by Barbara Patton

On a hot July day in 1864, a group of settlers rolled into the frontier town of Prescott.  The wagon train in the company of soldiers bound for Fort Whipple and under the leadership of Joseph Ehle had traveled down from Denver through Indian country.  Three of the wagons carried the household goods of the Ehle family, and Mrs. Margaret Ehle and their five daughters rode in a repurposed hearse.

At the age of 50, Margaret was already a seasoned pioneer. She was born in Ohio, Oct. 14, 1817, and met and married her husband Joseph in Iowa, 1841. The following years took the family first to Oregon, then to Denver, Colorado, before they moved to Prescott.

Being a pioneer wife for many years, Margaret knew what items would be beneficial for a farmer’s wife in a frontier town.  Amongst the household goods stowed in their three wagons was a Grover and Baker sewing machine, later put to good use; a pretty “Bouncing Bet” plant, intended to brighten their new home; and a yellow house cat. The domestic feline being one of the first of her kind in the territory was a valuable animal, one of her kittens sold for an ounce of gold.  Also earning their keep would be the little black Spanish hens. Eggs sold for as much as $3 a dozen. Along with the chickens, the Ehles brought honey bees to the community, honey being a commodity in great demand.

Soon after their arrival in Prescott, Joseph and son John Henry built a comfortable log house on the southwest corner of Marina and Goodwin Streets. Joseph and John Henry also helped hew the logs for the Governor’s Mansion which was built in the summer and fall of 1864.

Older daughter Mary Jane married John Dickson (a former member of the Walker party) on Nov. 17, 1864. The mother of the bride used her sewing machine to make her daughter a pretty, yet practical, cotton gown. The wedding was held in the Governor’s Mansion with Reverend Read performing the ceremony and Governor John Goodwin officiating.

On their first Christmas in Prescott, Mrs. Ehle opened her home for “a little service of song and homely talk.” That evening the family attended a dance at the Governor’s Mansion. The ladies of the town brought cakes and pies made with precious flour and sugar, and the Governor’s secretary Henry Fleury provided his “Oh be joyful juice.”  The band from the fort performed the music.

Over her years on the frontier, Margaret Ehle had become an experienced midwife. On April 30, 1867, Mrs. Ehle was called to attend young Margaret McCormick, wife of the second Territorial Governor, Richard McCormick. Tragically, Mrs. McCormick became violently ill and died an hour after delivering a stillborn child.

For midwife Mrs. Ehle, the final hours of young Margaret’s life must have been heartbreaking to watch.  Given the limitations of obstetric care in the 19th century, there was little the doctor or Mrs. Ehle could do except comfort and soothe the young woman. 

In the end, it was left to Mrs. Ehle to tenderly wash and clothe the bodies of mother and baby in preparation for burial. Two days later, on May 2, the whole town attended the funeral held just outside the Governor’s Mansion.

In the fall of 1868, Joseph and Margaret Ehle opened the Montezuma Hotel at the northwest corner of Willis and Montezuma Streets. The present-day historical marker at this location relates a quote from the October 10, 1868 Arizona Miner: “This hotel is now in full blast and is crowded with guests. Mr. Ehle sets a first-class table.”

They also built a new frame house next to the hotel. This was their final home and where the younger Ehle children grew up. For the remainder of her years, Grandmother Ehle, as she became known, served her family and community well. When she passed away on Nov. 5, 1905, she was remembered fondly by all who knew her. Sharlot Hall wrote, “In all this Mrs. Ehle bore her full share, and her life is more typical than any other I can recall of the old west and the women who were part of it.”

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlothallmuseum.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.