he would drive up to meet them and take them camping at even higher elevations.

Dorothy Charles (second row, third from right) with Grand Canyon staff in the late 1960s. Submitted photo

Dorothy’s first job was clerical work as a teenager for New York Life. While attending Humboldt State College (later university) majoring in outdoor resources, she started working summers at Grand Canyon, despite being uncomfortable with heights.

“When nobody was around I’d hang onto the rails,” she said.

Her work involved “point duty,” during which rangers were placed at locations along the rim where visitors typically parked. They would explain what they were seeing, direct them where they needed to go, pick up trash, butts and diapers and even have some latrine duty.

Charles was giving a presentation at Grand Canyon Village in 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

“I had them bring me a radio, and the moon was coming up behind me, and we talked about this man walking up there on the moon,” she said. “I’ll always remember where I was then. It was sort of anticlimactic saying, ‘Well, now we have some nature walks you can go on.’”

In her early years at the canyon, she spent the winter months working at Death Valley National Monument. Her title was park technician.

National Geographic published a lengthy feature on Death Valley in its January 1970 issue. Dorothy can be seen in two of David Hiser’s photographs – one in her skirt and flats directing hikers in Mosaic Canyon and one bundled up and hiking through snow on Telescope Peak.

Her work in Death Valley included research and fact-checking to give visitors a true history of Scotty’s Castle. In 1973, she and maintenance leader William Bolton wrote the 40-page book “Scotty’s Castle,” published by Flying Spur Press.

The “castle,” which was under construction 1922-1931 and never quite finished, averaged 100,000 visitors a year before a devastating flood in 2015. It is not expected to reopen until 2020, so the closest most can get to understanding the unique hacienda is through books like “Scotty’s Castle.”

“We tried to not only make it fun but to tell the true story of Scotty’s Castle,” Charles said. “He had stuff brought over from Germany and Italy, Majorcan rugs throughout the castle made special for it.”

In his introduction, former Superintendent Robert J. Murphy said Dorothy “researched facts pertinent to the text or guide script; checked on paintings and other historical items in the Castle; interviewed former workers and visitors who know [Albert] Johnson and Scotty [Walter Scott], or knew of events at the Castle when they were living there. She also assisted in identifying and preparing items for shipment that were in need of restoration, as well as finding qualified specialists for the purpose of cleaning and repairing delicate Castle furnishings.”

That job description would come to sound very familiar to members of the Maricopa Historical Society 40 years later.

Dorothy’s career path changed when she met a new procurement clerk named Kent Charles in Death Valley during a “long, hot summer.” She married Kent in 1975 after she completed ranger school. She continued working with NPS part-time until they followed Kent’s career to Seattle for a year and then to Denver for 31 years.

She said her years at Scotty’s Castle peaked her interest in history. When the Charleses moved to Maricopa, she decided joining the historical society was the best way to get to know the background of the area.

At the time, Mary Lou Smith needed help putting together historical displays in the library. Dorothy Charles put her past organizational and display knowledge to use and was soon the MHS archivist, working closely with Judi Shirk and Joan Garrett, who calls Dorothy “absolutely one of the most organized people I have ever known.”

They gather, list, tag and organize items donated or acquired by the historical society.

“The listing of these items has been tedious but with the three of us working together and using Dorothy’s organized listings, it’s also been educational for us,” Garrett said. “We are pleased that the items that people have entrusted to us are now carefully listed and we know exactly where they are and all the information we have concerning each one.  She never seems to tire and, with a little banter back and forth, the hours have flown by and we’ve accomplished more and more each week.”

Charles said her past work with NPS has helped her prepare information from the historical society, research and manage the collection.

“My background has helped with adapting to the desert and adapting to the things that need to be done with the historical society, which is also newer, so we were starting at the bottom,” she said. “So, I guess I like the challenge.”


This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Death Valley. Submitted photo

Photo of Pierre and Daniel Deck courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

By Patricia Brock and the Maricopa Historical Society

 

Mobile is a small community located about 15 miles west of Maricopa on State Route 238 (Mobile Road), and north of what was the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. It is in Maricopa County and bordered by two majestic mountain ranges – the Estrella Mountains to the east and the Maricopa Mountain Range to the west.

In the 1800s, this little settlement was named Mobile when the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid across southern Arizona and a siding and section house were created to provide water for steam engines.

Today, not much remains to indicate that at one time Mobile might have developed into a thriving town. In 1988, it was the proposed site for the Superconducting Super Collider and considered by the ENSCO Hazardous Waste Facility, but neither of these projects took root. However, against the wishes of many of its residents, the Butterfield Station Waste Management Facility did locate at Mobile.

 

First Homestead

Edison Lung, a white man who first carved out a life in Mobile, homesteaded the area around 1921 and continued to live there for the rest of his life. Lung worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad pumping water for the steam engines. When the railroad transferred him to Yuma, he absolutely refused to go, quit his job and laid down stakes at Mobile catering to railroad personnel and travelers.

Records show Lung filed an application to enlarge his homestead in 1922 and received a title to that land in 1925. His homestead consisted of a frame and stucco house, a store located downstairs and a post office with sleeping quarters on the second floor. The homestead had a gas station, a cow barn, a chicken coup and a storeroom. His wife ran the post office and made a living by providing services to travelers and railroad employees.

Edison Lung raised cattle, hogs and chicken on his homestead. Around 1935, he decided to modernize the property and bought a Delco electric generator that provided the family with lighting and the use of a few appliances. Records also show he and his family motored to Maricopa to dances at the Maricopa Hotel and to other recreational events throughout the 1930s.

 

An African American Community

During the late 1920s and early ‘30s, Mobile became an African American settlement as people began to homestead the land. According to Mark Swanson (An Archaeological Investigation of the Historic Black Settlement at Mobile, Arizona), the population in the 1930s was between 100 and 150 and consisted of mainly black settlers. Most of these early settlers did not work for the railroad but came from Oklahoma or Texas by way of Phoenix.

The first of the successful African American homesteaders were Lee Elliot Williams (homestead awarded in 1933); Richard Cobb Williams (homestead awarded in 1933); Homer Abraham Williams (homestead awarded in 1933); and Willis Thomas, Hezekiah McGriff, Eli Weddington, James Manor, and the Israel Nelson families.

 

Education

The first school in Mobile contained grades 1-8 and consisted of two railroad cars placed end to end. White children went to school in one car and black children went to school in the other car. Later, the white children were transferred to a wood frame schoolhouse that was moved from Rainbow Valley (1936-37) and placed near the home of Edison Lung. It continued to educate these children up to the 1960s.

The black residents of Mobile built a small schoolhouse, Nelson Elementary School, for their children. When the community started to grow and needed a bigger school, the government built a much larger one in the same location. After eighth grade graduation, children were bused to Percy L. Julian or South Mountain High School.

 

Growing up in Mobile

In an oral history interview with the Deck brothers, Pierre and Daniel, and their lifelong friend Fezel Adams, Pierre Deck recalled what it was like growing up in Mobile: One thing about Mobile, I don’t care who you were, you were family. If you needed something, you got it. I don’t care how it came to you, you got it, you didn’t have to pay it back. It was just one big family.”

Pierre Deck said, “I watched my grandfather come from nothing to having something … to be proud of who you are. You just do the right thing and that’s how I was raised. In Mobile everybody stood out.”

Daniel Deck said, “Nobody had running water or electricity. They hauled the water. No electricity, dirt floors, no windows, a potbellied stove you stuck wood into. My grandma and grandpa, they worked pretty hard. When sand was dumped out there, snakes would just lay down and sleep. You had to walk out to the outhouse; you didn’t have a bathroom. If you encountered a snake, you would just jump it or go around. There was not an animal around that the snake would back up from! You live here and they live over there. You had to look under the covers and under the bed and everywhere. You might get out of bed and they would be sleeping right next to you.”

Today, Mobile has a population of less than 100 people who are mostly white. Besides the Butterfield Waste Management Facility, there is a private airport, Lufthansa, located to its north that is used for training pilots.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

Gila River War Relocation Memorial

By Maricopa Historical Society Vice President Denny Hoeh

For Archeology & Heritage Awareness Month, Maricopa Historical Society Vice President Denny Hoeh shared his top 10 historically-significant sites that contribute to the rich and diverse social tapestry around Maricopa. He said he hopes residents will step out and learn a few things beyond the legends and oral histories of the community.

“There’s an old expression that’s attributed to Dr. [Richard] White from the University of Washington. He said that ‘Americans love history, but have little use for historians,’” Hoeh said. “We all like our histories and we all like our stories that we have grown up with and things of that nature, but it’s nice to go to these places and see a little bit more of the correct history, some of the artifacts and some of the information that we might have missed in the folklore.”

Him-Dak Eco-Museum, Ak-Chin. Photo by William Lange

 

  1. Ak-Chin Indian Community

“They actually have three museum sites… which give a lot of history of Maricopa and the Native Americans just to the south [of Maricopa]. Those are [all] free [and] open to the public pretty regularly.”

  • Him-Dak Eco-Museum – 47685 W. Eco-Museum Road
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs Agency House – 46348 W. Farrell Road
  • Francis of Assisi Mission Schoolhouse – 16657 N. Church Road
Huhugam Heritage Center. Photo by Mason Callejas
  1. Huhugam Heritage Center 21359 S. Maricopa Road, Chandler

“It’s significant because not only does it have displays on the Akiel O’Odham and Peeposh members of the tribe, but it also stores the artifacts from Snaketown. Snaketown was one of the most significant Hohokam centers.”

 

Sonoran Desert National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick
  1. Sonoran Desert National Monument

“[The monument is] terribly underused, but through the national monument was a thoroughfare that literally people have been using for centuries. It designates nine different, recognized trails or nine different aspects to the trail.”

The area was traversed by pre-colonial indigenous cultures living around the Gila River basin; Spanish explorers in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, including Francisco Coronado, Juan Bautista de Anza and Father Kino; the Mormon Battalion, Forty Niners and multiple stagecoach routes.

Gila Bend
  1. Gila Bend Museum – 644 W. Pima St., Gila Bend

“In that museum it talks about [the historic] trails. It has pictures and exhibits and even some artifacts.”

Petroglyphs
  1. Painted Rock – Petroglyphs – Rocky Point Road, Dateland

It is the petroglyphs of the Hohokam people. It’s significant in that it is such a clear place that many of the folks who came along those trails and kept journals describe this area. So, we know exactly this area was visited by de Anza, was visited by the Mormon Battalion, was visited by gold rush pioneers as well as the Butterfield Stage[coach] line.”

 

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the Japanese Internment Camp on Gila River land near Maricopa.

 

  1. Japanese Internment Camp – Butte Camp Monument – Indian Route 86

“There’s an old structure that used to be the cultural center of the Gila River community. They’ve closed that cultural center, but in front of that they have displays and information about the Japanese internment camps… that were just outside of Maricopa.”

Ira Hayes Memorial, Sacaton
  1. Mathew B. Juan – Ira H. Hayes Memorial Park – Voak Drive, Sacaton

“[The commemorative park] talks about Ira Hayes [and] it talks about the veterans of WWI. One of the first soldiers to be killed in WWI happened to be a member of the Gila River community.”

Casa Grande Valley Historical Society Museum
  1. The Museum of Casa Grande – 110 W. Florence Blvd., Casa Grande

“It’s the old stone church building, [but] because Casa Grande and Maricopa paralleled a lot of history, when you go in and look at that museum, a lot of the history that is in that museum is also the history of Maricopa.”

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
  1. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument – 1100 W. Ruins Drive, Coolidge

“This has been around for a long time, It’s again one of those places that were recorded in lots of different histories, and when different people came into this area, they kept journals and they mentioned this area.”

In 1918 it officially became a national monument, so it is celebrating its 100th birthday as a National Monument this year.

Second Courthouse, Florence
  1. Florence

“I think you have to go to [Florence] to have a feel for the history of the area. [It] has a state historical park called McFarland [Historic State Park]… it has some great displays on the WWII German prison camp that was there… Also, the Pinal County Historical Society has a great museum… it has some great displays about this area [and] Pinal County. It also has a whole section that looks at the state prison.”

“One of the [other] buildings that you see right away [in Florence] is the second Pinal County Court House. You can go in, there’s a little bit of an exhibit, and the fun thing about that is that when they built it they ran out of money before they put in a clock, so they painted a clock in the tower.”

MacFarland State Park – 24 Ruggles St., Florence
Pinal County Court House – 135 N. Pinal St., Florence
Pinal County Historical Museum – 715 S. Main St., Florence


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the Japanese Internment Camp on Gila River land near Maricopa.

 

Winston Churchill once said, “history is written by the victors,” alluding to a reality in which often only self-serving histories are memorialized. Despite criticisms over the implications of such a statement, Churchill believed the subjective nature of history tends to bend in favor of a conflict’s winner, sometimes excluding controversy and atrocity.

IF YOU GO
What: Gila River Japanese Internment Camp presentation
When: Feb. 5, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
Who: Maricopa Historical Society
How Much: Free

One such American story is that of World War II Japanese and German internment camps.

To aid in telling the controversial tale of these camps, one of which happened to be in Maricopa’s backyard, the Maricopa Historical Society is hosting a speaker Monday who will shed light on what many consider to be a dark time in American history.

“[The presentation] focuses on this challenging period in our history when, due to fear and other issues, we lost our way a bit and incarcerated people, two-thirds of which were American citizens, because they looked like the enemy,” said Jody Crago, director of the Chandler Museum.

The political and social atmosphere that spawn this fear of invasion and defeat, Crago said, is relative to today and deserves revisiting.

“If your livelihood or your community seems like it’s being supplanted by some other group, it’s natural to be afraid of what the future holds,” Crago said.  

But in this instance, he said, that fear, whether warranted or not, became so great the government began to extensively deprive citizens of their rights.

The question being, Crago said, “is this important to think about today?”  

Crago’s presentation will also have a secondary component.

He hopes to highlight some of the new improvements at the Chandler Museum including a new “expanded” museum near the Chandler Fashion Center, which, he said, will include exhibits on Japanese internment camps in Arizona.

He also said, soon after the museum is open it will feature an exhibit on Chandler boxing legend Zora Folley, who once challenged Muhammed Ali for the heavyweight title but was defeated.

Crago has more than 25 years working in small museums focusing on community interaction. He co-created ChandlerpediA and is co-founder of the East Valley Cultural Heritage Coalition in Phoenix. He serves on the American Association for State and Local History National Leadership Awards Committee and was president of the Museum Association of Arizona.

His presentation on the Gila River internment camp will be held at the Maricopa Public Library, Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m.

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Goldie and Marion Tracy with furs from animals they trapped to trade at the post. Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society

By Patricia Brock and the Maricopa Historical Society

Goldie Tracy Richmond stood 6-foot-4 and weighed about 350 pounds. She wore a man’s size 13 shoe. She sewed her own clothes by hand because of necessity and her size. For 34 years, she operated Tracy’s Trading Post in San Simon.

Maricopa’s Jim Slack often spoke of this most extraordinary woman he encountered on his business trips selling automotive parts in the isolated desert of the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Richmond also promoted the sale of thousands of Papago baskets for local artists and quilts she made from 1932 to 1966, and assisted the Papagos wherever needed throughout the years.

Goldie was born in Kansas in 1896. When she was 21, she married Marion Tracy, who was 40 years older. In 1921, they moved to Quijotoa. It was here that she became a prospector, an animal trapper, hunter and later a trading post operator to make a living for them.

In 1932, Marion and Goldie opened Tracy’s Trading Post and ran it together until Marion’s death in 1936. Goldie continued to operate the trading post for years, sending advertisements for the beautiful baskets made by the Papagos from California to New York. The sales were great, and the Papagos sold the baskets as fast as they could make them. Her many Papago friends went out of their way to trade with Goldie, and an assortment of government officials and visitors constantly came into the shop. Eventually, Goldie married Jim Richmond and they operated the post until 1966.

When Goldie died in 1972, the O’odham had not been able to go to her funeral and held a service on the reservation in her memory. She was a gifted artist, and her hundreds of beautiful quilts became her legacy to the Tohono O’odham people she loved and the rugged Arizona desert that became her home.

The remains of the Tracy Trading Post in 2010. Inset, the post in its early days (left) and Goldie Tracy always at work. Courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

This item appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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The first Maricopa drug store, on the left in this south-facing photo, opened in 1956 and was owned by Dave and Nellie Kimball. Photo courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

By Maricopa Historical Society

David Patton Kimball opened the first drugstore in Maricopa in 1956. He and his wife, the former Nellie Nash, came from hardy pioneer families of Arizona.

Kimball was Maricopa’s first druggist and had been very active politically in Maricopa County. He owned and operated the first drug store chain in Phoenix and throughout Arizona called Apache Drug Stores. He was one of the oldest members of the State Board of Pharmacy and gave exams to all Arizona druggists.

Dave Kimball served as publicity chairman for the Rotary Club’s first Stagecoach Days in 1959, which also provided momentum for the new hat he was wearing the following year as Rotary’s president. Kimball was not short on references for this responsibility or for any other endeavor. He had previously served on the Phoenix City Council, was the acting mayor of Phoenix, a former supervisor of Maricopa County and a state senator.

Dave Kimball’s cousin was Spencer W. Kimball, later the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their grandfather was Heber C. Kimball. St. David, Arizona, was named for Dave’s father.

Kimball was raised on a farm in Thatcher and helped his father in the freighting business. He married Nellie when he was 21, and they became parents a year later. After Kimball returned from an LDS mission to Australia, Dr. Harvey Platt, the only physician in the Thatcher area, took him aside.

Kimball’s son Thomas later wrote: “The good doctor was very capable of expertly diagnosing illness and prescribing medicines for treatment, but had no pharmacist to formulate the medicine. Dr. Platt recognized that Father was an exceptionally intelligent and ambitious young man, so he approached him with a proposition. Dr. Platt would assist him financially if he would enroll in the school of pharmacology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and upon graduation return to Thatcher and serve the area in association with Dr. Platt as a pharmacist.”

With a growing family, Kimball took Platt up on the offer. While studying in California, he took a side job as a bookkeeper for vendors at a local farmer’s market, which also provided the Kimball family with free fruit and vegetables.

After earning his degree, Kimball and his family returned to the Gila Valley so he could fulfill his obligation to Platt.

In 1919, he opened the Apache Drug Company, reported to be the first drug store in Phoenix with a college-trained pharmacist. It was on the northwest corner of First Avenue and Adams Street.

Nellie Kimball frequently talked about the experiences of owning and operating a drug store across from the capitol building in Phoenix in the ‘40s and personally knowing most of the politicians. Also, she served for many years as chairman of the Democratic Party.

The Kimballs opened stores in Mesa, Casa Grande, Chandler, Gila Bend, Litchfield Park, Thatcher, Flagstaff, Superior, Yuma and, of course, Maricopa.

Mrs. Kimball served lunches and other goodies at the long fountain in the drugstore in Maricopa. Every day she made a huge pot of chili beans that was a favorite of the farmers. The farmers not only appreciated the food but enjoyed teasing her about current political events. She was a most devout Democrat (not a pinto Democrat, heaven forbid) and she never stood on the fence or crossed it. She had rock-solid convictions and was not afraid to voice or act upon them. She was a unique individual with a kind heart who was much-loved by all who had the privilege of knowing her.

Maricopa historian Patricia Brock wrote: “Dave and Nellie Kimball were not only loved and appreciated by the citizens of Phoenix and Maricopa, but also played an important role in my life. They allowed me to finish high school by providing me employment in the Maricopa Drug Store around my school schedule and by giving me the opportunity to live in their Phoenix home during the summer months while taking classes at a nearby high school. Their generosity will forever be remembered and treasured by all who were touched by their kindness … and especially by me.”

Nellie Kimball died in 1965. David Kimball died in 1978. They are buried at Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery in Phoenix.


This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Jim and Louis Slack ran the Texaco Station (left) at the junction of old Maricopa Road and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. Courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

Written by Harry C Brock for Maricopa Historical Society

Jim and Louise Slack and their three children came to Maricopa in 1956 from Casa Grande. They leased the Texaco Station from Harry Little, which included a bay for auto repair and lubes. Jim was formerly service manager for Blinky Wilson Lincoln Mercury in Casa Grande and Walter Pontiac, too. Their home was in the old Dallas Smith big house, located just south of today’s Business Barn.

Jim repaired the autos, and Louise pumped the gas – at least until 5 p.m. when the cocktail hour began. His favorite drink was Calvert whiskey and coke. The Calvert bottle had a picture of a cavalier wearing a large hat on it. Therefore, at 5 each day, Jim would announce, “It’s time to kiss the man with the hat.” All were welcome to the party in the back room…and many attended.

Both were friendly and big-hearted people with many friends. When a repair job was not charged, Jim would say, “Write it up to repair to the hammer.”

Andy Cole worked in the station for a short while and always remembered Jim at Cocktail Time by his habit of stirring his drink with his thumb.

Substitute mail carriers were always hard to find in Maricopa. I was glad to have Jim as mine on Route 1 for five years. He was always available and never said “no” when I needed him.

One time Pat and I and another couple were on our regular trip to Mexico in a Volkswagen Beatle and ran short of time returning. Therefore, I called the Slack number from a service station in Magdelena, Sonora, and Louise answered the phone. I said, “I am stuck here in Sonora and can’t make it back in time to work in the morning.” I overheard Louise shout to Jim, “Brock is in jail in old Mexico.” The phone gave out before I could correct her, but Jim carried the mail anyway.

The Slacks had some bad luck during their years in Maricopa. In 1959, they lost their oldest daughter, Mickey, in an automobile accident. Then a lady from Casa Grande drove a 1959 Oldsmobile into their station, which caught everything on fire and burned to the ground, including Jim’s jeep and two other cars. Dick Stensrud, Louise’s nephew, was behind the cash register, and suffered a broken leg. Jim and Louise were living in the back of the service station when it burned. Prior to this, the big old Dallas Smith house where they lived (built by Perry Williams in 1884) was destroyed by fire [in 1960].

After the fire at the station, they built two Jim Walter pre-fab homes on McDavid Road west of Maricopa High School where they lived for several years.

Jim and Louise Slack did not get rich while living in Maricopa but had a lot of friends and fun. After leaving Maricopa, they moved to Grants, New Mexico, and after that returned to Casa Grande, where they each fought a courageous battle with cancer before passing away.

This recollection was written by the late Harry C. Brock, husband of local historian Patricia Brock, who wrote “Reflections of a Desert Town.”


This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Joe Abodeely owns 20 acres west of Mraicopa where he has "base camp" for Vietnam veterans. He will be the Maricopa Historical Society's guest speaker in November, talking about the military history of Maricopa Wells. Photo by Mason Callejas

Located down a winding, county road and bunkered beneath a small mountain in Thunderbird Farms is a hidden haven for Vietnam veterans.

IF YOU GO
What: Maricopa Historical Society Presentation
Who: Col. Joseph Abodeely (Ret.)
When: Nov. 6, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
How much: Free
Info: Contact@MHS50.com

Col. Joseph Abodeely has opened his “base camp” to fellow Vietnam vets for nearly two decades. The 20-acre property features a shooting range, a cantina and a 35-foot guard tower.

It’s also where Abodeely calls home.

Every April, as many as 250 people pitch tents and stay a week camping, shooting and sharing a bond that Abodeely said only they understand about each other.

“You can’t hang around with the guys (you work with) because they didn’t know what it meant to go out on patrols at night, to get shot at, to see guys die around you, to smell the sweet stench of burnt bodies from napalm, to see people’s brains lying on the ground – they don’t know that. They don’t know what it’s like to see grown men terrified,” Abodeely said.

The gathering every spring is an opportunity to visit those who have been there.

“When you come to base camp for the Vietnam veterans, they can be around other guys who knew. It’s a brotherhood, it’s a comradery,” Abodeely said.

Abodeely served in Vietnam as a combat infantry unit commander during the Tet Offensive of 1968. He retired from the military in 1995.

Between those years, Abodeely joined the Arizona National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve and worked as a deputy Maricopa County Attorney and later as a criminal defense attorney.

He founded the Arizona Military Museum in Phoenix in 1980.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Out of all his achievements, honoring his brethren in Vietnam is what he is most proud of.

“Vietnam veterans have not gotten their dues. When people talk about wars, they always talk about all of the wars except Vietnam – in a negative way,” Abodeely said

To Abodeely, one of the more somber recognition efforts is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., which lists the names of U.S. soldiers who died in the war.

“The wall is a gigantic tombstone. The only reason it was accepted at the time is because it was the only thing anyone would do to recognize the fact that Vietnam veterans were in Vietnam. So, you could talk about those who died, but what about those who lived?” Abodeely asked.

Abodeely has organized an event to honor living Vietnam vets since 2011.

On Oct. 28, the seventh annual Commemoration of the Vietnam War honored Vietnam, Vietnam-era and Vietnamese veterans at Elements Event Center.

“We came home and we were treated like criminals and that was wrong and that’s why I do what I do. That’s why we are having this dinner,” Abodeely said.

As CEO of the military museum, Abodeely brings with him a wealth of regional wartime knowledge.

On Nov. 6 at the Maricopa Public Library, he will discuss the origin of the Arizona National Guard and historical, military activities at Maricopa Wells.

His work at the museum highlights all branches of the military spanning every U.S. war. However, his main undertaking is promoting the achievements of Vietnam vets who he said are still misunderstood.

“I’m 74. I don’t know how long I’m going to live, but until the day I die I’m going to do what I can to help set the record straight about the honorable service of Vietnam veterans,” Abodeely said. “That’s my mission in life.”


This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

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Stagecoach Days was once Maricopa's main community event. Photos courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

Courtesy of Maricopa Historical Society

The first of many Maricopa Stagecoach Days began on Sunday, May 3, 1959, with a BBQ dinner, and a slew of events including free rides on three stagecoaches – authentic, old-time stagecoaches with beautifully groomed horses. Drivers were trained and skilled in handling four-horse teams that allowed children to relive Maricopa Wells’ history with stagecoach rides through the desert. The only decision kids had to make was who would get the privilege of riding shotgun.

Horseracing and a cutting horse contest with some of the best quarter horses in the country was promised to be one of the highlights of the day. Other fun events included contests for bearded men, and women in long dresses who would later serve you barbecue. Everyone was encouraged to bring bonnets or hats and an attitude for enjoying the day.

On that first stagecoach day, the Rotarians expected a crowd of more than 2,000 and a pocketbook full of dollar bills to put a dent into the 1958 debt of $50,000 incurred for the community swimming pool’s construction.

The Maricopa swimming pool project began back in 1956 when the Rotary Club researched the needs of Maricopa’s youth and a viable project for them to embrace. It was decided a swimming pool would reduce or eliminate the many canal deaths in Maricopa and provide entertainment and exercise for its young people.

The first order of business toward achieving this goal was to secure land. Farming partners John Smith and Fred Enke stepped up to with eight acres they were willing to donate for a swimming pool and library. In the fall of 1957, local farmers donated bales of cotton, which was processed by the gins without charge, to ante up about $12,000.

 With good land and earnest money in hand, the Rotary Club organized a project that satisfied the building of a swimming pool and provided entertainment and embraced Maricopa’s heritage – Stagecoach Days.

The good ol’ days of whoopin’ and a hollerin’ brought in more than the anticipated 2,000 people, who celebrated with Maricopa throughout the day with BBQ atop cotton trailers, and way into the night with a frolicking hoedown that rocked the old barn into the morning hours.

For years to come, Stagecoach Days celebrated Maricopa’s heritage and raised money to pay off and maintain the swimming pool. The event has brought in sky-diving, horse racing, cutting horse contests, gymkhanas, Maricopa RCA rodeo Quadrille team performances, and celebrities such as Amanda “Miss Kitty” Blake of Gunsmoke fame.

These days the City of Maricopa encourages community organizations to create activities during the traditional time for Stagecoach Days, which is the second and third weeks of October.


This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

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Historic photo of PCSO substation courtesy Maricopa Historical Society

Even after Maricopa incorporated in 2003, its law and order mostly came from the county sheriff and justice of the peace. In the late 1950s, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office constructed a substation and jail in Maricopa. The city contracted with PCSO for law enforcement after incorporation until it established a police department.

The substation property was then no longer used by PCSO but continued to be owned by the county. In 2012, the building was leased to F.O.R. Maricopa food bank, which remodeled it for a very different use, though the jail cells and outdoor enclosure remained, so the building’s history was quite evident.

Now the building is marked for demolition to clear a path for the State Route 347 overpass across the Union Pacific tracks.

Before the sheriff’s office had personnel in town, the primary law enforcement was a series of justices of the peace, according to local historian Pat Brock. Before the judges, the main turn-of-the-century lawman in Maricopa was actually a Southern Pacific railroad detective named John “Maricopa Slim” Powers, who took policing the whole community upon himself. His main nemeses were the many hoboes who illicitly road the rails into and out of town. He was reportedly killed by a vengeful circus clown in 1914.


This article appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.