State Historian answers unknown questions about Arizona history

Marshall Trimble, Arizona State Historian. Photo Courtesy of Marshall Trimble
Marshall Trimble, Arizona State Historian. Photo Courtesy of Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is a man of many passions. From his 40 year teaching career at Scottsdale Community College, to his stage and dinner theater musical performances, and writing his own history books, the 76-year-old Arizona native has one common thread to connect it all: his passion for history.

Trimble was raised in Ash Fork, Ariz., a small railroad town, until he moved to the Phoenix area during his senior year of high school. Trimble attended West Phoenix High School and following graduation, played baseball for the semi-pro team, The Glendale Greys, and attended Phoenix College. In 1957, Trimble left college to enlist with the Marines and served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Upon Trimble’s return, he completed his degree at Phoenix College. 

Spending the majority of his professional career teaching history by ways of song and theatrics, Trimble’s passion and approach to the subject has led him to be appointed State Historian in 1997 by Gov. Fife Symington. Each governor has continued to reappoint him.

Now with nearly 20 years’ experience as the State Historian, the Arizona Sonora News Service asked Trimble some of the unknown questions behind Arizona’s history.

ASN: What is your favorite time period in Arizona history? 

Trimble: My favorite time was the frontier period from the 1860s to the 1890s. The gold and silver strikes along with the establishment of the ranching and agriculture enterprises provided a colorful chapter in Arizona history. The politics of the time was pretty colorful too.

ASN: What is the biggest myth of Arizona history? 

The Lost Dutchman's Mine is rumored to be hidden within the Superstition Mountains.
The Lost Dutchman’s Mine is rumored to be hidden within the Superstition Mountains.

Trimble: The Lost Dutchman’s Mine would be one which is said to be a hidden mine full of gold somewhere in the Superstition Mountains.  Another is the perception that Arizona is or was a bleak desert. The state has 26 mountains with elevations of over 10,000 feet and the largest ponderosa pine forest in the nation. Lastly, is the myth that the wind is hot as dragon’s breath and cowboys heat their branding irons by aiming them at the sun.

ASN: What are some of the biggest things Arizona has had to overcome in its history? 

Trimble: Harnessing the rivers with dams. That opened Arizona up to settlement or the advent of affordable air conditioning. The heat; but it’s a dry heat. The dry climate; but it always rains after a dry spell. Lastly, it’s popular image in the east as a lawless, untamed, and rough and tumble land of desperadoes, Indian wars and feuds like the Cochise County War and the Pleasant Valley War. It is so much more than this.

ASN: What part of Arizona history is most often forgotten?

Trimble: The important events of the 1850s such as the surveys by the storied Army Corps of Topographical Engineers that mapped future transcontinental railroads and highways along the 32nd and 35th Parallels. Within these surveys steamboats were literally plowing up the Colorado River and camels along the 35th parallel. This important work was overshadowed by the Civil War less than a decade later.

ASN: Has Arizona ever started something that swept the nation? If so, what is it?

Trimble: Politics. Barry Goldwater, former Arizona senator, changed the Republican Party from liberal to conservative, something that led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

ASN: What is the most interesting artifact in Arizona history?

Trimble: I would say the magnificent cliff dwellings in northern Arizona, constructed by the Ancestral Pueblo also known as the Anasazi and Sinagua people. These are places such as Montezuma Castle, Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Navajo National Monument and Canyon de Chelly.

ASN: What is the best historical site to visit from Arizona history? 

Trimble: Fort Bowie in Cochise County. Also Pipe Springs Monument in Mohave County.

ASN: What was one of the biggest secrets in Arizona history?

Trimble: The location of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.

Click here for high resolution photos. 


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