From J.J. Lamb, Vail Preservation Society

Our stories, local history, lore, and special places help us connect to each other, find our way, and understand the people whose lives and intentions shaped the places where we live. With the support of Arizona Humanities, The Vail Voice, and building on the 2018 documentary Voices of Vail documentary film, the Vail Preservation Society works with OVMS students who research and write stories and create illustrations. These middle school students are placemakers: storytellers and artists who share stories of our past that can inform our future.

Crossing the Border and Building a Life – The Bejarano Family

Felipe Bejarano and family in 1927 at 49 Mining Camp. Bejarano Collection, Vail Preservation Society

By Fred Hebdon and Maverick Gilbert, Old Vail Middle School Students

The Mexican Revolution started in 1910 and ended in 1917. The Revolution was a bloody war that began after the Porfirio Diaz, had been president of Mexico for 31 years. Many people wanted new leadership for Mexico. Some of them, like Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata, had their own armies. You did not want to get on the bad side of one of their forces during the revolution, or you would be killed.

Before the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, part of what is now southern Arizona was part of Mexico. The border had officially changed, but people still moved back and forth to work and to be with family. Later, many families crossed the border because of the Mexican Revolution. This included a man named Felipe Bejerano. Pancho Villa was the reason Felipe Bejarano fled from Mexico. Pancho Villa was trying to get recruits to his army, making his way to the town where Felipe, his wife Delfina, and their young children were living. Anyone who refused Pancho Villa was killed. This was one of the biggest decisions of Felipe’s life. He could have stayed, but he made the decision that best benefited his family. When Felipe’s mother told Delfina that Villa’s army was on the way, Delfina already had all of their belongings packed. As soon as Felipe arrived, the family fled, by wagon, across the border. They made it just in time.

Felipe came to the Vail area in the 1910s and began to start a life for himself and his family. It was not easy for the Bejaranos, but in the end, it was the best thing for their family. The Bejaranos lived where there was work, in the Empire Mountains, Pantano, and Vail. Once they had to dig their own well to get water. This was very necessary in the desert. Felipe hauled ore for the 49 Mining Camp, had a woodcutting business, and worked for the railroads fixing the tracks at different points in his life.

When the Great Depression hit, it was very bad for the Bejarano family. Felipe was out of work, so his sons, including the youngest, Francisco “Chico” Bejarano, found work with the Civilian Conservation Corp. Right after Chico finished middle school, he was working. The CCC had camps around the country during the Great Depression to put young men to work while they could earn $1 a day. Many sent $25 each month to their families and keep $5 for themselves. Chico learned carpentry in CCC Camps at St. David, Tucson Mountain Park, and in the Kingman Mountains.

Chico was trained to become an Army paratrooper in World War II, but he became a machine gunner where he served in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. And, after D-Day, in France and Germany. Chico became a member of the National Brotherhood of Carpenters after World War II. He worked as a building inspector for Tucson and eventually taught carpentry at a university. The legacy of immigrants coming to this country and making a life for themselves is an important part of Vail history.

The Trotter Sisters

By Emmanuel Nunez and Drew Hickey, Old Vail Middle School Students

Some teachers make a lasting, caring impact on our lives that we carry them in our hearts forever. Esta and Lottie Trotter, who were the main teaching staff for the Vail school for over 25 years, were such teachers. Esta was born on November 5, 1904 and Lottie on May 10, 1906 in South Carolina. Their full names were Lillian Esta Trotter and Lottie Roberta Trotter. The Trotter family had a nice home, and even a street named after them in South Carolina. Esta and Lottie began teaching in Vail in 1930. The house that they lived in was on the school grounds, where Old Vail Middle School is today. Their house was where the south basketball court is.

When we first heard about the Trotter sisters in the film Voices of Vail, we thought they were just teachers. But after we were able to interview some of their former students, we discovered how much they were cherished. The people that we talked to said that of all the teachers that they’d had their whole life, the Trotter sisters are the teachers they will always remember. They were strict but cared about their students. Esta and Lottie didn’t assign homework because they knew how much responsibility students had at home. Children had to help on their family’s ranch, with gardens, crops, chores and family businesses. Once, a student’s mother passed away and she had no other family here, or any one to stay with. The sisters helped her get adopted by a new family that would care for her and give her what she needed.

The Trotter sisters held 4H Club after school and really enjoyed planning special holiday programs. Programs were in the evening so that families and community members could come. At Christmas, students would put on plays, sing songs, and recite poems. Santa would come at the end of the evening with a red mesh stocking filled with treats for each student. During the plays and dances Esta played the piano and Lottie would sing. In the spring there was an Easter Egg Hunt and gardening. Because their house was on school grounds, students helped plant flowers and vegetables with them.

The sisters went back to South Carolina every summer, and their mother came out to visit during the winter. They enjoyed going to social, musical and theatrical events in Tucson. Lottie met and later married John Badger while he was attending the University of Arizona. He worked as a student flight trainer and as a realtor. In 1963 the Trotter sisters’ mother passed away in Lykesland, South Carolina. The Trotter Sisters had such a big impact on the community that when their mother passed away it was even in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper. The sisters moved back to South Carolina. Their teaching made a lasting impression on their students and on the Vail School District.

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J.J. Lamb