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6:05 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Westerners celebrate 50th year, host free symposium

Westerners International/Courtesy photo<br>
This photo features some of the charter members of the Prescott Corral of Westerners International. Standing, left to right – Charles Franklin Parker, Phil Rockfellow, Budge Ruffner, Charles Greene, Harold Koechling and Danny Freeman. Sitting, left to right – Chick Orme, Walt Coburn, Gail Gardner and Charlie Pickrell.

Westerners International/Courtesy photo<br> This photo features some of the charter members of the Prescott Corral of Westerners International. Standing, left to right – Charles Franklin Parker, Phil Rockfellow, Budge Ruffner, Charles Greene, Harold Koechling and Danny Freeman. Sitting, left to right – Chick Orme, Walt Coburn, Gail Gardner and Charlie Pickrell.

Some of the most revered names in Prescott's history helped form the Prescott Corral of Westerners International 50 years ago, and now it's one of the largest corrals in the organization with more than 200 members.

The corral is offering its free annual Western History Symposium beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Hassayampa Inn in downtown Prescott.

Topics relating to the Buffalo Soldiers, artists of the Ives Expedition to the Grand Canyon, flour milling in Territorial Arizona, and Apache Scouts in the Indian Wars run from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a lunch break. Then the symposium wraps up at 7:15 p.m. with a talk about how businesswomen in Territorial Tombstone dealt with the seedier side of the rowdy mining town. Go online to prescottcorral.org for program details.

It's only appropriate that the corral formed on the 50th anniversary of Arizona's statehood, an important year in Arizona's history.

Founding members included Gail Gardner, celebrated cowboy poet; Budge Ruffner, a historian and Prescott Courier columnist; first Prescott Corral Sheriff Danny Freeman, who penned the authoritative histories of Prescott Frontier Days and the Smoki People of Prescott; and Chick Orme, founder of the Orme School east of Prescott.

Other charter members included well-known local ranchers Norman Fain, John Hays, Harold James, Bob Kieckhefer and Tom Rigden; attorney Al Favour; Dr. C.E. Yount; and legendary artist George Phippen.

Phippen's good friend Bruce Fee, 85, an accomplished artist and historian in his own right, is the only charter member of the Prescott Corral who is still alive today. Westerners bestowed a "Living Legend" title on Fee for all his work to preserve local history.

"It's kind of hard for me to realize I'm the last man standing of a small group that met back in 1962," Fee told fellow Westerners at a recent banquet at the Hassayampa Inn to celebrate the Prescott Corral's 50th year.

To hear some of Fee's stories about charter members, go online to dcourier.com.

Dr. Charles Franklin Parker, founding president of Prescott College and minister of Prescott's First Congregational Church, originally came up with the idea to create the local corral. The Westerners International goal is to encourage and promote interest and research in the history of the American West.

Thirty-two charter members of the Prescott Corral first met in 1962 at the Hassayampa Inn to celebrate their new membership in the Westerners.

Today the Prescott Corral still gathers for monthly dinners with a guest speaker talking about a Western history topic.

It also publishes the Territorial Times magazine twice a year; supports local history museums; and conducts the annual Western History Symposium.

The symposium was founded in 2004 by Prescott attorney Fred Veil when he was the Prescott Corral's sheriff.

It has always been free to the public.

"Our mission of the Westerners and Sharlot Hall Museum is to provide an educational service on the real history of the American West," Veil said. "I'm looking for interesting topics that haven't been presented before."

For example, this year Veil will talk about Apache Scouts - "not what they did, but why they did it," he explained. Apache Scout Chato, for example, fought alongside Geronimo but later helped the military track Geronimo down.

The symposium has become so popular that it had to move from the Sharlot Hall Museum to the Hassayampa Inn this year, where more space is available.