By Mona Lange McCroskey
On July 11, 2000, an obituary appeared in the Courier. "Marion N. Perkins, 76, of Camp Verde, died Saturday, July 8, 2000, at the Sedona Emergency Center, Sedona." Marion was a member of a prominent pioneer Yavapai County ranching family, and more needs to be said about his heritage.
Marion's grandfather, Marion Alexander Perkins, after whom he was named, drifted from Mississippi to Texas to New Mexico, then back to the Davis Mountains in Texas. He heard about a ranch in Arizona "where there was a river going right through the middle of it," owned by Campbell and Baker. In 1900, during a severe drought, Perkins persuaded the owners to sell that portion of the ranch along the Verde River. In November 1900, he brought his wife, Annie, three daughters, sons Rob, Ben, and Nick, and a herd of cattle over the old freight road that went by Baker Butte and through Baker Pass near Clarkdale. The family settled on the 76 Ranch on the banks of the river, beside the Santa Fe Railroad tracks. Since then it has been known as Perkinsville. In 1903 Annie and Valerie died of scarlet fever; Fannie and the boys survived.
Marion Alexander Perkins immediately became active in the affairs of his adoptive state. He was a member of the Yavapai Cattle Growers Association. He was elected to serve in the Arizona Territorial Legislature when more laws were perhaps lobbied in the old Adams Hotel than at the State Capitol. He was instrumental in getting Forest Service land management in an effort to keep sheep men from coming into the central Arizona ranch lands. They were, however, allowed to trail their animals to the high country along trails that came in above Perkinsville.
His son, Nicholas "Nick" Perkins met Evelyn Edith Duncan when she was teaching history and Spanish in Williams. Evelyn came to Williams in about 1922, and experienced snow and mud in the unpaved streets, and the board sidewalks. The daughter of a Missouri schoolmarm, she took a tour of Europe and studied in Spain, unusual for a young woman in those days. Nick and Evelyn, newly wed, made their home first at Garland Prairie, but soon moved to Perkinsville. Marion was born February 13, 1924, in Prescott.
Mrs. Perkins taught school in her home for several years. Marion, her first-born, too young for classes, was an interested observer as the older children studied on the big closed-in porch. Eventually an old railroad building was converted into a "regular" school and the teachers lived in an apartment on the hill behind it. Evelyn Perkins shopped in Phoenix and bought a 1928 Chevrolet automobile with her teaching salary. She never learned to drive, but her family enjoyed the car. Marion recalled driving with other boys to the P Bar Ranch near Groom Creek to visit the Otto Lange family. Apparently the Perkins and Lange families became friends when Lange ran cattle in Sycamore Canyon during the 1900 drought.
"He had lived all over northern Arizona, working as a cowboy most of his life." Marion's first memory related to cowboying. His mother put him on a pillow on the saddle in front of his dad, and "he'd take me all over," checking waters and catching unbranded calves. At three and a half Marion started riding on his own. The first thing he did was try to stand up in the saddle and "I really got my rear end spanked for that." The first morning he was allowed to go out, his horse was running a little fast down a ridge and he fell off into the soft dirt. "I can remember that real well." From then on he was allowed to go, but "I think a big lot of the time they left me with the cook."
"Mr. Perkins worked for the Trail Horse adventures, a division of the Kachina Stables in Sedona." Marion Perkins knew the Perkins Ranch and the Verde River country like the back of his hand: Sycamore Canyon, trails from Perkinsville to Williams, sheep trails, "trails everywhere," and, years ago, Mexican and Spanish woodcutting crews camped in the juniper forests. Cattle were driven from the Yolo, Fort Rock and RO Ranches to shipping pens at Del Rio, one of the biggest in Arizona. Marion witnessed several outfits just holding their cattle, waiting their turn to get in. He watched with sadness through the years as the cattle trails faded out and roads came in and simple, well-kept ranches were fancied up by new owners.
When Marion was ready for high school his parents moved to Chino Valley so that he could ride the bus to Prescott and attend the old school on Gurley Street. When his class (1942) was moved into the new high school on Granite Creek, the boys were put on clean-up duty at recess, raking up broken glass and bottles so they would have a place to play football. Marion loved music, said he wasn't a very good student, he had his mind on horses and cows and later girls, but music might have been his first choice over cowboyin' had he stayed in school.
"Mr. Perkins enjoyed horses and dogs, and teaching people to ride." Marion loved people, and his easygoing manner put them at ease. In later years he caught wild burros and guided mule trains into the Grand Canyon, then operated Perkins Wilderness Trail Rides. "Doin' this I can be in the great outdoors that I love, and go to the places I like to go. When I get upset, I can get up on my horse and go out there by myself awhile, and in about thirty minutes, I've forgotten all about it."
"The family suggests memorial contributions to the American Heart Association, 2029 S. 48th St., Tempe, AZ 85282, or the Yavapai County Humane Society, 1625 Sundog Ranch Rd., Prescott, AZ 86301."
"He was a member of the Cowboy Church in Camp Verde, and a long time member of Alcoholics Anonymous. His family knew him as a wise and loving father. Hampton Funeral Home helped the family with arrangements."
Many of us are mourning the loss of a good friend, a gentle man with a soft voice who was dear to us. His family, the ranching community, the Prescott Corral of Westerners, and people whose lives he unknowingly touched miss him too. Marion, you left too soon, before we could record more of your stories, about the Grand Canyon and the one-hundred-year friendship between generations of the Perkins and Lange families. Thank you for enriching my life in particular. Happy Trails!
Mona McCroskey is a Research Historian at the Sharlot Hall Museum and has conducted over 300 oral history interviews with folks who remember our area's past.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (Perkins collection). Reuse only by permission.
Like any good cowboy, Marion Perkins' eyes can not be seen on a sunny day under his hat. He once said, "When I get upset, I can get up on my horse and go out there by myself awhile, and in about thirty minutes, I've forgotten all about it." Marion Perkins passed away on July 8, 2000.