Sharlot Hall deplored the fact that people were looting Arizona’s prehistoric ruins for souvenirs and decided to do something about it. She began collecting herself. Then the first governor’s mansion, actually a log house built when Arizona was still a territory, was about to be demolished. Sharlot saved it, moved her collection in, and founded a museum. The year was 1927. Arizona had only been a state for 15 years, and Prescott had been the capital twice. Her museum has grown into a 5 Compass attraction.
Ruth & I toured The Sharlot Hall Museum early in 2015. The staff was very proud of 2 new exhibits, one permanent and one temporary. Beasts! was about the animals that lived in Arizona before people did, and it will be around for a long time. Because I saw it, I know that American lions were common 340,000 years ago. The temporary exhibit, which I didn’t see, was about sheriffs and is apparently gone. I’m sure it was excellent because the Sharlot Hall Museum does everything well. Everything I saw in 2 packed hours was comprehensive, professional, and worthwhile.
What made it all so worthwhile for me was the personal stories that were woven into exhibits, making them come alive. Here’s an example. The world’s first Cowboy Tournament was held in Prescott in 1888. The word rodeo wasn’t actually used for these events until 1924. The first contestants were working cowboys like Juan Leivas, a 20-year-old Mexican-American. The trophy he was awarded is on display. Someone, probably Sharlot, found it during a World War I scrap metal drive. Juan won steer tying and tied in bronco riding for which he received a saddle worth $125. Three years later a horse fell on him and he died.
Sharlot’s simple museum has expanded into 2 major exhibition venues, the John & Helen Lawler Exhibit Center and the Sharlot Hall Building, 6 historic buildings like Fort Misery, a Territorial Rose Garden, and very much more. The gift shop is in the Victorian Bashford House. The house that Sharlot saved, the humble governor’s mansion built in 1864 during the Civil War, is now the oldest building from Arizona’s territorial period still standing on its original spot. Abraham Lincoln appointed the first Territorial Governor. Territorial times lasted for 49 years.
If you get a chance to visit the Sharlot Hall Museum, prepare to be overwhelmed like the man in the picture above.