Musings of a Purtymun wife

Albert and Clara Purtymun Photo: Sedona Historical Society

Albert and Clara Purtymun Photo: Sedona Historical Society

Clara Thompson was born in 1887, the third child of J.J. and Maggie Thompson. J.J. (or Jim) was the original homesteader in Oak Creek Canyon.

Albert Purtymun, born in 1881, was the son of Stephen and Mattie Purtymun, and the grandson of "Bear" Howard.

Both the Thompson Clan and the Purtymun Clan were pretty prolific, so is it any wonder that the two Thompson daughters married two of the Purtymun sons?

You married who was available. (As a little tidbit of trivia, another Purtymun brother, Jess, ran the best stills in Oak Creek Canyon-before, during and after Prohibition.

He was famous for them, and Bootlegger Campground was named for him.) Life was neither easy nor comfortable in the wilds of Northern Arizona at the turn of the twentieth century (1900). Fortunately, for those of us living generations later, Clara put down in her own words a record of her life and times.

Clara was born just under the hill where the King's Ransom Hotel is now, long before the Schneblys made their way to the area.

For the first few years of her life she and her family lived at the Indian Gardens homestead. J.J. had to travel away from home much of the time for various jobs so Maggie had the task of raising the children.

Since there was no school in the Canyon, when it was time for their education to begin, the family moved to Red Rock to attend the school on the Henry Schuerman place.

School went from March through August since winter travel was "iffy" at best. Clara was so little that the teacher arranged a place for her to take a nap every day.

Starting in the first grade the pupils learned arithmetic, reading, language, spelling, geography and copybooks (a form of penmanship).

Quite a load of learning for the youngsters!

Early marriage was the custom. When Clara was 16 she married Albert Purtymun who was 22.

Albert was a woodcutter who moved from job to job, but he also worked as a miner when he could find the work. Much of the time they lived in a tent.

At one point in their work-related traverses Albert told Clara he had a nice place for her to live in.

When she got there she saw a square hole dug in the ground, a fireplace on one end, and a tent over the top!

Their first child, Delia, was born in the spring of 1904. Clara had another child every two to three years until the ninth child, Zola, was born in 1925. All told, there were seven girls and two boys. All but one girl lived to adulthood.

Purtymun daughter No. 4 was Laura Purtymun (McBride) who recounted their amazing 1924 trek to California via New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon in her memoir TRAVELING BY TIN LIZZIE.

It took them six months one way. The Purtymuns were used to making do, doing without, and making the best of it.

Clara Purtymun was almost too good to believe. She put up with the constant moving, the uncertainty of work, a passel of kids to raise, and the hardships of a pioneer life.

She was tough. She had to be.

She died in 1982. Much of the credit for the settlement and civilizing of the West goes to women like Clara Thompson Purtymun.

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