President Taft visited Prescott in 1909, and became ‘one of us’

by Claudette Simpson


The evening arrived-Wednesday, October 13, 1909-when President Taft’s train was scheduled to stop in Prescott.

Seven thousand people and one thousand children lined the gaily-decorated Cortez Street. A crowd gathered around the Santa Fe depot anxious to catch the first glimpse of the Chief Executive. At 5:38 p.m. a shout went up, "Here he comes."

But it was a false alarm. The pilot engine, running ten minutes ahead of the presidential train, came dashing into the yards under a full head of steam. Eleven minutes later the President’s private train rolled into the depot, drawn by two engines of shining brass and steel.

The account from the Journal-Miner: "His approach was heralded by the blowing of whistles in the various manufacturing plants in the city. At a given signal, as the presidential train was nearing this town, all of the whistles were blowing for several minutes; there was a din such as never before had been heard in this city.

However, pursuant to the request of the general arrangements committee, everything became silent before the presidential train had reached the depot.

Thousands cheered as the president stepped from the private car, Mayflower, in which he is traveling, and a few minutes later the famous Taft smile became most pronounced as the chief executive acknowledged the salute tendered by the lads and lassies of the public and parochial schools of this city. The recognition shown them by the president pleased the children immensely and they were not slow in showing their appreciation.

There was tremendous cheering while the band up the street vigorously played "Hail to the Chief."

Bowing a cheery good evening to the welcoming throng, as he alighted from his car, he was greeted by Mayor Goldwater, Chairman Robt. E. Morrison and Chas T. Joslin, chairman of the committee of arrangements and escorted with Postmaster General Hitchcock, Governor Sloan and Captain A. W. Butts to No. 1 automobile which had C. D. Harvey at the wheel.

All of the other members of the presidential party and Governor Sloan’s party were expeditiously placed in the cars that had been assigned to them, a clear passage way having been provided by stretching ropes at the south end of the building.

When all of the visitors had been seated in the conveyances, the procession formed with the Prescott band in the lead and Sheriff Smith and his mounted escort immediately preceding the president’s automobile.

To the right of the procession proudly marched the veterans of the Grand Army, headed by A. J. Judd, acting post commander. It was an inspiring and touching sight, these grizzled and hobbling heroes of the Civil War, when contrasted with the regulars of the Fifteenth infantry in full dress uniform, who kept martial step with them on the opposite side of the moving column of automobiles and carriages.

All along the route, which was canopied by flags and flanked by a continuous line of national colors on either side, a repeated succession of welcoming cheers and waiving of flags greeted the president and his party.

At the speaker’s stand, Company E of the National Guard of Arizona, with Captain Coykendall in charge, were stationed, and as the president’s carriage rolled up they presented arms while the air was rent with the shrill shouts of 600 happy children from the public schools and St. Joseph’s Academy. It was an inspiring spectacle-this crowd of joyous children massed in front of the stand with their teachers, and the president was visibly impressed by the scene.

To the rear and both sides of the coming generation, was a dense throng of humanity which extended far into the plaza and almost to the courthouse on the eaves of which structure flaunted a banner with the inscription, "We Want Statehood".

It was a distinguished gathering that faced the seven thousand persons congregated in front of the stand, on both sides and also on the balcony of Mayor Goldwater’s store; for with the presidential party were representative citizens from nearly every section of the territory.

The amenities over, Chairman of Entertainment Robert E. Morrison presented a glass of Hassayampa water to the president, explaining the legend.

"When he handed the glass of Hassayampa water to the president, the latter smiled graciously and drank the famous fluid, while the great crowd roared a vociferous approval. That act alone made Taft one of us," the newspaper reported.

Mayor Goldwater then gave a welcome address, which was studded with enthusiastic applause and references to the great men, women and children living in the territory.

He ended his speech with: "Some of them were born here, some of them are from the older states in the union-many of us are from foreign lands-but, sir, in morality, in honesty, in uprightness, in intelligence, in everything except numbers they are the peers of any audience which you have had or which you will meet in your journey throughout our country”. (Applause).

"Mr. President, it is with greatest pleasure that I present to you the people of Prescott and of Yavapai County."

President Taft, when he arose, was received with great and tremendous cheers and applause, which continued for several minutes.

The President made some light remarks which drew laughter and then he said:

"I am delighted to meet you (from the crowd, ‘thank you’). I am willing to admit, as I suppose you are, the truth of the statement of the chairman that I have not addressed anywhere, an audience of which this is not a peer”. (Great applause).

"I see that you admit it, and that you have not drank of that famed water either. (Applause). I got some of the water on the way up, but I believe it was from below the crossing. I have it in a canteen and I expect to try it on some of the company.

"I am glad to see you because I am glad to know that the population of Arizona, which I believe will…in the near future become a state, is (great applause) sufficient to deserve it. I observe even out of the mouths of babes and sucklings we hear the desire for statehood.”

"I congratulate you upon having such an energetic and pretty city. I have no doubt that here, as elsewhere in Arizona, as elsewhere in the new states which I have had the honor to visit, there is a determination on the part of each citizen in Prescott to make her population double in the next few years, to increase the wealth, prosperity, and to make it known as a large place on the map."

Then the president charged the people with a heavy responsibility in attaining statehood. They would have to select state officers who could form a constitution. The constitution ought to be simple; it ought to be general; it ought to be comprehensive.

"Don’t make your constitution read like a statute," he said. "Be statesmen and make it read like a fundamental law. Study the constitution of the United States and see what the greatest instrument of fundamental law was, and how simple. How it has been elastic and yielded to the demands of our increasing country, and yet it is today the wonder of the world.” (Applause).

He scolded the people: "The trouble is that you are so anxious for statehood, so determined to have it, that, no matter what the constitution is, if it is presented to you, you will vote for statehood and vote for the constitution. Therefore, it behooves you to see to it that the men who frame your constitution are charged with the responsibility of making a good constitution."

The president’s speech lasted for about 15 minutes. Immediately afterwards, the party re-entered the automobiles and traveled to the hall of Aztlan Lodge No. 1 F & A.M., where the President was presented with a Masonic emblem transformed out of a Yavapai County gold nugget. He was then treated to an informal reception at the Yavapai Club, where he greeted representative citizens of the city.

Sometime during the president’s short visit, Robert Morrison spoke to him about Prescott’s Mrs. Mary B. (Ray) Cullumber, the lady that had been a drawing teacher of the president’s about 40 years before.

From the newspaper: "Mr. Morrison told the president of the severe illness of Mrs. Cullumber and that she was a patient at Mercy Hospital and the President expressed great sympathy for her failing health, and requested Mr. Morrison to convey to her his very best wishes for her speedy recovery.

He said it would have given him great pleasure to see her had it been possible under the conditions. Mr. Morrison states that the president showed great interest in his former teacher and if it had not been for the lateness of the hours he would have made a visit to the hospital to see her.

Ninety minutes after the President stepped off the train, he was back and it was pulling away from the station. The President would dine on the way to Ash Fork where he would spend the night.

Prescott was pleased with the President and pleased with itself.

It had risen to the occasion.


(Claudette Simpson, a feature writer with the Courier in the 1970s and 1980s, is currently a Prescott Public Library employee.)



















On February 14, 1912, the man who would become Arizona’s first Governor, George P. Hunt, walked from his hotel in Washington D.C. to the Capitol building to watch President Taft sign Arizona into statehood. He had refused to ride in a carriage, perhaps because he wanted to show that Arizonans were a breed of tough, independent people who took care of themselves and thrived under any conditions.

That historic day in February sparked celebrations with dancing, fireworks, and gunpowder throughout the Arizona Territory. Arizona had just become the last state in the continental U.S., and the status was hard won.


                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012