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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
7:13 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

A true pioneer

Gail Steiger, son of former Arizona Congressman Sam Steiger and grandson of Gail Gardner stands in front of the Gardner Family Home on Mt. Vernon while holding a photo of Gail Wednesday afternoon in Prescott.<br>
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Gail Steiger, son of former Arizona Congressman Sam Steiger and grandson of Gail Gardner stands in front of the Gardner Family Home on Mt. Vernon while holding a photo of Gail Wednesday afternoon in Prescott.<br> Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

No collection of stories about Arizona's centennial celebration is complete without a mention of one of its most recognized pioneers.

Born in Prescott in the late 1800s, Gail I. Gardner was a diverse man, having worked as a cowboy in the Sierra Prieta Mountains in the 1920s, serving as Prescott postmaster for nearly 20 years and becoming a highly respected author.

He died in November 1988 at the age of 96, having lived a rich life.

Gardner was born in Prescott in 1892. He eventually went to work at his father's general merchandise store on the corner of Cortez and Willis streets and on his Skull Valley ranch.

After graduating from Prescott High School in 1909, Gardner spent a year at Philips Exeter Academy and four years at Dartmouth College, graduating in 1914 with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Gardner went on to join the U.S. Army, pursued cattle ranching and spent 21 years as postmaster from 1936 to 1957.

He was the last surviving charter member of the Smoki People, the Prescott organization created in the early 1920s dedicated to perpetuating American Indian lore.

A 1988 article in the Prescott Courier also mentions that Gardner was the captain of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Mounted Posses and exalted ruler of the Prescott Elks Lodge.

But some remember Gardner most for his poems.

His collection of cowboy poetry written over several decades, entitled "Orejana Bull...For Cowboys Only," went to press eight times.

Budge Ruffner, a former columnist for The Daily Courier, wrote in a 1987 column, "If you are talking about Gail Gardner, remarkable, is a modest description.

"The men I have known who were both top cowboys and talented poets, I could count on my thumbs. Gail Gardner is one."

Perhaps his most popular poem, "The Sierry Petes," got its spark while he was camping with Bob Heckle at the Old Bill Dearing Ranch in the Sierra Prieta Mountains west of Prescott, according to the brief autobiography Gardner wrote in his book.

One day they went into town and on the way back to camp, someone in the group made a comment that "the devil got cowboys for doing what we had been doing."

While on a train heading to Washington, D.C., to begin his stint in the military, Gardner wrote that the cattle he saw roaming fields in Kansas inspired him to craft verses about drunken cowboys taking on the devil the same way they handled wild cattle.

Gardner's grandchildren remember their "papa" as a man with a good heart who enjoyed life and his family.

"He and my grandma were stable, they were funny, they were both strict," Delia Whitehead said. "There was no negotiating. But, at the same time, so much fun."

Whitehead said Gardner had a memory that was sharp like a tack and that he could recall the names of his second-grade classmates.

"He was strict but fun-loving," she said.

And Whitehead said she remembers his trademark "hey hey" greeting and the songs he would sing at almost every turn.

"I miss my grandparents," she said. "They were my favorite people, really fun to be with."

Gail Steiger remembers sitting on the porch of the family home at the intersection of Gurley and Mt. Vernon streets when he was a young man and Gardner sharing memories of his ranching and cowboy life.

"I have lots of memories of him telling stories and singing songs," Steiger said. "We kind of took that for granted."

Steiger remembers how his grandfather never spent much time on anything negative.

"He liked to have fun. He liked to always be smiling."