Western History Symposium offers glimpse into Arizona’s past
PRESCOTT – At the height of its frontier days, Prescott had a musical dynamo in its midst – a composer, conductor, and performer named Achille La Guardia.
In 1892, La Guardia, a conductor of the U.S. Army’s 11th Infantry Band, was stationed at Fort Whipple near Prescott – then a frontier town of about 2,000 people, according to information provided by Jay Cravath, one of the presenters at this weekend’s Western History Symposium.
Born in Italy, La Guardia had performed throughout Europe and America by that time, and he quickly established himself as a celebrity in his new community.
He reportedly aspired to the “renown” enjoyed by fellow composer John Philip Sousa, and formed a musical club comprised of his students and his three children.
The story of La Guardia, whose son Fiorello would go on to become the famed mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945, will be just one of the intriguing historical accounts that will be included in the day-long Western History Symposium on Saturday, Aug. 6.
The 13th annual symposium is set to kick off at 9:30 a.m. with a look into the life and legacy of Montana copper baron William Andrew Clark (whose namesake is the Town of Clarkdale), and continue through the 7:15 p.m. keynote talk on the entertainment common in Arizona’s early days.
In between, attendees at the free event will be treated to insights into topics such as: West-central Arizona’s native people; an international hostess and resort owner of Cherokee and black heritage whose Oracle resort was known as the “epitome of western opulence”; the history of baseball in the Arizona Territory; and Arizona’s history with the Medal of Honor.
Cravath, a composer, musician, writer, and scholar in the field of music and indigenous studies, will present the evening keynote on “Honky Tonks, Brothels, and Mining Camps: Entertainment in Old Arizona.”
In a telephone interview this week, Cravath said Prescott’s early days would play prominently in his presentation, as will the western community of Tombstone.
He pointed out that La Guardia was just one of the colorful entertainment aspects of Prescott’s frontier days. Others focus on the early performances at the Elks Theater, as well as the fine dining at Prescott eatery Ben Butler’s Chop House – reportedly offering “all of the delicacies of San Francisco and Kansas City.”
As early Arizonans were striking it rich in their various endeavors, Cravath said, they were demanding “high culture” in their entertainment and dining.
The Western History Symposium dates back to 2004, when Fred Veil – then the sheriff for the Prescott Corral of Westerners and currently the executive director of Sharlot Hall Museum – approached former museum director Richard Sims to propose a day focusing on Arizona’s western history.
“He liked the idea,” Veil said of Sims, and from there, the first symposium was born.
After trying various venues, the symposium moved last year to the city’s Prescott Centennial Center. This year’s symposium will also take place at the Centennial Center, 1989 Clubhouse Drive (located near the Prescott Airport and Antelope Hills Golf Course).
Admission is free, open to the public, and reservations are not necessary, according to information from Sharlot Hall.
Sharlot Hall Museum and The Prescott Corral of Westerners are co-sponsors of the symposium, and Arizona Humanities is co-sponsor of some of the presenters.
For a complete schedule of the day’s presentations, pick up Prescott Kudos inside Friday’s Courier or dCourier.com.