KINGMAN, Ariz. (AP) — Nearly 100 years of Mohave County records would have disappeared into the desert dust if it had not been for the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.
On Sept. 16, the museum was recognized by the board of supervisors for holding on to more than 400 books and several plastic tubs of county records dating back to the 1800s from the Mohave County assessor's office, treasurer's office, courts, board of supervisors, school superintendent and recorder's office.
The story of how the records came into the hands of the museum is nearly as interesting as the information contained in the books, according to museum board President Bill Porter.
It all started with a raiding party, he said.
"Some time in the early '80s, someone, I don't remember who, called the museum and told us that there were all these county record books just lying around in a dusty hangar out at the (Kingman) airport," Porter said. "So, we went out to look."
Porter said museum staff found piles of county record books piled everywhere in an unlocked hangar without any air conditioning or heating. Nothing was being done to preserve them.
"We were absolutely horrified," Porter said. "These are important to the county's history. They should have been lodged with the state years ago."
Arizona law states that all state, county and city records belong to the state and are supposed to be turned over to the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records division on a regular basis.
Porter said the museum contacted the county, but no one at the county at that time seemed interested in taking the records in and no one seemed to know how the records ended up in the hangar in the first place.
"We made an arbitrary decision to take the books," Porter said. "We couldn't just leave them there."
Once the records were safely transported to the museum, staff cleaned them up as best they could, Porter said.
Pawing through some of the piles, the museum staff found records from nearly every county department: tax records, assessor records, court records, mining claim maps, cattle brand books, board of supervisors records. The books ranged in size from about the size of today's school notebooks to huge 3.5-foot-by-2.5-foot, 40-pound portfolios.
According to county records Manager Robert Ballard, the oldest record books date back to the 1860s and the newest ones to the 1960s.
"It's really an incredible find," he said.
Porter said the museum organized the records and stored them in the museum basement, which is as close as the museum could come to a climate-controlled area.
Porter said that tax and assessor records don't seem that interesting, but the information contained in the books was fascinating.
"They're really, really interesting books. They paint a pretty good picture of daily life," he said. "We found a 1936 or 1937 bill from the Assessor's office, written up in this very formal language, saying a man had paid his property taxes by giving 24 live chickens to the county hospital. 'But after considering the price for chickens on the current market' the man still owed $5.60 in taxes."
The books are also historic works of art, according to museum Director Shannon Rossiter and county Recorder Carol Meier.
"The handwriting in them is just beautiful," Rossiter said.
Meier agreed and pointed to a cattle brand book from the 1800s.
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