Title: Pioneer Women of Arizona
Authors: Roberta Flake Clayton, Catherine H. Ellis, David F. Boone
Publisher: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University in cooperation with Deseret Book Company
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 946
Reviewed by Elizabeth White for the Association for Mormon Letters
Mesa Arizona is hot in the summer. It was hot in the summertime when I was a child there. It doesn’t really matter which decade I am referring to, since Mesa and the surrounding areas have had hot summers for as long as anyone can remember. After playing and splashing in the irrigated fields of the community park, I could head over to one aunt’s home who lived on MacDonald where the old Mesa Theatre was, then walk down Sirrine, and see where the library stood, whose beauty and majesty had captured my imagination ever since I stood in the checkout line and read, “one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish”.
I knew I had to come back to this wonderful, magical place that had unlimited free books. If I headed home a different way, I passed the Johnsons and my cousins’ home until I came to the Freestone’s Chiropractic Center. That sign always confused me since it had a picture of a Freestone peach, and I could not understand for the life of me what the peach had to do with the chiropractic doctor who worked there. I walked over to my other aunt’s home, who was a Turley, and then turned right past the Huber home down LeSueur street. The church there on the corner had families worshipping together with last names like: Brimhall, Russell, Farnsworth, Riggs, Crandall, Brinkerhoffs, and dozens more.
The park where I played? It was Pioneer Park, directly north across Main Street from the Mesa Arizona Temple. I had lived in the shadows of great people and families, growing up relatively carefree in a supportive community of hard-working, religious, family loving people.
But it wasn’t until I opened up the second edition of Pioneer Women of Arizona by Roberta Flake Clayton, Catherine H. Ellis, and David F. Boone, that I began to grasp the extent of the impact the LDS pioneers had on the settlement and development of Mesa, Arizona. The book index reads like class rosters from my elementary and (Kino) junior high years. My direct lines, the Johnsons and Turleys, are in the book as well as Sirrine, Robson, and LeSueurs that I had only known as disconnected street names. The Taylors, Tanners, and Tenneys are all represented. I lived on Stapley Dr and passed Standage on a regular basis.
The authors Ellis and Boone have researched and expanded on the work of Roberta Flake Clayton, who personally interviewed and cataloged biographical sketches of hundreds of women for over thirty three years. This second edition has added dozens, if not hundreds of photographs, explanatory footnotes, and an overview of the history of colonization in many parts of Arizona and related area such as Bluff, UT and parts of Colorado and New Mexico. Tucson, Thatcher, the Gila Valley, Snowflake, Holbrook, St. Joseph all have extensive information about the early LDS families in this volume.
The research is superb; the index, which was a labor of love by itself, is detailed and easy to use. Often entire families with complete lists of children and later marriages are included along with additional information about various family members. The appendix outlining different communities and their origins make this book a treasure.
I knew where my grandmother was born and I had heard bits of stories, but this book has greatly magnified what I knew and gave me rich layers of connections throughout the areas where I traveled and lived as a young girl. I recognize pictures of relatives that I first saw hanging in my grandmother’s bedroom. I found new photos of relatives that I didn’t know existed. As I read sketches of people not related to me, I found myself imagining that they sometimes may have been neighbors or school mates to my relatives.
Reading the personal sketches made these people’s names on the page come alive for me like I had never imagined they could. At very close to a thousand pages, this book covers hundreds of families that at one time were involved in the Southwest region. Most stories are of LDS women who travelled with their men to establish towns and communities in a variety of locations. The stories are written with a optimistic attitude portraying general cheerfulness and hope, even while living through many extreme circumstances. Many personal writings have been used to describe the life, times, and culture of these women and their families. The isolation, fright, barrenness, loss, tragedy, and deprivation are all there woven alongside unremitting faith in God and trust in His plan.
I came away from reading through this book with a desire to learn even more about these noble and selfless women and men who gave their names as well as their lives to establish communities of faith and family. This book honors their legacy. What a boon it is and will be for years to help with family research. I can see coming back to this book again and again for additional insights and information.
On behalf of everyone who has connections preserved in this book, I want to give the authors a huge thank you for the years they spent researching and compiling this work. So the next time I visit Snowflake, Heber, Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert, Tucson, Safford or a hundred other places, I will be able to share stories with my children of the women and men lived and loved there and built their dreams and left a grand legacy for us.