Four Remarkable Leaders: Leave a Legacy of Service
Arizona has a long history of relying on women leaders. What sacrifices accompany accepting a position of leadership?
Would it be easier or more difficult to be part of a family tradition of leadership?
Stroll through the beautiful community of Prescott and it is easy to find evidence of the legacy left by the service of four remarkable women. Their lives span eighty-five years and three generations. The impacts of their dedication to helping family, tribe, and the community were spread though the State of Arizona and the entire nation.
After the founding of Prescott in 1863, the Yavapai people were moved from their ancestral lands to reservations shared with other tribes. In 1878, an infant girl was born to a young Yavapai couple living on the San Carlos Apache reservation. Her parents named her Sica-tuva, which meant ‘Born Quickly.’ This baby girl who was in a hurry to be born would have a busy life filled with accomplishments and service to others.
Sica-tuva lived with her parents on the reservation until it was time for her to attend Rice Indian School and later the Phoenix Indian School. At that time, Government-run Indian Boarding School operated with the policy of assimilating children into the Anglo culture by separating them from their families. Children were expected to adopt an English name. Sica-tuva was fond of flowers, so she chose the name Viola. After finishing her years in school, Viola did not follow the example of many others and remain in Phoenix, She returned to her family on the San Carlos Reservation and became an expert basket and bowl maker, using the traditional willow, cottonwood, yucca and devil’s claw plant fibers for her creations. The design of one her bowls would later be chosen as a Tribal symbol. It reflected two groups living harmoniously together. She would blend her skill in English and her understanding of white culture with her own Yavapai heritage. This blending would change a people and a community.
In 1900, the Bureau of Indian Affairs made the decision to allow the Yavapai to return the Prescott area. At that time, the city had a population of just over 3,000. The eight Yavapai family groups who moved back added only a few numbers to the town’s population. Viola’s family was one of those eight. One year later, she married another one of those returning, Sam ‘Red Ants’ Jimulla. The young couple was became well-known and active in the community, as well as among the slowly increasing tribe. Sam’s calm, steady assurance and Viola’s kindness, energy and enthusiasm were an ideal match. Their efforts would have lasting benefits for both their tribe and the Prescott area.
During the Depression of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Viola used her skills as a basket-maker to teach other women how to make beautiful and useful baskets. Sales of the baskets provided extra income for many families. Not only useful, the baskets are now recognized as valuable works of art. Some of those Yavapai baskets can be found in international collections and in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Jimullas were able to work well with both the Anglo and tribal communities. Viola formed bonds with two prominent Prescott women, Sharlot Hall and Chamber of Commerce leader, Grace Sparks. Another valuable contact, Senator Carl Hayden helped Sam and Viola in their negotiations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These dealings resulted in the allocation of seventy-five acres of land as the official Yavapai Reservation in 1935. Sam was appointed to the position of Chief by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, but was also officially elected by the tribe. The value of service to the tribe was instilled early in the Jimulla family. Patricia McGee, their young granddaughter was very good at math. As a teenager, she assisted her grandfather and aunt with the tribal responsibilities as both secretary and treasurer.
Three of Sam and Viola’s daughters died as young women. With the help of their remaining daughters, Grace and Lucy, the couple raised other grand-children, in addition to Patricia. In 1940, more tragedy struck. Sam died from injuries after a fall from a horse. The tribe’s confidence in Viola’s leadership was so great that they elected her to become Chieftess.
At 62, she was the first woman elected to that position in the western United States. For the next twenty-six years, she would lead her people with great wisdom and kindness. She was drawn to serve them in whatever way they needed and helped them acquire better living conditions and facilities than many other tribes. Her move to strengthen the Yavapai Tribal Council enabled council members to have more interaction in governing the tribe. While still honoring the traditions of her tribe, she was able to create a bridge of understanding and cooperation between Prescott’s Yavapai and Anglo cultures.
Viola was a woman of great faith. She had joined a Presbyterian Mission near the reservation and was active in church life. In 1945, this mission and the city of Prescott hosted the first annual Southwest Indian Bible Conference. When a new building was constructed in 1957, the church chose the name Trinity Presbyterian. This was in honor of the trinity of the founding church, the Yavapai Presbyterians who gave it new vitality and the new Presbyterians in growing Prescott.
One of Viola’s greatest contributions to both the Yavapai and Anglo residents of Prescott came in the 1950’s. Senator Barry Goldwater had great affection for Prescott. It had been the site of his family’s earliest store and he respected the gentle and effective Yavapai Chieftess. Senator Goldwater and others joined in support of more land being added to the Yavapai reservation. The tribal holdings were enlarged to 1,327 acres. Viola firmly believed that education would yield a better future for both her tribe and the Prescott community. She led the council to withdraw their claim to a portion of those acres, with the condition that they be used to create a community college and park. Today, that land is the site of Yavapai College and Rough Rider Park.
Viola Jimulla died in 1966, after a lifetime of loving service to her people and community. Honors continued to be given to her after her death. In 1983, she was named “Woman of the Year” and inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986.
In September of 2005, the University of Arizona dedicated the Women’s Plaza of Honor in celebration of the influence of women in the development of the state. One of the arches bears the inscription “Viola Sica-Tuva Jumilla”. Prescott found a very fitting way to celebrate her contributions to the community. The Rowle P. Simmons Community Center houses a “Meals on Wheels Dining Center”. In 2010, the Board of Directors commissioned a portrait of Viola to be painted on the wall, along with photos of her baskets and a history of her life. Two years later, she would once again be honored at the University of Arizona. Each of the twenty-two recognized Arizona tribal groups selected one woman as their tribe’s honoree on a new arch dedicated to prominent Native American women. Almost fifty years after her death, the Yavapai showed the love and respect they still felt for this humble woman by choosing her name to be imprinted as the Yavapai representative.
During the forty-six years she spent in the Prescott area, Viola Jimulla made positive impacts on both the community and the Yavapai people. After she died, she left the Yavapai an incredible legacy. This legacy was a trio of women she had raised and filled with the desire to serve their people. They would do so for the next twenty-eight years.
Viola’s oldest living daughter, Grace Mitchell, was selected by the Tribal Council to follow her mother as Chieftess. Like her mother, Grace had attended the Phoenix Indian School as a boarding student. In the early 1920’s, it was not uncommon for students to leave school after eighth grade. This was especially true for girls; and even more common for non-Anglo girls.
Grace’s family realized her love for education and encouraged her to remain in Phoenix, attending Phoenix Union High School. During her first year, she probably cast her first vote for a young man whose grandfather had started a store in Prescott. Barry Goldwater ran successfully for President of the Freshman Class. Decades later, Chieftess Mitchell would see her old classmate announce his candidacy for President of the United States on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse.
Graduating from high school and receiving her diploma was a great source of pride for Grace. It was also a source of pride for her tribe. Grace was the very first Prescott Yavapai to achieve this level of education. Just as her mother had wanted to improve the living conditions for the Yavapai, Grace envisioned education as the way to a better life. Her accomplishments were a shining example and she hoped that others would see education as a way of coping with and adapting to the needs of a changing world. Yavapai College was off to a good start, and Grace saw a way to make it even more available for young parents in the Prescott area. She urged the establishment of a day-care facility within the college. This made it possible for young parents to attend classes and have their young children cared for at the same location.
Upon her election by the Tribal Council, Grace was given a pair of white moccasins as a symbol of their hope she would travel far. For ten years, she was a woman who demonstrated great pride in her Yavapai heritage. She guided and uplifted her tribal family and her friends in Prescott. Her example was a positive one of compassion and understanding. Other tribes found her to be a wise woman whose opinions were respected. In 1975, the University of Arizona awarded Grace the honor of Distinguished Citizen for Continued Community Leadership. She had traveled far, but her journey was cut short. Grace Mitchell died in 1976, and the Yavapai Tribal Council once again needed to find someone who could pick up the reins of leadership.
Two more women who had been prepared and trained by the first Chieftess were serving on the Yavapai Tribal Council. Throughout their lives, they had learned the values of integrity, self-reliance and service for the good of others. As adults, they were examples of dedicated service to their tribe and community. Lucy Miller was the last of Sam and Viola’s daughters. Serving with her on the Tribal Council was her niece, Patricia McGee.
Like her mother and sister, Phoenix Indian school had been the site of Lucy’s initial education. As an adult, Lucy served on the Health Advisory Board for the school. She combined a knowledge of modern health practices with the traditional use of herbs and as a treatment for common illnesses.
Lucy also knew that sound management of the leasing rights for the tribe’s land was essential to the financial future of the Yavapai. The Tribal Council elected Lucy Miller to follow her sister Grace as their third Chieftess in 1976. Lucy showed her great confidence in Patricia McGee’s ability by appointing her to supervise these leases and the revenue they brought to the tribe.
Called “Aunt Lucy” by many people in the tribe and community, Lucy Miller could be relied upon for good advice. She took great pride in knowing that tribe members were educated and self-sufficient. The relationship between Prescott’s Yavapai and Anglo populations was peaceful and harmonious. But Lucy was becoming more and more concerned about an unanticipated situation.
Viola had been focused on acquiring tribal lands, improving living conditions for the Yavapai, and developing a strong bond with the Prescott community. Grace had seen education as the way to secure a better future, and Lucy had pursued ways to increase financial security for their people. But Lucy began to see that something very important was being lost.
Lucy remembered growing up as a member of a close and vibrant group of Yavapai who shared many activities together. They gathered seasonal foods, cooked them, and shared group meals. They celebrated special occasions together with traditional stories, crafts, music, and dancing. These things were becoming very rare by the time she was serving as Chieftess. The Yavapai had been able to successfully adapt to life in the Anglo culture, but at the cost of losing much of their own. Lucy Miller would dedicate the remaining years of her life to helping her people revive their tribal culture. As her health worsened, she would rely more and more on her niece Patricia McGee to lead the attempt. Like her mother, Lucy knew her Patricia’s abilities well.
Unlike the other women in her family, Patricia did not go to the Phoenix Indian School. She attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs School near Kingman, Arizona. After her mother’s death, she was raised by her grandmother and aunts, and the Kingman school allowed her to remain closer to home. After graduation from Prescott High School, Patricia would continue her education at Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas. She would live on the Hualapai reservation near the Grand Canyon. During this time, Patricia gained valuable experience working with the finance and public Health Departments of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In the early 1960’s, Viola Jimulla knew her time was limited. She had wanted her talented granddaughter to return to Prescott and take her place in tribal leadership of the Yavapai. Viola had advised Patricia to come back and serve her home community. Patricia took the advice of her beloved grandmother and Chieftess. She returned to Prescott, became a member of the Tribal Council and served for the rest of her life.
Like her aunts, Grace Mitchell and Lucy Miller, Patricia McGee worked to aid both economic development and education. She enrolled in Prescott College during its first year of operation and majored in anthropology. Her skills in finance and land lease management were of great benefit to the tribe. She was appointed by President Nixon to serve on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education and became secretary-treasurer of the Indian Development district of Arizona. Her testimony before Congress on the Water Settlement Act enabled the Yavapai to gain valuable additional water allocations for their herds.
With Patricia’s counsel, the Yavapai-Prescott tribe signed the first agreement to allow casino style gaming in Arizona. She wrote a grant which was awarded $1,200,000 and convinced the city government it would be wise to issue municipal bonds to fund the remainder of the cost of building a resort hotel/casino on reservation land. This would become the Sheraton Resort / Prescott Conference Center. Tribal land was also used as a site the Frontier Village Shopping Center. These all yielded benefits to both the tribe and the community.
Harmonious relations with the Anglo community had been a goal of all the women in her family. But there is a difference between harmony and total assimilation. Like her Aunt Lucy, Patricia became concerned that an essential element to tribal identity was being lost. That element was language and cultural tradition. Doing something about that loss became a priority for her.
“Our young people need to know their own history, culture, tradition, and their own language. This lack of knowing hurts them and you can’t have self-esteem and self-determination with self-knowledge.” She and Lucy Miller began the steps which developed successful Yavapai history, culture and language programs at Yavapai College.
A beautiful statue stands in the lobby of the Prescott Conference Center. It shows a young girl working with her grandmother. Smiling together, they are weaving a beautiful and durable Yavapai basket. The statue was commissioned from a family photograph of Viola Jimulla and young Patricia. The photograph caught a special family moment, but it also caught the symbolism of the lives of a unique family.
Viola Jimulla guided her people from 1940 to 1966. Her two daughters, Grace Mitchell and Lucy Miller, continued the family’s legacy of service for two more decades. Finally, Patricia McGee served at President of the Tribal Council from 1972-1988 and from 1990-1994. Like her grandmother, McGee was inducted in the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. This honor came in 2006. In September, 2013, Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall said, “This town would not be the community as we know it, had it not been for the Yavapai tribe.” And it is certain that the Yavapai people would not have achieved their level of security, self-esteem and self-knowledge without the legacy of four remarkable women.
“The Legacy of Viola Jimulla, Yavapai-Prescott Tribe Chieftess, Lives On,” Judy Riggenbach, Sharlot Hall Library & Archives, September 18,2010 Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail Arizona Centennial Legacy Project
Arizona’s Women’s Hall of Fame, Jimulla,Viola
Arizona’s Women’s Hall of Fame, McGee, Patricia Ann
University of Arizona, Women’s Plaza of Honor, Viola ‘Sicatuva’ Jimulla
University of Arizona News, Apr. 11, 2012 ‘U of A Women’s Plaza’
Prescott Courier, Mar. 7, 1976 “Chieftess of Yavapai Tribe Travelled Far,” C. Simpson
Prescott Courier, Jul. 16, 1976 ‘ Lucy Miller From Yavapai Tribe Is A Remarkable Chieftess’
The Daily Courier, 9/21/10 ‘Yavapai Chieftess Gets Overdue Honor in Prescott’ CindyBarks
- Speculate on the reasons Indian schools required students to attend school far away from their families on the reservation and adopt a different name.
- What were the three strongest motivators for Viola Jimulla?
- How old was Jimulla when she took over leadership of the tribe? How might her age have both complicated and aided her actions as Chieftess?
- What message do you think Viola Jimulla sent to the community when she was willing to give up some acreage on the Yavapai reservation to set aside for location of a community college and a city park?
- Each of these women focused on a specific theme to improve the lives of their people. Identify the theme for each.
- Write a question you would ask each of these women in a private interview.