Pine and Strawberry are the kind of places where sons and daughters live in houses built by their grandparents. They're the kind of places where movers and shakers conduct their most important business while standing in line at the post office or over coffee on someone's back porch.
Many of Pine-Strawberry's 2,100 residents are direct decedents of the hardy pioneers who drove buckboards and covered wagons over the Mogollon Rim 120 years ago to settle the lush, pine-covered valley below.
In many ways, Pine and Strawberry are typical small towns. Everyone knows everyone else, and privacy is hard to come by. But when disaster strikes, neighbors line up to help. For years, the Pine-Strawberry Museum has been a place where visitors and residents could learn about the area's short, but rich history.
If you wanted to see the brass cash register that safeguarded money at Fuller's gas station for years, you could go to the museum. The register was appraised at $10,000, but Ralph Fuller's family was happy to loan it to the museum to help preserve and illustrate the community's history.
Other families also loaned their most precious heirlooms to the museum -- grandma's doll, grandpa's saddle, dad's rifle.
But last weekend, thieves broke into the museum and methodically stole the community's heritage. By all accounts, the crime was carefully executed.
Authorities believe the thieves toured the museum as visitors and made a detailed "grocery list" of items they wanted to steal. Later, they broke in and snatched heirlooms with an estimated value of $25,000. Maybe that's what the items are worth to the thieves. Maybe that's what the items are worth to an antique dealer. But to the families and the community, those artifacts are irreplaceable.
The museum is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and the return of the stolen items. That may not seem like much, but then what price tag can you really place on a community's history.