State Historian At Home Along Christopher Creek


Sitting on the front porch of his log cabin in Christopher Creek Friday, Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble reminisced about the winding path that led him there. Behind him, he'd just hung a sign naming his new Christopher Creek getaway "Querencia."

"Hemingway talked about querencia in 'Death in the Afternoon,'" he said. "That's where the bulls go when they make their last stand. It's a homing place -- a place where you go, a place where you want to be.

"The Mexican cowboys say that's where the horses go in the pasture, where they gather to swish their tails and tell lies."

Trimble said he'd been driving through Christopher Creek since the highway was built through the area in the '60s, "but I was always going somewhere else."

He had written a story about one of the area's early residents and was familiar with Christopher Creek, but he'd never gone down the dirt road that follows the singing creek, a road dotted with log cabins and flower gardens nestled among the tall pines.

"I got to talkin' to an old friend, Linda Hilser," he said. "She was writing a story about cabin fever. Some people in the story live right here in Christopher Creek."

Hilser, a reporter with the Arizona Republic, had purchased a cabin on Columbine Road, and knew of another cabin for sale.

Trimble went up to Christopher Creek on a recent Friday and found "Querencia," the place where he plans to make his last stand.

Over the years Trimble has amassed an impressive resume. He's published 17 books on his favorite subject, the history of the state. He has two books coming out, "Arizona 2000: A Yearbook for the Millennium," published by Northland in Flagstaff, and "Never Give a Heifer a Bum Steer," published by Arizona Highways.

And, in addition to serving as the state's historian, he's the director of Southwest Studies at Maricopa Community Colleges.

"A lot of things helped me in my career," Trimble said. "One of 'em was being born here. You get to know everybody. If you've lived in these times, you know things that never make the history books, but you know 'em because you're here.

"Most of the work I do these days is public appearances," Trimble said. "When you can show up some place and make a couple of hundred dollars, you can't give it up. As long as I can hold an audience, I'll make the drive to Phoenix. But I'll be more selective -- I'll drive one or two times a week at the most."

Trimble says he makes more in one appearance as a teller of Arizona tales than his father did in a year as a stockman. He spent his early days in Tempe.

"We were way low on the economic ladder," he says. "Mostly we ate what we grew."

Trimble's father quit the cattle business in 1946 and hired out for the Santa Fe Railroad as a fireman.

"That's what took us to Ashfork (Ariz.)," Trimble said. "I was 8 when I got there and 16 when I left. I had a stint in the Marine Corps and went to Phoenix College and ASU."

Trimble settled down somewhat when he started teaching school. But he learned to play the guitar and got "hooked" on folk music.

"I found out I could make more money playing three nights a week in a bar than I could teaching school with a master's degree," he said. "I did like teaching 'cause I like kids. That was way before they made me State Historian four years ago. I still get a lot of calls from schools, so I'll probably be a teacher in some way the rest of my life.

"I still have hundreds of kids I teach every year -- I just strap on a guitar, tell 'em a few tall tales, and once I've got their attention, I give 'em a little bit of history."

He was teaching at Coronado High School and had a nine-hour load at Mesa and Scottsdale Community Colleges, in addition to playing guitar in a bar every once in a while. It was 1972 and one of his older students, Claudia McSpadden, told him he should write a book.

Trimble remembers it like it was yesterday: "I went home that night and I said, 'Why not?' I wrote that first book doing all those other things. I didn't know anything about writing or publishing and I sent my manuscript to Doubleday. I knew Doubleday because they had been involved with baseball."

Doubleday publishers sent Trimble a $10,000 check in advance for his first book, "Arizona: A Panoramic History of a Frontier State."

"That was almost more money than I was making annually," he said. "What did I do with that money, but buy a new pickup truck."

After his first book, Trimble said he never had to look for a publisher again. They came looking for him. In 22 years of writing, he has published 17 books.

"I never could figure out why they chose me," he said, "with all the real writers around -- but I'm glad they did."

Doubleday kept Trimble's first book in print for 10 years.

"When that happens, you just take it," he said.

And when it happens that your students get together and stage a write-in campaign to the governor to make you state historian -- well, you just take that, too.

"I got the job from two governors (Gov. Fife Symington and Gov. Jane Dee Hull). It started out with a school teacher in the Pendegast Valley, Karen Hunter. She started a grassroots letter writing campaign," Trimble said.

"The next thing I knew, they were having a ceremony down at the Capitol."

Trimble, with his dog Patches at his feet, looked around at the quaking leaves in the trees and stopped for a moment to listen to the creek going by the little log cabin on Columbine Road.

Looking forward to seasons

The cool breeze whispering through the pines seemed to echo Trimble's words: "Querencia --it's a homing place -- a place where you go, a place where you want to be.

"You can sure tell it's fall," he said. "I've never lived in a place where there were seasons. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the seasons, to having my son, Roger, come up here for Thanksgiving. He's at West Point -- he's the light of my life."

In the meantime, Trimble will be fixing up the cabin for winter, getting in a supply of wood and trying to protect the trees from the elk that come to his front yard. Settling into his new home on Christopher Creek satisfies one part of his nature, he said.

"I guess I'm two people," he said. "I have to be in the public eye -- I like it. But I also like to be alone. I expect to do a lot of writing up here once I get settled. It'll be a great place to write."

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