By Linda Turley-Hansen in collaboration with David K. Flake
Ever wonder how they did it? How the West was settled?
Envision colonizers, under the direction of Presidents Brigham Young and John Taylor, meandering amid Arizona’s Rim Country pinion pines, red rocks and dust devils. Some finally found refuge in the Silver Creek Valley and, in 1878, the founders, William Jordan Flake and Erastus Snow renamed that valley—well, yes, they cleverly named it Snowflake, after themselves.
Within months, education became priority. It was understood, book-learning would stabilize the fragile settlement. Thus, among all the sacrifices for shelter and crops, the pioneers took on the costs to set up schooling.
The process was soul shaking, considering the economic and physical struggles. Heartbreak was as constant as the wind, which continually buffets that region, a wilderness so hostile many called it “a forbidding place, totally unfit for civilized society.”
Occasionally, general church funds supplemented the remote school, until, decades later, a public system was organized. You’ll find heartrending stories of Taylor, a sister community to Snowflake, in a marvelous book by David K. Flake. The book, Academy in the Wilderness, is a delightful collage of memories, records and pictures.
As I read Flake’s remarkable account, my sleeping DNA was awakened to the sacrifices of my forefathers and mothers who played a major role in giving life to Snowflake. In 1898, my grandfather, Joseph Peterson, was called by Karl G. Maeser, then the Church Commissioner of Education, to leave his Utah home for Snowflake. “Professor Peterson’s” assignment: Stabilize a struggling education system in Snowflake. It is now said, “Joseph Peterson was the spark, which ignited the flame that made the Snowflake Stake Academy a successful reality.”
Peterson was assisted and followed by many other gifted, community servants. A review of their names will connect you to most every Rim Country pioneer family, including David Flake’s posterity.
What we want you to know is this: A symbol of the struggle to settle the West is a proud, stone building, the official Snowflake Stake Academy, lovingly referred to by Peterson and his wife, Amanda, as “Academy in the Wilderness.”
Ironically, that building is again at the center of sacrifice, this time a fundraising effort towards restoration. And, yes, it now bears the name of Joseph Peterson.
Restoration will result in what will become the Snowflake-Taylor Public Library. The cost, reaching $2 million to acquire the best technology and history preservation systems. Putting it into perspective: The cost of the original structure was $11,000. That was before it was destroyed by fire in 1910, three months after its first completion. Let’s talk about heartbreak.
It’s a poignant saga of educating settlers, a story to break your heart in some places and mend it in others. You won’t want to miss the journey and, perhaps, you will feel inclined to send a contribution: www.snowflakeacademy.com or contact David Flake: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Turley-Hansen is an AZ syndicated columnist and former Phx TV newscaster; email@example.com)