By Barbara Patton

In last week’s “Days Past” article, we followed Martha and her husband Lt. Jack Summerhayes on part of an arduous two-month trip.  The year was 1874 and they were relocating from Wyoming to Fort Apache in the wilds of Arizona Territory.  As we begin this week’s story, their ambulance wagon has brought them to Fort Whipple for a short recuperation before continuing on their way.

From Prescott, they journeyed down to Camp Verde, up Crook’s Trail and over the Mogollon Rim.  Theirs was the first wagon train to cross the difficult, mountainous trail.  Martha’s Puritan ears were taken aback by the teamsters’ swearing and lashing as they pushed the endurance of the hardy mule teams.  Unfortunately, one team and its wagon were lost over the mountainside.

After a few sleepless nights, worrying about Indians, they reached Fort Apache.  Martha, who was by this time expecting a baby, looked forward to settling down for a while.  She had not been able to bring much in the way of household goods, and soon discovered that the barrel with her china was lost with the wagon that plunged down the mountain.

With only one other officer’s wife in camp, Martha was often lonely.  She particularly felt her isolation when her baby arrived in January 1875.  There was no one to help her other than a laundress who came in a couple days a week.

One of her most beneficial gifts was a papoose cradle from several Apache women.  They showed her how to lace up the baby in the soft fawn skin and rock him to sleep.  Some of the Native women watched at the window every day as the fair skinned baby was bathed in a wooden tub.

When Baby Harry was two months old, Jack was assigned to Fort McDowell.  On their trip out of the mountains, Martha again rode in an ambulance wagon.  Encountering rough terrain, she had difficulty holding the baby.  Then she remembered the papoose cradle.  With Harry secured on the cradle board, a soldier held him the rest of the way down the mountain.  At one point their caravan risked an ambush by Indians as they drove through a narrow canyon.  With Martha clutching her loaded derringer, she and the baby huddled on the floor of the wagon.  Jack told her, “Don’t let them get either of you alive.”

When they reached Fort Whipple, Martha was shocked when Jack announced he wanted to volunteer for an assignment in Ehrenburg instead of Fort McDowell.  Remembering the desolate place she saw on their journey up the Colorado, Martha was horrified.  Jack argued about the advantages of being on the river and the autonomy he would have.  In the end, the good Army wife agreed to follow her husband.

The Ehrenberg post wasn’t much better than she expected.  Jack’s job was to oversee the movement of freight arriving on the river boats.  They were the only Army family in a small, hot, dry and desolate settlement with few comforts or amenities.  There were a couple Anglo men; no Anglo women.  Martha had only a Spanish-speaking woman to help her with the baby and a virtually naked Indian as her “butler.” After the initial shock of having a servant dressed only in a skimpy loincloth, Martha did learn to appreciate the help he offered and the fact he could smoothly open a bottle of wine.

Cleanliness was always a problem at the dusty post, so Martha soon took to bathing at dawn in the river with the Mexican ladies.  This was one of her few pleasures.  She also envied these ladies for the cool, loose clothing they wore and the simple meals of frijoles and tortillas they prepared.  Jack still insisted the two of them maintain proper Army decorum in dress and meals.

Martha tried hard, but life in Ehrenberg took a toll.  Jack agreed she must take a break and return to her family in “the States.”   After a refreshing eight months in the comfort of her parents’ home in Nantucket, she returned to Arizona loaded with boxes of clothing and household wares.  When she arrived at Ehrenberg she learned the steamer carrying all her wonderful possessions had burned; all of the cargo was destroyed.  Her consolation was that Jack accepted an assignment to the relative civilization of Fort McDowell.

Over the coming years, Martha accompanied Jack to many posts around the Southwest. With experience, she soon learned to overlook the hardships and seek out amusement in the simple pleasures of camp life.  She also grew very fond of the other Army folks who came in and out of her life.  The camaraderie was very real for her.

In her later years, when she and Jack were again comfortably living in the East, Martha reminisced about the early years in the Arizona Territory — about a time gone by.  “Sometimes I hear the still voices of the Desert:  they seem to be calling me through the echoes of the Past. . . The army life of those years is past and gone, and Arizona, as we knew it, has vanished from the face of the earth.”  Martha’s book “Vanished Arizona” is available at the Sharlot Hall gift shop.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at for information.