Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden

Esther Lee was born to Norval and Jessie Lee Cherry on March 16, 1910, in Camp Verde, Arizona. In 1917 her father bought the JDK Ranch and moved the family to Cherry Creek. The Cherry children didn’t have any trouble finding something to do; Esther says they were “busy all the time. I was never bored.”

She started school in the new schoolhouse in Cherry. Her family lived in Camp Verde, Bumble Bee, Mayer and Clemenceau during her school years, and she graduated from Clarkdale High School in 1928.

Esther worked at Penney’s and Woolworth’s in Prescott for a couple of years then took a night course in business school. She and Perry Henderson were married in Flagstaff on April 10, 1931, and they moved into his thirteen-room, 1915 ranch home in Dewey.

Esther helped ride and take care of the cattle, and in the cutting and baling of hay. They raised and marketed chickens and turkeys, cured their own meat, and made kraut and hominy. She canned fruit and vegetables, washed and ironed, and cleaned up the Dutch oven and camping gear, and “in between times,” on the weekends she joined Perry in his rodeo stock contracting business. They drove their horses to places like Payson, Pine, Camp Verde and the Grand Canyon. They “always had something to do.”

In the wintertime, they took the horses to pasture and rodeos in Phoenix, Florence, Tombstone, Wickenburg, Aguila and then back to Dewey. The Hendersons had a rodeo at the ranch the end of June every year until 1961, in which the cowboys could make money to pay for their entrance fee in Prescott.

Perry didn’t want to travel; he said they were always on vacation. If there wasn’t a rodeo some place, they were at a goat roping or bronc riding or something. The arrival of daughter Helen Henderson Cain Johnson in 1937 didn’t slow them down; she slept in a suitcase alongside the bed and drank from a bottle warmed in their bed between Perry and Esther. Martha Henderson Woolsey was born in 1943. The girls grew up doing ranch work, putting out feed, and riding and building fence.

Esther and Perry gave up their own rodeo and pitched in to help keep the Prescott Frontier Days alive during World War II when its long run was threatened. They danced and socialized in schoolhouses from Camp Verde to Humboldt, where they had box suppers and cake sales.

The Hendersons once won a pound of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates for the prize waltz. The women put on plays and a hillbilly wedding. “There was just something that was going on all the time.”

Esther contributed to her community by talking to schoolchildren, writing her family history for the National Livestock Pioneers, and putting her experiences and memories on paper. She was a member of the Congregational Church, the Yavapai County Cowbelles, Yavapai Cattle Growers and the Farm Bureau. And as long as she could drive, she was “busier than a cranberry merchant” taking people places and helping them. They told her she was a shuttle bus.

Esther Henderson lived for many years in the home she moved into as a bride in 1931. Her daughters and grandchildren resided nearby, in homes built on the original Henderson Ranch. The rodeo tradition is still strong; one of her grandsons was World Champion team roper.

She remembered Lonesome Valley as a lone prairie where the grass waved in the wind, wild horses grazed, and dirt roads were sufficient. She couldn’t imagine anybody wanting to live there; the wind blew all the time. Now Prescott Valley is at one end of the valley and the Country Club is at the other.

Esther died on December 10, 2009, at the Pioneers' Home in Prescott. She was buried in the family cemetery on the Henderson Ranch in Dewey.

Donors: Helen Henderson Johnson and Martha Henderson Woolsey, daughters
March 2004

Additional documentation and photographs may be available in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and Library.