Author tells story of The Salome Sun
A book about journalist Dick Wick Hall, a co-founder of Salome, Ariz., who became famous for his colorful humor and wit in the early part of the 20th Century, was recently penned and published by his granddaughter Robin Cutler.
“The Laughing Desert: Dick Wick Hall's Salome Sun” includes editions of his illustrated newspaper, as well as a family photo album and love poems he penned for his wife, Daysie.
“As a historian, I think of the book as a way to make a slice of history available to anyone who loves the humor, romance and literature that is unique to the West,” Cutler said.
“Between Nov. 1925 and June 1926, the Salome Sun appeared in Sunday newspapers across America as a special feature. Over the years I've inherited or collected material that I now have in a small family archive.”
Some of those materials came from the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson and Yuma. Salome was located in Yuma County before 1983, when La Paz County was established.
“Many years ago, I purchased papers that had once belonged to illustrator Claude Putnam; these included the master copy of the nationally syndicated Salome Sun,” Cutler said. “And then I have the personal papers that my mother, Jane Hall, left when she died in 1987.”
Cutler describes Hall as a “tall, lean, long-limbed man with dark brown eyes, a warm smile, and a down-to earth-manner that belied his sharp mind and multifaceted personality.”
Hall was born in Creston, Iowa, on March 20, 1877, with the given name of DeForest Hall. In 1898, he came to Arizona and spent several months with the Hopi Tribe on their reservation.
In 1902, he and his brother Ernest became editors for the Wickenburg News-Herald, and he changed his name from DeForest to Dick Wick in honor of his friend Henry Wickenburg.
In 1904, Hall and his brother became founding members of the town of Salome along with friend Charles Pratt. Dick chose the name of the town after watching Pratt's wife, Grace Salome Pratt, walk through hot sand without shoes. The sand burned her soles, causing her to “dance” around in pain. As such he decided “Salome ~ where she danced ~ Arizona” was appropriate.
Hall was convinced Salome would grow and prosper, and filed a claim for several pieces of property in the area under the Homestead Act.
“After the Santa Fe railroad came through, Salome acquired a post office, an inn and several other buildings,” Cutler wrote. “Dick called the area ‘Happy Valley.'â€-So few people lived there, folks were always glad to see each other...”
Hall's optimism and sense of humor “were recognizable in the signs he placed within 25 miles east and west of Salome,” Cutler added.
One sign stated, “Old Rockefeller Made His Pile – And Maybe We Will — After a While.” Other signs assured tourists that they could find “The Softest, Sweetest Air on Earth -- Free Hot Air” and “Tickle Lizzie's Carburetor with Laughing Gas.”
Another proclaimed: “Smile, Smile, Smile. You Don‘t Have to Stay Here But We Do.”
Hall made frequent trips to Los Angeles by train, and in 1909, met his future wife Daysie Mae Sutton, “a tall, auburn-haired young woman with hazel eyes from Portland, Oregon.”
Hall married Daysie, an aspiring opera singer, in Santa Ana, Calif., on April 29, 1911. They had two children together, Dick Wick Jr. in 1912 and Jane Elizabeth in 1915.
Daysie and the children often spent the summer months on the California coast to escape the oppressive Arizona heat. Hall remained in Salome, but would stay in constant contact with his wife via love letters and poetry. An assortment of these letters and poems are published in Cutler's book. “I was surprised to find that Dick Wick Hall was such a romantic; he wrote beautiful love poems,” Cutler said.
In 1917, Hall created the Salome Sun, a “modest newssheet” with a “homegrown compilation of local news, humor, and philosophy spread out over two sides of a legal-sized page and decorated with his rough sketches,” Cutler wrote.
“Dick, or whoever managed the Salome Service Station, handed it out to customers as they refueled their Tin Lizzies,â€-their parched throats, and their spirits on the way to California or on the way back. Before long, thousands of Americans had read the Sun and passed it along to their friends.”
In Salome, Hall worked in a one-room adobe building with a fireplace and “wrote often to Yuma County to protest the terrible condition of the road between Salome and Phoenix (89 miles) and Salome and Los Angeles (284 miles),” Cutler added.
“And it was in this office that he began to create the unforgettable characters in his tall tales. They were inspired by local personalities and critters such as horned lizards, Gila monsters, coyotes, jackrabbits, snakes, scorpions, and centipedes.”
One of his most famous creations was a 7-year-old bullfrog who wore a canteen on its back and never learned to swim because there was no water in the desert. The frog would become the town's mascot, and Salome High School is known as the “home of the Fighting Frogs.”
To honor the heritage, 139 students at the high school will receive a copy of Cutler's book. “I hope they get a kick out of it because the Salome Sun is filled with poems, stories, and loads of cartoons and caricatures that appeal to all ages,” Cutler said.
Hall died April 28, 1926, with his wife, children, and brother Ernest at his bedside — one day before his 15th wedding anniversary.
Although there have been many changes in the 86 years since his death, Hall's legacy lives on in the town he was proud to call home.
“If you drive into Salome, there is no longer a ‘Laughing Gas Station,' and the town seems to be much like other desert towns populated by resilient, hard-working Americans,” Cutler said. “What my grandfather left to Salome residents is a unique and intriguing story. His genuine love for Yuma County and for this town in what he called Happy Valley, still gives Salome's year-round and winter inhabitants something to smile about.”
The Laughing Desert is available for purchase at Amazon.com, or at bookstores. For more information about the author, go to www.RobinrCutler.com.