Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff

The Pioneer Museum is part of the Arizona Historical Society, so we were hoping it would give us a sense of the history of Northern Arizona, and Flagstaff in particular. The history recorded here is quaint and frequently presented in first-hand accounts, which we find preferrable to revisionism based on the latest theories. Most of the exhibits are specific to a topic and time period, so we didn't find a general, chronological history of the area, but we did find several interesting vignettes.

The museum is housed in the former Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent, on the grounds of the former "poor farm." Several exhibits recall details and names from the hospital years (1908 to 1938), including a reconstructed surgery and an iron lung.

One of the larger exhibits contained sketches, photos, and first-hand accounts of the volunteers from Arizona that fought with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. The Arizona contingent brought a mascot with them: a mountain lion cub named Josephine. Josephine grew to adulthood, and provided many exciting moments for the soldiers, especially when her natural instincts drove her behavior around the dog and eagle that were mascots from other states. That's Josephine's head in the picture above. Her cause of death is undocumented, but her hide was used as a rug for several years until it wore out, and all that was salvaged is what you see above.

Although labeled "Rough Riders," the soldiers displayed amazing horse handling skills and felt the title denigrated those skills. Ironically, very few horses were transported to Cuba with the soldiers, so most of them fought on foot as infantry. The display case shown above contained a campaign hat, a sword, and a rifle, among other things. I don't recall the description of the rifle, so I'll challenge any reader familiar with guns to use what information they can glean from the photo to enlighten the rest of us.

Although originally a homesteading cabin for one of Flagstaff's earliest white settlers, this building was moved to the museum site so folks like us could snoop around in an original structure from about 100 years ago. Ironically, this is one of the most modern dwellings we've visited here in Arizona.

Also on site is this train that had served as a logging train quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, I think I've lost the printed information describing this train, so again I'll challenge a train expert in our readership to help me out on this one. Thanks in advance for your assistance, and thanks for visiting!


  1. That would definitely be a Krag-Jorgensen rifle.. :-)

    I always thought it was a most interesting design to be sure....

  2. Oooohhh, this looks so interesting! (so interesting that I was tempted to click on over here instead of finishing up Sunday morning breakfast like I should be doing!)

    May I ask, what exactly did the "poor farm" consist of? What sort of folks were housed there? Did they actually run a farm?

    And that little cabin looks adorable... I admit that one of my dreams is to have a teensy tiny little house once all of my children have grown and gone, so I am always intrigued by these small homes. Were you able to get any photos inside by any chance?

    And now I better go tend to that bacon before it burns!

  3. Sorry... I posted the wrong link in the second comment :-)

    It should've been:

  4. Thanks, Emil, I knew I could count on you! I found a high-res photo of the gun description which reads thus: ".30-40 Krag-Jorgensen Carbine, Model 1896. Of Norwegian design, it was the first U.S. service weapon to use smokeless powder. This type of carbine was issued to the Rough Riders even before it was issued to regular cavalry. The magazine held 5 rounds and operated with a bolt action as opposed to the single shot, .45-70 trapdoor carbines still being carried by the U.S. regular cavalry. Roosevelt wanted only the best for his troops and pulled strings to get these weapons for his men." My questions: why did they carry carbines? weight? wouldn't a longer rifle be more accurate?

    Diane -- I heard and read two different descriptions of the poor farm. One account claims the hospital patients that were able would work the gardens, presumably to supply the hospital kitchen. Another account said folks that didn't have land of their own could plant and work garden space in exchange for a fraction of their harvest.

    The cabin was not furnished in the manner it would have been when it was new, but one could get a sense of the layout and tight quarters. It had a fireplace on one side (left in the photo) and a small cooking stove on the other side, a pantry to the back, and a bed tucked in a corner by the fireplace. It was too small and cluttered to get any sense of the place through photos, so I refrained. I hope your breakfast turned out okay!

  5. Mr. Riggenbach,
    There's a couple reasons why they might choose a carbine.

    1. As you said, weight. Carrying a rifle all day long (along with everything else) can get very tiresome.

    2. Balance and maneuverability. Taking even just a few inches off a barrel will significantly alter the point of balance on your rifle, and a shorter rifle is much easier to maneuver.

    As to how accurate carbines are vs. a longer rifle, here's one study that was done which does a better job than I can in a comment:

    Basically, we've found out long barrels aren't quite as important as we thought (depending upon the caliber, material and shape of the bullet, and the burn rate of the powder)

  6. Mike Garbus Smithville MOOctober 14, 2012 at 8:36 PM

    The Krag was the Rough Riders' weapon of choice because it fired a smokeless cartridge that could not be detected by the Spaniards they were fighting.