By Terry Munderloh
(This is part two of a five part series of articles for Days Past celebrating Women's History Month)
Another pioneer woman honored in the Sharlot Hall Museum's Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden, whom many Prescottonians will remember, is Gussie Green Wood. Gussie's father, Louis LaMar Green, was a homesteader and sheep grower in Texas. He was also a widower with 5 daughters and one son when he married Isa Elizabeth Denyer. Louis and Isa also had 5 daughters and one son, Gussie Denyer being born on May 10, 1894, the fourth daughter of that union. When Gussie was only 5 years old her mother died. An older half sister who had moved to Arizona to recover from consumption returned to Texas to take care of the younger children. Gussie writes fondly of this sympathetic and understanding sister who told the children wonderful stories of the 'West'.
A while after Isa's death, Louis decided to send Gussie and her older sisters to boarding school in Galveston, Texas. He took the girls by train to the school which was scheduled to open September 10th of that fateful year 1900. A picnic on the beach had been scheduled the day after the Greens arrived but was canceled when the winds approached gale force and the sky loomed dark and ominous. In mounting terror, the students and their teachers watched water, blown in from the bay, surge through the streets as the hurricane began its relentless destruction razing the smaller buildings on lower ground. Gussie recalls sitting on a table top, sobbing with her sister, as the water began to invade the school building. Then she recalls it being morning and she and the other children had slept on doors floating in the one room left of the brick building. Several men in boats approached the school and began the rescue, taking the survivors to a warehouse on higher ground.
Upon leaving the girls at school, Gussie's father and older brother had gone to High Island to see about renting a house. With the hurricane's demise, they hurriedly returned to Galveston and began a frantic search for the girls. Finally brother Jim found his sisters and took them to High Island where the family remained until Gussie was 11. When she began having bronchial problems, Louis decided to move his family to the dry climate of Arizona. He attained permission to use the railroad water stations on his journey and in 1905, the Green family began their 1500 mile trek by wagon, following the railroad from Galveston to Benson. Or, in Gussie's words, she and her sisters walked from Texas to Arizona . The girls harvested cow chips for their nightly fires and were only allowed to ride in the wagon when they came to a river or a town.
They stayed in Benson a short time, then moved to Bisbee where the family ran a boarding house and later moved again to Arlington Valley, southwest of Buckeye, where they homesteaded and took up farming. As a young woman, Gussie pursued a nursing career. She lived with a family in Phoenix while she trained at St. Joseph's Hospital. Gussie and the good Sisters had quite a time of it together. Apparently the nuns felt it their obligation to teach Catholicism as well as nursing and Gussie, being a stanch Baptist, was not reticent about expressing her religious beliefs. She credits her excellent education in part to all the extra duty she kept getting assigned to.
Gussie had completed her studies and was working for a doctor in the Phoenix area when she received word that her father had pneumonia and the doctor in Arlington was both short of medical supplies and reluctant to cross the flood cresting rivers. She managed to wheedle from her friend, a sheriff during prohibition, a bottle of 'medicinal' whiskey, secured the doctor's requested supplies and set out for home. Upon reaching the Aqua Fria, she found the riverbanks lined with people, the bridge washed out and only the railroad tracks left spanning the churning river. With the aid of some cowboys who tied their lassos around her to create a lifeline, the diminutive Gussie with the critical supplies tied to her back in a scarf, walked across the almost submerged tracks. A waiting car on the other side took her to the Hassayampa crossing where she begged the use of a neighbor's horse and undauntedly clinging to her mount's saddle, traversed the swollen river to meet her awaiting brother. She remained at home until her father was successfully nursed back to health.
Perce Clayton Wood, a local dairy farmer, met Gussie at a community dance in Arlington. They were married in 1920, and had six children: Clayton, Leonard, Wilber, Leona, Elizabeth Gallager and Hazel Baker. Gussie gave up nursing to be a homemaker but began writing a weekly column of community news for the Arizona Republic. Wanting to assure his children's education, Perce moved his family to a small house behind the Palo Verde School. In the midst of planing to expand the house, he unexpectedly died. Gussie was a widow with six children, the youngest only nine months old, in the middle of the Great Depression.
Grieved as she was with Perce's death, she determined to try to make life as normal as possible for the children. She had two milk cows and chickens, sold milk and eggs and continued to maintain a garden. A brother-in-law gave her employment in his honey business and she sewed the children's clothes. Using the caliche on her property, she made adobe bricks and completed Perce's planned addition to the house, trading the use of a tenant house for help with the heavy labor. Later she went to work at a sewing plant which the WPA had opened in Buckeye.
When the youngest children became school-age she decided to move to Phoenix during the school months. In one of these absences from their Palo Verde home some parties, unknown to Gussie, sought shelter in her house and as the result of the dispute started a fire which burned the house with all its possessions to the ground. Heartsick at the memories and possessions lost, she remained in Phoenix and returning to nursing, cared for terminally ill patients in her home, a service she performed into her approaching seventies . In 1970, she moved to the Arizona Pioneers' Home in Prescott. There she resumed writing and became the Pioneers' Home columnist for the Prescott Courier, writing a weekly column of the home's social activities and also authored several delightfully interesting feature articles about her pioneer experiences. At 80, she attended classes at Yavapai College because she "felt she needed some refresher courses" and that "if after 80 years you don't have anything to say, you've let life go by."
Gussie died May 1, 1996, just nine days before her 102nd birthday. She is buried in the Palo Verde Cemetery. Thank you, Gussie, for all you shared with your readers.
Terry Munderloh is a volunteer at the Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (x.125). Reuse only by permission.
Gussie Wood, one of the over 300 pioneer women memorialized at the Sharlot Hall Museum's Rose Garden, is shown here in a wedding day picture in 1920.