Tue, Jan. 19

VERDE HERITAGE 1971: SEDONA; Soldier Wash Revisited

"Soldier Wash in Sedona is a tributary of Oak Creek. It runs through Soldier Basin north of Coffee Pot Rock, crosses under Highway 89A at the foot of Cook Hill, and enters Oak Creek just below the bridge on Highway 179."

"According to old-timer Albert E. Thompson, the wash got its name from the fact that in the early 1880's soldiers from Camp Verde had a summer camp at the place where Fairway's market and other shops are now located. The soldiers called the place Camp Garden, and this is thought to have been the first name for what is now Sedona. There were only a few settlers in the area at the time, and they in turn named the wash for the soldiers."

"Soldier Basin and Soldier Wash have been much in the news recently because a land development company would like to acquire 400 acres by land exchange with the Coconino National Forest in order to build an 18-hole golf course, a hotel, and develop an unspecified number of residential lots in the Basin."

"There are those who claim that development of the already fragile basin area would be an ecological disaster, that it would result in further erosion there and disastrous flooding farther downstream. Larry Russell, TV and motion picture writer and producer, who has recently brought his pianist wife, June de Toth, and their year-old daughter, Molra, back to Sedona to live, is inclined to agree with them."

""Larry grew up alongside Soldier Wash not far from what is now Brewer Road, and although the wash is normally dry, he says he remembers flash floods during which the water would have been over a man's head."

"'I'm no expert,' he says, 'but from what I've read, tampering with an area like the basin would have to make matters worse.'"

"The other day we went to have a look at Larry's boyhood home, which still stands under tall trees beside the wash. Except for the indestructible red rocks, Sedona today bears little resemblance to the place he remembers."

"Although Larry himself has been away from Sedona most of his adult life, other members of his family have had long associations with the area."

"Oscar Russell, his father, who died 15 years ago, was for many years with the Arizona Highway Department and worked on many of the improvements made in the early 1930's to the then incomplete and primitive road through Oak Creek Canyon."

"Larry's mother, Nellie, who will be 82 on February 2, 1972, has lived in the canyon and the red rock country for 43 years, with the exception of 2 years in the early 1940's spent in California so that Larry, the youngest of 4 brothers, could finish high school."

"'Only the first 2 years of high school were available here then,' Larry explains."

"The Russels came to Oak Creek Canyon in 1928 from Petersburg, Texas. They lived for 2 years near Mayhew's Oak Creek Lodge. Then, in 1930 they 'acquired' property alongside Soldier Wash on a lease from the Forest Service for, would you believe, $5 a year."

"More things than population figures have changed in the intervening 41 years. From where we stood the other day, Larry pointed to the highway that was visible above us to the north. 'There wasn't any highway when we first came here,' he said."

"Larry, who is much younger than his 3 brothers, was just a little tyke at the time, but his brothers were old enough to help their father raise a roof on their leasehold beside the wash. The brothers have gone on to quite a variety of careers. Burrell Russell has been superintendent of the State Fish Hatchery at Page Springs, in the Verde Valley, for 30 years. Howard Russell drives a Continental Trailways bus on the Black Canyon Highway between Flagstaff and Phoenix. Benny Harold "Dick" Russell is an Assembly of God minister in Glendale."

"Larry has vivid recollections of his Soldier Wash days. His father, he says, earned $8 a day with the highway department. There was only 1 commercial building in Sedona, Hart's General Store, at the Soldier Wash bridge on the present Brewer Road. Long since gone, the store was owned by L. E. "Dad" Hart, who sold fuel, feed, gasoline, and groceries. The store was the center of community life, Larry recalls."

"The Russell family only went 'to town,' Flagstaff that is, every 6 weeks or so to buy such staples as sugar and flour. Otherwise they were completely self-sustaining."

"They raised their own beef, which they had slaughtered, and their own pork, which they smoked themselves. They had milk cows, rabbits, and chickens. Larry still remembers wryly how he was always losing his 'pets' to the family larder. He didn't like that and, unlike most farm children, never got used to it."

"He was allowed to keep a goat, however, and when we visited the barn-red wooden house in which he grew up, he quickly located the path behind it over which he used to take his 'nanny' for strolls down Soldier Wash when it wasn't in flood."

"Life was far from easy in early Sedona, even as recently as the 1930's. Where the present tenants of the former Russell home have built a volleyball court, the outhouse used to stand."

"'I made many a cold trip out here,' Larry said."

"Mrs. Russell saved the lard from the pigs and made her own soap. The family hauled water. The laundry was done outdoors in a 5-gallon can, and it was Larry's job to keep the fire under it going. There was, of course, no refrigeration, not even an icebox in the kitchen."

"Cooling of food was accomplished by means of a crude contraption propped up outside a kitchen window and opening into the room. Wet burlap over it lowered the temperature inside the container by evaporation."

"Quite a contrast to the proposed deluxe hotel and 18-hole golf course farther upstream!"

(The Verde Independent; Thursday, December 9, 1971; by Elizabeth Rigby, Sedona Editor; page 1.)

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