Transition in Pioneer Arizona
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“Transition in Pioneer Arizona,” New Era, July 1981, 28

Transition in Pioneer Arizona

A mud-flinging, partner-swinging, weed-raking, adobe-making, hoe-down in the sun day of fun

The Arizona sun was winning the battle with the historic pioneer cabin. Beating constantly against the walls, sun rays had blistered the mud-plastered adobe until its outer covering peeled and tumbled. Tan weeds, also scorched by the heat, clustered at the foundation as if to catch the falling wounded.

Then the reinforcements arrived—Young Adults from Phoenix. They massed around the cabin, dug a hole nearby, filled it with water, and mixed in dirt. A garden hose sprayed the walls of the building and the parched surface sucked the water in. Soon the mud-splattered hands of half a dozen young ladies were smearing fresh new “plaster” on the walls, while friends with hoes evacuated weeds from the base of the structure and from trails nearby.

The restoration of the cabin was only part of a much larger activity, a service project to help the nonprofit living history museum at Pioneer Arizona. The museum, located just outside Phoenix, is actually a small town made up of buildings from the late 1800s that were once used by settlers. The sheriff’s office, bank, wagon maker’s shop, blacksmith shop, church, and other buildings there have been relocated from throughout the state or reconstructed to follow original dimensions and designs. At various times during the year, artisans will actually come and work in the shops as artisans might have in pioneer times.

But for the moment, the museum needed some help. To attract tourists, the site needed to be spruced up. Waves of withered wild grass had invaded, and unless they were hacked down, they might become ignited and engulf the valuable historical buildings in flame.

Steven Pelfrey, the regional Young Adult president, heard of the opportunity to serve, and he didn’t hesitate to volunteer on behalf of his fellow Latter-day Saints. He knew they’d pull through, and they did. Besides, he was looking for an activity to help recent high school graduates who had just come into the Young Adult program to get involved and feel the spirit of Christian service.

Now, on this Saturday morning, he could see them working side by side with the other Young Adults, as, armed with hoes, rakes, and buckets, they swarmed through the town. Kira Burch, 17, from the Tenth Ward, Phoenix Arizona West Stake, wiped her brow as she finished whacking out a stubborn weed. A one-year veteran of Young Adults, Reuben Judd, 18, of the 19th Ward, worked with some new participants hoisting buckets of mud to the top of the adobe cabin to reinforce the roof. Several of the young women, who had come dressed as pioneers, were invited by the museum director to give guided tours to tourists. The older Young Adults, perhaps remembering their own experiences in coming to activities for the first time, seemed to be going out of their way to welcome the newcomers.

“I could tell they weren’t being left out, that they were having fun,” said Kelly Pendleton, 21, of the Ninth Ward. “They were excited to see the kinds of activities Young Adults can do.”

Others agreed. Rena Davis, 17, of the 37th Ward, said, “I’ve looked forward to the activities, and I wasn’t disappointed. Everybody was happy and friendly. They talked to me and said ‘hi’ and made me feel welcome. That’s important. But I have an obligation, too. That is to participate and help make the activities successful.”

Most of the new Young Adults seemed to follow Rena’s advice. They mingled with everyone freely.

“I spent all day learning about people, finding out they have the same reaction to service and to the gospel that I do. They want to serve more and learn more. We’re all striving for the same thing,” Kira said.

Soon trail-marking rocks were aligned in regimented columns, remaining weeds had been gobbled up by marauding shovels, and the whole town reveled in its cleaned-up condition. It was time to celebrate!

First, everyone crowded into the theater for a hero-and-villain melodrama, presented by the Pioneer Arizona players. The LDS audience cheered and booed with fervor and so impressed one of the actors that he asked a lot of questions about the Church.

“He’s known some of us before, and we hope he’ll eventually get interested in the gospel,” Steve said. Steve also noted that the museum director was impressed both by the service the group had rendered and “by the quality of people in the group.” The director asked a lot of questions about the Church, too.

After the play, it was time to eat. And there’s no better place than a pioneer town for an old-fashioned barbecue followed by a square dance. A cowpoke in a big black hat manned the grill and fed the crowd; then everyone paraded to the grandstand for some do-si-dos and Virginia reels. Along the way, many of the volunteers (who had now changed work clothes for pioneer duds) stopped to explore the shops and museums. Even though most of the shops weren’t manned yet (the tourist season was still a month or two away), the artifacts and architecture were interesting.

The square dance continued until desert winds whipped up a dust storm that flipped the record from the turntable and sent the crowd scurrying for cover. When the breeze softened, however, and the fury turned to a mild rain, the dancing continued despite the weather.

“There are a lot more people at Young Adult activities than there were in my Mutual class, and I haven’t known most of them all my life, like I have the kids in my Mutual class,” 17-year-old Gregg Tunney of the Ninth Ward commented. “It’s challenging to try to meet everyone, but it’s a great opportunity to make new friends.”

“Now that I’m in college, I can look back at my first experiences with the Young Adult program and see what a difference it made for me,” Reuben said. “It helped me adjust to a new time in my life by giving me an anchor in the storm. It helped me look at life in a new way, to be more aware of the spiritual side, to get ready to go on a mission. A lot of kids come out of high school worried about their future. One of the best things to help them sort it all out is to get involved with Young Adults.”

The fellowshipping, it seemed, had gone well. When a heavier rain finally halted the dance, a large portion of the volunteers regrouped at a local seminary teacher’s home just to relax, and the group included both brand-new and seasoned Young Adults.

The evening began with guitar playing and song singing, shifted to story telling, then evolved into a discussion of the day’s activities. Then the mood became even more serious, and an impromptu testimony meeting began. Each person wanted a turn to express gratitude, not just for a fun day’s activities, but for the fellowship of the gospel. Each person in turn stood and bore testimony of Jesus Christ, of the fact that he lives, and of a desire to serve him and love him.

“They spoke of Christ as if they knew him, because they do,” the seminary teacher, Brother Kent Rappleye, said.

“What a wonderful way to end a day of service,” said Trudy Ivie, 17, of the 31st Ward. “I can see a lot of things I need to do to get closer to my Father in Heaven. And I believe activity in Young Adults will help me.

“I made a lot of friends today through the freedom and friendliness they shared. Doing a lot of things together helped—the seriousness with the fun, the work with the play, the service. Each one at the right time. Seeing people under different conditions, then sitting down and talking with them, made you feel like part of a great big family.”

There were many successes that day in Phoenix. Pioneer Arizona put on a new face for tourists. A couple of people initiated or renewed interest in the Church. But also important was the warmth of friendship felt by new graduates from high school and seminary as they continued the rough transition from adolescence to adulthood. They knew they had found a place where they belonged.

Cactus photo by Jed Clark

Photos by Richard M. Romney

Settlers built with adobe, common in semiarid climates, and imitated ancient Egyptians by adding straw to the mud to reduce shrinkage. Today, adding straw adds to the fun

Craftsmen in the Arizona Territory of 1860 used tools and techniques similar to, though less refined than, those in use today. Clean-up methods, however, remain much the same

In 1870, entertainment could have meant a ride on the High Wheeler or a sashay at a square dance. Today bicycles have smaller front tires, but an allemande left is still grand