Marshal Trimble – Keeping the spirit of the Old West alive

By Karen Michelle Sarver | November 19, 2008

Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s Official State Historian, was honored with a “Spirit of the Old West Alive” award Nov. 5 at the Bison Western Museum in Scottsdale.

LeeAnn Sharpe, director of the program, presented the award following her videotaped interview of Marshall. The video is the first in the lecture series, “People Who Keep the Spirit of the Old West Alive,” created to promote the history of the West both online and in museums nationwide.

The interview, accompanied by a slide show, focused on Marshall’s life as a teacher, historian, and musician. While Marshall is certainly all of those – and more – the presentation proved he is also a man with a lot of friends.

 The late Senator Barry Goldwater was one of them.

Marshall met Barry Goldwater in 1972 when the senator spoke at Scottsdale’s Coronado High School where Marshall was teaching Southwest history.

Marshall said he and the senator became friends that day, “and we were friends until the day he died.”

Following his introduction of Goldwater at the high school, Marshall said he went on to introduce the senator “on the Barry Goldwater Lecture Series for more than twenty-odd years.”

“We never talked politics,” Marshall said. “Barry had this whole other side; he liked to talk about Arizona history…we always talked history. That suited him and it suited me too.”

 Another of Marshall’s friends was Henry Cordes, grandson of German immigrant John Henry Cordes who established the town that bears his name in 1883, and became its first postmaster. 

Marshall’s family met Henry when their 1936 Ford broke down in Cordes.

“Not Cordes Junction, Henry Cordes’ town,” Marshall clarified. “We lived there for two, three, four days. We were the guests of Henry Cordes.”

 He added, “I think the population of Cordes was one.”

 Besides a politician and a town founder, Marshall’s list of friends included Academy Award winner: Ben Johnson.

Marshall called Johnson, who acted in “The Wild Bunch,” “Shane,” “ Junior Bonner” and other westerns “one of the best storytellers.”

The two men camped together in Monument Valley for a week for an “Arizona Highways” piece Marshall was writing about the actor. 

“Other than his loud snoring, we had a very wonderful time,” Marshall said. “You met him and it felt like you knew him all your life.”

Marshall said that when he heard the news of Johnson’s death in 1996 he had to pull his car off to the side of the road to gather his thoughts.

“He was just that kind of guy. I’ll never forget him.”

But one of the Official State Historians dearest friends is Arizona Official State Balladeer Dolan Ellis. Marshall and Dolan have performed together since about 1978.

“He’s a great guy, like Ben Johnson,” Marshall said, “to know him is to love him.”

Marshall recalled that when he “went down with a heart issue” and couldn’t make his performances, Dolan called him, asking if Marshall had any shows he needed covered.
“I said, ‘Yeah, all of ‘em.”

Marshall said Dolan drove “all over the place to cover my shows. And when the checks came in and I tried to give ‘em to him he wouldn’t take ‘em. We’re that kind of friends.”

Marshall’s friends gathered, under difficult circumstances, to show their support during a book signing for “Ash Fork” – the history of his childhood hometown.

“The day … the book came out and we went up there for the book signing, there was a blizzard,” Marshall said. “I started signing books at … noon and it snowed up at Flag. and Prescott – everywhere. And people came from as far away as Kingman and Flagstaff, through the storm to come to the book signing. And, those,” he said, “are friends.”

To learn more about Marshall Trimble, visit his website at