Kingman students' history project finishes in national top 10
From left, Olivia Diaz and Avery Moon display the medals and T-shirts they received for their National History Day project, entitled “Short Creek Raid: Whose Responsibility is it to Decide Which Rights are Right?” (KIM STEELE/Miner)
7/16/2014 6:02:00 AM
By Kim Steele
KINGMAN - When students Olivia Diaz and Avery Moon chose their topic for this year's National History Day competition, they worked hard to keep their personal opinions out of their presentation.
The girls, both 14 now and going into ninth grade at Lee Williams High School this fall, wanted to give voice to the people who were affected by a raid on a polygamous offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Short Creek, Ariz.
In July 1953, the state arrested a number of adults and removed 236 children from their families because their parents were part of the group.
But when the research was done and the project completed and judged, Diaz just couldn't hold back her thoughts on what she had seen and heard about the incident as she studied it.
Their research included reading letters, conducting interviews with witnesses and writing a 25-page bibliography.
"We had to make sure we were careful not to choose sides and that we just stated the facts," said Diaz. "That was hard to do. I thought the project was interesting and we got interviews from different sides of the story.
"As we got more sources, we found it even more intriguing. But I found it kind of weird knowing there were older men marrying girls our age. I thought it was gross."
The project was the girls' third attempt at qualifying and placing in the competition in three years.
The first year, they qualified but didn't place with their project about the Titanic. This year and last, they won the top honor at the state level and came in 10th in the nation and world at the nationals.
Their project last year depicted the 1973 tanker car explosion that killed 11 firefighters and a gas company worker.
This year's theme was "Rights and Responsibilities," and about 3,000 students participated in the event, which took place in June in College Park, Md. Both girls' moms, Jill Moon and Nancy Diaz, admitted they were hesitant when their daughters originally came to them with the idea because it involved dark and taboo subject matter.
"I was concerned because I knew they would have to dig into controversial and risqué information, but they handled it well," said Jill Moon. "They did very well with the topic and keeping it neutral. They stuck with the raid and its impact and didn't go much into the polygamy issue."
Their project, which was displayed for a day at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., after it won, featured an interview with Kingman resident Helen Graves, who came to the aid of two wives who were sisters and married the same man.
They needed a home for their eight children while their husband was in jail. Graves bonded with them, found a home and organized aid for the family.
The girls also interviewed Jethro Barlow, who was removed as a child from his family by authorities and continues to live in what was renamed Colorado City in 1960.
Barlow told the girls during the telephone interview about the trauma he experienced during the raid and how it has impacted his life. Moon said it was good to hear the story from someone who was young at the time.
And the Mohave County Museum allowed the girls to read private letters from Mohave County Superior Court Judge J.W. Faulkner, who was instrumental in spurring on the raid, to Arizona Gov. Howard Pyle. The girls said they are the only people, other than the F.B.I., who have been allowed to study the letters since the raid took place.
"Our goal was to tell the story of what happened and how it relates to the theme, which was the rights and responsibilities of the group and the state," said Moon. "I'm glad we chose this topic, because it was original and really interesting. It helped us get the topic across to the National History Day judges because we were so passionate about it."