Well traveled and gently reared, Elizabeth (Lily) Benton Frémont found herself heading for the rough-and-tumble West when her father, John C. Frémont, was named governor of Arizona Territory. In his shadow and that of her grandfather, U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, her life on the frontier would have gone largely unremarked but for one thing: Lily kept a diary.
Here, in rich detail, her day-by-day narrative and the editor's annotations bring to life Arizona's territorial capital of Prescott more than one hundred years ago. Lily gives us firsthand accounts of the operation of territorial government; of pressure from Anglo settlers to dispossess Pima Indians from their land; and of efforts by the governor and the army to deal with Indian scares. Here also, underlying her words, are insights into the dynamics of a close-knit Victorian family, shaping the life of an intelligent, educated single woman. As unofficial secretary for her father, Lily was well placed to observe and record an almost constant stream of visitors to the governor's home and office. Observe and record, she did. Her diary is filled with unvarnished images of personalities such as the Goldwaters, General O. B. Willcox, Moses Sherman, Judge Charles Silent, and a host of lesser citizens, politicians, and army officers.
Lily's anecdotes vividly re-create the periodic personality clashes that polarized society (and one full-fledged scandal), the ever-present danger of fire, religious practices (particularly a burial service conducted in Hebrew), and attitudes toward Native Americans and Chinese. On a more personal level, the reader will find intimate accounts of John Frémont's obsession with mining promotion, his complicated business dealings with Judge Silent, and his attempts to recoup his family's sagging fortune. Here especially, Lily outlines a telling profile of her father, a man roundly castigated then and now as a carpetbagger less interested in promoting Arizona's interests than his own.
For students of western history, Lily Frémont's diary provides a wealth of fresh information on frontier politics, mining, army life, social customs, and ethnicity. For all readers, her words from a century ago offer new perspectives on the winning of the West as well as fascinating glimpses of a world that once was and is no more.