In 1857, farmer Elias Pennington and his 12 motherless children joined a wagon train headed from Texas to California looking for more productive land. Pennington’s wife, Julia Ann, had died two years before.
That June the company reached Fort Buchanan in what was then the New Mexico Territory (the area would become Arizona Territory in 1863). Twenty-year-old Larcena Pennington, the third-oldest Pennington child, had fallen ill, and rather than risk his daughter’s health, Elias settled his family along Sonoita Creek until they could resume their journey. But before long a young lumberman, John Hempstead Page, came calling on the attractive Larcena, and on Christmas Eve 1859, the couple married in Tucson.
The following spring, John, who was employed by William Hudson Kirkland to fell trees and haul lumber, headed into the Santa Rita Mountains to chop down trees. Larcena came along, accompanied by 10-year-old Mercedes Sais Quiroz, a ward of Kirkland’s. Kirkland had asked Larcena to teach Mercedes English.
On the morning of March 16, 1860, the men left for work and Larcena sent Mercedes outside to play while she cleaned up inside the tent.
The girl’s cries sent Larcena bolting out of the tent, where she was confronted by five Tonto Apache warriors. With their lances pointed at the women, the men motioned Larcena and Mercedes to move forward.
Mercedes understood enough of the Apache’s Spanish dialect to conclude they were boasting that they had killed John Page and his partner.
As the Apaches marched their two prisoners deeper into the mountains, Larcena soon grew weak with chills and fever. Around sunset, about 15 miles from the Page campsite, she could go no farther. One of the men heaved her over his shoulder and they continued on, but before long he threw her to the ground and ordered her to remove her heavy jacket, skirt and shoes. She complied, and one of the men grabbed his lance and jabbed it between her shoulders. The others joined in, repeatedly piercing her body. As she tumbled down a steep ravine, the men hurled rocks at her head. They left her for dead, hidden behind a tree, and set off with little Mercedes.
For three days, Larcena wavered in and out of consciousness. Patches of snow clinging to nooks and crevices of the mountain, and the frozen earth beneath her, staved the flow of blood from her stab wounds, probably saving her life.
In her delirium, she thought she heard her husband’s voice, but she knew the Apaches had killed him and assumed she was disoriented. Yet she heard him again and slowly realized that John really was calling her, that he was alive and looking for her. She tried to cry out, but her whimpers were barely audible. John passed by without knowing she lay in the ravine just below his footsteps.
He continued to follow her footprints, unaware her shoes were now worn by one of the Apaches.
Larcena struggled to her feet and slowly inched up the steep incline. By the end of the first day, however, her feet were so swollen and pitted with small rocks that she realized that if she were going to survive, she would have to crawl down the mountain.
“Did not dare go down to the foot of the mountain for I could find no water, and was therefore compelled to keep on the steep and rocky mountain,” she later said. “Sometimes after crawling up a steep ledge, laboring hard for half a day, I would lose my footing and slide down lower than the place from which I started. As I had no fire and no clothing, I suffered very much from the cold. ... I scratched holes in the sand at night in which to sleep, and before I could travel was obliged every day to wait for the sun to warm me up.”
Wild onions, seeds and grass were her only food until the day she spotted a rabbit. Heaving a stone at the unsuspecting hare, she killed it instantly. Only taking time to skin the poor creature, she later confessed, “No food ever tasted so good as that raw rabbit.”
Twelve days into her ordeal, she saw a wagon on a road far below. Removing the remains of her tattered and blood-spattered petticoat, she shouted and waved the garment at the drivers, but they did not hear her.
Two more days passed before she reached the base of the mountain. Stumbling along the rutted wagon trail with little clothing left on her emaciated body, she was spotted by a man walking down the road.
Larcena, bloodied and bruised, mud-clotted hair twisting and spiraling around her sunken face, clad only in a thin chemise that failed to cover her raw flesh, panicked the poor man. But he finally came to his senses, gathered her up and carried her to a nearby lumber camp.
Doctors were summoned but doubted Larcena would survive. She proved them wrong, however, and fully recovered, although she bore the scars of her ordeal for years.
A few days after Larcena was found, Mercedes was traded for a handful of Apache prisoners and returned home.
The following year, in March 1861, John Page was killed by a band of Apaches. That September, Larcena gave birth to her first child, Mary Ann Page.
Ten years later she married William F. Scott, owner of the Eagle Flour Mill on Tucson’s Main Street, and had two more children, William and Georgia.
Larcena Pennington Page Scott died on March 13, 1913, at the age of 76. Pennington Street in downtown Tucson is not named for the resolute Larcena, but for her father, Elias Pennington, who brought his family into Southern Arizona to stay only a short while before moving on. Many of the Penningtons never left.