By Naomi Hatch
“This whole deal, to me, was a miracle,” said Snowflake Heritage Foundation Co-President Arlene Flake of a recent gift of Stinson family memorabilia.
She received a call from Keith Flake, who had written a summary of the history of Margaret Melissa Bagely Stinson and James Andrew Stinson. He mentioned that the family had items belonging to Melissa that they wanted to donate to the Stinson Museum, and they could be picked up if someone was going to Colorado.
It just so happened that Arlene and her husband Gerald, who serves with her as co-president of the foundation, were going to that area of Colorado in two weeks. They arranged to meet with Gene Strever, a great-grandson of Stinson, in Durango.
Strever met the Flakes and donated a trunk that belonged to Daniel Bagley, Melissa’s father, one of the hundreds of quilts made by Melissa and her rocking chair.
“We had a delightful visit with them (Strever and his friend),” said Arlene.
The history written by Keith Flake is available at the Stinson Museum. It notes:
“James Andrew Stinson was born Sept. 25, 1838, most likely in Maine, and was the fifth child of Isaac and Harriet Stinson. When Stinson was about 11 the family moved to Massachusetts. At the age of 14 Stinson left home and went by ship to California, by way of Panama, to look for gold. The 1860 census showed 21-year-old Stinson occupied in logging at Mendocino, Calif.”
Stinson eventually came to Arizona and in 1873 he made his headquarters in a valley on the Silver Creek. In 1878, William J. Flake made a deal with Stinson to purchase the ranch, giving Stinson his crop of corn as the first payment and then 150 head of Utah grade cattle each fall for three years.
“Melissa Bagely (later spelled Bagley) was born June 24, 1852, in Pottawattamie, Iowa. She and her parents, Daniel and Mary Bagely, traveled by wagon train to Utah with the Mormon pioneers. At the age of 16 she married Thomas Flannigan, as a plural wife, and lived in Toquerville, Utah, where three children were born. After seven years of marriage and when she was pregnant with their third child, her bishop granted her a divorce,” states Flake’s history.
Melissa, with her children, parents, sister and her husband, and an uncle, joined a wagon train to Arizona. The party heard of Stinson and the sale of property to William Flake. Melissa told her father while they were on the trail that she intended to marry Stinson, whom she had never met.
“Melissa wrote in her journal that soon after arriving at the large adobe house, started by Stinson and now occupied by the Flakes and many others, they continued five miles south to make a camp. One day she was sitting on some logs fixing her old sunbonnet when Stinson rode up. ‘Saw the blackest horse. The man on the horse was large man. He had sealskin chaps, silver spurs, large Spanish hat with two little silver birds on it. If ever there was a handsome man–he was. A typical Westerner, 195 weight.’”
While Stinson was at the Silver Creek ranch waiting for delivery of the cattle, he kept the post office. He was generous with his grain and beef, and helped new settlers find food.
Stinson invited Melissa to go for a buggy ride. Though her parents opposed it, she defied them and went.
In 1879 Stinson was elected to the territorial assembly in Prescott and he pushed through a bill that created Apache County, which was later divided to make Navajo County. He was appointed to the important position of interim probate judge and gave a number of temporary offices to the Mormons.
James and Melissa were married May 23, 1879, at St. Johns, the first marriage recorded in that office.
Yavapai County’s 1879 tax rolls show Stinson had 150 head of cattle. They moved to the new settlement of Mesa, where they bought a home. He purchased land on what is now Adams Street in Phoenix.
Stinson spent time at Pleasant Valley where he had cattle, but due to the Graham and Tewksbury feud he sold his cattle at a loss and purchased a half section of land three miles south of Tempe.
The Cleveland Panic depression went from 1890-93 and the Stinsons found themselves in poverty. In April 1895 a party of three was formed and traveled from Mesa to Espanola, N.M. They suffered many hardships along the way before meeting up with Melissa’s family.
They moved to Kirtland, N.M., then to McElmo Canyon near Cortez, Colo. In about 1920 they moved to Durango.
In 1928 Snowflake celebrated the 50th year of the town’s founding and invited Stinson to attend the celebration. He did, and was photographed with James Flake.
At the age of 93 or 94 Stinson, died at his Spring Hollow home. Eight years later Melissa and her daughter sold that home and had a small home built in Durango. In 1944 she passed away at the age of 92, saying, “Just get me as close as you can to your grandpa.” She is buried in Spring Hollow.
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By Naomi Hatch