By Al Bates 

Last week’s Days Past told the tangled story of Charles Leib, earlier an eastern politician and later an Army contract surgeon in early Arizona Territory.  This week we turn our attention to his widow and her future with a new husband.

One published version of this story has Judge Hezekiah Brooks as the star boarder at widow Mary Catherine Leib’s home; another version has them as neighbors.  Most likely they were neighbors and the bachelor judge paid to have home-cooked meals at her home.  Regardless, they became more than friends and married in 1867, two years after Dr. Leib’s death.

Hezekiah Brooks had arrived in the Prescott area in the latter months of 1863 with the George Lount party from San Francisco with the express intent of entering into the mining business.  He invested in several mining properties but also quickly became involved in local politics, most prominently as the first Probate judge for Judicial District Three (later Yavapai County).  For a time he also held the appointed post as one of three Yavapai County commissioners.

He was prominent in the birth of Prescott, serving on the three-man commission that oversaw the lot sales for the town site laid out by Robert Groom.  Later he was involved in local mining and commercial businesses, including ranching.  Like many another pioneer merchant, he was a partner with famed freighter Charles T. Hayden, who helped establish mercantile businesses throughout early southern and central Arizona.  Active in civic affairs, Brooks was a charter member and past Master of Arizona’s first Masonic lodge.

In addition to her roles as wife and adoptive mother of an orphan Indian child, Mrs. Mary Catherine Brooks in the years to come was an active member of the early Methodist Church in Prescott.  But even before that, in the absence of any church or school, Mary Catherine started classes for the children in her cabin, teaching them to read and write.

Mary Catherine, together with Chief Justice and Mrs. William Turner established a Sunday school in 1866 where Mary Catherine was a teacher.  Mrs. Turner later spoke of her arrival to Prescott in 1865 saying, “a few days after our coming, a gentle little lady called, giving me a warm, loving grasp of hand and a cordial welcome to the almost unknown land…”  Mrs. Turner went on to say, “The next year when we decided to have a Christmas tree, she begged the privilege of selecting and sending it to the old Council Chamber (where the Sunday school was held).  The tree was the first one ever celebrated in Arizona.  Not only did she provide the tree, but brought some beautiful mistletoe boughs with which to decorate the brown walls.”

When Mary Catherine died unexpectedly of pneumonia in 1881, her funeral oration included these words: “It has been said that Mrs. Brooks performed more charitable deeds than any other person in Prescott, and yet she carefully avoided ostentation.  Basket after Basket she packed and distributed under cover of the shadow of evening, none but the recipients of her kindness being aware of her acts of love.”  She was buried in the Masonic Cemetery and her pallbearers included Judge Fleury, Bucky O’Neil and Edmund Wells.

The “gentle little lady” left a large footprint and was remembered almost a century later with “Mary Catherine Brooks Day” in 1970, sponsored by the Prescott Methodist church while celebrating their centennial; and her basket was chosen as the symbol of the celebration.

Judge Brooks survived Mary Catherine by a quarter century but was in declining health when he left Arizona to visit relatives in Cleveland, Ohio, where he died in 1907.  Before he left Prescott he arranged in a kind gesture to have Dr. Leib’s remains moved to the Masonic graveyard for him to be near his widow.  Unfortunately Judge Brooks left behind other important business that quickly became an issue.

You may think that the Brooks family’s story is over, but there is more.  The story continues with a look back to a chance holiday encounter, the adoption of an orphan Indian toddler, and a final chapter that ends with an unfortunate ending to charitable intentions gone askew.

Next week in Days Past: The Story of Bessie Brooks, An Interracial Adoption 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 ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.