Used by permission from the Arizona Historical Society
There was a time when progress in Yavapai County was spelled S-P-A-R-K-E-S, Grace M. Sparkes.
Matter of fact, there was a time when progress in the state was spelled the same way, and Sparkes was synonymous with the terms Arizona booster, patriot and public servant. That time is long past; Arizonans as a whole no longer recognize her name, but Grace M. Sparkes continues to touch their lives – even today.
Do you like sightseeing in northern Arizona? Have you driven to the West Coast on I-10? Then say thank you to Grace Sparkes because she campaigned for good roads across the state, including a shorter, more direct route – and bridge – to California.
She coordinated and bossed the Prescott Frontier Days rodeo, becoming known throughout the West as “the girl who bosses 200 bronco busters.” And she helped establish rodeo rules, many of which are still used by professionals today.
In 1920, she threw her efforts behind a group of Prescott citizens who wanted to build a first-class hotel in town. By February of that year, $30,000 had been raised for the newly organized Hassayampa Hotel Co., and by June, 1925, the Prescott Kiwanis Club had raised $150,000 toward the $350,000 goal. The hotel, which opened in November 1927, is on the National Register of Historic Sites today.
Born February 23, 1893, in Lead, South Dakota, Grace was 14 years old when she came to the Arizona Territory with her family in 1906. She graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy in Prescott and Lamson’s Business College in Phoenix before going to work for the Prescott Chamber of Commerce, forerunner to the Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce, in 1911. She became secretary for that organization, continuing in the job until August 1945, when she resigned to oversee her own mining interests in Cochise County.
In 1921 she helped organize the Smoki People of Prescott, a group of business and professional men and women dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Indian lore, rituals and dances. To promote Prescott and the Smokis, she went to Washington, D.C., in 1924 and made President Calvin Coolidge an honorary member of the organization.
She joined Sharlot Hall, noted historian, author and poet, in efforts to establish a permanent reservation for the Yavapai Indians near Prescott. Of that effort, Murray Bemis wrote in 1938:
“The spot preferred by the Yavapai group was a picturesque location about a mile north of the city of Prescott. This was formerly a part of Whipple Barracks Military Reserve. Through the efforts of Miss Hall and Miss Sparkes, approximately 75 acres were transferred from the Department of Interior by Act of June 7, 1935. This 75-acre tract is held in trust for the Yavapai Indians as the Yavapai Reservation. Thus, the ancient tribal designation, Yavapai, dropped for several decades from the census rolls of the Indians, is once more included.”
Eight years later, November 17, 1943, more land was added to the Montezuma Castle National Monument, thanks to Grace Sparkes, and a year later, she began her campaign to get the Cornado Entrada area in Cochise County proclaimed a National Monument.
While known mainly for her work in local and state chambers of commerce, Grace also served on the Arizona State Board of Welfare, was coordinator for a special Arizona exhibit at the Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1934, and was volunteer secretary of the Northern Arizona State Fair Association.
She worked to secure approval of many federal projects, including the establishment of a Veterans Hospital at old Fort Whipple, the renovation of Tuzigoot Indian Ruins and the restoration of the Old Governor’s Mansion on west Gurley Street in Prescott. Upon her retirement in 1945, she moved to Cochise County to oversee her own mining interests in Texas Canyon near Benson.
She died at age 70 on October 22, 1963.