Orson Pratt McRae was born in St. David, Cochise County, Arizona, 15 October 1884, the ninth child of Joseph McRae and Maria Taylor. Not much is known about his boyhood except that it was spent in St. David. At the age of nine, the family moved to Thatcher where he attended school. His mother passed away when he was sixteen years of age. He attended Academy a year, then he and his brother Parley worked in the mines in Bisbee.
After working there for some time, Orson made a trip with Charles Dana of Mesa, Arizona, to visit Charles' brother, Isaac. While staying at the Dana home, they were invited to attend a dance. It was here that he first met his bride-to-be, Estella Spillsbury, a sister of Isaac Dana's wife. Estella's home was in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. She had come to visit her sister, Fanny Dana, who was to help her with her wedding clothes as she was planning on marrying. But when she met Orson at the dance, it was love at first sight. After the dance they went home together and he asked her to marry him. She told him she was engaged and couldn't, although she would like to. He said, "So was I, until I met you--but not any more--I'll just wait until you change your mind." She saw him twice before she went back to Bisbee, but just couldn't seem to get him off her mind. It was all she talked about when she returned home, what a swell boy she had met.
A week after arriving in Bisbee, she was sitting by the window sewing when two boys came to the boarding house where Estella was working and asked for board and room. It was Orson and his brother, Parley. She was very thrilled to see them. She and her girl friend, Nell Sevey, and the two boys went horseback riding, dancing and to shows together. Nothing more was said about getting married, although there was a lot of thinking done at this time. So, in March, Estella and Nellie went back to Mesa to get ready to be married in June as they had planned. They found work there and missed the boys, but received letters nearly every day. Estella's mother was also there on a visit from Mexico. One day who should appear but Parley and Orson who had come to tell them goodbye, as they were going to South America to work for three years. It was sad news but they made the best of it and had a wonderful time for three days. The last day when they came to say goodbye, they were all in the living room and her sister, Fanny, said, "I surely hate to see you boys go so far away." Orson spoke up and said, "I won't go if Estella will marry me."
She looked at her mother and asked what she should do. The mother told her she thought she would be making a mistake if she let Orson go. So she said she'd marry him. Parley said, "Let's make it a double-header." So, with a little persuasion, Nell consented. The four went to Phoenix, got their marriage licenses, dresses, and rings; came back to Fanny Dana's, where her husband, Bishop Isaac Dana, performed the double ceremony on 15 May 1907. Lo Wright acted as one of the witnesses..
The boys cancelled their contracts to South America and both young couples went to Bisbee to live. Their first home was a two-room house in South Bisbee, Orson and Estella living is one room and Parley and Nell in the other. Later they moved to Bisbee where they only intended to stay one year but liked it so well they decided to stay.
It was here that Orson's three children were born: Lloyd Pratt on 6 June 1909; Theda, 6 October 1910; and Joseph Verl, 8 July 1915.
Orson lived in Cochise County all of his life. He moved with his family to a ranch near Naco where he had a dairy. He worked for four different mining companies, lastly the C&A Mining Company as foreman on top. It was at this time he was appointed to serve as a member of Sheriff Wheeler's posse to rid the district of treason and traitors.
A group of German rioters, called the I.W.W.s, had been preaching treason from street corners and public parks. Violence was resorted to and homes terrorized by threats. The orders of public officials had been disregarded. A condition of chaos existed until the people asked themselves the question, whether they should not make their own community safe for democracy.
In the early hours of the morning, 12 July 1917, two thousand tried and true soldiers of the Republic gathered under able leadership to rid the district of treason and traitors. Orson, a member of the loyalty League, was chosen to assist in this great cause. He and four others went to the home of Mrs. E.A. Stodgill, 17 B, Jiggerville, to arrest a man by the name of James Brew who had been one of the traitors. At 8:30 in the morning, Brew fired three shots through the door of the room at the men as they came onto the porch. He then opened the door and fired two more shots before being instantly killed by the only shot fired by the men on the porch. Chick Walters drew his gun as Orson fell with three bullets taking effect in his body and he only lived five minutes.
The shot which killed Brew, fired by Chick Walters, went through the front door of the house and through three walls, then through a porch swing in the back yard, not a foot from the head of Mrs. Stodgill, who was sitting in the swing. Orson was esteemed as an excellent citizen and the sacrifice of his life brought the deepest regret, lightened only by the knowledge that it was in the cause of loyalty to country and good citizenship.
His funeral was attended by the largest crowd which had ever been present at a similar event in that section of the country.
The body lay in state on the porch of the Phelps Dodge Store, as the plaza in front of the store is the only place in the city where such an immense crowd can congregate. It was covered during the services by a large memorial flag, and Charles M. McKean of Lowell and Dr. N.C. Bledsoe of Bisbee formed the Guard of Honor, standing at the head and foot of the casket respectively with grounded rifles.
The services began promptly at noon. Cleon T. Knapp delivered the eulogy and Lorenzo Wright, who had known the deceased and his family friend since childhood, paid tribute to him as a true friend, a faithful son, a true and loving husband and father. The services closed with a prayer by Powell Cosby, an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, of which the deceased was a member.
The body was viewed by the people assembled, numbering about ten thousand, and then five thousand men, members of the Workmens' Loyalty League, the Citizen's Protective League, and the Posse which participated in the big drive Thursday - all on them carrying American Flags and wearing a handkerchief on the right arm - formed in two columns of four and marched in the funeral cortege to Evergreen Cemetery. They were headed by the C&A band. At Lowell they formed a single file on each side of the street through which the hearse and family and relatives passed. Services were held at the grave and the body laid in its last resting place.
All flags in the city were at half-mast all day and all traffic on Main Street and Subway was stopped from 11 o'clock until 2, and on Naco Road and in Lowell from 1:30, when the funeral procession left the plaza, until it reached the cemetery. The mines, which had lately been working Sundays on account of the government's need of every possible pound of copper, closed for the day; and the restaurants, drug stores, and small business houses, many of which are open on Sunday, closed from 11 o'clock until after the funeral.
Mr. Knapp said in part: "We are gathered in this hour to pay tribute to O.P. McRae--Patriot. I feel how fruitless must be any attempt to gild with words the grief of those whom he left behind. There should, however, be a solemn pride in the realization that too few men are paid final tribute such as this gathering today.
"These are trying times and the whole world seems to be on fire. For three years the armies have swayed back and forth across the battlefields of Europe. Millions have grappled with millions, and the hand of death has touched at nearly every fireside. Millions of aching hearts will never be healed. From out of the distance this nation has watched, until finally a higher power has called upon us to throw our lot with those other nations and make the world safe for Democracy. We are now engaged in that gigantic task, and soon a mighty army of the youth and flower of mankind of this nation will be in the trenches and looking across 'No Man's land.
"Under the able leadership of our President, all are called upon to play a part. Some in the mud of the trenches; some in the heat of the fields; some in the rear of the factories; some in the swelter of the mines. But all are called upon to play the part of loyal men and women of America. In the hour of that appeal, and on Easter Sunday, the anniversary of the resurrection of our Savior, and of a New Hope, thousands of loyal Americans, with flags in hand, gathered in line of march and pledged themselves to a service of loyalty. Among these thousands, with flag in hand, was the man to whom, in this hour we pay our tribute. How nobly has he fulfilled his pledge of loyalty and allegiance.
"And in that hour, there came into our community a voice of treason. Under a cloak and mask of something else, a gigantic effort was made to tie the hands of our Government by crippling our local industries. The men who preached this treason were not content to refuse to give their efforts to their country in its hour of need, but were intent that others who were loyal should be prevented. We have seen our streets clogged. We have heard treason preached from street corners and public parks. Violence was resorted to, and homes terrorized by threats. The orders of public officials have been disregarded. A condition of chaos existed until we asked ourselves the question whether we should not first make our own community safe for Democracy.
"In the early hours of the morning of July 12, two thousand men and true soldiers of this Republic, gathered under able leadership to rid this District of treason and traitors. I am not here, neither is the occasion appropriate, to sing a song of hate. And when the sun had gone down that day, behind these western hills, our community was again safe and loyal. But not without a great price. For one of those soldiers of the Republic, in those early morning hours, dedicated his life to the proposition that when the Republic calls, there is no room for treason.
"I contend that O.P. McRae is as great a hero as any who has given, or who may give, his life upon the battle-fields of Europe. His sacrifice was as great. He was living in the morning of life, with dreams of greater accomplishments yet to come. Born in a valley across those mountains, he grew up in the love and esteem of this community. He leaves a sorrowing family and a host of saddened friends. But even in our hour of grief, we are sure that to those he left behind there is a solemn pride in his loyalty. From the battle-fields may come the story of heroic deeds, but the Warren District will never forget, and will ever keep green, the memory of O.P. McRae -- Patroit!"