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  • David Grassé

What Not to Write About

Occasionally, while working on other projects, I will run across what seems an interesting person or topic. By way of example, there was a former Arizona gunhand named Dave Butler Neagle, who, while employed as a bodyguard for Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field, killed former California Chief Justice David S. Terry in train station in Lathrop, California, in the bloody culmination of a feud between the two jurists. Better yet, at the heart of the matter was a woman named Sarah Althea Hall (pictured below), who Terry had represented in court when she sought to divorce her alleged husband, millionaire Senator William Sharon. Associate Justice Fields was coincidentally assigned to the Sharon vs. Sharon case, and this is where the trouble between the two men began. There were two reasons I decided against writing this manuscript. The first reason was the topic had already been covered in at least two books, Robert Henry Kroninger's Sarah and the Senator (1964) Robin C. Johnson's Enchantress, Sorceress, Madwoman: The True Story of Sarah Althea Hill (2014), both of which covered the topic in a fairly thorough manner. The second reason, and the more compelling, was most the story takes place in California. Dave Neagle is the only tie the story has to Arizona, and even this is tenuous at best. Neagle arrived in Tombstone in 1880, and by 1883 had moved on to Montana. Granted, he was in Tombstone during its boom years, had worked as a deputy under Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, and served as City Marshal after Virgil Earp was shot by unknown assailants. Neagle even had occasion to kill one Antonio Figueroa, after Figuero shot another man during a drunken Cinco de Mayo celebration. However, for me, three years is not enough of an Arizona story. Further, even if one focused on Neagle's story, rather than the Terry-Field- Hall drama, the biggest events in his life take place elsewhere. Perhaps, I am limiting myself, but I prefer to write the history of Arizona, and to make this my speciality. There are so many great stories which come out of this region which have yet to be told (not to mention all those tales written by "golden-era" hacks which need to be reexamined and corrected). I have never found myself at a loss for topics in writing about this territory/state. Then again, there are some subjects I won't touch, like the Earp-Cowboy Feud, as they have been exhausted. Still, I have managed to find subjects for four manuscripts about Arizona - Commodore Perry Owens, The Bisbee Massacre, The Train Robberies of Territory, and Augustine Chacon - none of which has been written about in any depth. And there are many more. Therefore, I leave tales like that of Miss Sarah Althea Hall and her rather tragic love life to other authors, while I focus on the story of this territory/state and its people.

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