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Thu, Oct. 17

New book offers treasure of stories from local pioneers

Courtesy of H. Christopherson<br>Supporters of the Arizona Pioneers Home gather in 1908 at the future Prescott hilltop site of the state retirement home for pioneers.

Courtesy of H. Christopherson<br>Supporters of the Arizona Pioneers Home gather in 1908 at the future Prescott hilltop site of the state retirement home for pioneers.

Community dances in Yavapai County's old days were an opportunity for rural people to get together and have fun, and historian Mona Lange McCroskey heard plenty of stories while working on her latest book.

Like the late cowboy Dick Tatum's memories of the Kirkland dance hall - in his own words.

"They served sandwiches and donuts and stuff like that. And coffee; they made coffee outside on an open fire and they always had that," Tatum told McCroskey in 1993. "Your dad (Walter Lange) would let his cowboys go to the dance as long as they were back to work the next morning."

Noticing the common thread, McCroskey decided to name her book "And We Danced: More Oral Histories From Yavapai County, Arizona." It's a sequel to "Chasing Cattle and the Cure."

McCroskey has arguably interviewed more Yavapai County pioneers than anyone on the planet. As the oral historian for the Sharlot Hall Museum from 1989 to 2010, she talked to more than 300 people, many of whom now have passed away. Her work led to the honor of being one of only 100 people named as an Arizona Culture Keeper.

Being a fourth-generation Arizonan and a Yavapai County native raised on various ranches where her father was the foreman, McCroskey has a special talent in getting oldtimers to open up about their memories.

Now she's getting their stories out to the public instead of leaving them in the museum archives. Between her first and second books on the subject, she has included approximately 170 pioneers.

"They're really stories of resilience and human spirit," said Eula Wedepohl, whose late mother Mohea Williams Coates is among those featured in the book. "I just feel so blessed she's doing this because to get a really good history of your area, you need multiple points of view. Between her two books, Mona has more than 150 points of view."

The latest book is features 400 pages of short stories and hundreds of old family photos.

"I think it's a treasure," local writer Claudette Simpson said of McCroskey's new "And They Danced" book that she proofread for McCroskey. "It's priceless. I'm really glad all these oral stories are where people can read them and see them, and they're not forgotten. It's a real important chunk of Prescott history."

The books are unique in that McCroskey lets the oldtimers tell the stories in their words and their own vernacular.

"They're telling their story in their own way. I like that a lot," said Simpson, a long-time Daily Courier feature writer who wrote many history pieces.

McCroskey has plenty of her own memories of Yavapai County including the dance halls - especially Kirkland, which the local school district eventually tore down.

"It was more than just a dance," she said. "It was an important social time because that's the only time we'd see our neighbors."

Her parents enjoyed the Kirkland dances so much they'd take the back way around Prescott all the way from Camp Wood. Her memories date back to about 1940 when she was just a toddler, and she continued attending the dances with her own daughter after moving to Phoenix. Her family lived there for several decades where jobs were easier to find, but she's been back in Prescott for awhile now.

The regular dances at Kirkland ended in the 1970s, she said.

"I guess they've got too many other things for kids to do," she said. "I'm sad to this day they don't do it anymore."

Some of her fondest memories are of waltzing with her Dad. Girls were forbidden to go outside once they arrived at the dances, probably to protect them from the men who snuck out for a nip of whiskey now and then.

The names in her latest book often read like a who's who of old-time Prescott names -Olsen, Freeman, Minucci, Tenney, Brinkmeyer, Ensminger, Rosenblatt, Bisjack, Bittner, Yount, Fornara, Hays, Puntenney, Rodarte, Sparkes, Ogg, etc., etc. Becky Fulker helped with the cover and book design.

"To me, it's like a jigsaw puzzle," McCroskey said.

Often the stories from one person weave into stories from others. For another example, memories of Prescott's Mercy Hospital fire include memories of people who took patients into their homes as well as people who fought the flames.

Rodeos were another popular topic, of course. Several people told McCroskey about how they figured out ways to get into the Prescott Frontier Days rodeo as kids without paying, from crawling through culverts to riding horses in the parade.

"The theme that came through to me is that everyone seemed to enjoy their life in Prescott, even during hard times," Simpson observed.

McCroskey agreed.

"I heard over and over again, 'I'm so glad I grew up here,'" she said.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder.

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