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FLORENCE — With a new virtual speaker series, the Pinal County Historical Society Museum will showcase the lives and stories of some of the area’s earliest residents.

Four monthly virtual sessions are scheduled beginning in January through the museum’s Arizona Humanities Virtual Arizona Speaks Program.

Historian Jim Turner is the first speaker to present in the series. His presentation, “The Lives of Arizonans, from memoirs to fiction,” begins at 2 p.m. on Friday.

“The big takeaway from the Jan. 15 presentation is that participants will gain an understanding of what life was like for Native Americans and early Arizona emigrants,” said PCHS Museum Director Stephanie Joyner.

The presentation aims to bring to life the stories of Native Americans and pioneer families alive using diaries, letters, memoirs and biographies that document their lives and feelings.

“Arizona pioneers tell their stories in diaries, letters and memoirs. Martha Summerhayes’s beloved ‘Vanished Arizona’ and Capt. John Bourke’s ‘On the Border with Crook,’ plus biographies of Hopi, Pima and Tohono O’odham women describe their lives and feelings,” a description of the presentation said.

Attendees will also look at various works of literature that help paint a picture of Arizona life, including Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage,” Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop” and contemporary authors like Marguerite Noble’s “Filaree” and Nancy Turner’s “These Is My Words.”

A former teacher and history professor, Turner is a retired historian for the Arizona Historical Society and an author and editor for Rio Nuevo Publishers. He spends much of his time now giving talks and presentations that combine stories of Arizona’s history with humorous anecdotes.

“I taught many classes in Arizona history for the museum docents and the general public and continued to create and present PowerPoint presentations ranging from the American Southwest to the history of Mexico,” he says on his website, jimturnerhistorian.org.

He said traveling throughout Arizona over the years has taught him that there are different histories in various communities.

“More than 135 museums throughout the state do a yeoman’s job of preserving and presenting that history and many have written it down for posterity. It is my hope to combine these histories into providing a wider audience for the local history books and the stories yet unpublished,” his website says.

Each of the virtual speaker programs is offered free to the public, said Joyner.

“I am thrilled that PCHS Museum is hosting four virtual AZ Speaks Programs,” Joyner said. “I encourage people to enroll and enjoy many of Arizona’s rich stories.”

History buffs can further explore the area’s stories and history by visiting the PCHS Museum, she said.

Among the various books and other items available for purchase in the museum gift shop is the memoir “Es Verdad,” a book about Florence resident Lottie Colton Devine’s childhood during territorial days.

The book “provides an intimate view of life in territorial Florence. It is a great local read to supplement Jim Turner’s presentation,” Joyner said.

Other upcoming presentations planned in the virtual speaker program are:

  • “The Food of Arizona,” by Gregory McNamee, Feb. 27
  • “The Ballad of Arizona,” by Jay Cravath and Dan Schilling, March 19
  • “Honkytonks, Brothels and Mining Camps,” by Jay Cravath, April 9

Each presentation begins at 2 p.m. More information about attending the virtual sessions is available online at the PCHS website, pinalcountyhistoricalmuseum.org.

The virtual speaker series is offered through Arizona Humanities, a statewide nonprofit organization and the Arizona affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Founded in 1968, the PCHS Museum is the oldest historical organization in Pinal County.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.