Frontier Teacher In Tonto Basin

Chapter 14: An invasion of Harer family members


It was Thursday, Nov. 14, 1880 when Tonto School teacher Angie Mitchell met the extended family of David and Josephine Harer, and found there were more of them than she had realized.  

The “great migration” of Harer family members began in the 1850s with a westward trek from Lawrence County, Ark. to California.

Evan and Obedience (McClendon) Harer brought at least four grown children and numerous grandchildren on that early journey. The “children” were David Asbury Harer, Obedience Hazelton, Nathaniel Green Harer and Redman Harer along with their spouses and children. By 1870 they had settled in as farmers in Santa Barbara County.[1]

But in 1875, the restless nature of the pioneer mind got the better of David A. Harer. He and Josephine moved their eight children to Arizona, sojourning in the fledgling town of Phoenix. There, they encountered Phoenix postmaster William Hancock, who as a cavalry officer had located and named Greenback Valley in the Sierra Ancha. He shared with them the virtues of this still virgin valley, along a flowing creek that found its way down to the Tonto. It did not take much persuasion for the land-hungry Harers to cross the Mazatzal Mountains and stake their claim to Greenback Valley.

Angie wrote in her diary, “This evening at 8:30 our family received quite an occasion. Mrs. Obedience (Beady) Hazelton, two sons, three daughters, and Newton Green Nathaniel Harer with two sons and two daughters arrived ...[2] They are relatives from Oregon who were expected next week. Mrs. Hazelton is Mr. Harer’s only sister and Mr. Green Harer is a younger brother of David, and is a widower, while Mrs. Hazelton is a widow.”[3]

Angie goes on to list the names of 18 Harer grandchildren, all of whom she would have in her school. It is no wonder David A. Harer planned to build a school and hire a teacher for his brood.


Photo courtesy Stan Brown

David A. and Josephine Harer

Furthermore, it is little wonder that the teacher in listing everyone gets somewhat confused as to names and who belongs to whom. Many of these children would grow and marry into Tonto Basin families, accounting for practically the entire population of the area in the late 19th century. For example, the eight children of David and Josephine Harer were as follows:

Mary Elizabeth, born in 1851, had married John Vineyard in 1867 while they were still in California, and by the time Angie came to Tonto they had five children. Six more would be born after 1880.

There had been a second daughter, Evaline, born in 1855, who apparently died at birth.

Annie Eliza Harer married Henrich Frederick Christian Hardt in 1875, and they would have eight children.

Narsissis Jane Harer, “Janie,” had married Andrew Blake in January before Angie arrived on the scene. Her baby boy had been quite sick and her mother Josephine was helping to care for him when the Apache Indians attacked them. (See previous chapters.) Janie and Andrew had two other children in the next few years. It is sad to note that in January of 1887, at age 28, Janie committed suicide, though a mystery surrounds her death. An undated newspaper clipping in the Sharlot Hall Museum at Prescott, from The Tempe News, states, “A Mrs. Andrew Blake of Tonto Basin has committed suicide by shooting herself.” However, a more recent comment by a genealogist states, “Narsissis Jane Harer Blake was shot and killed by her second husband, Andrew Blake at Greenback, Gila County, AZ.”

Sarah Frances Lincoln Harer was born on Jan. 25, 1861, and in 1876, at the age of 15, she married Florence Packard. Over the following 24 years they had 12 children. Because of her middle name, she was given the nickname of “Linky.”

Alice Lurinda Harer was born May 30, 1865. She married Edward Charles Conway in January 1888, and they had six children.

Clara Belle Harer was born Aug. 13, 1868. She married several times, and in 1895 married Pascal Augustua Lindsay. They resided in Globe, Ariz.


Photo courtesy Stan Brown

David A. Harer

The youngest of David Asbury and Josephine Harer’s children was born April 8, 1872, and named after his father. His nickname, often used in Angie’s diary, was “Abbie.” The name “Asbury” reflects the Methodist heritage of the Harer family. Asbury, England is dear to Methodist hearts, having played an important role in the life of founder John Wesley. A mountain not far from Greenback Valley is called “Methodist Mountain” after this family.

In her diary, Angie expanded on his name, saying the full name was David Corwin Asbury Gleason Reeder Harer. This does not show in any census records, and must have been family talk she picked up from Mrs. Harer. In any case, the name Gleason Asbury Reeder is further evidence of the Harers’ Methodist connections. The Rev. G. A. Reeder was a Methodist missionary from the Midwest, sent to Arizona where he was influential in establishing the first churches in the Territory.

The teacher’s diary for this day of the great influx continued, “Such another time as we’ve had getting settled for tonight. Green and the three older boys slept in the wagon. Mrs. Hazelton with Mrs. Harer and Regie and Mary; Sarah, Alice, and I together; Laura and Ida on one pallet and Belle and Clara on another and we made a bed for little Abbie on the table, and tucked Francis crosswise in Ida’s bed.”


Photo courtesy Stan Brown

Josephine Harer

Friday, Nov. 5 was her first day to teach that large assemblage of cousins. “Such a day. I foresee that I shall have plenty of trouble with George Hazelton who is his mother’s darling and as ill-conditioned a young cub as I’ve ever seen. Frances and May and Georgie have been staying at the Hazelton’s since their mother died and the boys, particularly George, have evidently run roughshod over them, Georgie and May cry at everything while Francis pouts.[4] Laura, Belle and I slept together tonight. Alice being at Vineyard’s and Laura insisting that the floor hurt her back, which is a little lame, so Sarah who is not lame offered to exchange and of course I’m satisfied with any of them. The place resembles chaos.”

Angie had planned to have a make-up session of school on Saturday, but the fathers wanted use of the school in order to build more seats for the growing attendance. As it turned out there was a lack of lumber and the building project was put on hold. “So the children and I put in the day exploring old ruins. Mrs. Harer kindly stole out my washing and did it this week for me — greatly to my surprise. And so I am free to do as I please.”

On Sunday, Nov. 7, “Belle and Clara went to Crabtree’s for an Indian (Aztec) bowl Mrs. Crabtree found in the big ruin and gave to me, and broke it in 20 pieces.”


Photo courtesy Stan Brown

David H. Harer

The children must have dropped it on the way, but their teacher is very reserved and does not chastise them. “Exploring old ruins” is one of Angie’s favorite hobbies. This is reflected in her earlier diary from Prescott, and in Tonto Basin she discovered a bonanza of artifacts to collect. As far as we can tell, she never sold these items, but most of them ended up in local museums.

She lived like a true pioneer woman, without complaint about the hardships and apparently taking the primitive conditions in stride even though she had come from an educated and sophisticated background. She does not expect to be waited upon and babied, but fits in with whatever each day demands. It is no wonder the people of Tonto came to love and appreciate her.

Next: How to build a pole house.

[1] The family name is usually spelled with two “r”s in the Federal Census records. By the time they reached Tonto Basin the spelling “Harer” was more common, though Angie vacillates between the two spellings in her diary. 

[2] The teacher is a bit confused here if the census records are correct. Obedience Hazelton had three sons and two daughters: Carter (whom Angie had not met at this point), Ida, Laura, George and Charles.

[3] Another branch of the family, a nephew of David A. Harer also named David, had settled with his family at Goose Lake, Calif., a lake that straddles the California-Oregon border. Angie may have heard stories of the family’s early entry to Oregon before migrating to California, and here she confuses the facts.

[4] The father of these three children was Nathaniel Green Harer, who had arrived with the others as a widower.


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