|THEORA SHIELDS DARNELL WIDENER|
|Theora was born November 25, 1909, in Solomonville, Arizona, to Frank Ward Shields and Florence Bell Riggs, both Arizona natives. She first lived on the UX ranch, originally the McKinney Ranch, in Cochise County near Bowie. The ranch house was one of the oldest in Arizona. Until her siblings were old enough to play with, Theora had fun playing with her dog around the defensive “shooting” holes built into the house. |
In 1918, her parents bought the Palace Station and moved to the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott. They acquired several small ranches and combined them into one. Shields cattle ran on the south as far as Wagoner, and all the way to Prescott on the north, until the city put up a drift fence to keep them out of the city watershed. The Shields’ “used to come plumb into Prescott looking for some of ‘em.”
They spent summers at Palace Station and winters in Wagoner. Theora attended grammar school in Bowie, Mayer and Wagoner. She didn’t like school, mostly because she was left-handed, and it scared her when the teacher talked about changing her to be right-handed.
When Theora was tiny, her father tied her on a pack saddle and took her with him. When she was five, he bought her first saddle, and her grandpa gave her a beautiful steel dust horse. She recalled how they would round up their cattle to be shipped and put them in their Ash Creek pasture. The next morning, they would combine their cattle with those of the neighboring Lange family and drive them as far as the Hassayampa River. The third day they went as far as Peeples' Valley and finally into Kirkland where the cattle were loaded into railroad cars and shipped.
Theora was usually in school when fall round-up started, and she only cowboyed on weekends, but she was always on the ranch to work spring round-up. She loved to ride! Of course, on the ranch they had cow dogs and good cutting horses and a burro that lived to be over 40 years old. In the early days Frank Shields carried a six-shooter.
When the Shields’ family came to Prescott from Wagoner, it was a two-day wagon trip pulled by four horses. They stopped in Skull Valley and then came over the mountain through Copper Basin. They stayed at the St. Michael or Head Hotel. Mrs. Shields would shop the next day, and then it was a three-day trip home with a “big load of stuff”—- barley and salt, groceries, clothing and sundries. Most everything was available at Bashford-Burmister’s, the old “B-B’s” on Gurley Street across from the plaza.
Theora was a bashful country girl. It was therefore a memorable event when her family went to Mrs. Minotto’s birthday party and rodeo in 1924. There was a dance that night in the big house along the river. Since Theora’s birthday was the next day, Mrs. Minotto stopped the festivities at midnight and announced, “Well, now we’re celebrating Theora’s birthday!” Dancing at the schoolhouse was an important part of rural life.
hey sometimes had basket socials to raise money for school projects. The Shields and Lange families each had lots of children, and they often got together for birthday parties. Mrs. Shields and Grandma Lange baked cakes that had “dimes and rings and all kinds of things” in them, and they danced to the phonograph.
On March 28, 1928, Theora married Bill Darnell in Prescott in the lobby of the Head Hotel. They planned to be married at the church, but there was a big snowstorm, and it was easier to get married at the hotel, which was full of her wedding guests from Wagoner and Jerome.
She was widowed after five short years. Then Theora worked at the Sanitary Laundry until December 1955 when she married Don Widener. They had two sons, Don and Leo.
After her second marriage, Theora and Don moved into the Pioneer Apartments on South Montezuma Street. She managed the apartments, and they lived there for 18 years. She spent the last years of her life in her little house at 823 Fifth Street.
Theora passed away on February 21, 2000, and was buried in Genung Memorial Park in Peeples' Valley with other family members.
Theora's mother, Florence Belle Riggs Shield, her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Margaret Babcock Riggs, and her paternal grandmother,
Eliza Elizabeth Howard Shields, are also commemorated in the Rose Garden.
Nominated by Mona Lange McCroskey
See also: Florence Belle Riggs Shields