The Trails and Trials of a Woman who ended up in Skull Valley

By Lorraine Rygiel

In memory of my grandmother, Edith Duncan, and her two sisters, Helen Voller and Elsie Dougherty, this article is dedicated. They were all born and raised on the Shupp Ranch in Skull Valley, as was their father before them, Chester Shupp. Their oral interpretation and written memoirs have given me valuable insight into my family’s past. And from them, I have surmised that the pioneer women in my family were of no less character than the men who ventured out West. They encountered bad weather, lack of food and water, hostile circumstances and loss of life.

My great-great-grandmother, Josephine Shupp, was born in the year of 1850 in St. Louis, and like most pioneer women, had endured many challenges throughout her life. At an early age, smallpox took the lives of all six of her siblings, leaving herself, mother and father to carry forth into the future. Saddened, her father left St. Louis and traveled to San Francisco, during the Gold Rush, to establish a new life for his family. A few years later, he opened a tin shop business in Petaluma. Shortly after, he sent for his wife and daughter.

In 1859, at the age of nine, Josephine and her mother began their journey towards San Francisco, traveling down the Mississippi River by way of steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. They were both strong supporters of President Lincoln, and with the political unrest-taking place in the South, they felt uneasy. Fortunately, they both made it unharmed and safe.

Once in New Orleans, Mother and Daughter bought passage on a ship and sailed to Panama, and from Chorgres Panama, they traveled sixty miles by train, up over the Isthmus into the jungle towards Panama City. They both experienced humidity, mosquitoes, palm trees, orchids, monkeys, and natives. Furthermore, they had little contact with other women. After arriving in Panama City, they booked another passage on a ship to San Francisco where they met Josephine’s father.

Eight years later in 1867, at the age of seventeen, Josephine married a rancher named Blackburn. Together they worked a one hundred sixty acre homestead in Fresno, California. Sometime in the eight-year period that she lived on the homestead, her father died and her mother came to live with her. Additionally, she gave birth to three healthy children, fulfilling her life with content and happiness. However, sometime between 1874 and 1875, Josephine’s husband got gold fever and persuaded her that Prescott, Arizona was an opportunity that they could not afford to pass up.

Within a few months, they traded the homestead for a team of horses and a prairie schooner. Traveling in the party were their three children, Josephine’s mother, a minister and his wife. As the wagon train rolled south, left behind were Josephine’s memories and domestic comforts; yet, she often joked that it was the minister who complained the most about the uncomfortable conditions.

After several months on the trail in 1875, the Blackburn party finally arrived in Arizona, settling in a mining camp called Walnut Grove, south of Skull Valley. Two years later, with little success at finding gold, Blackburn moved his family six miles, south of Prescott to a camp called Aztlin Mill. It was here that he found employment and a paycheck. Yet and once again, life would commence towards a different direction for Josephine, incurring heartbreak and the loss of security. She was pregnant with her fourth child when Blackburn left her and the children for another women, taking with him all their money and stealing bullion from the mill.

In order to survive, Josephine had no alternative but to accept the only respectable employment that the Atzlan Mill owner provided, working as the camp cook. Historically in western mining towns, jobs were limited and hard to come by for women, generally they ended up in domestic service or prostitution. This experience must have been frightening for Josephine, living in an unfamiliar place bursting with men; it is no secret that mining camps were often uncivilized establishments.

In 1879, soon after the birth of her child, Josephine and her family moved into Prescott where she established a business, taking in boarders and sewing. However as the months passed, she agonized with worry, realizing that her situation needed to change. It became necessary to find a safe and stable environment for her children, and eventually, marriage became her best alternative. One year later, September 23 in 1880, Josephine married Alfred Shupp. He was a forty-four year old bachelor, and one of the original members of the Walker Party, who discovered gold in 1863 on the Lynx. He owned a homestead in Skull Valley and was the eleventh homesteader in the state of Arizona in 1870. He had been farming on it for ten years prior to their marriage.

Josephine and Alfred’s wedding reception was a festive and honorary event that was reported in The Weekly Arizona Miner. The article described: People traveled from miles around to participate in the twenty-four hour festivities on the Shupp ranch. There were delicacies to eat and the dancing did not end until early morning. At midnight the second supper was served, and at two a.m., the bride and groom cut their cake. No guest longed for sleep or complained of weariness, and the morning came all too soon. The bride fixed a splendid breakfast, sending the guests regretfully home.

Two years later, Josephine delivered her last child. She and Alfred had a son, named Chester. Eventually in Skull Valley, she became the community’s nurse and midwife; most everyone called her, "Grandma Shupp…with the gift for healing". In 1899, Alfred died, leaving Chester to inherit the ranch at the age of seventeen. Josephine lived with Chester and his family for the rest of her life, dying at the age of ninety-five, August 24, 1945.

Today, Josephine is also memorialized among the beautifully reigning roses of the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden at the Sharlot Hall Museum. Undoubtedly, my great-great-grandmother was a true pioneer woman.

(Lorraine Rygiel is a frequent researcher at the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives)

Our readers’ thoughts…

my grandfather arthur edward blackburn mother was josephine stombs
shupp, , i,m her dead look like to see me her side by side you think we
were sisters,

February 27, 2008

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