By Mick Woodcock

It has been said that one of the main functions of a museum is to tell good stories.  That is what we try to do at Sharlot Hall Museum.  More often than not, there are more stories than space to tell them.  When you can tell the story, there is generally not enough room to tell all of it.  Such is the case with Carrie Wilkins.


Miss Carrie is brought to life in an exhibit case on Fort Whipple.  The tableaux that features her is intended to bring the human side to what might ordinarily be a story of drums and guns.  There are two mannequins in a parlor scene.  A young second lieutenant of the Sixth Cavalry has his forage cap in one hand and a bouquet of wild flowers in the other.  He has a very earnest look on his face.  The female figure, on the other hand, has her face turned away.  The fan in her hand is closed, a Victorian sign of disinterest. 

On the wall are photographs and information of the Wilkins family.  Another caption indicates that this case was inspired by a Charles King novel, The Colonel's Daughter.  Legend has it that the heroine in this book was modeled after Carrie Wilkins.  A distinct possibility. 

King, a young second lieutenant in the Fifth Cavalry in the 1870s, was stationed in central Arizona at the same time as that of the Wilkins family. I n the 1880s and 1890s, he drew upon his Army experiences to write numerous novels of the frontier Army.  It would be natural for him to use characters based upon real life people that he had known. 

Curious as to the truth of the rumor, I read The Colonel's Daughter.  I had only intended to read enough to get an idea of the heroine's character.  It proved to be a real page turner, at least for me, and I finished it.  As to the question of whether King's Miss Grace Pelham is actually a thinly disguised Miss Carrie Wilkins, I will allow you, the reader to decide. 

King's character is young, beautiful, devoted to her family, and sought after by all the young army officers with whom she comes in contact.  What is known about Carrie Wilkins comes from some family history in the archives of Fort Verde Historic Park, and a description of her from the book Vanished Arizona. 

Vanished Arizona was written as a reminiscence by Martha Summerhayes, wife of career army officer Jack Summerhayes.  The Summerhayeses traveled to Arizona with other Eighth Infantry officers and their families in the summer of 1874.  Since John D. Wilkins was Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment at that time, he and his family were traveling in the same group as the Summerhayeses. 

Mrs. Summerhayes recalled the following about traveling in the steamship to the Colorado River.  "The daughter of the lieutenant-colonel was on board, the beautiful and graceful Caroline Wilkins, the belle of the regiment...."  Here Mrs. Summerhayes' memory fails her in part.  Caroline was Carrie's mother and the colonel's wife. 

"The party on board was merry enough, and even gay.  There was Captain Ogilby, a great, genial Scotchman, and Captain Porter, a graduate of Dublin, and so charmingly witty.  He seemed very devoted to Miss Wilkins, but Miss Wilkins was accustomed to the devotion of all the officers of the Eighth Infantry.  In fact, it was said that every young lieutenant who joined the regiment had proposed to her.  She was most attractive, and as she had too kind a heart to be a coquette, she was a universal favorite with the women as well as with the men." 

Miss Wilkins is mentioned one other time.  A conversation is related about the first evening on the road from Fort Mohave on the Colorado River to Fort Whipple.  Mrs. Summerhayes had never camped in the open before and was appalled by it.  "Sitting on camp-stools, around the mess-tables, in the open, before the break of day, we swallowed some black coffee and ate some rather thick slices of bacon and dry bread.  The Wilkins' tent was near ours, and I said to them, rather peevishly:  'Isn't this dust something awful?'  Miss Wilkins looked up with her sweet smile and gentle manner and relied:  "Why, yes, Mrs. Summerhayes, it is pretty bad, but you must not worry about such a little thing as dust.'  'How can I help it?' I said; 'my hair, my clothes, everything full of it, and no chance for a bath or a change: a miserable little basin of water and---'  I suppose I was running on with all my grievances, but she stopped me and said again: 'Soon, now, you will not mind it at all.  Ella and I are army girls, you know, and we do not mind anything.  There's no use in fretting about little things."  Miss Wilkins' remarks made a tremendous impression upon my mind and I began to study her philosophy."  Ella was Carrie's sister, married to Lieutenant Charles Bailey, also of the Eighth Infantry. 

As an interesting wrinkle, the Museum received a donation in 1989, of a small, engraved, silver bar.  The inscription reads, "To Carrie From WAR. Prescott AT. Aug 24, 1876."  Is this Carrie the Colonel's daughter?  The time period is right.  WAR may well be the initials of local mining speculator, Winthrop Allen Rowe.  Beyond this, your guess is as good as ours.  What I can tell you though is this, Rowe did not win Carrie's hand.  She married Lieutenant Charles Porter, the gentlemen who seemed "so very devoted" to her on the trip to Arizona, in 1879. 

Mick Woodcock is Registrar at the Sharlot Hall Museum.