The DCWM is proud to announce the 2023 winner of the Elizabeth Hudson Smith Award, Betty Watt. Many will be familiar with Betty's work here in Wickenburg. She embodies the qualities of what the award was created for including leadership and inspiring other women to further the Western spirit!
The Desert Caballeros Western Museum is proud to announce the winner of the 2nd Annual Elizabeth Hudson Smith Award, Betty Watt.
Betty will formally receive the award during the Cowgirl Up! Western Woman of Distinction Luncheon.
A well-known figure in Wickenburg, Betty embodies the qualities for which the award was created, leading by example and inspiring other women to further the Western spirit. Watt's dedication to giving back to her community started long before moving to Wickenburg. In Colorado Springs, she served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Springs YMCA/USO, Colorado Springs Community Trust Fund, Pikes Peak Community Trust Fund, Colorado Springs Junior League, El Paso County 4-H Council, Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association Foundation, Workout Unlimited of Colorado Springs, United Way of Colorado Springs, and became the first woman ever to serve on the "Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo" board.
Watt served as a Trustee of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum from 2014-2020 and, after a brief pause during the pandemic, she returned in 2021 and has continued to serve as a Trustee since. Her father Kenneth Brookhart was an early trustee of the Museum. She has successfully chaired the Heart of the West Gala, the Museum's second-largest fundraising event, for nine years. She has also been instrumental in revitalizing Las Señoras de Socorro, a longstanding women's organization dedicated to supporting the Museum.
Betty Watt was selected for this award as a clear representative of the Cowgirl Up! spirit. In her younger days, Betty owned and showed Percheron draft horses and was the Ladies Cart and Team Champion of the National Western Stock Show in Denver and the American Royal Stock Show in Kansas City. In 2013 she showed Lets Shake Em Up to an AQHA world championship in Performance Halter Geldings. Also, she rode Dun in the Dark to two IBHA world championship in Western Trail and Western Riding. Still a cowgirl, Betty is a member of Las Damas and recently drove her team of mules in the 2023 Gold Rush parade in Wickenburg, Arizona.
Please join us at the Western Women of Distinction Luncheon to celebrate this wonderful award.
The keynote speaker will be Meredith Dunlap-Sterret, senior vice president, Northern AZ Regional Manager at National Bank Of Arizona.
Learn more about the luncheon or purchase tickets now.
Elizabeth Hudson Smith owned and operated the Vernetta Hotel in Wickenburg for over 30 years, from 1905 to 1935. As one of the first African American female entrepreneurs in the state, she served many passengers on the Santa Fe Railroad. Elizabeth Smith also opened an opera house in Wickenburg that showcased touring theatrical companies.
Elizabeth and her husband Bill Smith arrived in Wickenburg in 1897. At that time, Wickenburg contained a diverse population including people of Mexican, European, and Asian descent, as well as American Indians.
Elizabeth and Bill Smith first worked at the Baxter Hotel where Elizabeth cooked and cleaned while Bill managed the site. Elizabeth's excellent cooking attracted local attention. Santa Fe Railroad officials encouraged the Smiths to build and open their own hotel across from the railroad depot to provide food and lodging for travelers. They did just that, and the hotel became known for its fine cuisine and atmosphere. The building featured red brick walls that were twelve inches thick, six giant chimneys for the fireplaces and several wood cook stoves. Elizabeth worked with her husband there until the couple separated in 1912.
During the early twentieth century, racial boundaries were fluid in Wickenburg, and Elizabeth Smith found acceptance while the business prospered. She acquired a variety of properties in the area, including a farm, rental properties, and several mining claims. On her farm, she planted fruits and vegetables and cared for livestock for use in the hotel kitchen. Elizabeth Smith also taught French to local citizens as well as to students who traveled from Phoenix to study with her.
However, during the Great Depression, economic competition increased, and the hotel lost business. Elizabeth faced exclusion from social groups and even her own church, as Wickenburg's population increased and racism began to flourish. She continued to operate the hotel until her death in 1935, at the approximate age of 65.
The Vernetta Hotel, now called the Hassayampa Building, is a National Historic Register site. This lovely old building is now used for offices, but visitors may walk or drive by it in Wickenburg at 1 Apache Street.
Information from Arizona Women's Heritage Trail
Mrs. Smith was widely known and will always be remembered for her deeds of kindness to those in need of food, money or lodging.