Arizona Centennial: Official State Historian and Balladeer

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A celebration of Statehood Day and Arizona’s 100th birthday with official state historian Marshall Trimble and Dolan Ellis, State Balladeer.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio testified today that he had no knowledge of alleged corruption or mismanagement in his office. Testifying in the appeals case of former sheriff's employee Joel Fox, Arpaio said he was not aware of political contributions made by a group that attacked his opponent in 2008. Fox was fired for lying about his involvement in the group. State lawmakers are working on a bill that would change the recall process. The measure would require candidates to run in a party specific primary before a runoff election. Currently recalls require only one election in which all voters can participate. As in the special election that removed senate president Russell Pearce from office. It's Arizona's 100th birthday, 100 years ago today, President William Howard Taft signed a document making Arizona the 48th state in the union. We'll show you how the centennial was celebrated at the capitol later in the program, but first, we hear from two men who for years have served as Arizona's goodwill ambassadors. Folk singer Dolan Ellis was appointed Arizona's official state Balladeer in 1966 by Governor Sam Goddard. And Marshall Trimble, appointed Arizona's official state historian by governor Fife Symington in 1996. Trimble teaches Arizona history at Scottsdale community college and has written a number of books about the state. I recently spoke with both men about their love for Arizona. Thank you both for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon." It's good to have you here. Let's -- there's so much history to talk about. Let's talk about your history with Arizona. Born here?

Marshall Trimble: I was born here in 1939. I reached that age where you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it. I was born south of Tempe, a place called Kyrene actually, Mesa, because they didn't have a hospital out there. But I came home as soon as I could.

Ted Simons: Your history with Arizona?

Dolan Ellis: I moved here in 1959, and came here out of the Midwest. Didn't know a soul. I just always knew I wanted to live in Arizona. Ever since I've been a kid, I've always known I wanted to live in Arizona.

Ted Simons: So was it love at first sight when I got out here? Was it what you expected? Was it what you were looking for?

Dolan Ellis: That and more. I've been in love with Arizona really ever since I was 5 years old. And I think it was -- I think probably Roy Rogers had something to do with it, riding through the saguaro cactus and everything, but, yeah.

Ted Simons: It was love at first sight for you.

Dolan Ellis: Absolutely. When I got old enough to make my own decisions, I was here.

Ted Simons: For you, obviously, your first sight was Arizona. When did you realize that you really -- moving away, going away, but this is you. This is your place.

Marshall Trimble: Well, I guess I grew up in a little small town in northern Arizona called Ash Fork, and I don't know, I've always been kind after small town boy at heart. But I got interested in the history really through the folk music. I was part of that folk music revival in the early '60s, late '50s, early '60s. That's when I really got interested. So I was really interested in the music because it told a story of America's past. And that turned me on because I have to be honest, high school and college history didn't do -- didn't do too much for me.

Ted Simons: The folk tales made a difference.

Marshall Trimble: Those stories and they got me interested in all the others, so that's what I tried to do with my students then later.

Td Simons: You're now with The New Christy Minstrels, you've had a folk background forever. As far as Arizona history and your interest and passion for it, where did that come from?

Dolan Ellis: I'm not real sure, Ted. I have an unexplainable attraction for this state. And I learned a long time ago that I guess my work and my job is to write songs that expresses things that other people feel but maybe they don't know how to express it. And -- but I've had a great career. I absolutely love it. I quit the New Christy Minstrels right at the top of our peak. Everybody thought I was nuts. And I said, no, I'm going to come back home to Arizona and I'm going to start writing and photographing, and that's what I've been doing all these years.

Ted Simons: Great stuff. Arizona history, what surprises you the most about the state's history?

Dolan Ellis: Well, I just think how rapidly we have grown. We're not like those eastern states that had a long time to do what they've done. A hundred years ago, this place hardly had any roads out here. Look where we are today. It's unbelievable our cities, and our freeways, and our highways, and our landscaping, and our technology. And just on and on and on.

Ted Simons: Good thing, or kind of a bittersweet thing?

Dolan Ellis: Oh, no, it's not a bittersweet thing, it's beautiful progress. I do wish, though, that more people would take a little more effort into knowing the state that they're moving to. You gotta -- it's not going to come knocking on your door. You have to give of yourself in order to really enjoy this state.

Ted Simons: What part of Arizona history surprises you most? Moves you the most?

Marshall Trimble: Well, it doesn't surprise me so much, but the frontier. I've always been more fascinated with the frontier period. Say from the 1850s to around 1900, right in there, the early 1900s. Actually when I write these books I -- the 1920s really -- whatever it is that really fascinates me, I love the frontier period, because it was such a colorful -- it was such an untamed, like a wild Bronco, and the characters who came here, it was a place where you could reinvent yourself.

Dolan Ellis: You know, I tell people too that time sort of stood still here for a very long time. I came here in the late '50s, but when I would go out into these ranch can communities and out into the hills, and out into the hinterlands of the state, things hadn't really changed that much. I mean, places like Pumpkin Center didn't have electricity, they didn't have telephones, you know, the roads were not paved. It was an incredibly sort of place where time had sort of stood still, and then along I guess, what, refrigeration came, that was one of the big things that changed it and people started to move here and it started changing just like that.

Ted Simons: I asked if it was bittersweet, all the movement all the progress, the advancing, we were talking before the show about certain intersections in the valley that were once desert not -- a couple of decades ago. Now they're urban centers. Is it bittersweet for you to see the change?

Marshall Trimble: A little bit. I still love the rural parts of towns, the small towns, I'm out there a lot performing and things. And I go with what will Rogers said, they ought to not let people drive their cars until they're paid for. That would help a little bit.

Ted Simons: What part of Arizona history do you think is overtold, and what part of Arizona history do you think needs more attention?

Marshall Trimble: Well, I think 20th century history needs more attention. I wrote a book about the 20th century Arizona, I was fascinated by what I didn't know about that whole period. It was just as interesting to me then as 19th century history was. And I think we overdo the whole-- overdo the O.K. corral, the gunfight and all those things. They've been told so many times, and in my experience, as both as a writer and researcher, I find there were a lot of interesting law men and characters and people and really important people who got overlooked, maybe they just didn't have a name like Johnny Ringo, or Wyatt Earp.

Ted Simons: Stories you think have been over told about Arizona, the history you think might need more attention?

Dolan Ellis: I think that what needs more attention are the little stories of unfamous people, of just everyday people. There have been tremendous, courageous things done by people that were just living everyday lives out here in a survival sort of way, in a rugged land. And that's what I really enjoy writing about. Many of my songs are about desert rats or about people that did amazing things in their life, but they were just people. They weren't famous, they weren't politicians. They weren't wealthy families. And I think that that kind of fiber just is the network that is underneath the personality of the state.

Ted Simons: Do you find when you're appearing in different parts of the state, that that particular audience, do you tailor the stories you tell to that audience? Do people in ash fork want to hear a different story than people in Yuma? Do people in Phoenix want to hear something different than people in Bisbee?

Dolan Ellis: I think we all like to hear about the land we live in. Whenever I'm performing at different places around the state I try to tailor my shows so it includes the subjects about that area of the state.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Marshall Trimble: I do too. We were just down in Yuma county, and we came in with stories about the camels, and the colorful characters who were along the Gila trail, and the colorful history of Yuma, and it was surprising, some of the stories they were unfamiliar with and they live there. But most of them are winter -- I think they come for the winter and then they go back someplace else when the weather heats up.

Dolan Ellis: A lot of people are unfamiliar with the fact that Arizona had stern wheel paddle boat on the Colorado river. That's a real industry going on there.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about misconceptions of Arizona history. What do you find -- you talk about how people will expect something and maybe you give them something different, it might a better story for that, what are misconceptions you think about Arizona's history?

Dolan Ellis: I think the biggest misconception is that we're just all rocks and rattle snakes out here. That you ask people back east who have not been to Arizona, they're completely unaware of the fact we have the largest, unbroken stand of ponderosa pine in the world. One third of our state is covered with mountains and pine trees. Tall mountains.

Ted Simons: Yeah. Misconceptions?

Marshall Trimble: Pretty much the same. I think today with all of the notoriety that's come with certain things that have gone on politically and so forth, I get a lot of calls from reporters back east, and wanting to know what -- what are you people all about? I say, we are you! Very few natives out here, most of the people here came from somewhere else. So we're kind of a microcosm of the United States. We have -- for every bad guy, we have dozens of good guys. You just don't hear as much about them. But we have a lot of brave, courageous people just look at around when Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Look at all those people who just jumped in and they took that guy down, and other guy -- Hernandez boy jumped on to protect her, stop the bleeding. And oh, here's the bad guy, think of all the good people that were there and think of the statewide mourning, and yet they think we're just sometimes -- I almost get a little chip on my shoulder.

Ted Simons: That's quite understandable. Most fascinating character you think in Arizona's history.

Dolan Ellis: Marshall Trimble. [laughter] Most fascinating --

Ted Simons: yeah.

Dolan Ellis: Well, you see, again, I love the little-known characters. I'll tell you what, though, Barry Goldwater was my hero. And he is my hero. I did a lot of shows where he would be speaking and have me do a song before, I always admired that man so much. I always wish I could be -- I wish I could be the kind of guy he was.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Marshall, most fascinating character in the history of the state.

Marshall Trimble: Bucky O'Neill and Nellie Cashman. I have two favorites, a man and a woman, for different reasons, but I -- it's not ironic they're Irish. But, yeah, Bucky on you kneel, the famous rough rider and the sheriff of Yavapai county, the mayor, just a colorful character. And Nellie Cashman, an entrepreneur back when very few well were out here and she was -- women were out here and she was a very giving person and just two great people. She ran restaurants and boarding houses around Arizona, including tombstone, and she was one of the leading citizens down there during the fiasco with the Cochise county war. And Bucky was just a guy that got his nickname because he bucked the tiger in Farrell, and his name was William O'Neill, but everybody knows him as Bucky. And he was a hard fighter for statehood, and he died just before the charge up San Juan Hill.

Ted Simons: Wow. My goodness. You keep mentioning these small stories. These people who aren't necessarily Barry Goldwater. Can you think of one, any one off the top my head that comes to mind as indicative of Arizona?

Marshall Trimble: How about George Klein?

Dolan Ellis: Yeah, George Klein was a great guy. He had been ranching out here since before Arizona was a state and George was the most honorary cuss you ever met in your life. If there was anything that you should not do socially, in a social situation, Georges would do it on purpose. I did an interview one time, this was before satellite, we had the big tape trucks out there and everything from one of the TV stations here in town, and George, he was a heavy drinker and I asked, George, we've got some older people here that I need to interview first if you could hold off on the old crow a little bit, I'd appreciate it, we'll come around and interview you. Well -- And I also asked if he would hold down his language a little bit because I had to get it on television. Well, I made a huge mistake in doing that. Because when I went over to interview him, he gave me -- it was -- I think it was the greatest interview anybody ever had with George Klein. I couldn't get it on the air. I never could get it on because of the language he was using. That's kind of the honorary cuss.

Marshall Trimble: George was the first man to rope a steer in Madison Square Garden.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Wow.

Marshall Trimble: Those Tonto Basin cowboys, they produced at least seven world champions, so just that Tonto Basin area.

Dolan Ellis: That's a great area, really historically rich.

Ted Simons: Well not only that but we talked about travel and roads and things, and in the old days it took forever just to get from Phoenix to Payson. That was a long trip. Now people make it in -- last question. Where do you go in Arizona to feel like, "I'm in Arizona."

Dolan Ellis: Well, I love all of Arizona, and I love to visit all of it, but I think the closer I can be to the Sonora desert, I like it. Around the Saguaros and in the rugged granite mountains of our desert, and that sort of thing.

Ted Simons: Is there a spot?

Marshall Trimble: I've got to go along with Dolan. I like to go up the Apache trail up to Tortilla flat. That's the Sonora desert at its best. You can even ride the steam boat up there. So many great things. I have a place at Christopher creek, so Arizona is so diverse, you've got to have a place in the woods to go, and the mountains, and then the desert. But I love the Sonora desert.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you both here. Arizona loves you, official state Balladeer, official historian. We've got some Arizona stories out of you on this special year for the state. It's good to have you both on the program.

Marshall Trimble:Official State Historian; Dolan Ellis:State Balladeer;

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