If anyone in Flagstaff is deserving of the title The Ultimate Celt it's Richard (“Rick” or “Fergie”)
Ferguson. If there is anything of a Celtic nature going on in Northern Arizona, you can bet that
Fergie has had something to do with it.
Richard's English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors were some of the first white people to settle in
Illinois, arriving there in 1820. Rick himself was born in Idaho, spent his first five years in Illinois,
then moved with his family to Tucson. As they say in Scottish Gaelic, Illinois is where his roots
are, where his people are.
Given the family's strong military tradition--both parents were veterans, one of his ancestral
grandfathers fought in the War of 1812 and two others in the Civil War-it is not surprising that
Richard quit school at age 17 to join the Navy. By the time he was 18, he had been to Vietnam
and back. When his four-year enlistment was up, he reenlisted for two more years. This time he
was sent to the Great Lakes and Norfolk, Virginia. Following his second naval discharge, he
enlisted in the Merchant Marine for three years! You just can't keep a Celt away from the sea,
even if his first 17 years are spent in land-locked areas of the US!
Approaching age thirty, Rick now felt it was time to settle down. He met Anna while working at a
construction company in Phoenix, married, then went to Eastern Arizona College to study
structural engineering and drafting. The two then moved to Montana where their son Gavin was
After a couple of years in Montana, Rick found that he missed Arizona-though not the heat.
Returning to the Southwest, Rick and Anna opted for Flagstaff, where he sold Nissans for a while
before being hired by the Arizona Department of Transportation as a traffic engineer. Three years
later he took a similar job with the City of Flagstaff where he stayed until his retirement in 2006.
* * * *
Richard always had an interest in genealogy but could learn nothing from his parents who had
no interest in the subject. He had no idea if his branch of the Fergusons was Irish or Scottish
until finally his grandmother told him of their Scottish heritage.
Always a history buff, he joined the Society for Creative Anachronism and set about researching
things Scottish. He has put together an authentic outfit for his character-a 13th-14th century
archer of Scottish origin. His first trip to Scotland was for an SCA convention where the battles
were fought at a real Scottish castle.
At the same time he was immersing himself in Scottish history, he and a friend founded the
Marshal Cimarron and the Oak Creek Gang--a melodramatic theatre group. This soon lead to
The Highland Rogues, a Jacobite living history group. Fergie was also a member of the
Williams Mountain Men, a reenactment group based in Williams, Arizona, and concentrating on
the time period of the French and Indian War. Rick, never missing an opportunity to herald the
Scottish influence in American history, was the only one of the Mountain Men whose uniform
included the kilt.
At the 1995 Phoenix Highland Games, Rick discovered Clan Ferguson. Before he had left
those games, he had been named Regional Convener for the Clan, and a few years later was
elected Clan Vice President, a post he still holds.
It was at a Society for Creative Anachronism event at Camp Navajo that Rick first met Bill
Dunlop, founder and first president of the Northern Arizona Celtic Heritage Society. Rick wasted
no time getting involved in NACHS, and when Bill was diagnosed with cancer, Rick stepped in to
take over the presidency of the organization.
As if all these activities weren't enough, Rick next fulfilled a promise to his dying friend. Bill, also
a veteran of the military, and Rick had joined the Phoenix branch of the Scottish American Military
Society, and Bill's last wish was to form a Flagstaff Branch of S.A.M.S. Though Bill died before it
was a reality, Rick founded The William C. Dunlop Post 2000 of the Scottish American Military
Society. Not only was it established in the year 2000, it was also the 2000th post of this
* * * *
Rick had been looking forward to retirement for some time. When it finally became a real
possibility, he gave his employer a year's notice and began planning the rest of his life-beginning
with a several-month stay in Scotland, enrolling in an intensive course in Scottish Gaelic,
learning to play the bagpipes, and working towards a degree in Scottish history and culture.
Then disaster struck. Six months before his eagerly anticipated retirement date, Rick was
diagnosed with cancer. Facing months of surgeries and chemotherapy, he told his doctors, “all
right, tell me what I must do, but I just want to tell you that I am going to Scotland in six months.”
Amazingly, he did just that. Still recovering from the effects of treatment, and dealing with
recurrences of the disease, Richard spent three months in Scotland, including several weeks at
Sabhal Mor Ostigh, the language school on the Isle of Skye. Of course he manages his
treatment in as Scottish a way as possible. When he needed a cane to walk, he made himself a
Cromag (Scottish walking stick) and purchased a blackthorn stick. He admits that “cancer
physically stopped me from doing some stuff, but I was bound and determined to do some of the
things I had intended.”
Although the cancer is an ever-present reality, Richard has returned to school and is working
towards a Bachelors degree in Cultural Anthropology. He has already completed 77 units from
Coconino Community College, and, because his emphasis is Gaelic culture, will have to finish
the degree through the University of Aberdeen or Edinburgh, or maybe Cape Breton.
After taking the introductory course in Scottish Gaelic, Richard enrolled in an online distance
learning program. Not only has he become fairly proficient in the language, but for the past four
years has taught an ongoing weekly class in Scottish Gaelic in Flagstaff.
Travel too is a big part of his retirement. So far he has traveled mostly to Scotland and England,
and Galicia in Spain. Why Galicia? “To check out the Celtic connections,” he says. “If it weren't
Celtic, I wouldn't be going.” He also hopes to check out Australia and New Zealand, which, along
with Canada and the US colonies, were part of the Scottish diaspora. And then he hopes to go to
the Hawaii Highland Games as the Vice President of Clan Ferguson.
Never losing an opportunity to promote his passion, Rick states, “Teaching Scottish history is
important in America, even though we are an homogenous culture. It's still important to identify
with your heritage to have a sense of where you come from, whether you're Hispanic, African,
Scottish, Irish or Italian. No matter what your ethnicity, you need to hang onto your ethnic heritage
or it will be lost. I am American first, Scottish second. Ethnicity is important.”
How does he want to be remembered? “I don't really care just as long as I am remembered,”
he quips, but he does hope to leave something significant for his children and their children-
primarily the Scottish work ethic and frugality. For the rest of us, he will always be known as one
of the primary forces of the Celtic Renaissance in Northern Arizona.