Erik Berg

Southwest Historian and Writer

History belongs to all of us and research is only useful when it is shared. I strive to be engaging and interactive while still being informative and accurate - making ample use of illustrations, historic images, and first-person accounts. I can tailor most presentations to run anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. Presentations marked as ‘Arizona Speaks’ are part of the Arizona Humanities' speakers program. To schedule a presentation, please contact me with the details at It is easier for me to schedule presentations for weekends or evenings.

Eagles and Archaeologists: The 1929 Lindbergh Southwest Aerial Survey

Famed pilot Charles Lindbergh is best known for his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in his airplane the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Few people realize that Lindbergh also played an important role in southwest archaeology. In the summer of 1929, Lindbergh and his new bride, Anne Morrow, worked with noted archaeologist Dr. Alfred Kidder to conduct an extensive aerial photographic survey of southwest prehistoric sites and geologic features. Flying in an open-cockpit Curtiss Falcon bi-plane, the couple took some of the first aerial images of Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Grand Canyon, and Meteor Crater. This presentation describes the Lindberghs’ southwest adventures and includes many of their original images.

Vintage Arizona: The Growth, Death, and Rebirth of a Local Wine Industry (1700-2000)

Arizona’s wine industry is booming. Starting from almost nothing in the 1970s, there are now over 50 wineries across the state and more starting every year.  Despite the youth of the current industry, there is a long history of wine-making in Arizona dating back some 200 years. Using numerous illustrations, this presentation traces the fascinating – and often amusing – story of Arizona wine from the Spanish Colonial period to the present.  Topics include pioneering efforts using wild grapes, Mesa’s forgotten 19th century wine industry, the illegal raisin wineries of the Great Depression, and the unlikely band of aspiring winemakers that led the modern rebirth of Arizona wine in the 1980s and 90s.

[Arizona Speaks Presentation]

Rock Hounds and River Rats: The 1937 Carnegie-CalTech Colorado River Expedition

In the fall of 1937, a hardy crew of geologists and boatmen led by Ian Campbell and John Maxson set off from Lee’s Ferry in three small wooden boats to conduct the first extensive geologic study of the Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge. At the time, only ten previous parties had successfully ran the length of the Grand Canyon and it was still widely considered to be a dangerous undertaking. Over the next six weeks, they would face numerous trials and triumphs as they braved the rapids of the Colorado River in one of the least accessible regions of the contiguous states. Based on original images and first-hand accounts, the presentation describes one of the canyon’s least known early expeditions and how it heralded the birth of modern Grand Canyon river running.

Ghost Towns of the Second World War: Arizona’s Historic Military Sites

Despite its small population and limited infrastructure, Arizona would play a critical role in America’s efforts to win World War Two. By the end of the conflict, Arizona had trained more pilots than any other state, hosted the country’s largest prisoner of war (POW) camp, and was home to the largest military maneuver ground in history. This unique presentation uses surviving war-period historic sites and structures to illustrate the range of war-time activities that occurred here and the lives of the men and women who served. Featured locations include the airfields at Douglas, Kingman, and Coolidge; the Navajo Army Depot near Flagstaff; Patton’s Desert Training Center and Camp Bouse; and the Japanese-American internment camp at Poston.
[Arizona Speaks Presentation]

Coast-to-Coast in 48 Hours: Arizona and America’s First Transcontinental Airline

In the summer of 1929, an ambitious new company named Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) initiated America’s first coast-to-coast passenger air service from New York to Los Angeles. Led by aviation luminaries such as Clement Keys, Charles Lindbergh, Paul Henderson and Amelia Earhart, the TAT pioneered many aspects of modern air travel. The route passed through northern Arizona and New Mexico where the high elevations, rough terrain, and limited infrastructure created some of the company’s greatest challenges and forced them to build new airports. Leveraging historic images, news clippings and reports, this presentation describes key TAT events including the building of air fields at Winslow and Kingman, the tragic crash on Mount Taylor, and the company’s evolution into the famous Trans-World Airlines (TWA).

“Buy Now While You Have the Chance!”: The Great Chino Valley and Holbrook Oil Booms

Prescott was in the frenzy of an oil boom. In the fall of 1917, wildcatters were sinking new oil wells in the nearby Chino Valley, prospectors and geologists were scouring the region, and prominent citizens were founding new oil companies and investing in stock. In Chino Valley itself, plans were being laid for the new settlement of Oil City, Arizona. Several years later, a similar oil boom would occur near Holbrook with new companies rising up and new wells drilling down. In fact, northern Arizona’s long-forgotten oil booms shared many traits of the famous oil rushes of Texas and California – everything that is, except actual oil. Through historic images, advertisements, and first-hand accounts, this presentation explores the tales of tragedy and comedy surrounding the Verde Valley, Chino Valley, and Holbrook Oil booms and puts them in the context of events in the larger national oil industry.

“The Roads are for the Timid”: The Western Adventures of Mai Richie Reed

An independent young woman from Philadelphia named Mai Richie Reed left home in the spring of 1907 to seek freedom and adventure in the Arizona territory. Over the following years, she explored and photographed much of northern Arizona and New Mexico with a particular focus on the Grand Canyon and nearby Native American pueblos. During her travels, she fell in love with famous early Grand Canyon painter Louis Akin and the two eventually married and built a home outside of Flagstaff. Based on Reed’s original journals and travel photos, this presentation gives an intimate view of life at turn-of-the-century Grand Canyon and one woman’s perspective of Arizona on the eve of statehood.

Socialites in the Saddle: The Chicago Cowgirls of the Muleshoe Ranch

In 1928, a wealthy Chicago-born artist, socialite and divorcee named Jessica Wakem McMurray purchased the historic Muleshoe Ranch and hot springs in a remote canyon of the Galiuro Mountains near Willcox. Her home quickly became an informal resort and getaway for a range of east coast industrialists, scientists, and artists (as well as a few scoundrels). During the Great Depression of the 1930s, it also became the center of a small group of once-wealthy women who now found themselves single and financially struggling. Among these was Jessica’s recently-orphaned niece, Pamela Johnston, who would establish a new life by homesteading her own ranch and building an adobe cabin by hand. Based on extensive research, original photos, and correspondence, this presentation tells the unique and amusing story of how a group of wealthy eastern socialites transformed themselves into Arizona ranchers while creating a remote refuge for Chicago and Cleveland elite.