For several decades, Arizonans held a grand, multi-day celebration of those who came to the territory before Dec. 31, 1890, called Pioneer Days.
Arizona Supreme Court Justice Levi S. Udall once commented that he was born 20 days past the date that had been declared the end of Arizona’s “pioneer” era. Udall’s parents were David and Eliza Udall, who arrived in northern Arizona as Mormon pioneers in 1880.
During an address at a Pioneer Day celebration, Levi said “The heritage of the great West and the spirit that animated those pioneers is the birthright of every son and daughter of this great empire.”
Udall went on to say that Arizona still needed the courage, initiative, fortitude, thrift, economy and industry that the early settlers showed when they ventured into the unknown wilderness of Arizona.
Coming to Arizona took great courage. Many of the early pioneers met with a violent death. Elma Roberts Wilson wrote a poem titled “In Praise of the Pioneers” that summed up their lives:
“I sing of those who left their ease
In homes established all secure,
Who fared to this land of antithesis
Where living was raw, crude, immature;
Who law and gospel and culture taught,
Whose high ideals leavened the whole
Of pioneer life, and in building sought
Higher than purely material goal.”
These pioneers were also a close-knit group. They banded together for survival.
W. W. Pace of Thatcher came to Arizona in 1881. He recalled that the communities of Alpine and Nutrioso combined forces for protection against Indian raids. Sentries were posted day and night for many months to raise an alarm in case of an attack. “It was very disquieting to receive word that Geronimo…had passed through…and had slaughtered this man or that man, who had been your neighbor and had eaten at your table scores of times. It was sufficient to make any man’s blood hot.”
Lucinda F. Buchanan Reidhead came to Arizona in 1879 as a Mormon missionary with her husband. They eventually moved to a farm in Linden in the 1880s. One night, the men were called to duty after learning that Indians had killed and hanged the local mail carrier at Lone Pine.
That night, Reidhead was guarding her cabin when about a dozen Indians holding lighted torches started circling her cabin. Knowing that she would surely be killed, Reidhead took the brave step of opening the door and inviting the warriors into her cabin. “She cooked meat, made biscuits and coffee and fed them all by candlelight in the cabin. In the future, the Indians respected her home, which became known as the Big Reidhead Ranch.”
A major draw for Arizona’s early pioneers was the promise of vast wealth.
After gold was discovered at Gila City, Muggins Mountain, Trigo, La Paz, Weaver, Lynx Creek and several other areas in the late 1850s, prospectors began flooding the area. The discoveries led a military general to write “new mines of untold millions are found, and the gold lies here at our feet, to be had by the mere picking of it up.”
The state’s rich history of pioneering families provided plenty of people eager to show up for the parades, dances, speeches and other festivities of the annual Pioneer Days celebration.
As Arizona became more modern, early pioneer W.W. Pace reminisced about the social change he had witnessed during his time in Arizona. “(They) were dandy days nevertheless. We…had no use for locks on our doors – they stood wide open day and night – and any man passing was welcome to a part of what his host had…we shared the joys and sorrows of those trying days.”
— Mike Miller. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archive and Public Records, Archives Division, Phoenix, #97-8705.