I was talking to someone the other day and they stated the importance of founders and implied that if someone founds a place, they should forever have carte blanche over others at such a place. So it got me thinking, what does founding really mean? Is that really a reason to respect someone? Furthermore, how do we determine if someone is really important? Where should the balance be between personality and how you treat others, and achievement? Most importantly, as a historian, how should I judge things and reflect on someone?
Let's start with the whole founding concept. When I think of "founding," I think of Founding Fathers of the United States. Wikipedia defines them as "the political leaders who signed the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution, or otherwise participated in the American Revolution as leaders of the Patriots." Now this is actually a pretty broad definition when you think about it, encompassing a wide variety of people from a relatively wide variety of places. It should be noted though, that women aren't going to be found amongst this group, a glaring omission when you really think about the roles of people in founding this country. Naturally, the term "founding father" gets ripped off quite a bit. I Googled "founding father" and found references to James Brown -- "Funk's Founding Father," Vin Cerf -- "A Founding Father of the Internet" and Kool Herc -- "A Founding Father of Hip-Hop." (And yes, I have really no clue here of who Cerf and Herc were or are. Have fun Googling them specifically if you're curious.)
"Founding fathers" are all around when you think about it. You can use it to refer to someone who has started a business or an organization. If you go start a business tomorrow, you'll be its founding father.
Now, the importance of a founder is subjective. Personally, there can be an initial cool factor in my eyes from it. But I think that there is a case of what is true from afar may not be what is true up close. For example, if Bill Burch, a founding father of Payson, were to visit me tomorrow, I'd probably be in awe initially. But if the guy turned out to be a total jerk, well, the founding father part would probably only go so far. And if it was John H. Hise, who helped get Payson its post office, well, I'd probably be a little wary of political shenanigans knowing what I know about the man.
There becomes a bigger question in play: how do we separate personality from achievement? What achievements are worth great respect? Now this is one topic that I think we'd find some strong differences between generations. I think that the younger generations tend to be less about achievements meriting instant respect, while the older generations probably emphasize that a little bit more. And I don't think that the reasoning is what people may think. I realize that older people think us younger folk are being disrespectful -- but a lot of us have had it drilled into our heads from a young age that "you're only as good as you are right now," or that "titles aren't important." Those were things that I had heard in high school from my band director and during leadership workshops.
Longevity is also a key I think from a perspective standpoint. When I look back on Payson history, I notice that the people we tend to remember most are those who spent a long time here, and a long time in a position of note.
August Pieper is probably a bigger name than Bill Burch to most folks, even though Pieper came later. The Boardman family also occupies a huge place -- once again, longevity is the key.
Involvement from that role also tends to be a factor in how noted the person becomes. If you start a place, sell out five years later and then drop to a lesser role, well, that founding aspect probably isn't going to be quite as important. Inherently, we often remember the people who take a foundation and build something greater upon it. Look at it another way -- if someone asks you who built your house, are you more likely to tell the name of the people who put down the concrete or the people who actually did the framework of your house, or even a specialized part like your kitchen?
Now let's look at how historians tend to reflect. Is there a book that mentions every person that's worth mentioning historically in an area? No. Just because someone gets mentioned in a book, or has an extensive piece written about them, does that mean that they were really historic? No.
There are a variety of factors that come into play for historians. Access to information can be a key one. I'm much more likely to write extensively about someone if I'm in contact with numerous descendants. Let's face it; writers tend to go where the story leads them. Some of it can also have to do with how persistent and thorough the writer is in tracking down information.
I'm still amazed at some people who get left out of the most recent book written about Globe's history. Two families were left out who never, never should've been left out. Will the general public notice? No. As a historian, do I notice? Yes, but only because I've come across people down there in researching stuff up here. I also fully understand that through my upcoming book, I'm making certain things and people very historic. Let me give you an example.
Sampson Elam Boles and his family have been mostly left out of Rim Country history. While Boles was profiled in Rim Country History, nothing was ever really made of his tie to Zane Grey. That'll change with my book.
I write about Elam and his family quite a bit. People will definitely pick up on the fondness that I have for Elam. I live on the land that he homesteaded. I've walked the meadow where his house was. I've had the wind blow while down there, getting whispers from the past as I walk. Was Elam any better than any other settler of that time period? I don't know and I'm not still not sure how exactly to judge that. But when you get to so many descendants of someone, you naturally become fond of someone and you go where the research takes you.
Also, it doesn't mean there aren't others in my book who I wish that I had more on. Charlie Collins is one of those people whose family got left out of the recent Globe book. The best saddle that you could've had in Gila County between 1920 and 1960 would've been a Charles Collins saddle. He was also an avid historian - the perfect person to own part of the Boles Homestead following Grey. But I got stonewalled a little bit with regards to Collins. While his son Bill was plenty willing to talk, Charles' daughters stonewalled me, and they were the ones with the pictures. I would rework my book in a second if I could get a picture of Charles in; that's how much I've come to admire the man. I really believe that he was that good with leather.
You have to try to be objective though. Anyone who was in this area for any length of time seems to play up their link to Zane Grey. Heck, I do it too with my book. Why do you think that Zane Grey is in the title? Often times, I think there are plenty of cases where the historian simply doesn't know. In my case, I don't know how important the land he owned on the Boles Homestead was to him. But he clearly had it and given the proximity to his more famous cabin, and the gorgeous scenery at the heart of the homestead, he had to have spent some time there. Still, folks would be right to question my objectivity. It's something that even the best lose at times. When researching, you tend to have "your guy" or "your gal." Those are those magical people that you just connect with in some way. The next time you read a history book, see if you can catch the author leaning too much one way or another.
Have a picture of Globe saddle maker Charles Collins? Tim would love to see it.
Do you have any remembrances or photos of the old Cowboy Bar at Kohl's Ranch? I'm looking to do a story on it very soon.
So please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with anything that you might have on it.