“Minnie McFarland is a living legend.”
In her thirty years with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Minnie McFarland Stevens had many successful “firsts.” She was the first woman creel census-taker, the first woman hatchery supervisor, and the first person to develop a method for raising large numbers of Arizona native trout. Always at home on Arizona’s lakes and streams, this enthusiastic outdoorswoman enlarged the field of fisheries science and enhanced the sport of Arizona anglers.
She was born Minner Catherine Mueller on December 10, 1911, in Floussant, Missouri, near St. Louis. After her marriage to a Mr. McFarland, the couple came west where McFarland worked as a chef in the finest hotels in Los Angeles, Reno, and Las Vegas. In the late 1940s, the couple moved to the Colorado River, downstream from Hoover Dam at Willow Beach. Possibly, her husband worked in the hotel, but Minnie’s time there was spent on the water, taking parties out on the McFarlands’ fishing boat. She became a legend on the Colorado River, mastering every channel, whirlpool, and slough from El Dorado Canyon to Lake Mead during her seven years as a registered guide.
In 1954, her husband died, and Minnie decided to look for steadier work. However, she still wanted to be involved with fishing and the outdoors. She got her wish when the Arizona Game and Fish Department hired her as a creel census taker. Her duties kept her along the Colorado River she knew so well. She counted, measured, and inspected catches of fish, looking for biologist taps and signs of disease. She also interviewed fishermen to learn how they had done, what kind of boat or lure they used, and other details. Then she passed this data along to the Phoenix headquarters of the Game and Fish Department to improve fisheries management.
Minnie’s living arrangements were flexible. She kept a house trailer at Temple Bar on Lake Mead and, while traveling, slept in her pickup, which was outfitted for light housekeeping. Often she rode in her boat to find fishermen, tying up at night in quiet coves. Later in life, she would consult her diary to remember the largest fish she ever measured: an 18 lb., 8.6 oz. rainbow trout caught at Willow Beach.
After a few years, her superiors transferred her to the Graham Mountains, the lakes along the Salt River, and Oak Creek north of Sedona. When working the lakes, she spent much of her time in boats. While at Apache Lake, Minnie referred to herself as the “Apache Rocket Pilot.” She loved her job as creel census taker. As she once explained to author Don Dedera, she was paid “to keep an eye on creation’s most entertaining combination of critters – humans and fish.”
In 1959 the Game and Fish Department assigned Minnie to Sterling Springs Fish Hatchery at the northern end of Oak Creek Canyon. She was the only woman hatchery supervisor in the state. Her job was to help hatch and rear rainbow, brown, and – most importantly – Arizona native trout. The only true native game fish of the state, Arizona native trout easily hybridized with other kinds of trout, and so had to be planted in isolated streams totally inaccessible to other species. Since the 1940s, the various hatcheries in the state had been unable to raise enough of them to stock one stream. In 1964 Minnie made a breakthrough by successfully rearing 68 native trout.
The work was tedious and difficult. She succeeded in getting “the tiny wiggling life-cells” to eat by preparing a special food of liver put through a garlic press and then mixed with dried babyfood. The newly hatched trout had to be fed every half hour at least eight hours a day for the first two to three weeks “regardless of rain, snow, or blow.” To feed them, Minnie used a feather to dist the surface of the water with the food. By raising 68 the first year and 1,015 the next, Minnie made it possible for the department to stock two trout streams – Grant and Ash creeks in the Graham Mountains.
During the hatchery season between October and April, she tended trays with millions of fish eggs and maintained the raceways where the growing fish stayed. The hatchery was a key step in preserving the fish life in the waterways of Arizona. Her success with Arizona native trout must have been especially rewarding because she saved a species from possible extinction.
Minnie operated the Sterling Springs Fish Hatchery for twenty-seven years. Three years before her retirement, the American Fisheries Society presented her with the Distinguished Professional Service Award at the New Mexico/Arizona chapter meeting. Her supervisor Steve Galligioli, chief of the Wildlife Management Division, sent her a letter of congratulations for her “dedication, hard work, and extremely capable management of the Sterling Springs Hatchery.”
In her personal life, Minnie stayed involved with the outdoors and with animals. She and her second husband, Charles R. Stevens, whom she married in 1966, lived in a house at the hatchery. They both loved the beauty of Oak Creek Canyon. She once told a newspaper reporter that “it’s like being in paradise.”
To further the cause of wildlife care and management, she became a founding member of the Arizona Zoological Society. This organization established public zoological gardens throughout the state to exhibit and study the animals of the world. The society also sponsored educational programs, biological research, and wild animal conservation. Minnie also belonged to the Phoenix zoo.
Minnie retired in June of 1986 after working for the Arizona Game and Fish Department for thirty-two years. In honor of her dedicated service, she received a certificate of appreciation from the state. Her health was probably failing at the time of her retirement; she died in Phoenix four months later on October 10, 1986, from lung cancer.
From the early days when she guided fishermen on the Colorado River through her innovative work at Sterling Springs Hatchery, fish and fishing remained Minnie’s central interests. Her enjoyment of the sport led naturally to her preservation achievements. Perhaps her greatest contribution was solving the problems of raising Arizona native trout. This wonderful lady became so dedicated to her work that in later years she rarely had a chance to “wet a line” and enjoy the sport she had made better for Arizona anglers.