Unidentified

Another assignment for school…we have to post them on publicly accessible blogs…

Everywhere we look today, there is photographic activity.  We all walk around holding our phones, snapping pictures of everything and nearly everyone we see.  Even though some of the most beautiful memories we make in life are held as pictures in our hearts and minds, photographic proof of life seems to enhance life’s meaning, if only to the photographed.  I remember my grandmother having what seemed to be hundreds of framed pictures adorning her walls.  The pictures told the story of her life and showed what mattered to her; pictures with my grandfather and of my grandfather, pictures with my father and his siblings, pictures of my cousins and me, pictures of her sisters, pictures of her nieces and nephews.  “Aunt Pearl” loved and was beloved by all. 

Looking at black and white photos of my great-great-grandparents, I’ve never considered what went into the photos until reading an article by Heather Hatch.  Hatch reports pioneering settlers went to great expense and effort to have their pictures taken.  Quoting a dedication in the front of a 1936 photo album she writes “if by its perusal any of these same Old Settlers find enjoyment and entertainment in looking again into the faces of an old neighbor or friend our work has not been in vain” (Hatch, 342).  This is what makes a picture special, the feeling it evokes when it is beheld. 

Equally important seems to be the names written on the backs of photos as it is haunting to the reader to behold an impressive group of intensely eyed “Hashknife cowboys” on page one of Hatch’s work.  Each cowboy’s name is listed except the one farthest to the right who is simply listed as “unidentified” (Hatch, 333).  Especially in this day of Facebook, Instagram and “look at me” fever, the last thing anyone wants to be is “unidentified.”  The unidentified man seems to stand just slightly apart from the group.  He is the only one who can be seen head to toe.  His eyes almost seem the most intense, yet history may never know anything about him.  Record keeping matters to those of us seeking to learn from the past, but not always so much to those of us in the present who are leaving the record. 

One woman who proves that one can “make their place,” did so in the harsh Arizona desert.  Mary H. Taylor rode into the smoldering Gila Bend desert in 1869 with her intended and rode right back out of it with King Woolsey who promised to keep her safe (Cunningham, 17).  Woolsey took Mary the two-day journey to Yuma for proper clothes and then Mary set about making a name for herself, tending Woolsey’s desert frontier store; Stanwix. 

Mary eventually amassed an estate estimated to be worth $2,000,000.  Most interestingly to this author is Mary’s Palo Verde ranch and her Agua Caliente holdings because these are two places that really aren’t inhabited much today, let alone at the turn of the twentieth century.  There’s a mountain peak between the two; Palo Verde and Agua Caliente, that is named “Woolsey Peak,” no doubt after Mary’s late husband and perhaps Mary herself.  Mary’s industry, as she was known for her work ethic and keen real estate mind, put her in a position of leaving her heirs, none of them her own children for she had none, comfortable.

History really is so wonderfully fascinating.  It’s about the slight twists and turns we take.  Mary arrived in a desert camp completely disgusted and fussing with her fiancé, only to take off immediately with Woolsey, a stranger who promised safety, and twenty-four hours later, after what she reports was a good “heart to heart,” they married.  He offered her a place to make her fortune and she took it, whole-heartedly, running with it until she was a lively millionaire still sparking with life in her eighties. 

What are the twists and turns of our lives?  Do we recognize them when they come?  Or, do they come, much like Mary’s, a stroke of fate, two halves of the same whole, colliding in the Arizona desert and sparking a fire.  This is what makes history so captivating and worthy of study.  The people who lived yesterday, ten years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, wanted what we all want:  purpose, love, money, safety, refuge, prosperity and work.  We tell ourselves we want peace and quiet, we want rest.  But look at the people who have that – they’re empty. 

We crave work.  We crave purpose.  And a society who lulls themselves into thinking that they don’t crave work and purpose is a society much like the one we see before us today; lost, drug and alcohol addicted, looking for entertainment and distraction rather than true purpose.  True purpose, that’s the gold at the end of the rainbow.  True purpose is where there is heart-wrenching effort sprinkled with life-giving joy. 

Cunningham, Bob. “WOOLSEY’S WIFE: The Arizona Adventures Of Mary H. Taylor.” The Journal of Arizona History 28, no. 1 (1987): 17–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41859356.

Hatch, Heather S. “A GLORIOUS LEGACY.” The Journal of Arizona History 28, no. 4 (1987): 333–52. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41859787.

Jagodinsky, Katrina.  “Territorial Bonds:  Indenture and Affection in Intercultural Arizona, 1864-1894.”  University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  2012. 

Woolsey’s & Wentworth’s.  The Fry Building:  A Hidden Pioneer History – Part II.  State Library of Arizona, Blog.  July 17, 2019. 

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