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Reba Scott
Reba Scott
This collection of photos was taken by Reba Scott in 1920-21 when she was teaching second grade at the Metcalf Grade School in southeastern Arizona. She taught there for 10 months for $140/month (Educational Directory 1920-21 at Arizona Memory Project). Metcalf was a small copper mining town, located in a deep valley in present day Greenlee County near to Morenci, Arizona (map available here. In 1920, the population of the county was just over 15,000 people, a peak for that area. Metcalf itself had approximately 1700 people in 1920 (US 1920 Census) though many sources state that the town had four to five thousand residents. Nonetheless, the town was completely dependent on its copper mines, and as the copper mines dwindled, the town was abandoned.

Metcalf
Metcalf, Grade School to far left

Copper was the leading mining industry in Arizona in 1919, with an industry total of more than $82 million, and Arizona led the country in its production of copper though the state was among the least populous in the United States at the time (US Census). At least three copper mining companies were active in the Metcalf/Morenci area in the early 1900s: the Shannon Copper Mining Company, Arizona Copper Mining Company, and the Detroit Copper Mining Company. By 1920, the Shannon company had been acquired by the Arizona Copper Mining Company and the Mine Inspection Report for that year indicates that they employed about 1400 men in their five mines. In the year that Reba was teaching in Metcalf, Arizona Copper reported five fatalities in their mines, two caused by a cave-in. On average, injuries in the mines occured several times a week.

The copper companies were so productive that a narrow-gauge railroad line was built (at considerable expense) to ferry the copper ore to the smelters and out of the area. South of Morenci, this railroad was forced by the terrain to 'corkscrew' in four loops through Morenci Canyon. According to one source the first locomotive was called the 'Little Emma'. Huge inclines were built to lift the copper ore down the steep hillsides to the trains. One of these (probably the Shannon Incline which goes up 1000 feet) is seen in Reba Scott's photo album. Mule trains are also heavily featured in the photos and also represented a transportation method for the ore.

Shannon Incline
Shannon Incline

Around 1921, the three local mining companies had been acquired by the Phelps Dodge Mining Company (Greenlee County History). Soon, however, Metcalf's mines began to run out of high-quality copper ore. The added difficulties of a dropping copper price following the end of World War I and labor unionization spelled the end of the copper mines (Mining History). The town shrank in size very rapidly, and by the mid-1930s was abandoned. Both Metcalf and the neighboring town of Morenci were swallowed by the strip mining operations which followed. Even the cemetery (originally on a hillside, if Reba Scott's pictures are accurate), was relocated to Clifton (Metcalf Cemetery). Now, the former towns are covered with waste from the mines.

The year 1920 represented a turning point in Metcalf, coming at the end of the mining era. By this time, Metcalf had a Catholic and Presbyterian church, a post office, company store, and other amenities in town. Oral histories recall houses with running water and electricity, though many families had to travel to a public tap for water. In 1920, of the children aged 7-13 in Greenlee County, nearly 90% attended school. (US 1920 Census). Metcalf's grade school was built in 1913. It was a large, white brick, two-story building, described by one former student as "beautiful" (Oral History Project). Although the schools were segregated in nearby Morenci, it appears that Metcalf may have been integrated (Oral History Project). Reba's pictures and the oral histories, however, picture a heavily Hispanic and Indian population, and integration may have been mostly irrelevant. Metcalf's high school was built in 1916. Both schools were abandoned as the town lost its population, and by 1921 children were bused from Metcalf to Morenci. The grade school burned in 1941, and the high school was demolished the same year (Arizona Memory)

Most of the people in this album are unidentified. I believe that many of them contain photos of the other teachers and students. As listed in the Educational Directory 1920-21 the teachers at the Grade School in 1920-21 were:


Metcalf Educational Directory

Reba also traveled to California, Mexico, and Colorado, taking photos and collecting postcards. As much as possible, I have tried to remain true to the album's original order. The majority of the pictures of Reba's travels occur in the second half of the album, likely indicating that she traveled after her teaching year was over.

Train
Train

Although there is a picture in the album of people changing the tire on a car, Reba probably used the train to travel most places. In 1920, only 34,619 cars were registered in Arizona, and most roads were quite rough: barely graded and dirt with little or no gravel and inconsistent signage. Road construction and maintenance were primarily the responsibility of the counties, with little direction from national or state highway departments, with the result that long-distance travel could be a challenge. One major road, the Roosevelt Dam Highway (also known as Southern National Highway) did lead out of Greenlee County, heading from Clifton to Safford, Rice, Phoenix, and other western points. Even this major highway, however, was mostly unpaved even as late as 1926, the year in which Route 66 was completed as a cross-country route. A tour guide to Arizona's roads published in 1931 advised packing at a "minimum equipment kit included a sleeping bag, emergency rations, frying pan and coffee pot, water jug, shovel, chains, and tow rope" (Arizona Transportation History).

Maps of the historic Arizona railroads seem to indicate that Reba could have traveled from Metcalf or Morenci to Clifton, and then south through Guthrie to connect in Lordsburg, New Mexico with the Southern Pacific rail system (now Union Pacific). This rail line ran from the east in El Paso, where it connected with other national lines, to San Diego in the west. In all likelihood, Reba traveled this rail line from the east when she came to Metcalf, and left toward San Diego in the west at the conclusion of her contract. The railroads had been operational since the 1870s and 1880s (Arizona Transportation History). Connections to Nogales via the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad and Agua Prieta in Mexico would also have been relatively easy.

Bar
Women in front of a Bar

Travel to Mexico would have been important to many residents of Arizona during the early part of the twentieth century. Prohibition of alcohol sales was passed in 1914 in Arizona, even before the Eighteenth Amendment made alcohol sales illegal in the rest of the country in 1920. Arizona law dictated that "liquor 'shall not be introduced to the State of Arizona under any circumstances'" (Historical New York Times). Arizona was "dry" until the mid-1930s. However, pictures from Reba's album clearly show her in front of a bar. Like others, Reba almost certainly visited Mexican border towns to access liquor. Towns like Nogales, Naco, and Agua Prieta rapidly built saloons and other tourist attractions to capitalize on the American business.

You may link to the album at: Reba's Cross Country Tour