Born in Lincoln County, Kansas, on Oct. 17, 1870, Sharlot Mabridth Hall was 11 years old when her family made the 1,000-mile journey to Arizona Territory.
She watched the countryside morph from wheat-swept plains into mauve-tinged mountains, then merge into the vast southwestern desert. Pen in hand, she composed as she rode, the unfolding scenery a plethora for her words.
“I began to make up songs and verses as soon as I could talk,” she said, “and long before I could print or write.”
Sharlot’s father settled his family in Lonesome Valley near present-day Dewey, raising cattle and growing fruit trees on his Orchard Ranch.
At age 21, Sharlot first saw her words in print when a children’s magazine, Wide Awake, published one of her short stories.
She was soon contributing articles and poetry to Charles Fletcher Lummis’ California publication Land of Sunshine, gaining national exposure for her work. By 1901 she was listed as one of the magazine’s contributing editors and within a few years, her name appeared on the masthead as associate editor.
Her reputation grew as other periodicals such as Atlantic Monthly, Ladies’ Home Journal, Sunset, and The Delineator published the words of this up-and-coming Arizona poet and journalist.
In December 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt recommended Arizona and New Mexico territories be admitted to the Union as one state under the Hamilton Bill. Sharlot adamantly opposed the proposition. Taking pen in hand she composed a resounding tribute to the territory. Her poem “Arizona” landed on the desk of every member of Congress, proclaiming Arizona’s right to stand alone as a sovereign state.
The bill passed through the House of Representatives but before the Senate approved it, the language for joint statehood was removed. Several newspapers gave Sharlot credit for assisting in the defeat of the bill such as Pennsylvania’s Morning Courier that suggested, “Sharlot M. Hall perhaps put out the strongest papers that were issued to show why Arizona should, when admitted to statehood, be admitted as a great commonwealth singly.”
In 1907 Sharlot ran for and won a clerk position in the 25th Arizona Territorial Legislature. Gov. Joseph H. Kibbey used her expertise to help write legislation to improve Arizona’s chances for statehood.
Sharlot was appointed by Territorial Governor Richard E. Sloan to the position of Historian in 1909, the first Arizona woman to hold a public office. She roamed the state amassing remnants of Arizona’s past while listening to stories from Native Americans, ranchers, miners, cowboys and pioneering women.
In 1910 Sharlot put together a collection of her poetry and saw her first book, “Cactus and Pine: Songs of the Southwest,” come to fruition.
She set out to explore the Arizona Strip in 1911, a piece of land extending from the southern end of the Grand Canyon to the Utah border. Her purpose was “to gather all the historical data possible, as well as to inform myself about the country and conditions ...” Utah wanted to acquire this strip of land but Sharlot was determined to prove the land worth holding onto.
She traveled by buckboard through some of the most remote regions of the territory with only a guide for company. Recording her thoughts as well as the sights she saw along the way, her delight and sorrow with what she encountered is reflected in her daily entries.
For 75 days, Sharlot explored this untamed land. Arriving in Kingman, she declared she “did indeed say some prayers of gladness — for a thousand miles in a camp wagon is no joke, even when every day is filled with interest and the quest of fresh historical game.”
“A Diary of a Journey Though Northern Arizona in 1911: Sharlot Hall on the Arizona Strip” was published in 1975.
When Arizona celebrated statehood on Feb. 14, 1912, Sharlot’s position as Territorial Historian was eliminated. That same year her mother died and Sharlot was left alone to care for her petulant father. For the next 10 years, she wrote little as her days were consumed with running Orchard Ranch.
Friends encouraged her to republish “Cactus and Pine,” which was then out of print, and to include some additional poems she had composed since its issuance.
Since her first publisher had gone out of business during World War I, she asked a friend to locate the book’s original plates. “He wrote me that all of the metal, including my plates, had been sold to a munitions factory, and that so far as he could learn my poems had been shot at the Hun, and, we might hope, had done their part in winning the war in a decidedly original way for poetry.”
After her father died in 1925, Sharlot took on her most arduous and rewarding project: restoration of the first governor’s residence built in 1864. The log cabin had been given to the city of Prescott in 1917 but the old structure was in a state of stagnant disrepair.
The city fathers were more than happy to turn over the project of renovating the structure to Sharlot and gave her a life lease on the property. She moved into the dilapidated building and worked tirelessly to refurbish the house.
Sharlot died April 9, 1943, before she finished all she hoped to accomplish. Yet her legacy continues.
“It is my one wish,” she wrote, “that the work I have begun be carried on after my death, to the end that the old gubernatorial mansion may be preserved in its present condition and may become a shrine dedicated to the preservation of the pioneer life and history of Arizona.”
Sharlot got her wish for the mansion was renamed Sharlot Hall Museum, honoring the woman considered “one of the grandest characters that ever lived in our state.”