There are a number of tools that historians use to help them piece together the past. Old newspapers, old documents and family records are often used. But oral histories sometimes get lost in the shuffle, even though they can be amongst the most valuable. Good oral histories provide a good basis for historians long after the interviewees are gone. This week we look at two major collections of oral histories that have been done locally.
Ira Murphy was a tremendous historian in his own right and he did at least nine interviews that are noteworthy and of which a good transcript exists. Theresa Boardman, Charles Leonard Chilson, Mary Lena Chilson Hampton, Columbus “Boy” Haught, Margaret “Babe” Holder, Sarah “Babe” Lockwood, Ida Bell “Sis” Haught Martin, Ernest Pieper and Julia Randall were all interviewed by Murphy. The interviews contain some terrific information and the voices of these legends are preserved on tape for the ages. And yet they are also a prime example of what tantalizes later historians and why oral histories aren’t as simple as one might think. You see, there’s a great burden on the interviewer. You have to squeeze not only what you want to know out of the person, but what future generations might want to know as well. Take Murphy’s interview of Elmer Pieper for example.
Murphy: Who owned the saloons in town?
Pieper: Well, my dad, and old man — Roy Lockwood’s dad ...
Murphy: Oh, was Lockwood an early ... I didn’t know that.
It’s a good question and there’s a lot of other good information in that interview. But I can’t help but read it and ask: “C’mon Ira, why didn’t you follow up on August?” As I’ve discovered, Pieper not only had a saloon, but brewed in Globe in the 1880s and likely brewed in Payson as well. Murphy missed an opportunity, not just for himself, but for generations going forward.
And there’s the catch of the oral history interview. Even when you do a good job at the time, others may have other information later that makes you look a little foolish for not having followed up.
In my opinion, a good oral history interview requires a lot of research before hand to keep from missing opportunities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already missed opportunities. Sometimes you talk to someone on just one topic — that’s all you need for your project at the time. The late Bill Collins comes to my mind. While researching my book “Zane Grey’s Forgotten Ranch: Tales from the Boles Homestead,” I talked to Bill in Globe. Bill lived a very interesting life. Unfortunately I was just interested in one thing — his dad and the piece of land that he and later Bill and his sisters owned under the Rim. It was a somewhat hastily done interview, not prepped like you’d like, and certainly not containing questions about much more than that piece of land. Unfortunately, some good Globe history got the short end of the stick in the process.
The work doesn’t stop once the interview is over either. You’ve got to get your tapes transcribed and preserved as best that you can. Somewhere, I hope, I still have tapes that I recorded as a senior in high school of my grandfather. He wrote a book about his life after the interviews, but still, his voice on tape, and some extra bits of information are waiting to be more thoroughly transcribed and preserved.
Back to the local level … Thankfully Ira wasn’t the only one to do some interviews. My Rim Review colleague Stan Brown did a whole bunch. Some of the list is actually pieces written by the individuals or correspondence with them by Stan. And that’s better than what we have for a lot of folks.
I encourage folks to take a look at the Frank Alkire piece that he has in his collection at the Northern Gila County Genealogical Library. It was written in March 1940 and was originally preserved at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson. According to Alkire, he settled at Indian Gardens in May 1886. He provides some very vivid details of the area and the times.
Stan’s recording of Raymond Cline is also important. It provides historians a good baseline account of the Star Valley area as Raymond knew it. Is it all correct? Probably not. But most historians would rather have something to start on, instead of nothing to go on.
There have been some other oral histories done through the years. I know that a Payson area school did a project in the 1980s which yielded some interesting information. I’m also sure that there are some out there that are not as readily available.
I know that I have some Wisconsin family history pieces that a historical or genealogical society back there should have. It is easy to forget to get a copy of a family history piece to area organizations, but it is important.
Recently there have been some oral histories done for Gila County which are available via the Arizona Memory Web site. Joe Haught and Kendrick Holder are amongst those who were interviewed, although interviewees are mostly from the southern part of the county.
Yet there is still so much work to do. Payson has changed a lot in the past 50 years. Just in the past 40 years it has gained a sanitation system and become incorporated. Interviews with people involved in those tasks and others are necessary to properly document the area’s history for future generations.
You can view copies of the Ira Murphy and Stan Brown Oral History collections at the Northern Gila County Genealogical Library at 302 E. Bonita St. in Payson. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Saturday each week. They can also help you put together of your family’s history.
Below is a list of people Stan Brown did interviews with.
Chilson, Helyn Conway
Crisp, Mrs. N.J.
Ellison, family members
Ezell, Arllie Haught
Fuller, Lester Hiram
Hayes, Jess G.
Lovelady, Bertha B. Russell
McDaniel, Jasper David
Peach, Edith (Slaughter)
Platt, “Grandma” (Margaret Birchett Chilson)
Riell, Robert B.