In 1910, Esther Rothrock, who lived in Elgin, a town southeast of Sonoita in Santa Cruz County, invited her sisters, Carrie and Rhoda Swigart, to come to Arizona to homestead land.
The sisters both held good jobs in lawyers’ offices in Washington, D.C. They had attended the Pierce Business School in Philadelphia, and Carrie had taught school for a while. But Esther’s description of warm sunny Arizona was irresistible and in 1913, on a cold muddy March day, Carrie and Rhoda burned their bridges and set out for Arizona.
From Washington, D.C. they could only buy tickets as far as Benson, which the conductor told them was just a water tank on the rail line. He thought there might be a train from Benson that would take them to Elgin, but wasn’t sure. In fact, there was a train to Elgin, although it traveled at only 20 miles an hour and slowed to ten for bridges.
Their brother-in-law, Bruce Rothrock, met them at Elgin with a lumber wagon.
By the time they arrived in Arizona, the most desirable homesteads had been taken, but the girls camped on the edge of the available property and waited for an opportunity.
The first night, they were invited to dinner by one of the bachelor squatters in the area who lived in a dugout. His roof was covered with green oak poles that sagged when they dried out. Over the top of the poles was a layer of bear grass. To keep out the rain, he had hung a large tub over his bed. The bachelor was named Jim Frazier, and Carrie later said of him, “I married this Gink.”
Frazier and his two brothers had already harvested two good crops so there was plenty to eat. After dinner, he drove Carrie and Rhoda in his buckboard to look over the best spots to “prove up.”
The sisters were in their early 30s, and each had a few thousand dollars saved up. After two weeks of camping, on March 29, 1913, a man rode up and announced that two families were leaving and the sisters could file on the property.
By sundown, they had loaded up their trunks, bedding, a coffeepot, a skillet, a load of homemade bread, bacon and eggs, their cots and chairs and were ready to move.
That night they sang and talked the hours away on their cots in the wagon as they made their move. They found the boundary stakes left by the departing families and set up one cot on each side of the iron pegs.
Each sister claimed 260 acres. The next morning, over an early breakfast and a beautiful sunrise they beheld their land.
Single women were a rarity on the frontier and before long many young bachelors were helping the Swigart sisters get settled. The sisters set up two tents, one for sleeping and one for cooking.
One man hauled wood and lent them an ax. Another contributed enough wire to keep wild cattle away. Someone brought a five-gallon kerosene can for a stove, and the Frazier boys brought a much-appreciated pail of fresh drinking water.
There were some hardships. During the first three years, there was plenty of rain and the grass grew tall around the tents and cooking areas. Someone decided to burn off the grass and the resulting fire spread to the tents and bedding. Everything was lost and the fire didn’t stop until it reached an area where horses had grazed the grass to stubble.
The sisters were never discouraged for long. One night it rained hard and their tents leaked. They put up an umbrella and slept under it on one cot for the rest of the night.
On an excursion they found a stove which had been left at a government surveyor’s camp and carried it home over two and a half miles of rugged terrain.
Carrie married Jim Frazier; Rhoda married Jim McCarthy. The homestead law required that they prove up their property — which meant building a house. Rhoda built on her land and stayed on it until she died 30 years later.
Carrie moved onto her husband’s land because he already had a well. Carrie and Jim Frazier’s first house was a 12 by 14-foot room with a floor and windows and a door that could be shut.
The sisters acquired livestock and Carrie got herself a small mustang mare. Rhoda bought a colt.
The colt came with a little wagon and harness. A friend brought the women four kegs for the wagon, which meant they could then haul their own water.
With the purchase of the horses, they also could ride to do the laundry. Until then it had been a two-day affair. They walked six miles to Esther’s house where they spent the night, then walked another five miles the next day to the Rothrock family home where they did their wash in water pulled from a 200-foot deep well. They also washed Esther’s family’s clothes, and Esther had a baby.
Carrie and Rhoda learned to make jelly from wild grapes and a pie with manzanita berries. They discovered that the small native walnuts made delicious cookies and that careless weed could be used as a vegetable.
During their second year, they planted beans and corn. To fulfill the homestead law, a neighbor, A.C. Dalton, plowed five acres of sod for them. They planted pink beans, in double rows.
Over the years, Carrie and her husband increased their holdings to 6,000 acres. Carrie gave up riding at 80, but until a few months before her death on Christmas Eve of 1973, 92 year-old Carrie Frazier was often seen driving her pickup truck and herding cattle on her ranch.
— Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy Pimeria Alta Historical Society.