When Brett Smith, 23, was elected president of the Elgin Community Club (ECC) last June, she became the fifth generation and seventh member of her family to hold this leadership role. The most recent family member serving as ECC president had been Brett’s mother, Rebecca, who presided in 2010.
Smith’s great-great-grandfather Markas Bartlett arrived in Elgin from Ohio in 1908, seeking the sunny, dry climate for his health. Homesteading 160 acres on Mustang Ranch Road, he sent for his wife, Nellie and daughters, Fern and Choepeta. Around 1915, the Bartletts established a guest ranch.
Fern and Choepeta both met their future husbands in the 1920s at the train station in Elgin. The Collie brothers of Tucson married the Bartlett sisters of Elgin, with Stone Collie choosing Fern, Brett’s great-grandmother, as his wife.
Fern was a schoolteacher and a music teacher and Stone was a jack of all trades. He was known as ‘Captain Stone’ even though he mustered out of the cavalry as a private. Collie managed the guest ranch started by the Bartletts, the ranch catering to wealthy clients from back east when tuberculosis was prevalent.
Many of their guests became regular customers over the years, arriving on the train for the summer from May through September for horseback riding, swimming in the pool that was later built and basking in the clean, dry air. As the business grew, the Bartletts and Collies added more acreage to the ranch, finally owning a total of 1,600 acres.
Each spring the horses were brought up from their winter ranch in Tucson, owned by the Collies, for the guests. They were herded and led up to Elgin with the help of family members. Rebecca Smith stated that her mother, Marka “was only eight years old and helped bring the horses the many miles from the Tucson ranch” at that time.
Nellie Bartlett was a founding member of the Elgin Club, a women’s-only club at that time, as an organization for the ranch women, as the men already had their all-male organizations. She took over the president’s gavel in 1934 the day after her 78th birthday. At an earlier meeting, in September 1931, the founding women asked to have a concession at the Fair in Sonoita in order to add to their building fund. The booth was set up and the concession continues to this day, 88 years later. The proceeds from the 1931 booth came to $192.
Over the years, after the ECC building was completed, the Club held dances for the Civilian Conservation Corps, purchased markers and surveyed the Black Oak Cemetery, held pie suppers to provide books for the local schools, held dances with proceeds going through the years to the War Fund, the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the Arizona Children’s Home, and the Orphan’s Home. The ladies also sewed for ‘Bundles for Britain’ and assisted in funding the Federal Relief Teachers at the Patagonia High School. The executive committee even approved donating 50 dollars so a member could have an operation.
In 1947 the ladies decided to meet with the local Men’s Club to entertain the idea of a joint community club with equal rights for both. At the next women’s club meeting, after a proposed by-law change to the constitution had been posted for 30 days, there was a “much heated discussion and the amendment was defeated to permit men, but it was agreed that a co-use of the club facilities would be permitted.” The whole matter was tabled indefinitely. The minutes are unavailable for the ensuing period of the ECC history, but the club is now fully integrated with both sexes serving in all capacities.
The Fern Collie family established a scholarship fund that is still in existence today for two Patagonia High School seniors and the ECC still donates to various needs throughout the community.