It All Started in Salome in 1925

On summer days, Salome, Arizona, was so hot, dry, and shade free in the midday sun that its sand hills seemed to be populated only by greasewood and saguaro. In 1925, the would-be town, which had a population of less than two dozen people, sat in a valley framed on its northern edge by the Harcuvar and Harquahala mountains. Devoid of much vegetation, their orange, violet and grey contours changed by the hour as the sun moved across a cloudless sky. Clear air, inspiring vistas, and above all precious minerals drew miners to the southwest end of the Harcuvar Range. Salome was near a railroad track, but its residents waited expectantly for a paved road from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Dick Wick Hall fought hard for this road, and he was sure that someday the town would be “Some Place.” His daughter, Jane, was far more convinced than her mother, Daysie, that it would be, for she was captivated by the desert and by her father’s imagination.

Dick’s rustic office was a one-room adobe building with a mission-style desk and a Smith Premier typewriter that had “lost a Lot of Its Teeth.” There, when he was not writing to potential investors, or urging Yuma County to improve the roads, he created unforgettable characters out of local personalities and creatures: horned lizards, Gila monsters, coyotes, jack rabbits, snakes, scorpions, and centipedes. A seven-year-old bullfrog who could not swim and wore a canteen on his back would become the town’s mascot. (Even today, the high school football team is “The Fighting Frogs.”) When he had time, Dick used these characters in a compilation of local “news,” humor and philosophy spread out over two sides of a legal-sized mimeographed sheet and decorated with his rough sketches. He did this at first for his own amusement and certainly that of his children. His “Salome Sun” was full of anecdotes that poked fun at Eastern tourists, bankers, Wall Street, high society folks, Democrats, and even the town and its environs.

“Salomey Jane,” as he called her, often came into her father’s office to draw and write poems and stories of her own. She was delighted when her father brought her ink so she didn’t have to do all her work with a pencil. Before long, he would teach her to use a typewriter, and how to send out work that appealed to the editors of magazines and newspapers.

Outside in the sprawling desert landscape of the Arizona Outback, barely a handful of buildings made up the town. One of these was a modest, one-story wood house with a  small patch of green grass and a rose garden in the front. This was home to Jane and her family. Behind the house, her father’s one-of-a-kind “Greasewood Golf Lynx” stretched twenty-three miles up into the mountains and took 46 days to play with caddies on horseback—if you were lucky. For Jane, this make-believe course was primarily a place to ride “Sunny Boy,” aka “The Killer,” a Cayuse pony that belonged to Mrs. Lillian (“Mike”) Thomas, who was her “best friend” in the desert.  When she was not in the saddle, Jane played a fierce game of cards, excelled at miniature golf and loved to roast spuds and marshmallows. A fearless little girl, at least fifty percent tomboy, she took great pride in a brown leather pencil case embossed with the words “Outlaw Jane Salome Arizona.”

In 1925, her father’s work had become popular. The Saturday Evening Post, one of the most successful magazines in America, now featured excerpts from Dick’s small town news sheet and his stories. But “Little Jane” was not about to be outdone by the father she adored. She had joined the Junior Club of The Los Angeles Times which brought out work by young writers every Sunday on “Aunt Dolly’s Page.”

That summer she had sent in her first story,”Bill’s Greatest Victory.” The protagonist is an eleven-year-old boy who learns to control his temper. But Jane was impatient. As she tells it: “Picture a little girl who was always scribbling away on a piece of paper, trying to write a story, but hardly ever succeeding, then imagine her sending a story to ‘Aunt Dolly’ and waiting, and waiting” for months with no word. Then, suddenly, the “most thrilling moment” of Jane’s short life occurred. The train from Los Angeles brought her a letter from The Times with a money order for $2.50. Her story came out on November 8; for ten-year-old Jane, the possibilities seemed endless.

See the Gallery for images of Dick’s Frog and The Salome Sun. Claude G. Putnam’s engaging drawings illustrated the paper. The town is in the McMullen Valley in what is now La Paz County. The Laughing Desert: Dick Wick Hall’s Salome Sun (2012) with a Foreword by Arizona State historian Marshall Trimble, contains a replica of the syndicated paper that appeared in 1926 and 1926. (Available on Amazon with a link on the home page of this site.)

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