Though Marshall Trimble grew up in Ash Fork, a small town 40 miles west of Flagstaff, he was first introduced to Southwest history 40 years ago while working as a cowboy in Montana, driving cattle from the Big Sky State into train stockyards in Arizona.”It was like turning the clock back 100 years,” said Trimble, Arizona’s state historian.
At times, though, Trimble has felt a bit like the cattle he prodded.
Shy at first, he was pushed toward being a performance artist, and then later toward becoming a teacher and an author. “People have been pushing me all my life,” he said. “They prodded me into being a performer, ’cause I was shy. I kind of got pushed into teaching, and then my students pushed me to write books.”
But that pushing has led Trimble to the life he knows now. At 70, he has overcome his shyness, which is evident when he lectures about the rich history of the Southwest.
Driving cattle into old railroad towns gave Trimble the opportunity to see the “old glory” of the Southwest, or as close to the old glory as he had seen recreated. The cowboy lifestyle and culture of the Southwest made him want to keep the history alive, he said. Trimble also worked as a folk singer, performing what he calls Americana folk music and country classics, like Johnny Cash. It was the combination of his love for folk music and the Southwest atmosphere that led him to research the region’s history. His early research later developed into a lifelong career.
He began his teaching career at Corona High School in Scottsdale, teaching history, of course, and then night classes at Scottsdale Community College for a few years. He later became the full-time director of the college’s Southwest Studies program, where he still is today.
Trimble said he loves the program because it gives him a chance to educate people in the rich history, culture, geography and even biology of the Southwest. He is the last of the original 37 members of the Southwest Studies program.
“They all died except for me! Well, or retired, I guess,” he laughed. But Trimble’s teaching is not limited to his own classrooms. A popular speaker, Trimble gives three or four speeches a week, visits many fourth-grade classes during their Arizona history lessons and gives presentations at corporate functions. One of his favorite speeches to give is his “Anomalies and Tamales,” where he rambles off fast, funny facts about Arizona, such as “The town of Gila Bend is not in Gila County and the town of Maricopa isn’t in Maricopa County.”
Trimble will be the keynote speaker at the Leaders of the Year event on Sept. 29, hosted by the Arizona Capitol Times.
State politics is another of Trimble’s favorite topics, due to the colorful history of Arizona. But he tries to avoid criticizing officials or debating politics, he said, living by the words of Will Rogers, “I have no malice in my heart.”
Knowing the state’s history “helps you not to get so excited,” he said. “I like the old cowboy camp-cook thing, if a guy would complain about the cooking, they’d make him the cook.” Trimble offered advice to young politicians just starting out. He said mistakes, such as lying to the public, repeat themselves frequently in history. And more often than not, people pick up on that.
“I always tell young leadership, always take the high road. You’ll live better ’cause once you lose respect, you’ve lost sight of yourself, embarrassed your family and embarrassed your friends. Lead by example,” Trimble said.And just as important as honesty, he said, is having a sense of humor. Using President Ronald Reagan as an example, he said a sense of humor “gets you farther.” He also suggested finding a role model, and letting their magic rub off on you. One of his role models is the late Johnny Cash.
“Find someone who’s successful and use them as your model. Those traits will carry you farther than being real bright. I’m proof of that,” he joked.
Trimble follows his own advice, leading by example and displaying a good sense of humor. He loves what he does and said he will be teaching and entertaining as long as he feels he can still contribute. Getting behind a microphone is what really makes him light up. “People tell me I’ll just wither away and die if I ever quit,” he said.
But quitting time doesn’t appear to be on the horizon for this educator and historian. “I’m in good health and I can still make that old guitar work for me,” Trimble said.