When researching history you tend to come across a lot of previous writings. There is a wide variety of quality in these writings. Along the way, certain writers stand out. One of the ones that I’ve really come to respect is Don Dedera. Let’s take a look at Don’s terrific career.
“Payson: mountain town, supply base for half a county, a mixture of pioneers and dudes — a town with a gas station on one corner, a ranger station on another, a motel on another, and a sawmill in its middle. Payson never was very pretty, and may progress never move the horse pastures off Main Street.”
— Don Dedera in a Jan. 19, 1969 Arizona Republic column
Born on March 16, 1929 in Arlington, Va., Don enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a photographer after graduating high school. He attended Arizona State University and graduated with a degree in journalism from there in 1951. This was a transformative period in the Phoenix area as it grew following World War II. Don Dedera would end up being right in the middle of it.
Don is a newspaperman at heart and he worked for The Arizona Republic between 1951 and 1969. He became a daily feature columnist in 1953. In 1958 he won the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award for his work.
He also made two tours in Vietnam as a war correspondent in the late 1960s.
After leaving The Arizona Republic, he went on to write a variety of freelance pieces and books and also spent a couple years as editor of Arizona Highways magazine in the early 1980s.
He wrote his first book, “A Mile in His Moccasins” in 1960, but is probably best known for “A Little War of Our Own: The Pleasant Valley Feud Revisited,” published in 1988. This book is one of the best written about the Pleasant Valley War. In his fine career, Dedera has written approximately 23 books and published more than 2,000 journal and newspaper articles.
I’ve never met Don personally, but I have friends who know him. One of the things that they have told me is that he was very newspaper based in some of his research. That’s something that shines through in his Pleasant Valley book and is something that I relate to. I believe that old newspapers are a fundamental base for research.
Thankfully, that type of research is getting progressively easier as things get digitized, but I know that Don did it the old fashioned way by going through old printed papers or if fortunate, some microfilm. That makes his research all that more impressive.
Don had a folksy way of writing and a unique perspective. In one 1966 column he wrote about Payson’s selection of Polly Brown as Rodeo Queen. Polly ran the legendary old Pioneer Bar and to say the least wasn’t the age of your typical pageant queen. Dedera referred to the selection as a “rebellion against the cult of youth,” as he lampooned beauty pageants. He closed his article by saying that “the rodeo committee ought to put Polly Brown on national television and ask her what she thinks of De Gaulle and the space race and the destiny of man. She might say something worth hearing.”
Arizona State University has a fine collection of Don Dedera’s papers. It fills 71 linear feet and can be viewed at their library in Tempe. If you’d like to view the table of contents of the collection, visit www.azarchivesonline.org and search for Don Dedera.