Historic Cook Church in Sacaton Arizona

Squeezing Stories Out of the Past

It was my Father who instilled in me a love of history.  However, for him history was not an exercise in memorizing dates, names and places, but rather the story behind the dates, names and places.

Told or written as a story, history comes alive and becomes interesting and exciting.

As a result of my Father’s guidance I have always enjoyed history including visiting historical sites and learning the stories of their past.

Since I started writing for HubPages four years ago I have found myself taking detours seeking out places with a possible story while traveling.  Whenever I come across such places with a possible story, I take pictures and gather what information I can and then later search the web for more information.

Sacaton Exit on Interstate 10 in Arizona

Sign in Arizona desert pointing way to city of Sacaton, Arizona
Sign in Arizona desert pointing way to city of Sacaton, Arizona | Source

Mathew Juan-Ira Hayes Veterans Memorial Park

Matthew B Juan - Ira Hayes Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton, Arizona
Matthew B Juan - Ira Hayes Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton, Arizona | Source

Such was the case one Saturday when traveling to a timeshare presentation in Phoenix with my wife. Discovering that we were well ahead of schedule, I gave in to the urge to take the Sacaton exit off the Interstate and check out the town of Sacaton. The name Sacaton had intrigued me for years as I passed the exit while traveling between Tucson and Phoenix, and now I was about to satisfy my curiosity and see the town.

Sacaton is a small town (population under 2,000) on the Gila River Indian Reservation that is situated in Pinal County just south of Phoenix, Arizona.

Despite being the capital of the Gila River Indian Community, there is not much of interest for travelers to see in Sacaton other than the Mathew B. Juan - Ira H. Hayes Veterans Memorial Park which honors two local men who became famous war heroes, Mathew Juan from World War I and Ira Hayes from World War II.

Cook Memorial Church

A marker33° 4′ 44″ N, 111° 44′ 28″ W -
E Pima St, Sacaton, AZ 85247, USA
[get directions]

Cook Memorial Church located on the corner of Church and Pima Streets in Sacaton, AZ

I Discover a Beautiful Old Church

Continuing past the park I stumbled upon an abandoned but still magnificent, old church. Finding a shady parking spot and leaving my wife in the car reading a magazine, I explored the grounds.

This was a very large church for such a small town. My research later showed that it had seating capacity for 500 and could hold 600 comfortably with extra chairs. For the funeral of World War II hero, Ira Hays, 1,000 people were able to squeeze into the church to attend the hero’s funeral service.

Now it stood in the center of a large lot, empty and abandoned with its doors and windows shuttered and locked. A new and considerably smaller and less majestic structure on the northwest corner of the property now serves the spiritual needs of the community in the place of the towering old church.

Letters above the entrance announced that this was the Cook Memorial Church. In front of the church an aging sign informs visitors that the church was named in honor of Charles Cook a young missionary who arrived in Sacaton on December 23, 1870 after traveling, mostly on foot, from Chicago to bring the word of God to the Indians.

Historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ
Historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ | Source

Charles Cook - Missionary and Teacher to the Pimas

The sign goes on to say that Cook arrived with the clothes on his back, a Bible and $2 in his pocket.

During the course of his long career on the reservation Cook went on to build, and fill with converts, nine churches as well as establishing and building a number of schools on the reservation.

Charles Cook did not limit his efforts to simply teaching and preaching to the Pimas and Maricopas of the Gila River Indian Reservation but also established and built schools and churches for Indians both on other reservations as well as in Phoenix and Tucson.

Thanks to his efforts generations of Indian leaders in Arizona got their start with an education from one of the schools he established.

While Charles Cook first organized the congregation that made up the church he established on this site, the first of the nine he ultimately established on the reservation, in 1879 the present, and now abandoned church building, was the work of his successor Dr. Dirk Lay.

Dr. Lay oversaw the design and building of the church and, at its completion in 1918, dedicated it as a memorial to Charles H. Cook and his work.

Rear View of the Church

Rear view of historic Cook Church in Sacaton, Arizona
Rear view of historic Cook Church in Sacaton, Arizona | Source

The Half-Burned Parsonage

Remains of half-burned original parsonage next to Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ
Remains of half-burned original parsonage next to Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ | Source

The Tiny Cemetery

Cook Church's tiny cemetery which stands behind the much smaller new church in Sacaton, Arizona.
Cook Church's tiny cemetery which stands behind the much smaller new church in Sacaton, Arizona. | Source

The Water Tower Across the Street

Large water tower across the street from the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ
Large water tower across the street from the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ | Source

Exploring the Grounds

In addition to the Cook Memorial Church and the newer present church which sits at the extreme northwest edge of the property, the grounds also contain a small cemetery and what appears to be the half burned remains of a parsonage.

While I have yet to learn anything about the parsonage, the small cemetery tells its own story. To say it is small is to exaggerate its size as it only contains five graves which, despite their age, still seem to be cared for.

The first two graves are those of Charles Cook’s son, Franklin who died on February 22, 1884 at the tender age of three months and six days. Laying next to her baby is Cook’s wife Annie M. Cook who died on December 18, 1889 at the age of thirty-five years and six months.

The next grave is that of one Annie E. Coates who died on the 27th day of some month in the year 1893. Since a third of the lead marker on the grave has been torn away we don’t know the month or other information that once described who she was.

Next is the grave of Mathew B. Juan whose body was interred in the cemetery on April 9, 1921 with full military honors and a crowd of over 1,000 mourners attending the funeral service at the Church.

The current marker has his name, Mathew B. Juan and date of his death, May 28, 1918, at the Battle of Cantigny in France during World War I. This marker was apparently placed on the grave later as, at the time of his death and later funeral in Arizona, he was still officially known as Mathew B. Rivers the name he mysteriously assumed when he joined the Army in 1917.

Finally, next to Juan’s grave, is that of another warrior, Civil War Veteran and Confederate Colonel James Patton Perkins who died in Sweetwater, Arizona in 1896. Perkins original marker has recently been replaced with a new and easy to read granite marker.

While the original church stands all but abandoned as a silent memorial to Charles Cook his life’s work and legacy remain.

Cook Memorial Church and Cemetery

Full view of historic Cook Church and its small cemetery in Sacaton, Arizona
Full view of historic Cook Church and its small cemetery in Sacaton, Arizona | Source
Side view of historic Cook Church and the tall water tower that makes church easy to find in Sacaton, Arizona
Side view of historic Cook Church and the tall water tower that makes church easy to find in Sacaton, Arizona | Source

The Church and Parsonage

Ruins of historic Cook Church and half-burned parsonage in Sacaton, AZ
Ruins of historic Cook Church and half-burned parsonage in Sacaton, AZ | Source

Approaching the Cemetery

View of small cemetery that adjoins Sacaton Arizona's historic Cook Church
View of small cemetery that adjoins Sacaton Arizona's historic Cook Church | Source

Meditation Bench and Sign Describing Charles Cook and His Legacy

Meditation bench and crumbling information marker in cemetery of the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, Arizona
Meditation bench and crumbling information marker in cemetery of the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, Arizona | Source

Head Stones of Cook's Son and his Wife

Grave markers of  Reverend Charles Cook's wife and infant son in cemetery adjoining the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, Arizona
Grave markers of Reverend Charles Cook's wife and infant son in cemetery adjoining the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, Arizona | Source

Grave of World War I Hero Mathew Juan

Sandstone Marker on grave of  WW I hero, Mathew Juan in the small cemetery adjoining the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ
Sandstone Marker on grave of WW I hero, Mathew Juan in the small cemetery adjoining the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ | Source
Tomb of WWI hero Mathew Juan. Cross at end with recently placed wreath shows that he is still remembered today.
Tomb of WWI hero Mathew Juan. Cross at end with recently placed wreath shows that he is still remembered today. | Source

New Granite Marker on Grave of Confederate Colonel James Patton Perkins

New Granite marker on grave of Confederate Colonel James Patton Perkins in the cemetery of the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ
New Granite marker on grave of Confederate Colonel James Patton Perkins in the cemetery of the historic Cook Church in Sacaton, AZ | Source

Interstate Exit and Sites in Sacaton, Arizona

show route and directions
A markerInterstate 10 Exit 185 -
State Highway 187, Gila River, AZ, USA
[get directions]

Exit Interstate 10 Exit 185 and head east on Arizona State Highway 187 to State Highway 87. Head North on Hwy 87 to Sacaton

B markerMathew B Juan-Ira H Hayes Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton, AZ -
Sacaton-Casa Blanca Rd, Sacaton, AZ 85247, USA
[get directions]

Location of Veterans Memorial Park in Sacaton which honors Mathew Juan, Ira Hayes and other Native American War Heroes

C markerCook Memorial Church in Sacaton -
E Pima and Church Sts, Sacaton, AZ 85247, USA
[get directions]

Cook Memorial Church

Street View of Cook Memorial Church

View of historic Cook Church on E.  Pima Street in Sacaton, AZ
View of historic Cook Church on E. Pima Street in Sacaton, AZ | Source

Ira Hayes Library across Street from Cook Memorial Church

Ira Hayes Memorial Library - Named after WW II Iwo Jima flag raiser Ira Hayes.  Library sits at corner of East Pima and Church Streets in Sacaton, AZ across from the historic Cook Church.
Ira Hayes Memorial Library - Named after WW II Iwo Jima flag raiser Ira Hayes. Library sits at corner of East Pima and Church Streets in Sacaton, AZ across from the historic Cook Church. | Source

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Comments 12 comments

Kirstin Shafer Moritz 4 years ago

I am the great granddaughter of Charles and Annie Cook. I visited the church and grave years ago with my mother but it was in disrepair at the time. Now it is cleaned up and I was very moved to see the grave of Annie. Charles Cook established a training school for Native Americans in Tempe, Arizona which has finally closed its doors. The administration is establishing a fund to support Native Americans studying to be leaders. A fitting finale to Charles Cook's legacy. Kirstin Shafer Moritz, Falmouth, MA ( my cousin sent this link to me ahead of a family reunion we are planning)


suvitharoja profile image

suvitharoja 5 years ago from India

A great hub. I enjoyed it and wonderful to follow a hubber with a score of 100


ModernMom profile image

ModernMom 6 years ago from United States

Thanks for sharing! This is great


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Really love this hub, Chuck!! Great photographs and all I can say is that I want to head to Sacaton, AZ as soon as possible!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

What a fascinating place- so oddly monochromatic. Thanks for sharing!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Wonderful hub, Chuck. Very informative, interesting, and well written. I love historical sites and the stories behind them.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I agree with you and your father.History is about stories. It took me a long time to realize that or I would have been a history major. There are stories like this everywhere.


Isabellas profile image

Isabellas 6 years ago from Ohio

I would love to be able to see this part of the country. However, I barely get out of Ohio! Looks gorgeous though, and if I ever venture into that part of AZ I will explore it!


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pennyauctionviewe 6 years ago from Canada

All I can say is...nice work again, Chuck!


gr82bme profile image

gr82bme 6 years ago from USA

This is great. i love AZ. We plan to retire there. I lived there when I was younger. Now I have somewhere else to visit


cornwall_UK profile image

cornwall_UK 6 years ago from Cornwall, UK

A great hub, I love the stories behind the history too.

Big collection of photos!!

Thanks for taking the time to write this.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

wow, this is certainly something which I will have to go and see, awesome pictures, you can almost read a couple of the headstones.

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