By Barbara Patton

This is the first installment of a two-part article on Martha Dunham, who married Army Lt. Jack Summerhayes in 1874.  Part Two will appear next Sunday.

Jack’s career brought them to Arizona Territory shortly after they married.  Some of Martha’s travels and experiences must have been frustrating, frightening and dangerous at the time, but in 1908, with memories softened by the years, Martha compiled her reminiscences into a delightful book:  Vanished Arizona — Recollections of the Army Life of a New England Woman.  These articles are based on her book.

She grew up on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  She was intelligent and educated but ill-prepared for life without domestic help, and she was certainly not prepared to do without basic necessities.  She was about to become familiar with the term:  “glänzendes Elend.”

Around 1870 Martha was studying in Germany and staying with a Prussian general and his family.  Given her Quaker/Puritan upbringing, she was pleasantly shocked with the pomp of military life and the many parties and social events for the officers and their families.  She was quite taken with the color and pageantry of the German Army, but when she told the Frau General of her fascination, she was advised that:  “. . .  life in the Army is not always so brilliant as it looks; in fact we often call it, over here, ‘glänzendes Elend,’” (glittering misery).

Evidently, Martha wasn’t too concerned about the prospect of “glittering misery” because soon after she returned to Nantucket she “joined the Army” as Mrs. Jack Summerhayes.  Jack was assigned to join his regiment at Fort Russell, Wyoming Territory, and Martha, who had never been west of New York, gamely accompanied him.   Her first real introduction to Army life was when they were assigned to quarters at Fort Russell.  A Second Lieutenant was authorized a two room dwelling; no provision was made for a junior officer’s wife, a “camp follower” in Army parlance.  When she saw relatively lavish quarters of a Colonel, Martha’s charming but futile reaction was that the wife of a Lieutenant certainly needed as much space as the wife of a Colonel.

The assignment at Fort Russell lasted only a couple months; in June 1874, Jack was reassigned to Fort Apache in Arizona Territory.  The journey to Fort Apache would entail a trip on the Union Pacific railroad to San Francisco, down the Pacific Coast, around the tip of Baja California and up the Gulf of California to the mouth of the Colorado River.  A river boat would take them up to Fort Mojave and from there they would travel overland to Fort Whipple and east over the Mogollon Rim to Fort Apache.

San Francisco was a pleasant treat on the journey, and sailing down the coast was not bad.  But the August heat on the Gulf of California is so oppressive they tried to sleep on deck, even though rats scurried over their makeshift beds.  Food was a problem.  Butter turned to oil; when the ice supply diminished meat became rancid.  The smells below deck were horrific, another reason to stay on deck.

At the mouth of the Colorado, they transferred to the steamer “Gila.”   After a short stop at Fort Yuma where they cooled off on latticed piazzas and enjoyed fresh fruit and milk, their real journey up the Colorado began.  The heat was unrelenting; Martha roamed the boat, trying to find a little shade.  There was nothing she regarded as scenery:  desert on the left, desert on the right.  As they approached Ehrenberg, Martha brightened up, thinking she might see a grand city like Ehrenberg, Germany.  Sadly there were only low thatched hovels clinging to the river bank.

Finally, after 18 days on the river (a quick trip according to the Captain), they arrived at Fort Mojave.  And now they faced the Mojave Desert.  Martha rode in a Dougherty wagon, or “ambulance,” a large wagon with two seats facing each other.  The conveyance could be enclosed with canvas sides as needed.  Martha traveled in an ambulance on many of her Arizona journeys.

The first night on the trail initiated Martha to “camp life,” for which she was completely unprepared.  As she waited for her tent to be set up, Jack asked her to help Bowen, their “striker” (soldier aide), prepare dinner. Jack asked, “Don’t you think it would be nice if you could show him how to make some of those good New England doughnuts?”  When she weakly pointed out that there were no eggs, he heartily responded “you don’t need eggs; you’re on the frontier now; you must learn to do without eggs.”  This exchange captures the dynamic of their early years together:  the young woman often out of her element trying to be a good wife, and her well-intentioned, exuberant but sometimes clueless Lieutenant.  (By the way, there were no doughnuts that evening.)

Next week in Part Two we’ll continue the story of their travels in Arizona Territory.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.