Cowboy Heroes

Sharlot Hall. 

She was the first lady to hold public office in the Arizona Territory. She was way ahead of her time with regards to being an independent woman. She was the first real historian preserving the history of early frontier days from the Territory;

something we take now take for granted as always having been there. She was a poet, writer, rancher, friend to many of the day’s leading citizens and humanitarian as well. Her name was Sharlot Hall.

Sharlot came to the Arizona Territory as a young girl in a covered wagon during 1882; she was eleven. Arizona remained home until her death in 1943. In between those years is the storied life of an amazing lady.

By default, Sharlot was a rancher. Her family raised horses and other livestock, grew vegetables, apples and pears, and her father even tried his hand at gold mining in nearby creeks. Eventually the family settled near what is now Dewey, Arizona on a place they named Orchard Ranch. Sharlot spent close to forty years at Orchard Ranch, burying both parents there in the process. The hardships of pioneer ranch life were a common theme in her later writings.

In 1906, there was a measure before congress to bring both the Arizona and New Mexico Territories into the union as one state — the state of New Mexico. Sharlot was one of many activists who opposed the measure. She toured the territory, gathering signatures for a petition against it. During this time, Sharlot was inspired to write her epic poem, “Arizona.” The poem was widely accepted as a fine work of art and a copy of it was distributed to every member of congress back in Washington, DC. It has been speculated that the bill was defeated, in part, because of Sharlot’s activities and poem.

In 1909, Sharlot became the first lady to hold a paid public office — that of official Arizona historian. It ruffled the feathers of many of the day’s politicians, as it was unheard of for a lady to hold such a post. Women didn’t even have the right to vote in Arizona at the time and many of her male counterparts searched in vain for a loophole that would legally eject Sharlot from her post.

Luckily, then territorial governor, Richard Sloan, was an ally of Sharlot’s and did not give under political pressure from his constituents. It wasn’t until George Hunt became the first governor of the newly formed State of Arizona in February 1912 that Sharlot left her post. Hunt was apparently not a fan of women in office.

Sharlot remained active in Arizona politics however, and in 1925, when Calvin Coolidge was elected president of the United States, Sharlot was commissioned to deliver Arizona’s three electoral votes to Washington on behalf of the state.

Being an independent woman was a trademark of Sharlot’s. She didn’t receive a lot of schooling as a young lady, only about four years of formal education, but she quickly learned that young ladies of the day were mostly groomed on how to be a good wife. Sharlot dreamed of being a writer instead.

According to Margaret Maxwell, Sharlot’s biographer, she sold her first article as a sixteen year-old while attending Prescott high school, for $2. Sharlot had over five hundred published works and ten books published throughout her life. Two of her most famous books are Cactus and Pine and Poems of a Ranch Woman. She was a prolific writer.

As a teenage girl, Sharlot told her mother, while strolling the streets of Prescott, “One day I shall live in that fine mansion.” She was referring to the old Governor’s mansion on Gurley Street, home of the first territorial governor, built in 1864.

Sharlot either had extra sensory perception or one heck of a positive, goal orientated attitude, because in 1927, she did move into that very mansion. She lived there the rest of her life and from that day on, she dedicated herself to preserving the history of the territory in the form of a museum; a museum, which to this day bears her name. Sharlot was completely enthralled with history.

Sharlot had spent most of her life collecting artifacts, studying and preserving history. Even during her younger life, she knew there was a need, as the old pioneers and their ways were giving way to modern society. President Abraham Lincoln founded the territory in 1863, but by 1900, as early settlers died off, their possessions were being lost, along with their stories. To save what she could, She began collecting Native American and pioneer material. Today the Sharlot Hall Museum covers 3.5 acres in downtown Prescott, Arizona and is one of the West’s most complete collections of old west history.

One thing impressing to me about Sharlot was her independence. Being raised in a time when women were largely thought of as incomplete without a husband, an era when basically the only “career women” were cooks, laundresses, and schoolteachers; and then only if they were single; Sharlot was a renegade.

Sharlot never married, and once wrote this about the subject. “I am a woman a full ten years beyond thirty. I am not married. I don’t expect to be married. I don’t want to be married. I am happier than any married woman I have ever known. My ‘Emotional Life’ is fuller in every direction than that of any wife of my acquaintance. Unless an unmarried woman is a hopeless lump of stupidity, she has a hundred times wider opportunity for an emotional life, full to overflowing, than it is possible for an ordinary married woman to have.”

Needless to say, many of Sharlot’s acquaintances were men. She lived in, thrived in and conducted business in a man’s world. She was acquainted with most of the leading citizens of her day, including many historical figures whose names sprinkle history books. In response to a male friend’s telegraph, enquiring about her welfare, being alone, Sharlot sent the following reply telegram:

“But I do enjoy everything — just the sunshine on the sand is beautiful enough to keep one giving thanks for eyes to see with. And all day long I’m glad, so glad, so glad that God let me be an out-door woman and love the big things. I couldn’t be a tame house cat woman and spend big sunny, glorious days giving card parties and planning dresses — though I love pretty clothes and good dinners and friends — and would love a home where only the true, kind, worth-while things had place.

I’m not unwomanly — don’t you dare to think so — but God meant woman to joy in His great, clean, beautiful world — and I thank Him that He lets me see some of it not through a windowpane.

Your telegram came yesterday — on from Phoenix. Every one of my happiest thoughts, all the days through, ends in a prayer for you — and gratitude beyond words that I have you to call friend — dear, dear, dear Great Comrade. Goodnight, Amigo, God keep you everywhere.”

[signed] S. M. H.

That does not mean, however, Sharlot did not keep the company of ladies. It has been reported that her best friend and closest confidant was Alice Hewins, who wrote a brief biography on Sharlot. “Sharlot was particularly gifted to tell the woman’s side of pioneer life. Her warm sympathies, her gift of expression and having lived most of her life under pioneer conditions particularly qualified her.” Alice’s description seems to fit nicely.

I believe, that in a way, Sharlot Hall paved the way for every lady who has come along since and been successful in a so-called “man’s world.” She was certainly one of the first to prove it could be done.