As Win and I turned south toward Prescott, the flat open sameness of the landscape made us realize the Grand Canyon had done something to our senses of perspective and proportion. It was a hard act to follow. But gradually we got back into the habit of not expecting things to be quite on a Grand Canyon scale.
The rest of Arizona, we were soon to discover, would be—for us—principally a tale of three cities, and the impact of a mighty dam.
The first of the cities was Prescott, the only town of any size we had struck since leaving San Bernardino two weeks before. Situated at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, the pure, dry air made it famous as a haven for those escaping the heat of Phoenix and the Salt River Valley. It was also a haven for those suffering from tuberculosis and other ailments that improved in a dry climate. Even in the middle of April water froze solid in our cooking utensils at night. For half an hour we visited the fine courthouse in the central square, then browsed along the four streets facing it. The businesses on each of the streets were completely different. One of them consisted mainly of poolhalls. What interested us most was the great brown statue of “Bucky” O’Neill in front of the courthouse. He had been a frontier sheriff—a glamorous figure of the “old West” we loved to read about. Bucky had been killed in the Spanish-America War, leading his men up San Juan Hill under the general command of Colonel Teddy Roosevelt.
We enjoyed Prescott, but didn’t linger there long.
Phoenix was a different story. Our introduction to it was gradual. From Prescott the trail soon dropped into low desert country filled with the giant saguaro and cholla cactus. Then, suddenly, we left the barren lands of the desert and came into the wonderfully productive Salt River Valley, the result of a great irrigation project. The change was complete. It was as if someone had drawn a chalk line, on one side of which would be virgin desert while on the other would be the bloom of verdant agricultural wealth. Never before had the power and value of water been so forcefully brought before us. The flourishing crops—alfalfa waist high, wheat full grown, the well-tilled fields where Pima cotton was being sown, the budding trees and flowers, the fresh smell of spring—all these things were like magic balm to our desert-sore eyes.
These outer surroundings whetted our appetites as we entered the state’s capital. Phoenix, a bustling little city of 30,000, immediately gained a warm spot in our hearts not alone because of its physical aspects but also because of an incident which occurred at the beginning of our stay there.
For the first time since visiting Pasadena in February, we received a check from home, part of the fund which we had sent back from our labor earlier in the trip. We hadn’t worked lately and were just about down to zero.
Sprucing up the best we could we set out to try our luck with the bankers. Our efforts to cash the check without identification at the first bank we entered were short and unsuccessful. The cashier assured us no bank in town would give us money on it. The next bank we tried offered a little more hope. A cashier questioned us, examined a lot of our papers, searched through the rogue’s gallery, but then—embarrassed and a bit apologetic—turned us down.
We were a little disheartened. “What will we do?” I queried Win. “How can we go to that movie tonight?”
Win’s answer was simple. “We’ll have to keep trying.”
This time we picked the biggest bank in town. The cashier listened to our half dozen sentences stating our condition and desires. But before he could reply, the president of the Valley Bank stepped up, asked us a few short questions, refused to look at our credentials, and endorsed the check. We had our money converted into traveler’s checks and were on the street in less time than it takes to say “Thanks a million,” which we did, emphatically.
In an army store we completely reclothed ourselves, including shoes for me, for less than five dollars. Speaking of shoes, Win’s pair with which he had left home were still in service. He had had them tapped once and restudded with hobnails several times. The soles were still good, but the mainstitch had rotted and two cobblers assured him they were beyond repair. But he hoped to wear them home as souvenirs, and resolved to stick with them as far as he could. I had worn out eight pairs already.
The gardens around the capitol building introduced us to the wonders of Arizona’s unique cactus species. Also, here in this building, we shaved and washed up.
The capitol buildings throughout the United States were our friends. A person who has never wandered far from home and found himself a dirty, unshaven stranger in a large city, could never know the embarrassment of locating a suitable place for washing up. It takes nerve to unpack one’s knapsack and strew the instruments of shaving around a public lavatory in a library or depot. Besides, some of the numerous witnesses would be sure to inform the janitor or station police, and out we would go with only half our faces shaved. For these reasons we always struck for the third floor lavatory of the capitol building whenever this was possible. Here we could consume an hour on our personal toilet, and yet never be disturbed.
We would enter the rear door of the building, dirty, bearded tramps, at whom the guards would cast many a suspicious glance. An hour later two clean-faced lads would leave the building by the front entrance in company with a chatty senator or at least a building guard. Capitol buildings, accept our vote of thanks.
Phoenix environs included Tempe, a big dairy center, and Mesa, on the edge of the desert. We crossed the last irrigation ditch and stopped at an outpost ranch house to fill our water pail before attempting the cactus country beyond.
“Oh, I wish you would go in and talk to my son,” the pleasant ranch woman exclaimed after we had told her a little of our trip. “He has just come from the hospital, and has to stay in bed most of the time with a broken leg. “
Of course we were glad to talk with anybody, so followed her into a little bedroom. Charlie Bartson, eighteen years old, and a full two inches over six feet tall, greeted us with as firm a handshake as we’d ever experienced. His whole aspect and bearing were as firm as his handshake. A couple of hours passed unnoticed as we talked.
Young Bartson had been working for a construction company down in Mexico when he broke his leg in an accident. He was getting strong again now but longed for outside company.
Suppertime came and we joined the family around the bountiful table. Mrs. Bartson wanted us to stay all night. As three good looking Barston daughters had joined the family circle we were easily persuaded.
While showing them our pictures, they suddenly seized upon the one of the Gibson girls whom we had met up near Arcata, California. “Why, they were our neighbors here in Mesa,” exclaimed one of the girls. “We used to go to school with them.”
“That’s right,” I interrupted. “I remember Helen Gibson told us they used to live in Mesa.” We were continually running across people we had met in other parts of the States—another example of the smallness of the world. The treatment which we received at the Bartson’s was representative of the wonderful kindness which was accorded us throughout the trip. Pleasant feelings and a bountiful breakfast filled us to the brim as we left the Phoenix environs and headed into the desert.
Tucson was the third candidate in our trio of impressive Arizona cities. Also it was the place which made us realize the limitations of any map, no matter how large or how good.
On that enormous wall map in our dining room back home, Win and I not only knew Tucson’s location, but had mentally marked it as a city we wanted to visit. Back in California we had met a man from there.
“Yes, I’ve lived in Tucson most of my life,” he told us. He had pronounced the name correctly—Tu=sahn.
“Just where is it in Arizona?” had been our response. “We’ve
never happened to hear of that place. What big city is it near?”
“It isn’t near a big city; it is a big city,” came his brusque rejoinder. “Nearly 20,000 people live there. It’s the second biggest city in Arizona.”
“Tucson. That’s strange,” I mumbled. I was pronouncing it phonetically—Tuk-son .
Our Tucsonian friend broke into laughter and gave us our first lesson in geographical pronunciation. That wall map of ours had been able to reveal, but not speak.
Our first objective in Tucson was not seeing the sights but searching for a safety razor. In the mountainous country east of Phoenix, after having gone for nearly three days without shaving, we had found a convenient irrigation ditch and stopped to shave. Our safety razor was gone from our packs. Lost.
This was a serious matter, since many miles stretched between us and a place where we could buy a new razor. If we were to catch rides in a desert country it was imperative that we be clean-shaven, as people were very careful about the type of person they picked up. To have the “unshaven” beginnings of a beard was to cut our chances for a ride one hundred percent. But there was nothing to do but continue on.
When we had reached the next settlement—Florence—the entire town seemed to be closed for an afternoon siesta; no place to buy a razor. Not having been in the area long enough to acquire the siesta habit, we continued on—beards and all—heading toward Tucson.
For five hours we plodded on down the Tucson road, reciting poetry or public speaking exercises. This was the longest solid desert stretch we had ever hit—seventy miles between towns and fifty-seven miles between places to buy food. In that entire distance there was only one water hole.
Long before reaching it, Win lamented: “I’m getting mighty thirsty. “
As though to mock his words, within an hour a severe thunderstorm blackened the skies and began soaking the trail with a downpour. Before we could catch any of the rain water to drink, a car appeared through the deluge behind us. A minute later we were in the back seat of a Dodge.
“Too wet to be walking,” said the driver.
“Where you going?” “We’re headed for Tu=sahn, ” came my carefully enunciated answer.
It was late when we pulled in. No chance to buy a razor. The skies were still dripping moisture, and a strong wind was blowing. So we walked to the edge of town, found an old abandoned adobe hut, and let our whiskers thrive for another night.
This was the first time we had been under shelter for over a month. “Don’t you feel hemmed in?” Win questioned.
“I sure do,” was my reply. “By this old hut, and also by my whiskers. I miss the stars and the open sky as much as I miss our razor. “
Throughout our trip we had carried just one razor. Next morning we bought two—one for each of our packs. At the public library we found a lavatory with two wash basins. We looked in the mirror and saw two faces—each one as bristling as an Arizona cholla cactus. Fifteen minutes later each of those faces was as smooth as a Michigan Jonathan apple.
“That’s better,” Win announced proudly. “Now we won’t be taken for bandits. Let’s go out and see Tu=sahn. “
Tucson, we discovered, was a colorful blend of the frontier West, of Mexico and Spain, with a touch of the Orient. A few cowboys, some blanketed Indians, many Mexicans, especially in Old Town, as well as Chinese, Negroes, and a sprinkling of tourists gave the place the appearance of a cosmopolitan city. We enjoyed the ethnic diversity.
Just beyond the adobe but where we had spent the night we had seen that Tucson was circled by the cactus-clad desert, with mountain peaks in the distance. But the city itself was clothed with beautiful trees—half a dozen different varieties.
We poked through the business district and through Old Town, then found that the area’s two greatest treasures were out in that encircling desert beyond the city limits. The forest of saguaro cactus which we discovered out beyond Tucson was as different from—yet in some respects as impressive as—the California redwoods. Nowhere else in the world, to our knowledge, did cactus grow to that size and magnificence.
The second treasure was the Mission San Xavier del Bac, which had to be described with as many superlatives as the saguaros. Seen from five miles away—or from fifty feet—it was a thing of grandeur, its isolated stark white dome standing out like a monument against the gray desert surroundings.
Though we couldn’t pronounce Tucson’s name to begin with, we pronounced the city and its surroundings “par excellent” after our visit.
Our journeyings through Arizona, since leaving Grand Canyon, were turning out to resemble a sumptuous banquet.
The city of Prescott had been the appetizer. Phoenix and its environs had been the main course, with Tuscon providing the delectable trimmings. I have saved the dessert for last.
After the Grand Canyon, the Theodore Roosevelt Dam was probably Arizona’s most important attraction. We had read of it and the wonderful Salt River Valley irrigation project since long before its completion, and now we were here to see it. To visit it would require a side trip of more than 150 miles, out of Mesa, but what did that matter? We went by way of Superior, Miami, and Globe, and returned over the famous Apache Trail, which had been carved out of mountainsides for the sole purpose of hauling in building supplies to the dam site by mule team.
The dam was worth the trip. The fact that Teddy Roosevelt had been in the White House when both of us were born, and was our favorite president, probably added to the thrill. The way it threw its curving stone massiveness across the narrow deep gorge of the Salt River, impounding an enormous lake which stretched as far as we could see, gave us goosebumps.
We were looking at the highest masonry dam in the world. Roosevelt Lake contained more water than was impounded by the next three highest dams in the world combined. Those were the mere statistics. The actual facts were that this dam we were looking at was the real reason the Salt River Valley was an agricultural wonderland instead of a desert, and that Phoenix was a growing city instead of a sleepy village.
Theodore Roosevelt himself had come to dedicate the dam in March of 1911, just a dozen years before our arrival. In the Michigan newspapers back home we had followed the progress of the dam and had read about that dedication. At least our father had read it, and told us all about it as he pointed out the dam’s location on our large wall map. Our father admired Teddy Roosevelt, he applauded the Roosevelt conservation policies, and he loved the West. All of those things had rubbed off on us.
Teddy Roosevelt’s influence seemed to be following our trail through western America—especially across Arizona. We had crossed his trail up in North Dakota. We had slept near where he had slept, at Riverside, California’s Mission Inn. We had figuratively bumped into him on both the rim and bottom of Grand Canyon. We had encountered him briefly in connection with “Rough Rider” Bucky O’Neill in Prescott. And now he had loomed larger than life in this mighty Roosevelt Dam and the Roosevelt Lake which it impounded.
Just before we left the state of Arizona, we crossed paths with Teddy Roosevelt once again.
After leaving San Xavier Mission south of Tucson, a young cavalry officer gave us a ride. Lieutenant Clendenen carried us for fifty miles in his single-seated Buick, to his post headquarters at Fort Huachuca.
A casual remark opened up a Pandora’s box of interest and excitement.
“This used to be Geronimo country,” Lieutenant Clendenen explained, as he motioned in a wide arc with his hand.
I didn’t think I got goosebumps very often but here in Arizona.
Geronimo was another favorite of ours. Back in Michigan we kids used to play “Cowboys and Indians” after school. The Indians were the villains, of course, and Geronimo was often chief among them. But we secretly admired him.
As a matter of fact, Win and I almost saw him once. After his capture by General Miles, he had been imprisoned for the rest of his life, ending up at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. On the early train trip with our parents through the South, when I was five and Win was six, we had gone through Fort Sill on the day after Geronimo died. We never forgot that day.
But as to the Roosevelt connection. Teddy Roosevelt was a showman. He wanted his inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. to be something to remember. Perhaps he had an inkling that not only kids playing “Cowboys and Indians” secretly admired Geronimo, but that adults also felt he was an Indian who had simply fought for his people’s rights to the last arrow—and lost because of being outnumbered. President Theodore Roosevelt had at the head of his inaugural parade, riding on an Indian pony just behind the lead band, none other than the prisoner of war, Geronimo himself. After the parade, this legendary Indian had gone back to prison.
“People like a show,” was Roosevelt’s explanation.
Frequent rides, interspersed with much walking, took us through the historic towns of southern Arizona. In Tombstone, so many murders had occurred the cemetery was called “Boot Hill.” The men had died violently, with their boots on, rather than of natural causes. A tour through the mining town of Bisbee reminded us much of Burke, Idaho. The ten thousand inhabitants of the town lived in houses and shacks scattered haphazardly over the sides of the narrow canyon. The town’s one main street sloped precipitously throughout its length. The smokestacks of Douglas, where copper from surrounding mines was smeltered, were visible for miles before reaching that town. We made a short run down to Agua Prieta in the state of Sonora, Mexico, this time not bothering with custom’s red tape to cross the border. We just put our feet on foreign soil and crawled back over the fence before heading toward New Mexico.
In our diary, we filled half a page with our summary impressions of Arizona, the youngest state of the 48, which had been admitted into the Union just eleven years before our arrival to visit it. In conclusion we wrote:
“We are well impressed with Arizona as a whole, and think it to be a coming state. It is undeveloped and its as yet untouched possibilities are wonderful. It has a variety of climate, fine in nearly all parts in winter, and hot—but I guess easily bearable—in the southern part, in summer. Its deserts are grand and more interesting than in any other state. All the roads on which we traveled were, with very few exceptions, state highways, excelling the roads of Michigan. Some stretches are already paved and new road building is going on everywhere.”
Arizona had given us some of the great thrills of our trip—the Grand Canyon, Roosevelt Dam, and the weirdest and most gorgeous cactus growth we could ever have dreamed of. And finallyGeronimo. In a black Dodge roadster we departed from the state we had grown to admire.