“Mr. Hayden, though extravagant in large business matters, was thrifty in small New England ways. On a day of strenuous house cleaning, she (Mrs. Hayden) had accumulated a pile of household rubbish. Mr. Hayden came in and saw some moth eaten yarn on top. He said to her. ‘This ought not to be thrown away’. ‘Where shall I put it?’ She replied with asperity: ‘Eat it!’ The Judge went away with the yarn in his hand and shortly returned, offering it to her and saying mildly. ‘Won’t you take the first bite?’” — From son Carl Hayden’s reminiscences in Sallie Davis Hayden, Thoroughbred Pioneer.
From the state’s earliest days, the Hayden name has been associated with progress. Charles Trumbull Hayden established the Hayden mill and ferry along the banks of the Salt River in Tempe. Carl Trumbull Hayden served Arizona for 56 years in Congress. Less well known, but equally as important, was Sallie Hayden, wife of Charles and mother of Carl (and three other children). She played an important role in Arizona’s development and is remembered as a woman of enormous vitality, intelligence and wit. She created a home where education and religious tolerance were taught. She took an active interest in national as well as local politics, an interest that was passed along to her son.
According to an account of her early life written by her son, Sallie Calvert Davis was born July 12, 1842, near Forrest City, Arkansas. Her father, Cornelius Davis, did not believe in formal education and certainly not for his four daughters. When Sallie was 12 years old, she ran away from home because her father, a strict disciplinarian, threatened to whip her with his bridle reins. She took refuge at an aunt’s home, where she presumably found more freedom to pursue her interest in books and an education.
During the Civil War, the Davis family found its finances strained, and it became necessary for all of them to go to work. Sally obtained a position as a teacher in an Illinois elementary school. “Although she had received such limited and episodic schooling, she educated herself by reading serious books, a habit that she continued in later years whenever books were to be had,” her son wrote. Several years later, an uncle in California wrote to tell her that schoolteachers in that state were well paid. He advised her to move west.
She taught briefly in Nevada City, then moved on to Visalia, a little town in central California. There, she met the Alford family. “Dr. Alford and his wife were people of breeding and education who realized that the young Southern teacher should not live in her uncle’s rude cabin on the sheep ranch,” son Carl wrote. They found her a teaching job and with their love and guidance, she “rapidly matured into an attractive woman.” It was at the Alfords’ home that she met Mr. Hayden, who was visiting the doctor while on a trip to San Francisco.
“It took him two years to persuade Miss Davis to marry him,” according to their son’s account. “She was not then passionately in love with Mr. Hayden, but she had a profound admiration for his gentle dignity and his scholarly temperament and was interested in his dream of building up a civilized community in southern Arizona,”
Mr. Hayden, who was 17 years her senior, provided the intellectual companionship and the challenge she desired. The couple soon settled at the Hayden residence in Tempe. Mrs. Hayden was embarking on a new life, and from her son’s account we know she was “terribly depressed” by what she found in Tempe. She hated the hot weather. Her new home had a dirt floor and was cheaply furnished. There were few companions for conversation, and Mr. Hayden was often occupied with his business, neglecting his new wife. The desert seemed desolate to her, so she sent away for Bermuda grass seeds; the grass quickly spread and became a pest in the garden. She imported a cow to provide milk. In short, she set about making this new place a home. Gradually, she came to share her husband’s dream of building a community along the Salt River and making it a place where she could raise her children.
She served as postmistress of Hayden’s Ferry (later renamed Tempe) from December of 1876 to July of 1878. She became a member of the local school board and worked to bring better teachers to the region; she campaigned to see that the “right” politicians won; she established a library in her home which included many of the English and American classics, books not easily to be found in the Southwest; and she entertained suffrage speakers whenever they came to Tempe.
While her children were young, she moved the family to a new home two miles outside of town. The home would become known as the “Hayden Guest Ranch” because it served as a hostelry for teachers, writers, lecturers and many other distinguished Tempe visitors. It was also a place where persons with tuberculosis could convalesce.
“There was scarcely ever a time when some such unhappy person was not being entertained at the Ranch House throughout the winters, and often without charge,” her son wrote. “Delicate teachers, poor college professors, any educated person with limited means, and lame ducks of every sort, appealed to her sympathetic, generous heart.”
It was Mrs. Hayden’s sound management that kept the ranch going. She made it profitable by bringing in cattle, and she defended her water rights when they were challenged. When Carl was old enough for college, she insisted on borrowing the money to send him to Stanford. Even after the death of her husband in 1900, and despite the severe financial problems that he left behind, she managed to find the money to provide for her daughters’ education.
Mrs. Hayden died September 15, 1907, in Tempe. Her three children remained the visible testimony to her life. Her son Carl inherited her political acumen while her daughters carried on her service in the fields of education and social welfare.