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History of the Historian: Sharlot Hall

Sharlot Hall feeds her pig, Herbert Hoover, sometime in the 1920s.

Sharlot Hall feeds her pig, Herbert Hoover, sometime in the 1920s.

Don’t let this picture of Sharlot Hall fool you.  She may look gentle enough, but in 1926, around the time this picture was taken, she got the only slaughtering license ever issued to a woman and was quite proud of it.  Her acclaim does not stem from this dubious distinction however, but rather from her work as a writer and a historian.

Sharlot Hall was one of those rare people who saw the value of preserving vanishing relics before it was too late, and she was an avid collector of pioneer and Native American artifacts.  She was also an accomplished writer who had more than 500 of her articles, stories, and poems published during her lifetime.

Hall was born in Kansas in 1870, and moved with her family to Arizona in 1881-1882.  (The move took several months.)  They settled 15 miles southeast of Prescott in an area where Sharlot reported that there were “no Indian troubles as all the Indians of the region had been removed to San Carlos Reservation just before we came in.”

She had two brothers:  John, who was two years younger, and Ted, who was three and a half years her junior.  John was lost to illness when he was only six weeks old, and Ted was lost to Hall’s own bigotry when he was 34.

Ted had gone to Mexico in 1907, to work as a mining engineer and met a woman there, Petra Acosta, whom he married the following year.  When he wrote to tell his sister of their engagement, her reaction was brutal.  In her diary that day she wrote “Word from Ted today.  End of all but sad memories.”

She never thought better of it.  Ted, Petra, and their children lived in Tucson from 1912 on, and yet she never contacted them.  After the marriage, she never mentioned her brother to anyone again. When people would inquire about him, she would lie and say he’d been killed in a skirmish with Mexicans.

While preserving family ties may not have been of much importance to Hall, preserving Arizona’s history was.  In 1927 she got a life lease on the governor’s mansion in Prescott to restore it and use it as a museum to house and display the artifacts she had collected throughout her life.  The mansion had been built in 1864 for Arizona’s first territorial governor, and Hall wrote that she’d had her eye on it since she had first seen it when she was 12 years old.

Along with working on the mansion itself, in 1928 Hall decided to construct a stockade fence around the entire block, much to the chagrin of conservative citizens of Prescott, who considered the thing a real eyesore, and bootleggers, whose delivery routes had crossed the property, who considered it an impediment to trade.

The latter took the matter to the Prescott City Council, but, says Hall, “they were told by the city attorney that I had both an iron-clad lease and an iron will and was a nice lady to let alone.”

During the Depression of the 1930s, help with work on the property came from the federal government through a series of work relief programs.  Hall’s friend, Grace Sparkes, who had long been the secretary of the Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce, was appointed the local chair for many of the programs and helped get funding for Hall’s projects.

Among the additional buildings erected on the property was a stone museum building that later became the Sharlot Hall Museum.  She called the museum “The House of a Thousand Hands” after the hundreds of relief workers who had helped build it.

Hall died on April 9, 1943, at the hospital attached to the Arizona Pioneers’ Home.

Ten years prior to her death, she had written Lester Ruffner, a friend and the director of the local funeral home, regarding the arrangements for her burial.

“I do not wish a service of any sort — nor do I wish anyone beside the necessary care-takers to see my body — just wrap it in a sheet and place it in the coffin. Bury me in the plot beside my parents — if it is not too much trouble, take me out before sunrise — and I do not wish my friends to go with me — or to feel that I am gone from among them. This is not because I do not treasure the regard of my friends — or respect every form of service for the dead — but when I think of the prehistoric people of this immediate region who laid their dead away so lovingly — only to have them become objects of curiosity — I feel the futility of all customs and services. I know that you will find it hard to yield to this wish of mine for complete privacy — but you have been too good a friend not to be able to humor my last wish.”

But her last wish was not humored.  Her funeral was a grand affair at the museum with the governor himself there to give the principal address.

— Gail Merten.  Photo courtesy Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records.

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