Sharlot Mabridth Hall was an unusual woman for her time: a largely self-educated but highly literate child of the frontier. Born October 27,1870, Sharlot was given her name by an uncle who claimed it was of Indian origin. Her earliest memories were of Comanche raids, grasshopper plagues, prairie fires, and of pet buffalo killed by wolves. In 1882 the Hall family crossed the Santa Fe Trail and went on to Arizona. Her impressions of this journey remained with her all of her life. She loved ideas and the written arts and expressed her fascination with Arizona frontier life through prose and poetry. The family settled on Lynx Creek near today’s Prescott Valley. It was the final decade of the great western frontier, and it’s memories stayed with Sharlot.
The Hall family raised horses and mined gold on Lynx Creek, then built a homestead that they called Orchard Ranch. James and Adeline along with their children, Sharlot and Ted, kept pigs and cows and grew vegetables, apples, and pears. Sharlot’s father, James Hall, worked the hydraulic, gold mining operation on Lynx Creek. In 1890 he built a ranch above the junction of the creek with the Agua Fria River and planted fruit trees. Until 1927 “Orchard Ranch” was Sharlot’s home. However, this home was often a burden for Sharlot as she lived the title “Ranch Woman.” The hardships of ranch life, and particularly of ranch women, were a frequent theme in her writing.
Sharlot attended school for a couple of brief terms in a log-and-adobe schoolhouse four miles from the ranch, then boarded in Prescott for one year of schooling in town. There she met Henry Fleury, who had come to Prescott in 1864 as secretary to the first governor, John Goodwin, and who lived in the old log Governor’s Mansion. The gruff, grey-bearded Fleury told Sharlot many fascinating stories of Prescott’s early times.
Sharlot Hall saw the need to save Arizona’s history. The territory had been founded in 1863 and by 1900, as early settlers died, their possessions were lost, along with their stories. There was also widespread looting of Arizona’s spectacular Indian ruins to supply the eastern market with “Indian relics.” To save what she could, Sharlot began to collect both Native American and pioneer material. As early as 1907, Sharlot Hall planned to develop a museum for her collections.
In 1906, Sharlot Hall became active in the crusade against the congressional measure which would have brought New Mexico and Arizona into the Union as one state. Sharlot toured Arizona gathering opposition to the bill, and wrote a 64 page article in “Out West Magazine” praising Arizona’s resources. Her epic poem, “Arizona,” describing why Arizona deserved separate statehood, was placed on the desks of each congressman. The measure was defeated, perhaps due, in part, to Sharlot’s efforts.
In an age when woman were often considered inferior to men, she loved a good fight, and broke gender barriers. Sharlot was a free soul and her writing expresses this sense of freedom.
“But I do enjoy everything – just the sunshine on the sand is beautiful enough to keep one giving thanks for eyes to see with. And all day long I’m glad, so glad, so glad that God let me be an out-door woman and love the big things. I couldn’t be a tame house cat woman and spend big sunny, glorious days giving card parties and planning dresses — though I love pretty clothes and good dinners and friends – and would love a home where only the true, kind, worth-while things had place.
“I’m not unwomanly – don’t you dare to think so – but God meant woman to joy in his great, clean, beautiful world – and I thank Him that He lets me see some of it not through a window pane.
“Your telegram came yesterday – on from Phoenix. Every one of my happiest thoughts, all the days through, ends in a prayer for you – and gratitude beyond words that I have you to call friend – dear, dear, dear Great Comrade. Goodnight, Amigo, God keep you everywhere. (signed) S. M. H.”
—Sharlot Hall to Matt Riordan, September 1910
Sharlot served as Arizona’s territorial historian from Sept. 1909 until Feb. 1912. She was the first woman to hold a salaried office in the territory. During her tenure, she visited prehistoric ruins and Indian Reservations, and collected pioneer material throughout Arizona. In July 1911, Sharlot began the longest expedition of her tenure, a ten week wagon trip across the wild, remote Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.
At about this time she was also very active in the national political arena, first as a lobbyist and later as a presidential elector.
When Calvin Coolidge won the presidential election of 1925, Sharlot was selected as the elector who would deliver Arizona’s three electoral votes to Washington. For the trip the Arizona Industrial Congress commissioned an overdress of copper links which she wore to the inauguration. Later, Sharlot often wore this unusual garment with its copper accessories and a cactus hat as she lectured about Arizona and it’s resources.
Finally, on June 20th, 1927, Sharlot agreed to move her extensive collection of artifacts and documents into the Old Governor’s Mansion and open it as a museum on June 11 the following year. She signed a contract to house these artifacts in Arizona’s 1864 Governor’s Mansion and to operate it as a public museum. For the rest of her life she worked to preserve the old log building and to save Arizona’s historic past. Sharlot had called her home and business the Old Governor’s Mansion Museum and in the 1930s with the help of Civil Works Administration she had the Sharlot Hall Building built behind it and began to call the new building the Sharlot Hall Museum. After Sharlot’s death in 1943 the entire museum was officially named for her.
Her diligent efforts inspired others to contribute to the preservation of early Arizona history. After her death on April 9, 1943 a historical society continued her efforts to build the complex that bears her name. In 1981 Miss Hall became one of the first women elected to the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.