Thursday, November 19, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith (11/18/09)

A touch of class, a hint of civilization, a love story, and a tragedy are themes entwined in the tale of the McCormick Rose, a cutting of which graces the steps into Old Main at NAU. The first McCormick Rose was brought as a cutting by Margaret Hunt McCormick, the bride of Richard McCormick, Arizona’s Second Territorial Governor, to Prescott in November 1865. A French Boursaid (Rosa gallica), an ancient French hybrid, this pink rose was the first cultivated rose in Arizona.

The rose at Old Main was a cutting of the McCormick Rose at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott which was in turn a cutting from the original rose planted by Margaret McCormick by the front door of the Governor’s Mansion in Prescott.

The McCormick Rose began its journey in Margaret McCormick’s trousseau as she and Richard made their way to Arizona. First, the cutting accompanied them by steamship from New York to Jamaica and thence to Aspinwall at the Isthmus of Panama. Next, the cutting went with them overland on mule back to the Pacific Coast where they and the cutting again boarded a steamship for Acapulco. Richard and Margaret spent two days touring the deserted city, the French Army having chased out the Mexicans. Finally, the cutting went with them to Los Angeles.

After a few days rest in Los Angeles, they and the cutting took a stagecoach to Yuma where they boarded a steamer for a trip up the Colorado River to Ehrenburg. Then as Margaret described the last leg of the journey, it was “two ambulances, six government wagons, and two private baggage wagons” crossing the Mohave Desert to Prescott. The McCormick Rose, a hearty cultivar, flourishes today at Old Main and Cline Library.

Prescott had barely become Prescott at the time. Before that it was a single hastily built, ramshackle log cabin on the banks of Granite Creek, called Fort Misery by John Goodwin, the First Territorial Governor. The Governor’s Mansion to which Richard McCormick brought his well bred, well educated, New Jersey bride was a log cabin with dirt floors and windows without glass. Happily, Margaret was given carte blanche on improvements, furnishings, and decorations, having furniture made from pine logs.

The McCormick Rose was but a symbol of the civilization and elegance Margaret brought to Prescott. She transformed the rude log cabin into a frontier mansion, making a home for Richard and herself, an office for him, and accommodations for guests. She threw levees, entertained quests, and bade visitors and strangers welcome. Margaret wrote of her “own dear home” to her friend Emma in New Jersey, “We danced in the house” and “served cold roast beef & veal, pies & cakes in variety, almonds, raisins, jellies, coffee, lemonade, & wine.”

A considerable horsewoman, Margaret accompanied Richard on many of his trips throughout the Territory, becoming acquainted with many of the pioneers, impressing them with her grace.

Prescott at the time was a jumping off place for what Richard McCormick called a “terra incognita”, an unknown and unmapped land, a land fit for only “daring trappers and adventuresome gold seekers.” The log cabin Governor’s Mansion was a mansion only in comparison to the tents, shacks, lean tos, and wagons making up the rest of the settlement.

In another letter to her friend Emma, she wrote that she “was never so happy in her life,” and that Richard “acts much more the ‘lover’ now, than he did before we were married.”

On her return from a trip with Richard to San Francisco, she gave birth to a stillborn child. Thought to have been recovering well, she suddenly lapsed into a violent sickness and died one day short of her 24th birthday. She was buried with her stillborn child in her arms under an oak tree near the mansion, her grave strewn with wildflowers.

The Prescott Arizona Miner in May 3, 1867 wrote that Margaret was “a greatly loved woman,” whose death had “cast gloom over the community,” adding that “no woman in the Territory was more happy.”

Cuttings of the McCormick Rose, a poignant touch of Arizona's pioneer history, are available at the NAU Research Greenhouses (523-9100 or 523-9103).

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

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