4-H History project leader Cami Schlappy (at right) explains how to identify objects the group found at the Elgin cemetery site. Contributed photo

The Mustang 4-H Local History Project visited Camp Naco and the original Elgin School House in April. Both field trips imparted a sense of appreciation in members for not only the past, but for the work of conservation and preservation. 

On April 23, Elgin resident Sue Downing opened her home to the 4-H project. Downing has spent years restoring the original Elgin School House, salvaging wood beams, replacing rotted flooring to match the existing pieces, and acquiring period pieces—including doors, door knobs, and lighting fixtures—to complete the renovation. 

Members were given a tour of the former classrooms. Downing pointed out how the building has changed, and her efforts to prevent the building from collapse. 

After touring the main building, Downing displayed vintage tools and asked the youth to guess what each tool was used for. Next, she talked about the history of the school and the surrounding community of Elgin, describing the railroad running past the school, the station house next door that was used by railroad workers, the Elgin post office, general store, hotel, and gas station. These were the days when Elgin’s two-story hotel, community pools, and Elgin Club were the social centers for Southern Arizona. These places were where young people could  mingle and maybe meet a potential spouse, and families could come together to visit.

The 1918 flu epidemic, the impact of local men leaving to fight in both world wars, the presence of  Conservation Corps members in the 1930s and early 1940s, and the filming of movies in the area was also discussed. Most surprising for the 4-H members was the approximately 12,000-year-old mammoth skeleton that was discovered in 1952 in the nearby wash. 

Members then went on a hike to the little known and nearly forgotten Mountain View Cemetery (also known as Suar’s cemetery or the Elgin Cemetery). The cemetery, which is on private property, has not been maintained. There are at least 40  individuals laid to rest here, but fewer than a handful of grave markers remain. 

The 4-H group decided to help conserve the site. After internet searches, dozens of texts, emails, and phone calls, the owner of the cemetery was located and contacted. The owner has agreed to help the 4-H club start conserving not only the physical property, but also researching those individuals buried here. 

Downing has amassed a large amount of information. This, coupled with local historian Alison Bunting’s research, will help the youth members to create an album of material to be stored in the Bowman Straddling History Center at the Sonoita Fairgrounds. Although each grave location might never be known, the youth hope to one day place a plaque or sign at the site listing all those who are known to be interred at the location. At a minimum, this small gesture will return their names to those who were nearly forgotten.  

One week prior, on April 16, 4-H members traveled to Camp Naco, a historic military post in Naco, Arizona, just north of the Mexico border. Camp Naco (also known as Fort Naco and Fort Newell) was a military outpost built during the Mexican Revolution in 1917 and was the first area in the western hemisphere to see aerial combat. 

Archaeologist Rebecca Orozco, who oversees the renovation of Camp Naco, gave the club a tour of the post. The Camp housed the U.S. Army 9th and 10th Cavalry and later the Buffalo Soldiers. Now in various stages of decay, the adobe and wood buildings are currently receiving the care they so desperately need. 

Camp Naco had both stables and tack rooms alongside a motor pool and mechanic facilities. Terrain, distance, and resources dictated which form of transportation was to be used for each outing.

Members were shown the segregation of the facility between black and white soldiers. Members discussed the topic of racial segregation and the role of the famous black Buffalo Soldiers and their influence on American history. 

Members were also taught about the role of fundraising, archaeology, and craftsmanship in restoring historic sites. Thanks to Orozco’s efforts, Camp Naco is now listed on the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites list and secured funding for preservation. Skilled craftsmen can now be hired to replicate and restore key buildings on the property.

The 4-Hers have agreed to return and be part of the adobe brick making process. Their work will help to restore a threatened piece of history. They will leave their fingerprints behind as a mark of their efforts to help preserve Camp Naco for future youth to behold.