Used by permission from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records
“This old house has a soul and that soul was born of the pioneer life of Arizona and I long to restore and reveal it to the Arizona of today and of the future.” — Sharlot Hall, speaking of the Old Governor’s Mansion, which she restored and turned into a museum.
Sharlot M. Hall was an historian, but more than that, she was a dreamer and a romantic, a teller of tales whose stories and poems have helped keep the early days of Arizona alive. Born in Lincoln County, Kansas, October 27, 1870, Miss Hall came to the Arizona Territory in 1882, settling with her family at Lynx Creek, 12 miles southeast of Prescott. She had been writing songs and poems almost from the time she had learned to talk, so it was only natural that she would record her impressions of that time.
“In mid February of 1882 I rode into Prescott on a long legged dapple gray mare who had just left her footprints the full length of the old Santa Fe trail. We had been three months coming, three winter months with covered wagons and a caravan of loose horses like Abraham and his family seeking new grazing ground … As I followed down the trail that is now East Gurley street I looked over across Granite creek to a sprawling gray log building in a cluster of tall pine trees and I was told that it was the first governor’s house, a governor’s mansion of hewed pine logs with a ‘shake’ roof but grand enough to me who remembered the sod houses and ‘dug outs’ of the Great American desert which we had just crossed.”
That was the beginning of her lifelong fascination with the place she called “a house of memories,” the house that became the Sharlot Hall Museum.
“It seems to me worthwhile to have one place just for remembering and holding in honor the simple but great things of the past … I have tried and am still trying to hold here the memories of the past on which the present rests …”, Miss Hall once said of her efforts.
The first article she published was in the regional magazine Land of Sunshine, which was headquartered in Los Angeles. Four years later, in 1902, the editor asked her to write a poem in honor of the magazine’s name change to Out West. Her poem by the same name was so popular that it was widely reprinted, set to music, collected in anthologies and even made required reading for students.
Her most notable work, however, was the poem, “Arizona” which she wrote in 1906. It ridiculed eastern lawmakers for planning to admit Arizona and New Mexico into the Union as one state. Arizona’s territorial leaders saw that a copy of the poem was placed on the desk of each member of Congress. Not only that, they had it read on the floor of both houses and it was reprinted in several publications. Who can say just how much the poem and articles written by Miss Hall in 1906 swayed Congress? This much can be said: Congress amended the joint statehood bill that year and permitted the two territories to vote separately on the issue.
Miss Hall became an associate editor and continued to write for Out West magazine until 1909, when she was appointed territorial historian by Governor Richard Sloan. She thus became the first woman to hold public office in Arizona. Her official duties were to collect documents, books and other written records of Arizona’s history. However, she felt the gathering of oral histories was more important. So for the next 14 months, she visited every city and nearly every mining camp in Arizona collecting reminiscences.
She resigned her position in 1912, returning home to the family ranch where she cared for her ailing parents. There she remained until their deaths, re-entering public life briefly in 1924 when, as one of Arizona’s presidential electors, she was chosen to hand carry the state’s vote to Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Miss Hall’s “house of memories,” the Old Governor’s Mansion, was bought by the state and given to Prescott in 1917. In 1927 Prescott leased the house to Miss Hall for life. While she lived there, Miss Hall used her own money and raised public funds to restore the home.
“I asked for no money, either from the city of Prescott or from the state,” she said later. “I began with the sale of a few cattle which bore the brand of my father’s ranch, a brand he had used for 40 years.”
Miss Hall was drawn to the house by what she called “the sweetest and saddest story.” It had been told to her years before by an old caretaker who tended the roses in the yard. Margaret Hunt McCormick, wife of the second territorial governor Richard McCormick, had come to live in the house as a young bride. She planted a red rose bush with cuttings she brought from her home in Rahway, New Jersey. About a year later she died in childbirth and was buried with her baby in her arms with the buds of the roses on the handmade coffin. Remembering the days when she passed the house on her way to school, Miss Hall later said, “… I seemed to see a lovely young face behind the window of the room where she had died, a face that had been as sweet and friendly as the roses …”
Despite her romantic nature, Miss Hall never married. In a letter to a friend, she explained:
“In all the homes I knew, then and over most of my life … I saw women crucified by the insatiable passion of men so dull and stolid and stupid that it was a calamity to the race that they were able to reproduce their kind … I tell you honestly that the very thought of love became an abomination to me.”
Perhaps her feelings sprang from watching her mother work so hard all her life and the fact that her father, though he was proud of Sharlot, never understood her desire to write and not to work in a field alongside a farmer husband.
“I had a fatal gift for logic even at ten,” she wrote once, “and used to point out to my father that his hired help all chewed tobacco and ‘cussed’ and never took a bath except when it was warm enough to go in the creek … and even then had to get me to print out their love letters.”
The romance in her soul helped her to love the women and men who built the state, so much so that preserving their memories became and remained her one true goal.
Sharlot Hall died April 9, 1943, in Prescott at the age of 72.