Six of the nine one-room schools built in Eastern Santa Cruz County in the early 1900s were close to Elgin, where the population was booming. The 1900 U.S. Census had one enumeration district (Elgin) for the area and recorded a total of 154 residents. By the 1920 Census there were four enumeration districts (Canille, Elgin, Sonoita, and Vaughn) and 409 residents. As a result, schools were built in Elgin, Canelo, Parker Canyon, Rain Valley, Sonoita and Vaughn, and teachers were needed for all. In addition to the newspaper sources cited below, information for this article comes from Betty Barr’s “Hidden Treasures of Santa Cruz County” (2006).
Three women from two pioneer families in the Elgin area played a key role in the education of area children. Dixie Collie, age 16, and her brother Stone joined her parents, Ruben and Lucinda, in Elgin about 1910. An older brother, Bill, had begun homesteading in Vaughn a few years earlier. Dixie was certified to teach second grade at age 17. [AZ Republic 6/18/1911]. Chopeta, age 20 and Fern, age 18, moved with their parents, Marcus and Nellie Bartlett, to homestead in Elgin in May 1912. Within a month Chopeta had passed the certificate exam to teach first grade. [Arizona Republic, 6/12/1912]. The Bartlett and Collie families quickly became intertwined by friendship and marriage. Fern and Dixie became close friends and in 1913 attended the summer session at Arizona Normal School [now Northern Arizona University] in Flagstaff. In August, Fern received her second-grade teacher’s certificate. [Tucson Citizen, 7/1/1913; Arizona Republic, 8/28/1913].
In 1913 Chopeta married Bill Collie. They had one daughter, Leslie Fern, born in 1918. Chopeta took the civil service Postmaster exam in 1914, was secretary of the Santa Cruz County Fair Association in 1915, and the WWI registrar for Elgin in 1918. She taught in Cochise County, Vaughn, and Rain Valley. [Tucson Citizen 5/22/1922, 9/4/1923; AZ Daily Star, 8/30/1924].
By 1925 the family was living in Tucson. Chopeta began to work at the Fisher Music Company where she headed up the record and sheet music departments. She and Bill divorced in 1929; she remarried in 1933. A talented pianist, trained at Oberlin Music Institute, Chopeta was active in the Tucson music scene. She died in 1977, age 84.
Dixie’s first teaching assignments were in the mining towns of Mowry, Greaterville, and Russelville, while Fern began teaching at the Elgin school. In 1917 Fern organized the program for Children’s Day, and Dixie was part of a quartet that provided musical accompaniment. [The Border Vidette, 6/17/1917]. In 1919 Fern married Stone Collie and Dixie married Almond Walker in a double wedding ceremony. Almond was a cowboy Dixie had met in Russelville; he was disabled by pleurisy not long after they wed. They moved to Tucson in 1922 where Dixie worked as a cafeteria cook for many years. The couple also owned and operated the Walker Riding Stables. Almond and Dixie had three children, Philip, Robert and Mary. Almond died in 1960, age 71; Dixie died in 1991, age 97.
Fern and Stone Collie ranched on Stone’s Vaughn homestead until 1925 when they were forced to sell their ranch and move to Tucson when cattle prices dropped. The 1930 U.S. Census lists Stone’s occupation as carpenter and Fern’s as teacher. They had three daughters, Marka, Jane, and Faye. In 1929 Fern ran unopposed for the school board post in the Amphitheater District, a position she held for several years. She was a member of the executive committee that arranged for the first concert of the fledgling Tucson Symphony in 1929 and was first violin chair of the symphony in 1930. [AZ Daily Star, 1/12/1930, 9/12/1948]. By 1940 the couple had returned to Elgin where they operated a guest ranch and Fern once again taught at the Elgin School. Stone died in 1982, age 90 and Fern in 1984, age 89; both are buried at the Black Oak Cemetery in Canelo.