Theora “Thee” Margaret Marie (Shields) Darnell Widener was born November 25, 1909, in Solomonville, Arizona, to Florence Belle (Riggs) and Frank Ward Shields, both Arizona natives. She first lived on the UX Ranch (originally the McKinney Ranch), in Cochise County near Bowie, Arizona. The ranch house was one of the oldest in Arizona.

In 1918, her parents bought and moved to the Palace Station, a stage stop on the Peck Mine road, located in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott, Arizona. Over a few years, they acquired several small ranches and combined them into a one large ranch. The Shields family ran cattle south to Wagoner, Arizona, and all the way north to Prescott, until the city put up a drift fence to keep the cattle out of the city watershed.

They spent summers at Palace Station and winters in Wagoner. Theora attended grammar school in Bowie, Mayer, and Wagoner. She did not like school, mostly because she was left-handed, and it scared her when the teacher talked about forcing her to be right-handed.

When she was a child, her father tied her on a packsaddle and took her with him when he went out on the ranch. When she was five, he bought her first saddle, and her grandpa gave her a beautiful steel-dust horse. Theora recalled how she and her family would round up their cattle to be shipped and sent to Ash Creek pasture near their home. The next morning, they would combine their cattle with those of the neighboring Lange family and drive them to the Hassayampa River. On the third day, they drove the cattle to Peeples Valley and finally to Kirkland, Arizona, where the cattle were loaded onto railroad cars and shipped.

Theora was usually in school when fall cattle “round-up” started, and she only “cowboyed” on weekends.  However, she was always on the ranch to work the spring cattle “round-up.” She loved to ride! Of course, on the ranch, they had cattle dogs, good cutting horses, and a burro that lived to be over forty years old.

It was a two-day trip in a wagon pulled by four horses whenever the Shields family came to Prescott from Wagoner. They would stop in Skull Valley and then come over the mountain through Copper Basin. They usually stayed at the St. Michael or Head Hotel. Florence would shop the next day, and it was a three-day trip home with a “big load of stuff,” of barley, salt, groceries, clothing, and various sundries. Almost everything was available at Bashford-Burmister store on Gurley Street across from the plaza in Prescott.

Theora was a bashful country girl.  Therefore, it was a memorable event when her family went to Ida May (Swift) Minotto’s birthday party and rodeo in 1924. There was a dance that night in the big house along the river. Since Theora’s birthday was the next day, Ida May stopped the festivities at midnight and announced, “Well, now we’re celebrating Theora’s birthday!” Dancing at the schoolhouse was an important part of rural life.

They sometimes had basket socials to raise money for school projects. The Shields and Lange families each had many children, and they often got together for birthday parties. Florence and Grandma Lange baked cakes that had “dimes and rings and all kinds of things” in them, and they danced to the phonograph.

On March 23, 1928, Theora married William “Willie” Patrick Darnell (1901-1933) in the lobby of the Head Hotel in Prescott.  They had planned to be married at the church, but there was a big snowstorm, and it was easier to get married at the hotel, which was full of her wedding guests from Wagoner and Jerome.

Unfortunately, in 1933 Theora was widowed. Soon after, she began working at Sanitary Laundry and stayed until December of 1935 when she married Donald Hobart Widener (1900-1993). They had two sons, named Donald Victor (1936) and Leo Vance (1937).

After their marriage, Theora and Don moved into the Pioneer Apartments on South Montezuma Street in Prescott. She managed the apartments, and they lived there for eighteen years. She spent the last years of her life in her little house at 823 Fifth Street

Theora passed away on February 21, 2000, and is buried in Genung Memorial Park in Peeples Valley with other family members.

Theora's mother, Florence Belle (Riggs) Shields, her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Margaret (Babcock) Riggs, and her paternal grandmother, Eliza Elizabeth (Howard) Shields, are also commemorated in the Territorial Women’s Memorial Rose Garden.

Donor: Mona Lange McCroskey, February 2007.  Theora (Shields) Widener’s oral history (Tape Number 750) was used as a resource for the information that is contained in this biography.
Photo Located: No Photo Available
Updated: 3/21/2016, Gretchen Hough Eastman