Ted Simons: The Norton trilogy is a new book that chronicles the lives and achievements of an Arizona family that helped define western agribusiness and water policy. Arizona historian Jack August is here to tell us more about his book and the legacy left by three generations of John R. Nortons. It's good to have you back.
Jack August: nice to see you.
Ted Simons: I want to get to the Nortons, all three of them in a second, but it seems this is as much a book about Arizona and west as about a family.
Jack August: it really is. In many ways the Nortons are kind of a metaphor of the growth of Arizona, the southwest, and in many ways a national story of the settlement and growth and development of the American west.
Ted Simons: who is John Ruddell Norton, I?
Jack August: He was a mule skinner. A hard worker. An equine specialist, but he became W.R. Murphy's right hand man. Anyone that knows the old history of Phoenix knows that Murphy, the Murphy bridle path is named after him. He helped develop the early kind of corporate water development before the newlands reclamation act of was passed. He helped, for example, John Norton was a Foreman on the Arizona canal, 40 -mile long canal that was a game changer. Completed in 1884-1885. He was also one of the three people that discovered the location of what is now Roosevelt dam. We call it the Tonto reservoir site, back in 1989.
Ted Simons: And he was there to see that dam dedicated.
Jack August: Yes, he was there when Theodore Roosevelt rode up and they fired the shots and gave those wonderful speeches.
Ted Simons: rough and tumble guy, innovative sort of fella. John Ruddell Norton, Jr., who was he?
Jack August: He was the son born in 1901, grew up when Phoenix union, they would float their inner tubes from Phoenix down to the home. His father died in 1923, and I think he was then a sophomore of the University of Arizona. He had to take over the desk really so he went through one bankruptcy, then in 1923 went through a second. He had a rough time. But through grit and a little bit of luck he became part of the produce gang, the , period, which irrigated agriculture in both the west and east valleys, became prominent.
Ted Simons: Indeed. Very big in produce. So much -- I think it's fascinating to see that success coming during the depression, during pretty rough times.
Jack August: boy, very lucky, in fact he moved out to Cashion, Arizona, and ran a grocery store to feed his young child, John Norton III, born in . What a time to be born. He happens to be with us still.
Ted Simons: indeed. John Norton, Jr., went into cattle as well.
Jack August: Yes. He went into cattle when things got better, World War II fixed a lot of things for produce grow growers and you have the likes of John Norton, kemper Marley, Martoris, those names will be familiar to people during that part of the century.
Ted Simons: how was Junior different from senior?
Jack August: Senior was kind of a busy body. He got involved in politics. He was from Kentucky originally. A states rights Democrat tried to rival Carl Hayden back in the day. Then John Norton, Jr., wasn't as politically active but active enough, still a Democrat but had a little F.D.R. fatigue. He becomes head of the Democrats for Wilkie in 1940 . The shift is on.
Ted Simons: Which brings us to John Norton, III, who was a Stanford educated rodeo rider?
Jack August: Yes. His mother went to Stanford. His father, he had a choice. He wanted to major in agriculture. At the time Stanford didn't have an AG degree, so he came back to the U of A, studied agricultural economics, very good student. Business. Animal husbandry. John knew that industry back and forth, so he went into that field. He was a rodeo rider, captain of the U. of A. rodeo team. The picture of John roping a calf in 1950 .
Ted Simons: isn't that something? Again, focused on modern farming and crop diversity. They were all very much a product of their times. Technology was really starting to ramp up.
Jack August: it really did. John soon -- John Norton, III, realized that Arizona and central Arizona, he was farming and all those guys that the wells were going dry, so many Arizonans went to the other side of the river where the perfected rights, the Colorado river were preeminent. Palo Verde irrigation district. After serving a stint in the Korean war he returned realized he couldn't make a living as a rodeo rider and with all the cattle interests newspaper northern Arizona that the father had grown, John, Jr., he decided to take a chance in Blythe and spent years from1955 to 72 ' developing that area as his base point, but he grew that business to northern California, Southern California, west Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado. He became probably the biggest agribusiness Titan in the American southwest.
Ted Simons: with that kind of resume also served in the Reagan administration.
Jack August: Yes. He became head of a group of organizations like the western growers of America, United fruit and vegetable growers. He made some innovative changes and actually changed some of the laws and he became very influential nationally and by the time of Reagan's second administration in 1974 he asked John Norton to serve as deputy Secretary of Agriculture. It was back in the day when we had a mixed delegation of Senator Goldwater, Senator Deconcini, everyone rallied around him. Democrats were in control of the Senate and he went through a difficult or unusual set of hearings to be confirmed but ultimately was confirmed.
Ted Simons: Again, he's still with us. How does he differ from Junior, differ from senior?
Jack August: Well, he shares with the senior he shares his political engagement, though he never ran for elective office. He served and given the fact that they were very, very good business people, both Junior and the third, John now supports candidates like perhaps the person who preceded me, congressman Schweikert, the Goldwater Institute. He's a supporter of that organization. At the same time he has been very philanthropic with the University of Arizona, the Phoenix art museum, a variety of health care initiatives, St. Joseph's hospital and others.
Ted Simons: why isn't the Norton name better known? I would think the name would ring a bell. Why isn't it better known?
Jack August: I think one of the reasons is that none of them in Arizona none of them ran for -- they ran for elective office with John, senior, but he won once,in the 1896 election for County supervisor. After that that was the ends of his political career. He was poking around but because they did not attain elective office, they served kind of behind the scenes, and supported other political and economic agendas.
Ted Simons: That obviously makes for a good subject if there's an important family out there that has not had this kind of attention for an author, this is a gold mine. Why did you decide to write the book?
Jack August: Well, one, some people approached me about it. It was an untold story and that's one of the things that historians and nonfiction writers, even fiction writers do is that they find the story that has not been told and this was really a compelling one, over three generations, starting from the ground up. John R. Norton, senior, had nothing. He helped grade the atlantic-Pacific railroad from Kingman to Albuquerque, then later on helped develop grand avenue. That was another W. J. Murphy scheme and he was one of the foremen back at the turn of the 20th century to open up the western area of Maricopa County to produce development.
Ted Simons: So with this in mind, did anything change as you were researching this family and as you were doing your writing, did you have one image here and wind up with one there?
Jack August: Yes, it really changed. It was really very, very surprising. Also, you had the theme of growth, economic development, resolved this. Was a very hostile environment and all three John Nortons struggled in their own separate, distinctive ways to forge a living here in the American southwest. So by the time John Norton III is mid career, back in the day when there was much more political civility, you have John Norton advising then governor Bruce Babbitt or Senator Dennis Deconcini, getting along well with Congressman Morris Udall. They shared a good sense of humor those two. So that's one of the takeaways as things changed and grew.
Ted Simons: when reading the book one takeaway was this is not a family allergic to hard work.
Jack August: No. No. hours days. As a kid one time John Norton III told me his dad even though they had a ranch he worked summers from age 14, learned how to herd cattle. His dad never let him go to the Prescott rodeo days because it was too much fun, perhaps.
Ted Simons: Great work on this. Congratulations on the book. Thank you so much for joining us.
Jack August: Thank you.