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Martha Dunham Summerhayes  (b. 1844, d. 1926)
Martha Dunham Summerhayes Life at the old fort Fort Verde State Historic Park
Martha Dunham Summerhayes, a young educated woman from New England, traveled throughout Arizona as an army officer's wife during the 1870s. She wrote about her experiences in her book Vanished Arizona, which has become a classic. In it she describes the hardships of the rough frontier environment and fort living conditions, as well as her experiences with other officers, their wives and other people whom she encountered.

Region: North Central
Theme: Domestic Life

Born in 1844, Martha Dunham married Lt. Jack Summerhayes in 1874. She agreed to accompany Jack and his 8th Regiment throughout Arizona from 1874 to 1878 when the regiment served in General George Crook's military expedition against the Apache Indians. She later wrote, "I had cast my lot with a soldier and where he was, was home to me." During their years in Arizona Territory, the couple stayed at many forts, including Yuma, Whipple (in Prescott), McDowell, (north of Phoenix), and Camp Verde (in central Arizona). Martha Summerhayes describes the journeys between these forts in detail, allowing the reader to imagine the rough mountain passes they had to climb by wagon and the dreary trips they made across the hot deserts. Lt. Summerhayes' longest posts were at Fort Apache in eastern Arizona and Camp Ehrenberg on the Colorado River.

In Vanished Arizona, Summerhayes recounts several encounters with native peoples and those of Mexican descent. Although she displays prejudice and confusion regarding customs she does not understand, she is open to experimenting with new ways. When her first child is born at Fort Apache in 1875, Martha Summerhayes receives a visit from nearby Apache women who bring her a cradleboard. As the appreciative Martha watches, the Indian women secure the new baby in the cradleboard where he sleeps peacefully. While at Camp Ehrenberg, Martha Summerhayes grows to appreciate the lightweight dress of Mexican women. Although she wants to forego her corsets and stiff dresses in favor of lightweight cotton gowns, she lacks the nerve to do so. She does however, begin bathing with Mexican women in the Colorado River because the available bath water "looked like melted chocolate" in comparison to the inviting river.

Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde is Arizona's best preserved example of an army fort from the period of 1865 to 1890. Today visitors can tour this site where Lt. Jack and Martha Summerhayes stayed to learn more about early army life in Territorial Arizona. Visitors can see the Commanding Officer's Quarters, Bachelor's Quarters and Doctor's Quarters on Officer's row. Living history presentations representing army officers' wives are also available.

Martha Summerhayes' memoir Vanished Arizona was first published in 1908 and reprinted several times, most recently in 1979 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Photo Credits:
Martha Dunham Summerhayes - Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society, Tucson
Life at the old fort - Courtesy of Arizona State Parks
Fort Verde State Historic Park - Courtesy of Arizona State Parks

 

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