Friday, January 29, 2016

Lifetime resident tells of early life in Tri-state

History Lesson: Margaret Mary Soto Perry shared her life experiences growing up in the Tri-state during a special presentation hosted by the Laughlin library and co-sponsored by the Colorado River Museum and Historical Society. “The valley didn’t get electricity until the 60s and didn’t see television until the 70s,” she said. (DK McDONALD/The Daily News)

The Mohave Valley Daily News

LAUGHLIN — Margaret Mary Soto Perry lived in the Tri-state before the arrival of refrigeration, electricity, television, subdivisions and paved roads.

“I have to remind people that I wasn’t around in the 1800s or even for WWII,” she said. “But the valley didn’t get electricity until the ’60s and didn’t see television until the ’70s. Before people were moving here to build vacation homes, it was very old-timey.”

Soto Perry shared her life’s experiences growing up in the Tri-state during a presentation hosted by the Laughlin Library and co-sponsored by the Colorado River Museum and Historical Society.

“The Soto family has a revered name in this valley,” said attendee Mary Hughes, past president of the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum. “The family is known by people who study the history of the area. I can never get enough of the stories she tells.”

Soto Perry’s grandparents were pioneers in the valley. At one point the family ran 15,000 head of cattle and sheep over a huge area from Bullhead City south to Topock, and east from Silver Creek in the Boatman Hills to Goldroad.

“It all started when my grandfather first went from Spain to Mexico City,” Soto Perry said. “At the time, Pancho Villa was running amok, and my grandfather was raising horses and burros to supply his army.

“One day my grandfather was arrested for aiding and abetting the enemy, and scheduled to hang first thing in the morning. In the middle of the night, someone opened the gate of the cement bunker he was held in, and he was immediately put on a boat to San Francisco.

“Well, that was 1906, the year of the great San Francisco earthquake; he soon left there and stepped off the train in Needles. It was winter, and he noted that the weather was warm and beautiful. He made up his mind to get a ranch in the valley to raise cattle and sheep. And that’s what he did.”

Soto Perry, who was born in 1939, spent “a solitary but not lonely” childhood on land rich with trees, wildlife and hard work.

“There was nothing here,” she said. “The river was wide, wide, wide. There were forests of cottonwood, mulberry and willows, and arrow weed blanketed everything. The roads were ruts. It was very difficult to get through the valley without a horse.

“My grandmother loaded up vegetables from the garden and fresh meat, and sold them off the back of a buckboard wagon in Kingman, Needles and Oatman.

“My father leased a dairy farm, south of the current (Bullhead City) Safeway. He was a carpenter; he started the first garbage service in Needles.”

Twice a day, at 4 a.m. and at 5 p.m., Soto Perry walked down to bring the cows in for milking. She attended sixth and seventh grade in the Lil’ Red Schoolhouse, now a museum at Bullhead City Community Park.

“The family wasn’t big on education,” Soto Perry said. “They were big on hard work. That’s probably why I’ve lived so long; they worked me like a donkey.

“But there was a sense of peace, serenity, and a sense of well-being. You felt glad to be alive. There was a pattern to the days, and a sense of purpose, a tremendously good feeling. Work hard, eat well, and rest.”

Winter visitor Evie Augeson said she was surprised by some of what she learned during Soto Perry’s presentation.
“It was fun and interesting to hear,” she said. “You look out at what seems to be a barren landscape, and wouldn’t think agriculture is such a huge part of the history here.”

Tanya Brown-Wirth, Laughlin library branch manager said, “People here seem to like the historical lectures and events we offer. Maybe some are looking for a connection like they had at home; knowing the history of the place where they have chosen to live and play. Margaret’s history, having grown up with the region, is a fascinating look at how an area can change so much in a single lifetime.”