Correspondent to the Church Historical Museum
Salt Lake City, Utah
Who has the history of Binghampton? Who can tell its story?
This correspondent was told that Binghampton was the first Mormon settlement in the Tucson area, established in the early years of this century by the Bingham and related families. The Binghampton community; which is now a densely populated part of the city of Tucson; is located north of Fort Lowell Road between Palo Verde and Alvernon Streets.
While in search of the colorful history of Binghampton, this correspondent was referred to the Librarian of the University of Arizona. A graduate sociology student has interviewed Eli Abegg, an elderly resident of Binghampton. The student had prepared a thesis on this subject. The thesis could not be found.
A search for Binghampton history at the Library of the Arizona Historical Society uncovered three brief newspaper clippings and two photographs of elementary classes taken in front of the Binghamton Public School. The clippings consisted of two obituary notices pertaining to the Binghampton family, a brief note describing the formation of the Binghampton Society in Safford, and a letter to Ruel Bingham requesting a copy of the Bingham family history for the library. No history was filed. This is all that those local public archives contain on the subject of Binghampton. It is not enough to write a history or to give anyone an understanding of this early Tucson community.
These histories can be told best by those who lived there. Who can tell the story of Bingham and related families? Who can tell the stories of Benson, Duncan, Thatcher, Safford, St David, Casa Grade?
Fortunately, Sylvia Stevens Shepherd, in preparing her family history, requested the story of Binghampton from her great aunt, Edna Bingham Sabin, daughter of Nephi and Elizabeth Dalkan Bingham, the founders of Binghampton, the first Mormon colony in the Tucson Basin. This family history was only recently received in Tucson. Sylvia Shepherd has given her permission to publish the account so that it can become part of the public history of the Southern Arizona Region.
She writes: “My father, Nephi Bingham, my mother, Elizabeth Dalkin Bingham and six children, Rebecca, Mae, Clara, Glen, Floyd, and myself (Edna) moved from Casas Grande, Arizona to Tucson in the spring of 1900. Tucson wasn't very large at the time. It had one street called Congress Street, not paved, two grocery stores, Ivancovich, and Wheeler and Perry. The two dry goods stores were Rosy's and La Bananza; and there was a watering trough for the horses.
“My father located a place called the Davidson Place north of the Rillito River that ran the year round. We lived there until the fall of 1904 when we moved to a place south of the river called the Bayless Place. Then it became known as the Bingham Place. There was a wagon road leading from our home to Tucson, six miles a way. There was only one house between our house and town. We called it the half way house. All we could see was catclaw bushes, sagebrush, and chaparral. The ground was crawling with rattle snakes, gila monsters, lizards, and tarantulas; and we had to keep our eyes on the road to keep the horses from running away. There weren't many Mexicans living near Tucson. My father had to hire Indians from an Indian Village south of Tucson to help him harvest his crops, as he had land along the river six or seven miles from our home.”
“On September 9, 1909 my father and my two older sisters, Rebecca and Mae, went to Colonia Dublan, Mexico to visit my father's nieces and nephews, who were the children of his sister Melvina and her husband Winslow Farr, who had died. My two sisters stayed in Mexico to attend college nearby. When my father returned from Mexico his nephew, Heber Farr, and his brother-in-law, Charles Hurst, came with him. They looked over Davidson Place and decided to move to Tucson if it were agreeable and they all began to make plans to move to Tucson. My father began to make plans to have plenty of food for them when they arrived. My father's youngest brother, Jacob Bingham, lived near us and he made plans along with us. My father owned a dairy and had plenty of milk. He butchered a pig and cured it. We had turkeys, ducks, chickens, and eggs, plenty of bottled fruit from our orchard, dried corn, beans, dill pickles, sauerkraut, pumpkins, five gallons of mince meat, and a winter garden. A few days before they arrived, my father killed a beef. He would hang it outside at night in the cool air. Then take it down and wrap it in a sheet of canvas and lay it on a cement floor in the daytime to hold the cold in.
“On December 15, 1909, in the afternoon, light covered wagons came rolling out of the catclaw and chaparral bushes down the lane to our home. It was a wonderful meeting to see them all for the first time. They parked their wagons between our homes and Uncle Jacob's home. Some of them were very sick when they arrived. The sick and the old people slept in the two homes and the other slept in the covered wagons. They all ate their meals in the two homes and would come and go as they pleased in the day time.
"The people who came out of Mexico in the covered wagons were the five Farr brothers: Heber, Joseph, Earnest, and their families,; and Wilford and Acel, not yet married. The sisters to the Farr brothers, were Edith Webb, Lindy Young, and their families; and Mamie Farr, not yet married. Some of the in-laws and their families also came.
“There was a small wooden school house nearby where all the children attended school. The men started building their little tent houses to use until they could build better ones. Heber and Joe Farr remodeled two old adobe houses on their land north of the river. Most of the people lived on the south side of the river. After they were settled in their houses, the land cleared of mesquite trees, and their crops planted, they all decided to dig and build reservoirs to store the water from the river that ran the year round. It supplied water for all the farms along the river.”
“We had Mormon Church officials and missionaries visit us often. Plans had been made earlier with President Joseph E. Robinson, President of the California Mission to visit with us. On Saturday morning, May 21, 1910, Heber Farr and my father met the train from Salt Lake City and California to get George Albert Smith, Joseph MacMurrius, and President Joseph E. Robinson. That afternoon my father, my mother, my sister Clara, my two brothers, Glen, Floyd, and myself were baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“The following Sunday afternoon, May 22, 1910, the first Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was organized in the shade at the east of our house. The opening prayer was given by President Joseph E. Robinson. The new branch was called the Binghamton Branch after my father. There was already a little town in Arizona by the name of Bingham. Heber Farr was ordained Branch President; Frederick Granger Curthmus, first counselor; and Frank Webb, second counselor. We were all confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The sacrament was passed, talks were given, and the closing prayer was given by Joseph A. Farr.
“Church services were held that summer under the shade tree by Heber and Joseph Farr's homes. My father was county trustee of the Davidson School District. He received permission to have a large school house built as more saints and relatives were moving out of Mexico. By September 1910, the little school was built, and by adding the little school house to the south end of the new building there was room for a stage and two Sunday School rooms.
“My father got permission to hold church services in the school house. At that time the Sunday School was organized. Joseph A. Farr was ordained Superintendent of Sunday School, Elmer Carden as first assistant, and J. Alma Young as second assistant, Ellen Bluth as secretary, Heber O. Chlarson was set apart as ward clerk.
“The next Sunday the ladies Relief Society was organized with Elizabeth Farr as President, and Mai Bingham and Lindy Young as her assistants, and Hazel Williams as secretary. Later the Primary and Mutual were organized.”
“More and more people were moving out of Mexico, settling near the railroad tracks at Jayne Station. There was a large land clearing operation going on there at the time. The small town boasted of two school houses where the children of the young families went. They lived in little tent houses and for recreation they went to dances in Binghampton on one Saturday night and then Jaynes Station on the next Saturday. One of the young boys living in Binghampton did chores for my father on the farm; like cooking, milking cows, feeding the chickens. My father often furnished transportation for these young people on Saturday nights, for he had a large wagon with a hay rack and two spans of mules. The boys would cut fresh hay, fill the racks, stretch canvas over it and spread some quilts for additional comfort. My father gave the driver a little bell and the mules would go fast enough. In those days we had to make our own fun, and we surely did. Aside from attending church services, we picnicked in Sabino Canyon where we played ‘run sheep run’ in twos and threes.
“After most of the land was cleared at Jaynes Station, many of the people moved to Binghampton, while others moved to Mesa, and even El Paso, Texas.
“When the Mormons who lived in the country heard that there was a branch of the church near Tucson they came in droves. They traveled from Safford, Thatcher, Duncan, Pima, St. David, Douglas, and Benson. Gordon Kimball came from Safford to Tucson where he worked in a bank. Later, his bother Spencer W. Kimball (our prophet) came and attended the University of Arizona. He drove a taxi to help pay his way through school.
“The saints living in Tucson came to Binghampton to attend church services, socials, dances, and plays.
“When I married Fred Sabin in 1915 and left Tucson for El Paso, the following families were still living in Binghampton: Nephi Bingham and his family; Jacob Bingham; the Farr brothers, Heber, Joseph, Ernest, Wilford, and Acel; and their sisters Edith Webb, Lindy Young, Mamie and all their families and in-laws. Chlarsons, Clawsons, Browns, Bluths, Bilbee, Cardens (three families), Evans, Farnsworths, Lilliewhites, Hardys, Dones, Obega, Headers, Jaspersons, Johnsons, Paynes, Welsons, Roleys, Stocks, Jones, Merrets, Youngs (three families), Winns Lebarons, Prices, Tompkins, Williams, Webbs, Wheelerls, and a few more Binghams from Mexico, and the Butlers and all their families.
“At present, there are only three members now living in Binghampton that were present when the Church was organized. They are my brother Floyd Bingham, Milda Farr Jones, and Thelma Young Golstine.”
With a sense of wonder and sadness we come to the end of Edna's story.
Impressed with this story of an earlier age in Tucson, this reporter visited the Arizona Historical Society seeking photographs, news articles, and life stories of the Binghams, and other families who settled Binghampton. What did he find? A brief notice reporting that the Bingham family at Safford did form the Bingham Society in 1928. The article noted that a history of the family by J. Ruel Bingham climaxed a program of music and readings which followed that first momentous meeting in 1928. The Secretary of the First Historical Society requested a copy of the Bingham story in a letter to which this ancient news item attached. There was no history in the Historical Society's file. Where are they?
If you will send copies of your families histories, together with photographs to this correspondent, E.W. Love, 9330 E. Wrightstown Road, Tucson, 85715. He will write an article for publication, and will file this document naming you as the contributor, with the Arizona Historical Society, in Tucson, and with the Church Historical Museum in Salt Lake City...Do it now!