Edited by Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright with introduction by Anne Foster
Excerpts from "Sharlot Herself: Selected Writings of Sharlot Hall"
After the glitter and excitement of the holidays, winter begins to seem dreary and unending. Gray skies, sloppy roads, and bitter temperatures wear monotonously upon the spirit. Little has changed in a hundred years. In Sharlot Herself, Selected Writings of Sharlot Hall (1992), edited by Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright, Sharlot describes the bleak winters of Lonesome Valley. Her ability to find beauty, humor, and activity in her stark surroundings could be a lesson to us all.
In her twenties, Sharlot kept a notebook she labeled "Phrases, Hints, and Odds and Ends of Thought," in which she recorded her reflections on friendship and love and religion, along with a miner's prayer, notes on breaking horses, maps to local mines, and an enchilada recipe. Here she first wrote of lonesome valley:
"Lonesome Valley--as bare and brown and lonesome as its name implies--and as beautiful as only the southwestern plains can be--dappled with little hills and marked by long sweeping lines of color as rich and bright as if some titan painter had just drawn his wet brush down the rolling slopes.
Vegetation is not needed to produce beauty in this land for the earth herself is many-hued--streaked with strange bright sands and clays and walled with mountains of rich-hued rock.
Bald Mountain--not a kingly mountain--just a human one, scarred over with the trail of dead fires and having all sorts of deep lines that recurring sorrow brings. It is like some great soul that burned with love and hate and ambition and all the rest till there is no fire left--but everybody stands a little way off--afraid of what the scars say but the lips never tell.
And I myself may well be the desert mesquite--thorny--stubborn to knife and axe, hiding half its growth in the silent sand, and schooled to long endurance of shifting wind and burning sun--poet-hearted facer of difficulties that yet keeps heart to blossom for the wild bees and birds."
We know there were times Lonesome Valley lived up to its name for Sharlot, especially during the long years between the death of her mother in 1912 and of her father in 1925.
The winter of 1913-14 was a grim one for Sharlot; it had snowed before and after Christmas and the continued sense of loss after the death of her mother would have filled a lesser woman with waves of self-pity. The light irony and humor of her post-Christmas letter to her trusted friend, Alice Hewins, only hint of her heavy heart:
"The minute the sun began to shine I took to the hills and my New Year housekeeping has been a fright. However, my birds do quarrel, even right on the porch roof where I feed them crumbs. I am coaxing all the wild things near--as long ago when I used to be at home--owls, squirrels, quails, roadrunners and blue jays (Steller's jays)--my mixed up family. They almost walk over me when I am lying under the trees out in the hills. The cold days I spend in a big upstairs room where I have a stove and am very comfortable with the funniest old tag ends of long discarded furniture and boxes--and evidences of my genius--like the typewriter table. My birds fight just outside the window. Mr. Riordan sent John Muir's 'Autobiography', which is fine, and E. S. Martin's new book on the unrest of women, which is gentle mild trash. I take refuge in the hills when I can endure this house no longer."
By February, the long winter of cold and isolation began to take its toll on her good spirits, and Sharlot finally responded. Her response was characteristically Sharlot--get to work! So, she fought the mental and physical isolation of Lonesome Valley winters with activity, and her next letter to Alice was filled with news:
"The neglected boys at Dewey, with no place but the saloons to go to, got on my nerves so that last week I rounded them all up, filled them to the teeth with pumpkin pie and organized them into my own particular 'gang'. They are regular little toughs but no one ever tried to make them otherwise, so they can't be blamed--and I've promised them a picnic on the 22nd and a picture show on the 28th--and you know I can't break my word to them. I guess no one on earth ever played fair with them so far. Then I rounded in the women--about as hopeless a bunch as you ever saw--and started the 'Friendly Improvement Club' and that has strings on me too. But Alice, their need is so great-- only God knows the dull life--and I got a smashing compliment from one of the boys. He rounded up a chum and made him help wash the dishes and as we talked he said, "You bet we'll have fun--you are just like a boy." I've got to live up to that, of course."
Note: Copies of Sharlot's poems and others of her writings are available at Sharlot Hall Museum.
Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright, a librarian, is active in Prescott Art Docents and Sharlot Hall Museum and Anne Foster is Assistant Archivist at Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bura2036pv)
Reuse only by permission.
Sharlot's beloved Orchard Ranch in Lonesome Valley, near Dewey in 1905, became progressively more lonely, especially during the winters, after the death of her parents.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bura2147pc)
Reuse only by permission.
Lonesome Valley, named in 1875, lived up to its name during the long, lonesome years between the death of Sharlot's mother in 1912 and her father in 1925. In this photograph at Orchard Ranch, Sharlot, her father and a friend share some time in the yard together in the early 1920's.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bura2044pe)
Reuse only by permission.
Orchard Ranch in ruins in a 1969 photograph by Matt Culley. Lonesome Valley again was very lonesome. Sharlot had died in 1943 and her beloved ranch was in ruins.