Larcena Pennington, daughter of Elias and Julia Ann Pennington, was born in Nashville, Tennessee on January 10, 1837, and was one of 12 children. After her mother died, the Pennington family moved to Texas in 1857, traveling by train. During the trip they stopped in Sonoita Creek, which is now Benson, Arizona (part of New Mexico at that time), because Larcena had mountain fever.
The Pennington family lived and worked at Fort Buchanan for two years. The women sewed soldier’s uniforms, while the men supplied hay to the government. At the fort, Larcena met John Hempstead Page. After falling in love, they became the first couple of American citizens to be married in Tucson.
On March 16, 1860, Larcena, along with William Randall and Mercedes Sais Quiroz, was kidnapped by members of the Apache tribe. Mercedes had been the first to be kidnapped, and Larcena, hearing Mercedes’ screams tried to save her with a revolver, but found herself surrounded by Apaches, who told her they had killed her husband.
Being forced to walk, Larcena began to cut off pieces of her clothing in an attempt to leave a trail for rescuers. The Apaches noticed and separated Larcena and Mercedes, and forced Larcena to walk for 16 miles. She began to walk so slowly, the Apaches decided to kill her. They stripped her , beat her, shot her 11 times, and threw her into rocks 17 feet below them, leaving her for dead.
Having fainted, she was unconscious for several days. Hearing the voices of rescuers, including the voice of her husband, she awakened, but could not make herself be heard because the beating, dehydration, and days without food had taken away most of her voice. She fell back into unconsciousness, awakening days later. She put snow on her wounds and began walking home, eventually crawling, due to extreme fatigue.
After 14 days, she made it down the mountain and happened upon a deserted camp where a fire was still burning, and finding a bit of flour, made bread, which was her first meal, other than grass and snow, in two weeks. She crawled for one more day until some of the men from the deserted camp noticed her and, seeing she was bleeding, thirsty, hungry, and badly hurt, they took her to a doctor in Tucson.
She recuperated and was soon reunited with her husband. She learned Mercedes was still alive and had been traded to Fort Buchanan military men in exchange for Indian prisoners. Larcena was considered a heroine by many across the West, and her story of survival and hardship made the headlines of several important newspapers. Not long after Larcena became pregnant with her only child, a girl, her husband was killed by Apaches (1861).
As the Civil War was about to begin, Larcena moved with her father and family members to Patagonia where, during attacks of both smallpox and Cochise Indians, she gave birth to her daughter, Mary Ann. The family moved again, this time to Tubac, where the men worked hard every day and the women cooked and cared for young ones. By April of 1864, the Penningtons were the only residents of Tubac, protected by the long guns of Larcena’s young brothers.
A string of tragedies plagued the family. In 1867, Larcena’s sister died of malaria, her brother Jim, was killed by Apaches in 1868, and her father and another brother were murdered while working at a farm in 1869. The remaining family members went to Tucson and attempted to move on to California, but had to return when Larcena’s sister, Ellen, contracted pneumonia 20 miles outside of Tucson. Ellen died, survived only by Larcena and her brother, Jack, who moved on to Texas.
Despite all the hardships Larcena experienced in Arizona, she refused to leave. She married William Fisher Scott, a Scottish lawyer and judge in 1870, became a newborn Christian and one of the first members of the Congregational Church in Tucson, was named president of the Arizona Historical society, and saw Arizona become a state in 1912. She lived a relatively quiet life during her last years, and after her death in 1913, the city of Tucson honored her by naming a street after her.
Larcena Pennington epitomizes the pioneer spirit of the American West, and lives on as one of Arizona’s most remarkable early residents. The Tubac Presidio Park Shop has designed a postcard in her honor, and we invite you to see this collectable card, as well as other merchandise featuring historical maps, photographs and images from early Arizona.
CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS: Larcena was stabbed 16 times, not shot, finally pierced by a lance and thrown over a cliff and left for dead. Secondly, she had 2 children, one of which was my grandfather, Wm Vernon Scott, by Wm Fisher Scott. My great great uncle was Robert H Forbes, of Tucson, who adopted Larcena’s and Wm Fisher Scott’s son, adopted name Pats Henry Forbes), and wrote the book on the Penningtons. Robert Forbes was married to Wm Fisher Scott’s sister, Georgie Hazel Scott. Thank you Marsha Forbes (a family descendant) who has graciously submitted these corrections along with some additional information for which we are extremely grateful.