Monday, March 30, 2009


It is likely that few of the thousands of people who travel Interstate 40 across northern Arizona even think about stopping in some of the small towns between Flagstaff and the eastern Arizona border with New Mexico. The small towns have interesting names like, Leupp Corner, Two Guns, and Lupton. Some of the towns still have the ruins of the tourist stops built when Route 66 was a major highway. One of those small towns is called Joseph City.

Joseph City lies in the middle of some of the most desolate and unappealing landscape in the entire country. It has no attractions whatsoever. If the Salt River Project had not built the Cholla Power Plant just outside of town, the population would have been no more than a few families. As it is, the population is only reported as "sparse."

In 1877, my great-grandfather Henry Tanner and his new bride Eliza, got out of a wagon after traveling for over a month, and began their life together out there in the wind and dust of the Colorado Plateau. At that time the settlement, if you could call it that, was called Allen's Camp.

It probably never occurred to Henry that he was broke and unemployed. He didn't have Social Security, Unemployment Insurance or any other government welfare program to keep him and his soon growing family alive. They and their families had only recently been driven forcibly out of the United States and then subjected to Army occupation. Their property had been confiscated and they were systematically persecuted.

Henry lived in what became Joseph City until he died at age 82. In his entire life, he probably never even thought of the concept of unemployment. You might argue that they lived on a "farm" and that is a lot different from today when few can live on a farm. You try and grow a "farm" out there where the wind blows 350 days a year and you are living at 5000 above sea level. There was no running water, they had to haul water from the Little Colorado River in barrels and let the sediment settle out, just to get a drink.

In typical Mormon fashion, they built dams on the Little Colorado River to irrigate the soil but the sandy soil and periodic floods washed away dam after dam. They raised cattle, sorghum for molasses, milk cows and a lot of children.

They lived in a cooperative society. They helped their neighbors. Although they had their differences, even after three generations, there is a bond between their descendants. If your ancestors came from Joseph City, you share a common bond of suffering and hardship that the years cannot erase.

It is remarkable to me to hear today's stories of the unemployed. They act like it is someone's fault that they do not have a "job." What do all of these people do all day? They certainly don't go volunteer at the public library, they don't show up to serve at the relief agencies, they don't volunteer in their communities, they aren't planting gardens, cleaning their houses or helping in care centers. We certainly haven't seen a resurgence of community service in places like Michigan and Arizona where there is high unemployment.

Maybe we need to rethink the concept of unemployment.

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