How did Pennington Street in Downtown Tucson get its name?
- (a) Could Pennington Street be named for some 19th century politician and merchant like Estevan Ochoa, who established a successful business supplying Indian reservations and U.S. Army forts northeast of Tucson? He served as mayor (1875-76) and has a downtown street named in his honor.
- Or (b) could Pennington Street be named for a prominent Tucson citizen, such as John F. Stone, superintendent of the Apache Mining Company for whom Stone Avenue is named, or Lt. Howard Cushing for whom Cushing Street is named. Both were killed by Apaches.
Or (c) None of the above.
Answer: (c). Pennington Street was named for a young woman and her pioneer family. Doesn’t sound all that interesting, does it? However, you may reconsider after you've read the rest of the story.
If we think of them at all, we tend to think fondly of our Arizona Territory pioneers. In the shallow backwaters of our imagination, we apply common descriptive terms to their exploits as they settled the West. They were rugged, determined, courageous. But what does that mean in reality?
Most of what we know about their ruggedness, determination, and courage comes from Hollywood movies. We are so often exposed only to general, sanitized, sensationalized, or romanticized versions of pioneering. Think of the 1940 Western, Arizona, starring Jean Arthur and William Holden. Old Tucson was created to make this popular movie and the set played the part of the real Tucson ca. 1860.
What do we actually know about the day-to-day lives of the first ranchers, miners, and merchants to arrive in Southern Arizona? So much of our history is the history of the men. But some of these pioneer men came with a wife and young children. What was it like for the womenfolk?
Arizona's Earliest Pioneer Women
If we try, we can imagine the daily hardship endured by our first pioneer women. They had nothing that today we would consider the essentials of life: no corner grocery store; no hospital; not even a Starbucks.
Sometimes we moderns like to romance “The Good Ol’ Days”. We think of them as a simpler time. And they were. Back in the Territorial Days, pioneers didn’t have to deal with all the complex technology that has so engulfed our fast-paced lives and resulted in so much angst, depression, and stress.
They had no traffic congestion. Hell, they didn’t even have automobiles. Often they didn’t even have roads. No radio, no TV, no computer connected to the Internet with terabytes of data coming at them in a constant stream from every direction. Compared to us moderns, our Territorial pioneers lived in slow motion; hopelessly ignorant; pathetically primitive.
In the “Good Ol’ Days, our earliest Arizona Territory pioneers had one simple question before them as they awoke every morning:
"How do I keep myself and my family alive one more day."
That's about as simple as life gets.
When they weren’t on the move in search of better prospects for themselves and their children, our pioneer women had to build, then live in bug-infested adobe mud hovels with a dirt floor and a porous roof. No electricity; no indoor plumbing; no dentist; no doctor; no school, no social security for their elderly parents; no Medicaid or Food Stamps for the poorest families; and precious little protection from the great predators of their day: mountain lions, wolves, and bears.
Most pioneer women lived life in near isolation. There were few if any other women for companionship. Yet, often there were too many ignorant, crude, uneducated, and aggressive young men who came to the Territory to seek their fortune, many by any means necessary.
Every Pioneer's Worst Nightmare
This is the story of one pioneer woman who not only dealt with the incredible hardships, disappointments, and grief of daily pioneer life. On a day in March 1860, she came face to face with every pioneer’s worst nightmare. This was the day that Larcena Pennington and Mercedes, her young student, were kidnapped by the Territory’s alpha-predators, the Apaches.
(Primary Source: Robert H. Forbes, author of The Penningtons: Pioneers of Early Arizona... - Primary Source Edition Quotes in italics are from Mr. Forbes’ book.)
Born in Tennessee, Larcena had seven sisters and four brothers. Soon after her mother died, her father, Elias Pennington, moved the family to Texas in 1857. Larcena was 19.
Crossing Texas was just a way to get to California where they hoped they would find prosperity. They had 3 wagons, some pulled by oxen, others by mules, containing their worldly possessions, plus a small herd of cattle.
To get to California from Texas, they had to cross New Mexico. In order to cross New Mexico, they first had to cross the raging Pecos River. Many of their cows drowned. They lost the family Bible and most of the children’s schoolbooks.
Arriving In Southern Arizona
In the months that it had taken to travel more than 1500 miles over incredibly harsh Southwestern topography, eight Penningtons, including the father, arrived in Southern Arizona, but had to stop at Fort Buchanan 3 miles southwest of present-day Sonoita. They and their cattle were exhausted. At least what was left of their cattle. The Apaches had stolen so many cows along the way, they barely had enough to call it a herd. Worse, Larcena was down with malaria.
Malaria is incredibly debilitating, and often fatal. When the parasites enter the blood stream, usually from a mosquito bite, they destroy red blood cells by the billions. This leads to extremely high fever, massive headaches, severe joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Victims become listless, unable to function. Coma and death is commonplace.
Even now, more than 150 years since Larcena contracted malaria, more than one million deaths and 300 - 500 million cases worldwide are reported annually. Back in Larcena’s day, no one knew what caused malaria or how to treat it. If you lived, you were among the lucky few. Larcena was lucky. She survived.
Fort Buchanan To Tucson
For a while, the Pennington men contracted with the soldiers to supply the fort with vegetables and hay. The Pennington women sewed and mended uniforms. But at least they and their “herd” were now protected by the U.S. Army, such as it was.
When their contract was completed, the Pennington family continued west to the Santa Cruz River near Tucson. While at Fort Buchanan, Larcena had met and fallen in love with a lumberjack named John Page.
They were the first couple of American citizenship to be married in Tucson; then a dusty, stinky little town in the middle of nowhere comprised of a few hundred souls, mostly Mexicans and Papago Indians.
Freight-hauling and logging were among the most important enterprises of that period. Larcena's siblings and her new husband were involved in both. And everything and everyone ALWAYS had to be protected from the Apaches. Only in the most desperate of circumstances would well-armed pioneer men venture out to hunt for game. The region was rich in wildlife: deer, antelope, bear, wild turkeys. There were even beaver in the San Pedro and Santa Cruz Rivers. But experience told them that they themselves would quickly become the hunted. A couple of lone hunters, be they Anglo or Mexican, were no match for the Apaches.
Not long after they were married, the happy couple was working at the Canoa Ranch just south of present-day Green Valley. Their employer had a sawmill in Madera Canyon, where John cut down pine trees that were milled in the canyon, then shipped by wagon to Tucson.
Larcena became a teacher for her employer’s ward, an 11-year-old Mexican girl named Mercedes. When Larcena became quite ill, probably a malaria recurrence, John planned to move them out of the desert and into a cabin in the Madera Canyon forest near the lumber mill at the “Big Rock”. Today this is the site of the Madera Kubo Gift Shop. The hope was that the much higher altitude would help Larcena recover.
On March 15, 1860, John picked up his wife, her student, and her student’s dog from the ranch in a wagon and headed up the canyon. Two miles below their destination at the “Big Rock” they stopped for the night and made camp among a pleasant grove of mesquite and oak trees beside Madera Creek. Five Pinal (aka Tonto) Apache warriors were watching from the surrounding hills.
The next morning, John headed up the canyon to check on a load of lumber at the mill, leaving Larcena and Mercedes alone. Larcena was sitting on a rocking chair in her tent when she heard Mercedes’ dog bark. Then she heard Mercedes scream.
Larcena grabbed her husband's revolver, but the Apaches disarmed her before she could fire a shot … a shot that no doubt, would have brought John running back to camp.
The Apache were armed with bows, arrows and lances, but no firearms. Four were young men, but the fifth was older and spoke a little Spanish. The older warrior told Mercedes that they had already killed John and that they would kill her and Larcena if they resisted. When Mercedes told Larcena that her husband was dead, she became hysterical and began to scream. One of the young warriors held a lance against Larcena’s chest and threatened to kill her if she didn’t shut up.
The Apaches stole whatever they could carry, including food and a feather bed. With their captives, the Indians headed northeast on foot. With Mercedes as interpreter, the older Apache told Larcena that this land belonged to the Apaches until the white man came.
(Don't let this attempt to engender sympathy for the Apache's plight mislead you. The Apaches had no friends among the many other Native American Indian groups, including our local Tohono O'odham. All the other tribes hated the Apaches as much as the early American and Mexican pioneers.
The Apaches were professional raiders, which is a polite way of saying they were highly competent thieves and murderers. They were also involved in the lucrative slave trade. As the very weak Larcena was being pushed and pulled up and down the rocky terrain, the older Apache, using Mercedes as interpreter, pointed to one of the younger men and told Larcena that he would be her new owner.
If you were an early pioneer in the American Southwest, you probably would have done what most did ... demand that the U.S. Army exterminate the Apaches.)
As they walked, Larcena and Mercedes tore off pieces of their clothes and bent twigs, and dragged their feet, so that their trail was easy to follow. At one point, one of the Apaches melted snow in his hands so that the captives could drink.
(Do not mistake this as a gesture of kindness. Their Apache captors knew the women needed to be hydrated in order to keep up.)
Presumably, the Apaches lied about having killed John to further terrify their female captives and give them a sense of utter hopelessness so that they would be easier to handle.
Fairly soon, John returned to camp to find his wife and her student missing. He quickly understood Apaches were responsible. He gathered a few men from the mill and they began to follow the trail.
By sunset, the 5 Apaches and their 2 female captives had walked about 15 miles along the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains east of present-day Green Valley and were slightly east of what is now the ghost town of Helvetia. One of the Indians who was serving as rear guard ran up to the older, Spanish-speaking Apache and told him white men were approaching from behind.
They started walking much faster, but Larcena could not keep up. Having walked all day and still weak from her illness, she could no longer hike up and down the steep rugged slopes. Eleven-year-old Mercedes was strong, but now Larcena was unnecessary baggage, and thus a threat to the Indians.
Arriving at the top of steep ridge, the Apaches made Larcena take off her corset and her skirt. As she turned to continue walking, one of the Apaches plunged his lance deep into her back. She fell over the side of the ridge, about seventeen feet. The Apaches followed her down the ridge, stabbing her repeatedly with their lances and throwing heavy rocks at her.
One of the rocks hit Larcena in the face rendering her unconscious. They dragged her body into a snow bank behind a tree, so as to not be visible from the trail, and then took her boots. Bleeding profusely from 16 vicious stab wounds and unconscious, the Apaches left her for dead.
Larcena gained consciousness a short time later and could hear her husband's voice coming from the trail. She tried to call to him, but was too weak to speak loud enough.
The pain from the deep stab wounds was excruciating. She fainted over and over, only to awaken each time to the same wretched misery. But at least she now knew John was alive and searching for her. It gave her hope; a reason to live, no matter what.
Because one of the Apaches was now wearing Larcena's boots, John believed that his wife was still walking with her captors. He, and the other men from the mill, passed very near the ravine where Larcena lay more dead than alive. They followed the Apaches' trail for days all the way through the Rincon Mountains just east of Tucson and beyond the Santa Catalina Mountains that today mark the northern boundary of Metropolitan Tucson.
After a week of trying to follow the Apaches, John went to Tucson and recruited a posse. The search for Larcena and Mercedes continued.
After John had passed by Larcena, she fell unconscious again and remained in the snow bank for about three days before waking up in the middle of the night. She ate some snow and did what she could to deal with her grievous wounds.
Then Larcena went further down the ridge and fell asleep until sunrise. The next morning, she began looking around to figure out where she was. Knowing that Madera Canyon was to the south, she looked in that direction and could see a "small sharp-pointed hill," almost assuredly Huerfano (orphan) Butte, about three miles west of what later became the mining town of Helvetia around 1891.
She remembered that she had seen the little hill as she and her captors headed northeast. She now had a way-point for orientation. Now she could find her way back to the camp in Madera Canyon ... if she survived long enough.
Extremely weak from her disease, hypothermia, and loss of blood; shoeless, and nearly naked; Larcena could barely stand. For the next several days she crawled the fifteen miles back to camp, surviving on "seeds, herbage and wild onions, with snow water to drink." According to Forbes; "Night by night (unable to lie on her back because of her wounds) she crouched upon her knees and arms on the ground and dreamed of food; but when in her sleep she reached out for the pot of beans before her, she awoke to find her hands clutching only gravel."
She survived on wild onions, seeds, and grass. At one point Larcena spotted a rabbit grazing on grass that she desperately needed. In anger, she threw a rock and, almost miraculously, killed the rabbit. She ate it on the spot … raw.
Once, Larcena came across a bear's den. She was exhausted and desperate to sleep there a while. Fortunately, she was sufficiently lucid to know that she didn’t dare.
To avoid freezing during the cold nights, she would dig a hole in the dirt or sand with her hands. Then she would lay down in the depression and cover herself with the dirt or sand that she had scooped out.
Perhaps, we should add "resourceful" to our list of descriptive adjectives of Arizona Territory's earliest pioneers.
Ten days after she was captured, and after many days crawling on her hands and knees, she made it to the top of a ridge. Looking down, she saw the road that leads to her camp and the sawmill in Madera Canyon.
Soon she heard the sound of voices and wagon wheels. She attached what remained of her badly torn petticoat to a stick to signal for help. She screamed. But the people in the wagon neither saw nor heard her.
It would be another two days of crawling and stumbling and staggering before she reached a recently vacated camp. The campfire was smoldering. Some coffee and flour was scattered on the ground.
With water from a nearby creek, Larcena prepared some bread on the fire, made some coffee, and then rested by the warm fire for the night. Amazingly, alone in the wilderness and horribly disabled, Larcena had not become dinner for some passing bear, mountain lion, or pack of wolves. Any of these predators could have made an easy meal of her.
The next morning, March 31, 1860, Larcena followed the road up to the "Big Rock" and lumber mill. Forbes says that "as she drew near she was seen, but not at first recognized. With clotted hair and gaping wounds, nearly naked, emaciated and sunburned, she was at first mistaken for an unfortunate outcast squaw and the men ran for their guns."
This report understates her sunburn. All of her exposed skin was nearly black.
It was only after Larcena called out her name that she was recognized. But even then, one fellow insisted that she was a ghost because he couldn't believe that a 23-year-old woman could survive for two weeks under such incredibly difficult circumstances.
One of the men took Larcena into a building and had her fed and washed while another man went to get a doctor in Tucson and inform John, who was preparing for a third expedition to find his wife.
The first thing she asked for was a plug of chewing tobacco.
On April 2, Larcena was taken to Tucson where Dr. Hughes told some locals that he did not think she would survive. His assistant, Edward Radeleff, wrote down his thoughts upon seeing her condition.
“I saw the poor woman. Lance thrusts in both breasts and in numerous other places, bruised from rocks thrown at her by the Indians, almost everywhere covering her with blood, emaciated beyond description, her hands and knees and legs and arms a mass of raw flesh almost exposing the bones.”
Despite the doctor's prognosis, Larcena recovered fully. The following December, while John tended to the care of his resilient wife, she became pregnant.
Almost as unbelievable, the young Mexican girl, Mercedes, was later found by the U.S. Army and traded for Apache prisoners at Fort Buchanan.
At this point, one might think that the poor woman had suffered enough. Surely Larcena and John Page and their children lived a long and happy life together, right? But in Southern Arizona during the early Territorial Period, happy endings were usually reserved for fairy tales.
When the Civil War began in 1861, most of the soldiers stationed in Arizona Territory to protect settlers from Apaches were ordered back east. This left the Anglo and Mexican miners, ranchers, and merchants extremely vulnerable.
In order to find work and some semblance of security, John, Larcena, and some of her brothers and sisters, moved to Patagonia where nearby mines at Mowry, Duquesne, Washington Camp, and Harshaw were productive.
But in April, as he was taking a wagon load of supplies to Camp Grant northeast of Tucson, John was ambushed by Apaches. He was buried where he died: "at the top of the hill beyond Samaniego's ranch, on the old road; and all that Mrs. (Larcena) Page ever saw of him was his handkerchief, his purse and a lock of his hair."
In September, 1861, Larcena, now a widow, gave birth to a daughter, Mary Ann. Shortly thereafter, she and her siblings moved to Tubac, and later to a stone house along the Santa Cruz River, about a half-mile from the international border with Mexico. The area around their stone house was infested with Apaches, and at one point Larcena had to flee to Mowry, a small, fortified, mining town in the mountains a little southeast of Patagonia.
Constantly moving in order to find the necessary combination of work and security, by April 1864, Larcena and her siblings were back in Tubac. By now, however, they were the only residents. All the other families had fled during the Apache attack of 1861.
Three years later, one of Larcena's sisters died of malaria. A year after that tragedy, in 1868, her brother, Jim, was killed by Apaches. In June 1869, her father and another brother were murdered by Apaches. The remaining members of the Pennington family then went to Tucson, and soon decided to move on to California, their original destination almost a decade earlier.
Their wagons were again loaded, but about twenty miles outside of Tucson, they had to return when Larcena's surviving sister, Ellen, became gravely ill with pneumonia. Despite the best medical attention available in Tucson at the time, she died.
Now there were only two Penningtons left: Larcena and her brother Jack. Jack moved back to Texas, but Larcena remained in Tucson. In August 1870, nine years after her fist husband was killed by Apaches, she married William Fisher Scott, a Scottish lawyer and judge. Larcena and William had two children, a son and a daughter. Larcena refused to leave Southern Arizona, despite all the hardships, danger, and grief.
Larcena became a born-again Christian and one of the first members of the Congregational Church in Tucson, established in 1881. She was also named president of the Arizona Historical Society. Larcena lived just long enough to see the wild, lawless Arizona Territory, in which she and her family had settled 53 years earlier, become the 48th state in the Union. She died the following year.
Larcena Pennington Page Scott (1837-1913) was laid to rest in the Evergreen Cemetery on Oracle Road in Tucson. She set a high standard for pioneer ruggedness, resourcefulness, determination, and courage.
After she was freed, 11-year-old Mercedes was returned to her mother in Tucson. Eight years later, she married Alexander Shibell, a successful deputy sheriff, merchant, and eventually, Pima County Recorder. They had 4 children.
Having survived the "fate worse than death" her future looked promising.
She died in 1875 at the age of 26. She is buried in Holy Hope Cemetery on Oracle in Tucson.
How Pennington Street Got Its Name
What is now Pennington Street was once called Calle de la Mission during the Spanish era because it led to Mission San Cosme de Tucson on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River beneath Sentinel Peak ("A" Mountain).
Sometimes it was referred to as Calle del Arroyo that could be translated as "Ditch"; "Gully"; or "Ravine" Street because it was a shallow watercourse for runoff along the south wall of the Presidio.
In 1871, the street was renamed to honor the pioneer Pennington family who once had a sawmill along this ravine.
Here is the link to the book. The Penningtons: Pioneers Of Early Arizona...
For more information on the Apaches and the history surrounding the Apache Wars, see our page on the Local History of the Apaches.