“I WALKED NINE HUNDRED MILES TO GET OUT OF THE COTTON FIELDS OF TEXAS,” says eighty-nine year old Miss Lizzie Leake who lives on Kings highway in the Sulphur Springs valley. Several years of drought, poor cotton prices and an ever growing family made it almost impossible for Walter Noel Leake to make a living despite his filling in as Baptist preacher and school teacher. The oldest son, Walter, who was helping catch some horses from a pasture walked off and the family did not hear from him for six months. At last they heard that he was in Douglas, Arizona and what good wages were being paid there. The father told the rest of the family that he thought they should move to the state of Washington where farming was reported excellent. Also on the way they would stop by an dsee Walter for otherwise they might never see him again. On July 3, 1902 he hitched three horses to a wagon, loaded it with all the essentials, then with his wife and the seven remaining children started out walking, averaging about ten miles per day on a journey that when completed was “NINE HUNDRED MILES.” Lizzie remembers after traveling the first eighty miles that they reached the Rio Grande River and on its banks saw a sign which read, “TURN BACK, SINNERS, YOU ARE HEADED FOR HELL.”
She said being good church going people they figured the sign did not apply to them. She further related that after traveling several more days they hit New Mexico and flood waters which covered the small trail. Many times it took the three horses and all nine people to get the wagon going after slipping off the road into ruts and chuck holes. This also made sleeping out under the stars at night most uncomfortable. After getting back on dry roads again, their horses became sick from eating grass and weeds near the Sacramento mountains and they slept for three days before they could get them going again.
While in New Mexico they ran out of food and money. Here they stopped and worked at many different kind of jobs. Lizzie remembers going to a farm to buy some green chili with a dime. The Mexican women gave her an apron full and she says it surely did make the pinto beans taste good. “We also went to a peach orchard and they filled up a bucket. We ate all those peaches that night for dinner and the next morning for breakfast.” “After getting some money and food together, we left Carlsbad, New Mexico and headed for Douglas, Arizona where we arrived October 9, 1902 and joined Walter who was working for the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad as shipping clerk. Work was plentiful and wages were good, so Pappa and all us older ones of the family got jobs. We soon decided not to go on to Washington.” While she was working for the Frank Elvy family in 1903, Lizzie saw her first car. Mr. Elvy received four Cadillac touring cars, kept one, sold one and put the other two out for hire, charging two dollars per ride.
Many people had their first ride in an automobile, and the greatest thing a young man could do for his date was to take her for a ride in the pretty cars. While working at the fourteen room Ord Hotel at the corner of “G” Avenue and Tenth Street, where the Valley National Bank is now located, her boss let her off one Sunday long enough to go to church which was the First Baptist housed in a tent where the Elks Club now stands. After the first verse of the first song, a Mrs. Rice, the pianist, asked who was singing alto in the audience. Several people sitting close by pointed out Lizzie. She was asked to come up and join the choir which she did and was a member for several years. She told me that after working around Douglas for two years, “Pappa homesteaded some land north east of town and I did the same thing getting one hundred and sixty acres just north of his. Ever since I could remember the thing I wanted most was a huse of my own, so Pappa stood good for $117.00 which was the cost of the lumber at the Bassett Lumber Company then owned by the late Albert Stacey. I paid it off at five dollars per week which was my salary and my family helped build my house that I still live in. And this was the only debt I ever owed.” I asked Lizzie if she was ever married and she told me no that when she was ten years old the family was sitting around the table one morning when Pappa told her mamma that the children were all with them now but when they become old and really needed them they would all be married and gone. Lizzie said right then she made up her mind to always stay single. Lizzie worked at several homes and hotels in Douglas and for a short time she stayed with Mrs. Lillian Riggs at the Far-Way Ranch in Bonita Canyon, and cooked for John Slaughter at the San Bernar~ dino ranch for a few months. She said the hardest work she ever did was cleaning out from under bath tubs with legs. At eighty-nine Miss Leake retains good hearing, speech, and her memory is excellent. She says that when they could come straight to Douglas it was only seven miles from her land, now it is fifteen. She has also seen the antelope and wild horses disappear and the wide open spaces close in on all sides. Miss Leake holds the distinction of being the only person living in Arizona that still resides on the original homestead, and in 1968 she was so honored at Phoenix’s centennial. When I asked her if she had ever thought about moving to town, she replied by saying, ‘No, God was good enough to me to give me the thing I always wanted most, my home, and here I want to spend the rest of my days.” Miss Lizzie Leake is truly one of the country’s rugged pioneers.