By Juti Winchester, Ph.D.
A young woman of good family meets a man while traveling. After a whirlwind courtship they marry, against the advice of friends and family. He then whisks her away from her former life and takes her to live in a log house on the wild frontier. This may sound like the plot from a romance novel, but it is the true story of Margaret Hunt, who married the Secretary of the Territory of Arizona, Richard McCormick, and came to live in Prescott's Governor's mansion late in 1865. A short diary, and a series of letters from "Maggie" to her friend Emma Denike and to her brother John allow us a glimpse at the McCormick's life and relationship. September 27 marks the 135th anniversary of their marriage.
From her letter to Emma in early February 1865, we can guess that Maggie had not yet met Richard or anyone else she cared to marry. Writing from San Francisco, she described the husband-hunting social scene and noted the comings and goings of the steamships and their passengers. Referring to her own prospects, Maggie wrote to Emma, "I must thank you for your wishes in regard to my finding my 'better half' out here, but I fear that they are all in vain."
Historians assume that the McCormicks met while on the steamer traveling from San Francisco to New York in the spring of 1865. Maggie doesn't write explicitly about the encounter, but by reading her letters and diary carefully, we can find hints about what happened. Her diary begins with "Married, Sept. 27, 1865 at Mr. Sheddane's Church, Rahway, N. J. at quarter after four o'clock in the afternoon." By October 2, the pair were on their way to Prescott by steamship through Panama, reaching San Francisco "about October 24." Here, Maggie described the amazement of people who observed her relationship with Richard McCormick, and their delight at finding that they were married. Writing to Emma while on the steamer, she commented that there were "a number of passengers on board, who came on in the spring with us, & it is quite amusing to see them watch us."
If Maggie's letters to her friend are any indication, the McCormicks were a very happy couple. Of her new husband, Maggie told Emma "Richard is so very kind to me. He humors me in everything." In a letter written three days before Christmas 1865, she described him as "just the very best husband that ever lived...I truly think that I was never so happy in my life. I only hope that you may find as good a husband as I have done." Richard McCormick, the capable Secretary of the Territory and later Governor of Arizona, must have also been soft-hearted and somewhat romantically inclined. Maggie confided to Emma, "He acts much more the lover now, than he did before we were married. Everything he can do for my pleasure he does...," which the letters reveal included bringing her breakfast in bed, and having the log-constructed Governor's residence improved at her suggestion. On February 14, 1866, Richard gave Maggie a valentine that read in part, "May the warm love we now enjoy, Remain through life without alloy." Although he may not have been a Longfellow, his sentiment was sincere.
The Hunt family in Rahway must have had some misgivings about their daughter's seemingly rash choice of husband. Emma probably passed along some of the local gossip in a January 1866 letter, because Maggie responded to her, "I am as happy as a queen -- we agree splendidly which in view of our hasty marriage is particularly gratifying to us." She continued almost defensively, "I am happy to hear that the Rahway people condescend to complement us so highly...I believe my husband deserves every complement paid to him." The only other hint of familial discord is the August 1866 letter in which Maggie wrote to her brother, "I have had only one letter from Father since I have been here. I think it is almost too bad." No correspondence from Emma, from John or the rest of the family has survived, so we can only surmise what kinds of letters provoked Maggie's protests.
The McCormicks enjoyed walks and horseback rides through the surrounding country, and entertained innumerable visitors in the times between Richard's official duties. They attended balls, and hosted dances in front of the Governor's residence. They gave parties for visiting dignitaries, and engaged a photographer named Brimley to take pictures of the house, of Prescott, and of Ft. Whipple. Solicitous in his attentions toward his young wife, Richard spent as much time as he could at home. Maggie told Emma about one of Richard's trips, when she asked him to come back the same night. "Like a darling husband that he is, promised to return, which he did after a ride of I suppose at least thirty miles."
The McCormicks' romantic story ended tragically. They were married barely nineteen months when Maggie died after bearing a stillborn child in April 1867. Prescott citizens were shocked at the news, and sympathetic toward their young governor, widowed so suddenly and in the height of his happiness. For his part, Richard continued with his duties despite his personal anguish. In a letter two years later, he congratulated a friend on the birth of his child, writing, "You have every reason to be proud of your nice little family and can well imagine my disappointment and sorrow." To Maggie's friend Emma, Richard wrote "I shall erect a monument to her memory that will show how highly I prized her and what a...good wife she was. I now send you some of her beautiful hair as I promised I would." Today, a large white stone serenely marks her final resting place in Hazelwood Cemetery in Rahway, New Jersey.
The Archives and Library at Sharlot Hall Museum hold many such true stories of romance, intrigue, excitement and tragedy, and all you have to do to find them is to come in and look for them. To celebrate Arizona Archives Week, Sharlot Hall Museum is sponsoring "Can I Tell You A Story," where we invite the public to present their own research into Yavapai County and Prescott history. If you've uncovered a compelling historical tale and are interested in sharing it, contact the Archives at 445-3122 for more information. If you just want to hear more about the history of your fascinating town and region, the event is free and open to the public. "Can I Tell You A Story" will be held on October 14 from 1 to 5 pm at the Museum Center.
Juti Winchester is the Assistant Archivist at the Sharlot Hall Museum.