Prescott group honors former tribal leader Viola Jimulla

Presecott, Arizona (AP) September 2010

She was the leader of the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe for decades in the mid-20th century and reportedly the first woman to take on the role of chieftess of a tribe in the American West.

Viola Jimulla also was a force in the community – partnering with prominent residents such as Grace Sparkes, Sharlot Hall and Barry Goldwater – and taking a leadership role in the local Presbyterian Church.

But some Prescott officials felt few people remembered Jimulla and her contributions to Prescott, and they decided to do something about it.

During September, a mural of Jimulla was dedicated at the Rowie P. Simmons Community Center. She’s now the namesake for the Prescott Meals on Wheels’ dining room.

Several large photos of Jimulla are displayed along with her master basket-weaving as well as a brief written history of her life.

“We wanted a name that was historic in the community, so I researched the tribe,” Meals on Wheels board member Judy Riggenbach said. “The board felt, as I did, that she is such an important figure in Prescott’s history and so unknown that it would be an honor for us to honor her.”

Board member Bob Painter said Jimulla’s commitment to helping the community parallels the Meals on Wheels organization’s own goals of helping homebound seniors.

“She was a great asset to her people and a great asset to Prescott,” Painter said.

Jimulla, who was born on the San Carlos Indian Reservation in 1878, later moved with her family back to their homeland in the Prescott area.

Her husband, Sam Jimulla, was chief of the tribe but died in an accident in 1940. Viola Jimulla then served as chieftess until her death in 1966. Three of her five daughters died before she did, all at relatively young ages.

Darlene Ogo said Jimulla was her grandmother and raised her after her own mother died when she was 5.

Another granddaughter, Ruth Welsh, said Jimulla was there when she was born.

“My grandmother delivered me. She was my doctor,” Welsh said.

Welsh, Ogo and other relatives attended the dedication ceremony for Jimulla. Ogo recalled a woman who quietly advised and guided fellow tribal members.

“She had so many obstacles, but she opened the way for a bunch of us – all of us, really,” Ogo said. “She did lead us in the right direction,” Ogo said. “She helped pave the way to where we’re living now.”