OUR PIONEER ANCESTORS LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR STATEHOOD
In the 1860s, Don José Refugio Barragán was farming on the north side of the Gila River in the area that is now Florence, Arizona. He was a “criollo” (born in New Spain of Spanish descent) who had had fled north to the safety of the United States when the Mexican state of Sonora was briefly occupied by French troops loyal to Maximilian I.
Don José was involved in cattle ranching and mining in the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua by 1870, when his 13-year-old daughter Elena married Joseph Collingwood in Tucson’s San Agustín Cathedral.
Joseph Collingwood was of English descent. He had been born circa 1838 in Florence, Ohio, and appears on the 1866 census in Yuma County, where a great deal of mining activity was going on. By 1870, his residence was listed as “Ranchos del Gila” (where the city of Florence is now).
Mr. Collingwood opened the first store in what is now Florence; it was a branch of the prosperous E. N. (Edward Nye) Fish store in Tucson. His name appears in the Territorial Legislature papers as one of four men petitioning for the formation of Pinal County, which was formed in February 1875.
Mr. Collingwood was involved in freighting and mining in Pinal County and cattle ranching in Sonora. In 1874, he built a fine, two-story mansion in Florence, which he had named after his birthplace of Florence, Ohio. His wife and three daughters lived in the house in Florence and, at other times, on the family ranch in Sonora. Their daughter Mary Ellen was born on the ranch in 1874.
Mr. Collingwood was the first elected chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. He was instrumental in the building of roads and the construction of the first courthouse, now the McFarland State Park. He died December 10, 1882, at age of 45 during a typhoid fever epidemic. His widow Elena married William P. Bamrick in 1886.
The Collingwoods’ daughter Mary Ellen married George Eggleston Truman. Of Irish descent, he had been born in 1865 in Oneida County, New York. George followed three of his older siblings west--to the boom towns of Pinal County, where the Silver King Mine produced $16,000,000 worth of silver ore before petering out about 1890.
Mr. Truman’s older sister, Louisa (Mrs. Burton John) Hawley, owned a store--first in the mining town of Silver King, and then in Florence. His older brother, William Charles Truman, was elected sheriff of Pinal County for seven terms; he also served as sergeant-at-arms for the 1910 Arizona Constitutional Convention.
George was the only man from Pinal County to enlist during the Spanish-American War as one of Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Rough Riders. He even took part in the Battle of San Juan Hill. Truman later won a seat in Arizona’s territorial government, serving on the governor’s three-member Board of Control, which had the responsibility of overseeing the state’s institutions. He died in 1929 while serving as a Democrat state senator for Pinal County. One of his three sons succeeded him in the Arizona State Senate.
George and Mary Ellen’s son, John O’Carroll “Jack” Truman, was born in 1909 in Florence, Arizona Territory. He eventually moved to Phoenix, where he found employment as an auditor for the Arizona State Tax Commission.
Jack Truman married (Margaret) Helen Gass in 1936. The Gass family had come from the Alsace-Lorraine area around 1868 to settle in the post-Civil War South. They moved to the Arizona Territory around 1905, in hopes of saving the life of one of their eight sons, who had contracted the dread disease tuberculosis. He survived, and the family remained and opened businesses in downtown Phoenix. Another of the Gass sons, Charles Peter, returned to Alabama in 1908 to marry Lucille Henke and bring her out to Arizona. Their daughter, (Margaret) Helen Gass, was born in Phoenix in 1914.
Although John O’Carroll Truman and his wife (Margaret) Helen raised their children in Phoenix, they maintained their ties to the city of Florence in Pinal County. The Pinal County Historical Museum has a permanent exhibit depicting the accomplishments of the Collingwood and Truman families of Florence.
They came, they stayed, and they persevered.
Margaret Truman Baker is a member of The First Families of Arizona and a direct descendant of the Barragan, Collingswood, Truman and Gass families, all of whom were in Arizona before statehood.
Article copyright © 2015 by Margaret Truman Baker. Used by permission; all rights reserved. Last revised 24 November 2016.
© Copyright 2016, The First Families of Arizona. Last revised 24 November 2016.